Jul 31, 2010


Free bookmark! Anyone fond of playing mancala? I know that's not exactly what this picture is of, but it sure reminds me of the game. This is a double-sided bookmark, the reverse image is very similar. It's cut from magazine scrap and laminated. All you have to do in order to win it is leave a comment here, and hope that random.org picks your name next weekend!

Jul 30, 2010

friday finds

More books I want to read, and the bloggers who tempted me to them!

The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon- You Can Never Have Too Many Books
No Place Left to Bury the Dead by Nicole Itano- A Striped Armchair
Here Lies the Librarian by Richard Peck- Puss Reboots
Robbing the Bees by Holley Bishop- the stay at home bookworm
The Earth Moved by Amy Stewart- the stay at home bookworm
In and Out of the Garden by Sara Midda from stay at home bookworm
His Majesty's Dragon
by Namoi Novik- the Lost Entwife
Saving Gracie by Carol Bradley- Ardent Reader

to see more bloggers' friday finds, visit the host site at Should be Reading

more dinosaur books

These two books have a lot of similarities. In both, the illustrations are all either computer-generated textured beasts (with varying degrees of quality) or photos of dig sites, skeletons or fossils. The page spreads are all of a main picture with a larger block of text, and smaller pictures around it with descriptions in smaller text. I couldn't help noticing that a lot of the images were the same between the two books, even if shown from a slightly different angle.

Kingfisher Knowledge: Dinosaurs by Nigel Marven

This book describes dinosaurs by the regions in which they lived. First it gives an overview of dinosaur families in general, with a basic family tree showing how the different groups are related, discusses how the original single landmass Pangaea broke up over the centuries into different smaller continents, and offers different theories on why the dinosaurs went extinct. After that the book is organized by geographical areas. In the section for Eurasia it describes where dinosaur fossils were first discovered and how paleontologists uncover them, dinosaur predators found in the Gobi desert, feathered dinosaurs discovered in China, different kinds of pterosaurs (the flying ones), and ancient marine reptiles. The section for the Americas describes Dromaeosaurus which hunted in packs, armored plant-eating dinosaurs, giant sauropods and predatory dinosaurs found in Argentina, discoveries from Hell Creek, Montana and hadrosaurs found in Wyoming. The chapter on Africa and Australia features giant ancient crocodiles, huge sauropods from Madagascar called titanosaurs, different dinosaur tracks found in Australia and dinosaurs that lived in polar regions. I like how this book featured the work of paleontologists, on almost every page you read about how someone made a discovery. At the end of each chapter there is a summary and a text box that highlights different occupations having to do with dinosaurs, museums where dinosaur remains can be seen, and websites and books that give more information. The final pages of the book have a basic timeline showing which dinosaurs or animals were dominant during that period, a glossary and a good index.

Dangerous Dinosaurs Q&A by Carey Scott

This book is organized into broad sections: an overview of the dinosaur age, a part featuring dinosaur predators and scavengers, then plant-eaters and their defensive methods, the biggest dinosaurs, and how they probably died out. It's all presented as questions which are then answered, like: did dinosaurs ever get sick? which dinosaur has the biggest brain? did some dinosaurs migrate? I found it very easy to read through. Some of the things I learned from this book were that most meat-eating dinosaurs had only two or three fingers on a hand, whereas plant-eaters had five digits. That some dinosaurs could have had a lifespan of almost 200 years. That some dinosaurs had skin so thick it was practically bullet-proof. That many of the plants dinosaurs ate still exist today. It was all pretty interesting. This book also has a full index.

In both books they mention the ongoing debate of whether dinosaurs were warm-blooded or cold. Perhaps some were one, others the opposite. Maybe they were something in between. On other points the books disagree. One tells me that grass didn't exist until after the dinosaurs were all gone, the other says that scientists have discovered grass in a dinosaur's fossilized droppings. But that's what makes reading about all this so interesting- we're always learning something new!

Jul 29, 2010


the New Economics of True Wealth
by Juliet B. Schor

I feel like I can't really give this book credit. I admit I didn't really understand everything presented in the first half of it; I don't usually read books about economics. So I'm just going to plunge in and give you my general impressions and tell you about what stood out for me. If you're really interested in it, you should seek out some other reviews that reflect a better understanding; this is just touching the surface.

I picked this book up at my husband's urging. It was hard to get into at first; my mind would tend to wander after just a few pages. But I'm glad I stuck it out. Plenitude first discusses how current economic practices and environmental disaster are intricately tied together. It really swung me around emotionally, as I kept feeling alternately horrified at projections for the future and utterly hopeless that anything will change in time to make a difference and save our planet. But then Schor talks about things people can do, and already are doing and I started to feel encouraged and even excited for the future. Her main point seems to be that we must as a whole society embrace a renewable lifestyle, that economic growth must dissipate into something small, local and sustainable. Not only will this help the environment in innumerable ways, but also raise people's feelings of wellbeing and purpose. She points out that countless studies have shown that after reaching a certain level of stability (ie out of poverty) more work (money) does not increase your happiness, just stress. Instead, people find satisfaction from investing time into worthwhile activities that don't produce monetary income but have other benefits: friendships, sharing information and knowledge, growing your own food, handcrafting items that can be used, traded or sold, etc. It's all about putting more back into your local community and focusing on reusing what we already have instead of further pillaging nature. There are so many things in here that had me going: wow! Fab labs. Houses built of alternative, recycled materials. "Slow" movements and resource sharing spreading across communities. People reclaiming dead lots and turning them into something useful or green for everyone to benefit from. It all sounds like small inconsequential things, perhaps (does turning my kitchen waste into garden compost really make an impact on the big picture?) but if you look at it all together, with people everywhere doing these things, the effects could be amazing, and just what we need.

You can read a lot more about the ideas in Plenitude at the author's own site. There's far more to it than what I've shared here; I just touched on the things that inspired me personally.

Rating: 4/5 ........ 258 pages, 2010

More opinions at:
Illahee Notes
Off Grid: Free Yourself

Jul 28, 2010

Little Cats

by Bobbie Kalman and Tammy Everts

My daughter chose this cute book about cats at the library. Everyone knows of lions and tigers, but what about servals, ocelots and the jaguarundi? Little Cats is a bright, cheerful book of fun facts on the small cats, from domestic housecats to wildcats and even pumas and cheetahs, which are not classified with the big cats (because they can't roar, among other things). I like how the book continually compares things a child will recognize from their pet kitty with similar behaviors or traits the wild cats have. It mentions the different kinds of places cats live (both wild and domestic), what they eat, how they hide and raise their families. The second half of the book features eleven small wild cat species with a brief description highlighting their distinctive features:  lynxes and bobcats have tufted ears and short tails, ocelots pluck the feathers before they eat a bird, the fishing cat has webbed toes for swimming, etc. The final page mentions that many wild cats are endangered from poaching and habitat loss, also that pet cats have the opposite trouble: overpopulation. I thought it was kind of odd that the photo descriptions are listed at the very back; and as my daughter wanted me to read them all (I had to guess to identify some of the cats while reading) I had to flip back and forth from every page to match up the descriptions with their pictures for her. It does keep the layout looking very clean and tidy though, not having them included in the main body. If you have a young child who likes cats, this little book is very appealing!

Rating: 3/5 ........ 32 pages, 1994


Animals, animals
by Marc Tyler Nobleman

Another short, fact-packed animal book for kids. On foxes! I love foxes. They're so cool and clever and beautiful. I think part of what intrigues me about them is that they're a canine with many feline traits- the big triangle ears, super-sensitive hearing, vertical pupils. According to this book, one species, the gray fox, can even retract its claws to keep them sharp (it can also climb trees). Foxes describes how the animals live, their physical features, life cycle and distribution of six of the twenty-three different species: red fox, gray fox, arctic fox, fennec fox, kit or swift fox and bat-eared fox. The final little chapter tells how some red foxes have adapted to live in cities. The only thing I would have wished for this book is some better pictures. Most of the photos are really nice, but some of the ones highlighting a species (like the arctic fox, fennec and gray fox) only show the face. When looking at varieties among species I like to see the different body shapes and proportions (but maybe that's just me).

Rating: 3/5 ........ 45 pages, 2007

More opinions at:

Jul 27, 2010


Animal Prey
by Sandra Markle

I'm in kind of an easy-animal-book-reading spate. I picked up a small armload of them at the library last time and find they make enjoyable quick reads when I need a break from the more tedious and brain-aching book Plenitude.

Anyhow, this one is about zebras. The focus is on them as prey animals, so although the storyline mostly follows one little zebra's life from birth through his first migration and into adulthood, a lot of it is about how the zebras avoid predators. It is illustrated what strategies they do (or don't) have against lions, cheetahs and crocodiles. Sometimes the zebras escape, others aren't so lucky. You might want to look at the book yourself first if you're considering reading it to a younger or more sensitive child. One zebra is shown with gaping, bleeding wounds on its side from a lion attack, another is shown getting killed, then eaten by scavengers. Facts of life, but maybe a bit too graphic for some. Overall the book is really informative and the photos are spectacular.

Rating: 3/5 ........40 pages, 2007

Jul 26, 2010

Shark Trouble

by Peter Benchley

Here the author of Jaws shares what he knows about sharks. Facts gathered as well as personal experiences. He refutes irrational fears, and instills reasonable ones, advising how to safely swim in ocean waters and what to do in the very unlikely case you are attacked by a shark. Sharks are something I never read much on before, so most of this information was new to me. I didn't know, for example, that the upper teeth are held hidden horizontal to the palette, and when the shark is ready to bite, they swing down ready for action. Hinged teeth! How cool (and scary) is that? Curiously enough, many people (if they don't panic) survive shark attacks because the shark is just taking an experimental bite, after which it instantly realizes you're not palatable and goes away. But a single bite from such a fearsome beast is one too many! The experiences in Shark Trouble range from up-close personal diving episodes, including the author suspending himself in a cage while a great white shark swarms around and bites the metal bars, to him standing by observing as an enormous shark is dissected for science. Very readable, quick-paced and intriguing overall. But not much depth, if you're really looking for information on sharks I'm sure there are better books out there. This one really only whetted my appetite. The main downside was that sometimes its tone was too casual for me. For example, at the beginning of the book Benchley talks about nation-wide shark panic in 2001 (of which I was entirely unaware), citing a ludicrous-sounding article from Weekly World News. I'm not familiar with that publication, so I didn't know it was a tabloid until I looked through the photos: the gaping shark jaws are pictured right next to a headline that says: 3-Breasted Woman, 3-Legged Man Have 3-Legged Baby! Credibility dropped a notch right there. Well, I managed to shrug off that silliness and keep reading: most of it was pretty interesting. It's not only about sharks; the book also features manta rays, barracudas, moray eels, groupers, giant squid and other oft-feared creatures of the sea (either telling us how harmless they really are if left alone, or warning with graphic stories of their frightfulness). Read this book before you next visit the beach. It might make you think twice about wading in the surf!

I borrowed this book from the public library, just because it caught my eye on the shelf.

Rating: 2/5 ........ 186 pages, 2002

More opinions at:
Book Reviews
hm, anyone else?

Jul 25, 2010

dinosaur books

I was curious to see if I could identify the kinds of dinosaurs I sketched once when using my daughter's toys as models. I was pretty sure they were all based on real dinosaur species. So I brought home a bunch of library books on dinosaurs to peruse. (Ended up finding all the dinosaurs except one). And since I had them at home, and they have such cool pictures, I figured I'd read some and learn a little bit. Here's the first three (most of them are kid's books, as I guess it's usually children who are interested in learning about dinosaurs).

Dinosaurs: Herbivores by Dougal Dixon

This book describes many different groups of plant-eating dinosaurs: early sauropods (the long-necked ones), ornithopods (which ran upright on long birdlike toes), iguanodons (first discovered in 1822), duckbilled dinosaurs, stegosaurus and his relatives, nodosaurids with spikes, ankylosaurids with club tails, the pachycephalosaurids which had bony heads (probably used for butting each other like goats) and the parrot-beaked dinosaurs (including triceratops). It has many hand-drawn illustrations as well as pictures of the bones. I really liked all the little side facts which showed things scientists know about their body structures: how the dinosaurs carried their weight, what the shape of their teeth tells us, how speculation continues about the arrangement of stegosaurus' plates (they were attached to muscle, not bone: were they moveable?) There was even a sauropod with long spikes on its neck, which I never heard of before! One small confusing thing about this book was its arrangement; each spread has a main block of text with smaller illustrations and descriptions surrounding it. On some spreads the main text block was on the right-hand page which threw me off for a second because I'm used to reading beginning on the left side. This arrangement alternated rather inconsistently, too.

Bizarre Dinosaurs by Christopher Sloan

This book is just plain fun and fascinating. It highlights eleven specific dinosaurs that have features scientists are still puzzling over. We don't know their function, but they sure are strange and cool to look at! There's a stegosaurid with long spikes jutting out of its shoulders, a little tree-climbing dinosaur with one extra-long finger like an aye-aye, and a sauropod with a funny wide mouth full of tiny, comb-like teeth. I thought it was really cool to read about how scientists made a model of the bony structure atop parasaurolophus' head and blew air through it, discovering that it makes noise like a horn! And did you know there's a dinosaur called Dracorex hogwartsia? That's right, a dinosaur (discovered in 2006) named after Harry Potter's school! It has such a fierce-looking bumpy and spiky skull someone thought it looked like a dragon. This book is illustrated with computer-generated models which I love looking at because of the minute details and realistic textures.

Triceratops and Other Horned Plant-Eaters by Virginia Schomp

Unlike the other two books, which just state plain facts, this one is told in a kind of storylike fashion, imagining to the reader how ceratopsian species of dinosaurs might have lived. Did they live in herds for protection? did they use their horns for sparring with each other, or just fighting off predators? What I liked most about this book were all the illustrations showing different kinds of ceratops, the family group that includes triceratops. Some of these dinosaurs had huge, tall neck shields with studs all around the edge. Some had forward-pointing horns, others long spikes on the back of the shield. One had a curious nose horn that curved forward and down. And there was a little primitive ceratops with no horns and a small neck shield, whose face looks rather like a parrot (at least in this picture). I'm fascinated by all the different forms and shapes they took.

One of the things I enjoy most about all these books is, of course, the pictures. We don't know what color dinosaurs were, so the artists are left to create that aspect of the dinosaurs. Some give them dull colors but focus on the textured hide. Others give them wild bright stripes and spots, speckles and fancy bold patterns. It's fun to see how different they can look just by being dressed up in colors and stripes. There is one dinosaur we now know the color of, and I wonder if in the future every dinosaur's colors will be as well-known as triceratops' three-horned profile, making future generations look back with amusement on our fantastical creations when we painted their hides.

Anyhow, if you have a kid who's interested in dinosaurs, look for some of these books at the library! They're lots of fun and very interesting. I know I learned a lot!

Jul 24, 2010


and Other Unintended Destinations
by Eric Dinerstein

Dinerstein tells us readers that he wasn't one who had "an idyllic childhood spent in the company of bugs and salamanders." Instead, he fell in love with nature quite suddenly during his college years, and switched his studies from film to biology. His first experiences in the field were as a Peace Corps volunteer in Nepal, where he helped track tiger populations and determine the needs of prey that support the big striped cats. From there he fell in love with bats in the tropics, hiked through mountainous ranges looking for snow leopards, and traveled to all sorts of exotic and far-flung places in the misson to save wildlife (including the amazing Galapagos Islands!) Tigerland and Other Unintended Destinations chronicles a lifetime's work. Like The Lion's Eye it shows what the nitty gritty of a field biologist's work really is, but here we have the broad spectrum: attending lectures, collaborating with colleagues, searching for funding, working with local villagers toward solutions, etc etc. More than any other this book has given me a sense of what a complicated, team effort wildlife conservation is; not a chapter goes by where Dinerstein doesn't mention his fellow biologists (with all their credentials) and how they work together to encourage leaders of nations as well as the ordinary public to get involved in the fight to save wild places. The book didn't flow easy for me as other reads have; I get distracted reading about the travels and politicking; I'd much rather hear the anecdotal tales of animal behavior. Most times here hours of tracking are described with just a mere (thrilling) glimpse of the animal after all that effort. Honestly, my interest was starting to flag a bit until I got near the end where the work with American bison and black-footed ferrets was discussed. It warmed my heart to read of progress there, also the amazing success in restoring areas for tigers and other wildlife, which he witnessed upon returning to Nepal almost thirty years after being there with the Peace Corps. I described some of those results to my five-year-old, who was still worried about tigers' habitat loss from that kid's book we read, and she was so thrilled to hear of tiger populations recovering that she leaped up and gave me a hug.

Thanks to this book I now want to read anything by David Attenborough I can find (luckily my library has many!) and Marvels of Animal Behavior by Thomas Allen.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 279 pages, 2005

More opinions at: Orient Black Swan and Tahrcountry anyone else?

Jul 23, 2010

friday finds

Friday Finds is a meme from Should be Reading. So here are more and more books I want to read someday! Follow the link to the post that made me put it on my list, to learn more about each title.

Bonobo Handshake by Vanessa Woods- love and research among bonobos (apes related to chimpanzees)- from a list on At Home with Books
Last Dog on the Hill by Steve Duno- story of an amazing rescued dog- also from At Home with Books
The Local News by Miriam Girshow- everything changes when Lydia's brother disappears, from Book Addiction
The Miraculous Journey Edward Tulane
- adventures of a toy china rabbit, via Across the Page
Book Finds by Ian Ellis- on the finding and valuing of rare books
The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency
by Alexander McCall Smith- lady detective finding missing persons and such in Botswana, thanks to Caroline Bookbinder
Fauna by Alissa York- fiction about an urban sanctuary for wildlife in an auto wrecking yard, seen on Cipriano's Bookpuddle; he wants to read it too!
The Colour by Rose Tremain- gold rush in New Zealand, read about on The Lost Entwife
and three more I just added this morning:
The Girl who Could Fly by Vioctoria Forester- YA fantasy, read about on Beyond Books
Bellwether by Connie Willis - I need to read more by this author! recommended by Bookfool
Seaworthy by Linda Greenlaw - via The Black Sheep Dances

phew! can you tell why my TBR grows faster than I can read? ha ha

Jul 22, 2010

Fresh Milk

the Secret Life of Breasts 
by Fiona Giles

I read this book back when I was (of course!) nursing my own child. It's a collection of anecdotes and stories that look at how breastfeeding is viewed in different cultures and stretches aside the curtain of taboo around it. Some of the stories and information are helpful and interesting, other chapters were (to me at least) very eccentric and bizarre. There are stories of nursing toddlers, the issues of breastfeeding in public, one incident of a mother who discovered her child had been breastfed by another woman at daycare! There there are stranger ones, of men comforting their babies by suckling them, of putting breastmilk into recipes- like homemade ice cream. Even speculations on breastmilk being sold in supermarkets. The chapters I found strangest and even disturbing broached subjects like women's erotic fantasies about their own breasts, or porn films starring lactating women. If you're interested in the subject of breastfeeding, this book is certainly an eye-opener that will entertain and shock just as much as it inspires! 

Rating: 3/5 ........ 267 pages, 2003

More opinions at:
SMS Book Reviews
Breeding Imperfection
Guerrilla Momma Medicine

Jul 21, 2010

Visions of Caliban

on Chimpanzees and People
by Dale Peterson and Jane Goodall

This profound book is a sobering look at humankind's relationship with chimpanzees. Not only in a historical sense- our early fascination with them, use of them in research, groundbreaking studies in the wild that finally began to reveal their true natures- but also as we have represented them in literature (which, surely, shows how we really feel about them in our deepest selves). The book opens with a discussion about the role of Caliban in Shakespeare's play The Tempest (one of my favorites). I have to admit, before I read Visions I never thought of Caliban as being an ape, I just thought he was some sort of monster and let it remain fuzzy. But reading how Peterson unravels the play it is so brilliantly clear to me. Throughout this book, each chapter is headed by a quote from The Tempest, making it a very curious meld of literature and science, indeed. It is sorrowing to read Goodall's words when she describes the horrors of experimentation labs where chimps are abused, and of how people who want to profit from it manage to get chimps for labs even though it's illegal. Both authors argue for the need to protect these intelligent animals, so close to us, and make it clear how painfully we have treated them, and continue to do so even though we understand them now better than ever before.

Granted, I read this book four or five years ago, so I'm sure I've forgotten huge blocks of it. But it's one I do want to revisit someday and peruse more carefully; and perhaps this little mention here will encourage one of you to pick it up and read it. (Do come back and tell me about it!)

Rating: 3/5 ........ 367 pages, 1993

Jul 19, 2010

Dog Boy

by Eva Hornung

This is the story of a young boy abandoned during a time of political upheaval in Moscow. Unlike hundreds of other street children who took to begging or living in gangs, Romochka was adopted by a pack of feral dogs. He survived the first harsh winter snuggled in the dog den under a derelict building, nestled among the mother dog's puppies and nursing with them. Being only four years old, Romochka readily took on many canine mannerisms, learning how to be a dog in order to communicate with and be part of the pack. But as he grew he found his role dissatisfying- he sensed the other dogs saw him as a weakling needing to be protected and provided for, with his poor sense of smell and blunt teeth. So Romochka began tapping into his human nature in order to prove himself. He used abilities for logic and planning to become a successful hunter, terrorizing other children in the streets and gradually working his way from acceptance in the pack to being their leader. As he got bolder and started exploring new territories, he became more and more interested in humans, feeling drawn to them despite his loyalty to the dogs. He also started to attract the attention of older, more dangerous street kids, local law enforcement, and finally of a group of scientists...

The story fascinated me, but it was also pretty unsettling at some points. The author has no qualms about describing the more brutal aspects of Romochka's life- eating dead rats, licking his companion's wounds, scavenging through trash, stinking to high heaven; his behavior to rival dogs and threatening humans could be very savage too. The story has quite a few twists that heighten its drama, and I was shocked at the very end. While to some readers the narrative switch when the story is told from the scientists' viewpoint might be a relief, I found it dull compared to the sensory richness when it was focused on Romochka and the dogs- unpleasant though it may have been. A book that really gets you thinking about human nature and the capacity we (and dogs) have for love, patience and compassion as well as hatred and cruelty.

I borrowed this book from the public library. I saw it on a list at someone's blog, but now can't remember where.

The book was based on a news story about a boy found living with dogs in Moscow. You can read two news pieces here and here and an article about the author's inspiration here.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 293 pages, 2009

More opinions at:
Whispering Gums
Over the Fence

Jul 18, 2010


The winner of my latest bookmark giveaway, according to Random.org, is #2-

Anna from Diary of an Eccentric!

Congrats, Anna! Email me your address and I'll mail your bookmarks on monday.

Jul 17, 2010

I Who Have Never Known Men

by Jacqueline Harpman
translated from French

I read this book some years ago, but the main points have still stuck in my head. I don't quite know how to write about this one without spoilers, so be forewarned!

Forty women are kept caged in an underground bunker. Their guards are men who never speak to them, and avoid any interaction. The youngest, through whose eyes we see the story, cannot remember a time before this imprisoned life. None of the other women will tell her why they are there, or reveal what happened to turn their world into a desolation. One day an alarm sounds and the guards run out suddenly, allowing them to escape. They wander through a strange empty landscape, searching endlessly for other people. One by one the older women die until the narrator is left alone in the empty world, with only her own thoughts to commune with.

It's a very disconcerting story. Related in a lovely fashion, I admit I was hooked and didn't want to put it down, but that was mostly because I wanted to know why everything: what had caused the disaster that destroyed the world? why did the other women never speak of it? why did the guards refuse to communicate with them? but what frustrated me most was that even after they had escaped and gone outside, no more revelations were really forthcoming. I gather now, that wasn't the point of the book, it's meant to show something about human nature. What makes us human when the world (almost literally) is gone? what about a child, who grows up knowing nothing but this desolation, how will she form herself and recognize her own humanity? but as I read the story I didn't really get it, and I'm still not sure if I do. I just found it sad, disturbing and ultimately, frustrating.

Have any of you read it? Did you make any more sense of it than I? (I gave it a 3 for a good book because really it was captivating to read. It was just the end that unsettled me with its depressing note and lack of answers).

Rating: 3/5 ........ 206 pages, 1997

More opinions at:
Attack of the 50 foot book

Jul 16, 2010

friday finds

 I found a lot of books to add to my never-ending TBR this week, so I'll keep this brief. For more details on the books, follow the links which go to the review that inspired me to add the book to my list!

The Half Mammals of Dixie by George Singleton- short stories, Bermudaonion makes them sound fabulous, even to someone who doesn't read many short stories (like me).

Hope for Animals and Their World
by Jane Goodall- essays about how Goodall and her colleages are working to save endangered species. Seen on Ardent Reader.

Still Life: Adventures in Taxidermy by Melissa Milgrom- all about the art of taxidermy, and the people who create it. Read of on Caroline Bookbinder.

City Chicks by Patricia Foreman- how to keep chickens in the city! I actually found this title in a roundabout way following links, but it all started here at Debi's blog.

Backyard Homestead by Carleen Madigan - an inspiring-sounding book about how to grow produce and raise barnyard critters in a small space (your backyard). Found via Debi again.

The Birth of Love by Joanna Kavenna- it's been years since I read books on childbirth, but this one sounds so intriguing- Farm Lane Books showed me this one.

The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin- okay, self-help books on happiness? Not something I usually read- but what can you do when Raych recommends it so wholeheartedly? Add to list!

A World Without Bees by Brian McCallum- examines what could be behind the mysterious ailments causing bee populations crashes all around the world- and how it will impact us if they all disappear. Scary. This one from the Stay at Home Bookworm.

Seedfolks by Paul Fleischman - a girl in a downtrodden neighborhood plants bean seeds in a vacant lot- inspiring her neighbors to start gardening too, and the whole community blossoms (in more ways than one). I can't wait to read this one! from Chris.

The Dirt Riddles
by Michael Walsh- poetry about rural life. It was the poem of running past cornfields on The Black Sheep Dances that caught my eye. I don't read much poetry but want to try this one.

Critical Care by Theresa Brown- what the daily grind is like for a nurse in an oncology ward. From At Home with Books.

Feed by M.T. Anderson- dystopian YA of a world where everyone's brain is wired into the internet- Things Mean a Lot.

Beowulf on the Beach by Jack Murnighan- a guide to classical literature that sounds funny and illuminating all at once- Books and Movies.

This meme is hosted by Should Be Reading. What new interesting titles did you discover this week?

Bengal Tiger

Animals Under Threat
by Richard Spilsbury

My daughter is in a phase of wanting to read only "true books" with facts in them "so I can learn stuff." Thus she picked out a stack of j nonfiction featuring animals. Some of them are a bit above her level, so they take us a while to work through. We've been reading this book together for the past week. I would say it's written for kids over eight, the language can be a bit dry and technical and we had to pause many times on each page for me to explain things and answer questions. There certainly was a lot to learn about!

The book describes the needs of tigers, what kinds of habitat and prey will support them. My daughter liked reading about their physical attributes and how baby tigers grow up. She was dismayed when the book talked about how tigers are killed for their skins and body parts (used in traditional medicines) but then it goes on to explain what measures are being taken against poachers- banning the sale of tiger parts, protection in tiger reserves, etc. The book ends on a more positive note, discussing what is being done to help tigers- how zoos and conservation groups help, how tourism affects tigers (both good and bad) and even what individuals can do for tigers. There is also a section that tells how tigers were hunted historically, and mentions Jim Corbett; how he used to hunt man-eating tigers but then grew to appreciate their beauty and turned to photographing and filming them instead. Altogether this a very information-packed book for kids, with stunning photos that kept my young listener attentive when the text got too advanced for her.

Rating: 4/5 ........ 48 pages, 2004

Jul 15, 2010

The Lion's Eye

Seeing in the Wild
by Joanna Greenfield

I found this book on the new shelf at the library, the bold cover drew my eye. Unlike the cover may suggest, the book is not about lions, although the author does encounter some in her travels through Africa. It's mostly about her search for chimpanzees in the dense rainforests of Uganda. During one college semester, desperate to get material for her thesis and closer to the animals themselves, she pitched herself into the wilds of Africa, begging all the scientists she could find until one finally offered her work at a research station. I feel like more than any other, this book gives a feel for what the daily tedium of field work must be; the patient, often frustrating search for animals, endless waiting for something to happen, wrangling with officials for permissions, navigating differences among tribal men who are part of her camp team, learning the local languages piecemeal.... Then there's the cold soaking rain, eternal damp and mold, short food supplies, waves of fire ants, parasites, attacks by hyenas.... I was held down on nearly every page by the vividness of her descriptions, both of suffering and frustration as well as the enthralling moments when she finally spied her study animals and was allowed to approach closer than she'd ever hoped for.

There's another aspect to this story that makes it like no other I've encountered. Greenfield had a genetic condition where her eyes did not focus together. She had no depth perception, difficulty reading faces, was hopeless at things like dancing. There is a common thread throughout the book about sight, how the eye works, how the brain perceives its messages; both from her own observations and musings as well as quotes from other writers and professionals. It makes for very interesting reading. Her depictions of the world around her are so vivid I often forgot she couldn't see clearly, until mention of her vision impairment reminded me. It made it all the more amazing to me that she would brave political unrest, trigger-happy soldiers and all the many hardships, to sit in a thick damp forest hoping for a glimpse of chimpanzees. If you like nature writing with an unusual slant, this is some of the most immediate and raw I've ever come across.

Rating: 4/5 ........ 312 pages, 2009

Jul 14, 2010

The Care and Feeding of Books Old and New

A Simple Repair Manual for Book Lovers
by Margot Rosenberg and Bern Markowitz

This small but very useful book is one I long to own. I found it once at a library, read it avidly straight through, and have never forgotten it. It's mostly about how to take care of your books- both by treating them tenderly, storing them properly and avoiding the enemies of books- dust, moisture, paper-eating insects, etc. Before reading this book I never realized how important it was to give my books a little breathing room on the shelves (instead of cramming in as many as I could, so tightly it was hard to wedge one out again). There are instructions on how to make simple repairs, often using ordinary household items. It's from this book that I learned how to carefully glue tears, iron out dogeared or wrinkled pages and make a stinky book box! However, the methods described in this book are probably not good enough to use on antique or leather-bound books (they don't seem to be archival, for example); but there is a resource list of more extensive book-repair manuals and organizations that offer classes in the book arts. What I really enjoyed about the book was its lighthearted tone and many amusing asides on book collecting and borrowing, as well as dogs. Yes, dogs! The authors owned a bookshop devoted almost entirely to literature about dogs, and kept their dogs in the shop so of course they wrote quite a bit about their dogs in here, as well as comparing book care to dog care. This might be annoying for some readers who want it to stick closer to the subject, but I thought it was delightful.

Rating: 4/5 ........ 190 pages, 2002

Jul 12, 2010

A Wolf in the Family

by Jerome Hellmuth

This is an older book that I found once because it was mentioned in another about wolves, and looked for at the library. Written in the same era as Captive Wild and Never Cry Wolf, when people still assumed a wolf was vicious by nature, this family proved such notions wrong by raising a wolf in their household with their young children. Of course the wolf's behavior differed in many aspects to a dog's, but the Hellmuths showed that by treating the wolf with respect, kindness and patience, the animal could live harmoniously among them and be trusted. It's been years since I actually read the book, so I can't recall any details, but I remember it being interesting and well-written in a friendly style, and I'd like to read it again if I can ever hunt down a copy. If you're interested in wolf behavior or canines in general, it's a pretty good read about a personal experience with wolves (if perhaps a bit outdated).

Rating: see my later review....... 186 pages, 1964

anybody else read this book?

Jul 11, 2010

bookmarks giveaway

I feel like doing a giveaway. I've got these Statue of Liberty bookmarks originally made with the 4th of July in mind, but hey it's still the same month, right? Well, if you like 'em, and would like to have them grace the pages of your book, just leave your name in the comments for a chance to win!  A name will be chosen at random next weekend.

Jul 9, 2010

How Animals Work

Why and How Animals Do the Things They Do
by David Burnie

I've been reading this book at leisure over the last few days, a few pages at a time.  I saw it on a display shelf at the library. It's a fantastic look at the wide variety of life in the animal kingdom, from tiny insects and worms to the great whales. The book is organized into nine sections. The first looks at animals' bodies, describing their structures- skeletal or soft-bodied, having shells, fur or feathers, etc. The second part looks at different ways in which animals move- crawling, walking, flying, etc. Then there are sections on how their bodies work on the inside, what they eat, how they hunt (or avoid being caught), the senses, communication methods, reproduction and family life. The final section is an overlook of all the animal families, with examples of the more spectacular or interesting creatures in each. In fact, most of the book is about the most bizarre, unique or superb traits and habits animals have. There is so much variety here, but I found all of it intriguing. Each spread has a scattering of beautiful photographs with snippets of text describing the creature and its particular characteristics. Of course none of them go into great detail, but they are intriguing in showing the vast variety, the dazzling array of ways in which animals have evolved to carry out the business of life. Most of the book is illustrated with vivid photos, but there are also some diagrams, like the one that shows the insides of a sea anemone.

Some of the intriguing facts I learned? There is a spider that can walk on water. Cicadas spend up to seventeen years living underground as nymphs until they emerge to spend one season as adults. Some species of ants and termites make their own compost to grow fungus! There is a bird (the club-winged manakin) that makes a high-pitched violin sound by vibrating its wing feathers (twice as fast as a hummingbird!). Some aphids reproduce first by giving live birth without mating to offspring that are their genetic clones and then later in the season the same bug will mate with a male, then lay eggs which survive the winter to hatch in spring. Talk about crazy! The weirdest thing of all, though, was reading about how great gray slugs mate.

Note that much of the stuff that amazed me was about smaller critters and birds. A lot of the facts on mammals I was already familiar with, but it was no less enjoyable to read about them and linger over the photographs.

Rating: 4/5 ........ 192 pages, 2010

Jul 8, 2010

Meme: Discussion

from Booking Through Thursday:
Do you have friends and family to share books with? Discuss them with? Does it matter to you? (Personally, I almost can’t remember the last time I was able to really TALK about a book I’d read with someone else who’d read it... Thank God for the internet.)

I do, in a way. My husband is not a big reader of books, but he reads a lot of other types of media. We have a lot of little conversations where I share tidbits of books I'm reading and he shares with me things he's read in news media. Of course, it's not quite the same as discussing something we've both read in depth, but that does happen from time to time. A few years ago he read some Harry Potter when I was re-reading part of the series (to prepare for a new movie release approaching) and we talked about those books in length. When we first got married we read a lot of Orwell novels together and discussed them. More recently we read through an Orson Scott Card series and had minor heated debates over issues in the books. You can tell how seldom these incidents of co-reading were, though, as I can remember them all clearly! For daily chat on books of course I love visiting all the bookish blogs, and it always thrills me to find a reader who's experienced a book I loved (especially the less-popular ones that no one else seems to have heard of). I ought to leave more comments, though. Things never get quite as chatty online for me as in real face-to-face discussions, seldom though I have them.

Jul 7, 2010

Registration for BBAW

This is my official registration to be a part of Book Blogger Apprciation Week this year, which takes place Sept 13-17th. I don't really expect to win any awards, so I'm registering mostly because I want to vote! Making this post last minute, as it was hard for me to decide what category my blog fits into. I know I've been reading very heavily in the non-fiction lately. But I also read a wide variety of fiction, both adult and for kids, and fantasy or sci fi when the mood strikes me. I've started to get into graphic novels lately, too. So I decided to sign up under the Best Eclectic Book Blog category. Here are my five posts to be considered (all reviews):

Two Years Before the Mast
Digging Deep
The Arrival 
Their Eyes Were Watching God 

Jul 5, 2010

How to Speak Dragonese

The Heroic Misadventures of Hiccup the Viking
by Cressida Cowell

In this third story about the young unlikely Viking hero, Hiccup and his friend Fishlegs go astray during a board-the-enemy-ship lesson and find themselves captives in a Roman fortress. Not only that, but they run into an old enemy who has pitted the Hooligans against a neighboring tribe of female Viking warriors in order to distract them while he steals dragons (including mischievous little Toothless) to throw into the gladiator's arena. With the help of a feisty Viking girl from the enemy tribe and an itty-bitty dragon the size of a grasshopper (who thinks he is God of the Universe) Hiccup must escape, stop a feud and save the dragons! The tale is full of crazy incidents an unexpected turns (although only one really took me by surprise). The crude little-boy humor started to get old, though. A lot of the jokes were just repeats from the previous books, and I didn't find this one quite as fun and entertaining.

Rating: 2/5 ......... 225 pages, 2005

More opinions at:
A Fort Made of Books
Flamingnet Young Adult Book Blog

Jul 4, 2010

How to Be a Pirate

the Heroic Misadventures of Hiccup the Viking
by Cressida Cowell

Another fun little book detailing the adventures of the awkward little viking named Hiccup. In this second installment, Hiccup and his fellow young vikings get involved in a trip to a gloomy island inhabited by particularly vicious wild dragons, in search of an ancestral treasure. As usual, Hiccup has to prove himself against his bullying cousin Snotlout, who looks like a better prospect for becoming the future Chief (as he's better at fighting, brutality, etc.) But when Hiccup and his friend Fishlegs find themselves pitted against an enormous beast in an underground cavern, they unexpectedly find their own set of fighting skills. Hiccup also shows his character in making the right decision when faced with the evil that greed for riches could bring to his people. The story has dangerous swordfighting lessons, a shipwreck, mysterious messages, encounters with treacherous and cannibalistic slave traders, and of course the antics of Hiccup's recalcitrant pet dragon Toothless. Something I didn't mention when I discussed the first book is the illustrations. They're rough, ink-splotched sketches intended to look like a kid drew them. I found them amusing at first, but then they started to just feel repetitively disappointing. But I'm sure kids would get a kick out of them!

Rating: 3/5 ........ 212 pages, 2004

More opinions at:
What to Read
Kittling Books

Random complete!

I've finished my first reading challenge of the year - the Random Reading one hosted by Caribousmom. In letting random.org pick my reads, I never knew what was coming next and read several books I probably would have let gather dust on my shelf for a long time otherwise. I read twelve books for the challenge

Here's the books I read that I really enjoyed and plan on keeping:
Anybody Can Do Anything by Betty MacDonald
Growing and Displaying Bonsai by Lewis and Sutherland
Conversations with Amber by Gladys Taber
Digging Deep by Fran Sorin
A Year in the Life of a Rose by Rayford Clayton Reddell
Blackbird by Jennifer Lauck
Two Years Before the Mast by Richard Henry Dana

These are the ones I didn't fall in love with; they'll be moving on to new owners:
All Over but the Shoutin' by Rick Bragg
The Three Legged Stallion by Siegfried Kra
The Wild Mare by Glenn Balch
The Young Grizzly by Paige Dixon
Noble Friends by Pamela Dickson

The challenge was a lot of fun. I hope Caribousmom hosts it again next year, I'll be sure to participate again!

Jul 3, 2010

Two Years Before the Mast

by Richard Henry Dana

In 1834 Richard Henry Dana, a Harvard college student, left his studies due to an illness which had caused "weakness of the eyes" and went to sea on a merchant ship hoping to improve his health. For two years he worked as a common sailor, sleeping in the cramped forecastle with the other seamen, climbing about the rigging, taking the hard knocks and suffering inclement weather. He kept a journal, and after returning home wrote up a narrative of his experiences and observations. Not only is it a rousing adventure story of life at sea, but also a fascinating depiction of a way of life long gone past. There are interesting descriptions of all sorts of characters Dana meets and of the California coast when it was still part of Mexico, a sparsely populated wild and fertile country mostly open land with a few adobe houses, missions or forts (presidios) here and there. One of the more interesting segments of the book takes place when he gets left on shore there engaged in preparing hides for the ship to pick up (its main trade was in cattle hides and tallow). Although the technical terms were difficult to pick through (mostly describing parts of the rigging and actions done thereon), the daily descriptions of the intricate skill of sailing were fascinating. Dana served as a crew member on two different ships, under different captains (belonging to the same company) so he describes the contrasts between how the captains ran their ships. Also every time they ran into another ship there was a sort of contest between them to show off sailing skills, and the sailors would look critically upon how the other ship was manned and rigged, if it was kept clean and tidy, etc.

A lot of the book describes how difficult and hard a sailor's life was- there was pretty much no sympathy for sickness or injury, the men were fed mainly on salted or fresh beef (I wasn't surprised to see that at the end of the voyage one man came down with scurvy), in rainy weather their clothes were constantly wet, their bunks were in darkness and damp, the captain had complete rule (once Dana witnessed a terrible flogging), etc. After its publication, Two Years Before the Mast became widely popular, and Dana was instrumental in working to better the lot of sailors. In my copy, there are two afterwards written by Dana; one describes his efforts to help sailors, the other describes his return to California after twenty-four years, and what had happened in that time to some of his shipmates and the rigs he sailed on. I read an older edition, and I think I'm going to look for a newer one to replace it, hopefully one that has a glossary of unfamiliar terms, a diagram of ship's rigging, and a map of their travels (which would all be helpful in better appreciating the text).

It might interest all you booklovers to know that Dana himself, and many of his shipmates, were also avid readers! Of course they rarely had time to just sit and read but when there were lulls in the work they would trade books from the bottom of their chests. When they ran into other ships they often swapped books with the other sailors. Sometimes Dana was desperate to find something to read, and found himself engrossed in books he never would have tried before- like a romance novel! When he described his reaction to a particularly good read, it was so familiar:
"... each watch below... I spent in the same manner, until I had finished my book. I shall never forget the enjoyment I derived from it. To come across anything with literary merit was so unusual that this was a feast to me. The brilliancy of the book, the succession of capital hits, and the lively and characteristic sketches, kept me in a constant state of pleasing sensations."
This was my last read for the Random challenge. I've had it on my shelf some time, because I recall my father once telling me how good it was. Such an interesting read!

Rating: 4/5 ........ 320 pages, 1840

More opinions at:

Jul 2, 2010

friday finds

I didn't add many new titles to my TBR lately (probably a good thing, seeing how long it is!). So these are my friday finds of the past two weeks.

Adventures Among Ants by Mark Moffett- I like to read books about animals, but I don't think I've ever read one about ants. So this book by an entomologist who traveled the world to photograph and study ants looks super interesting. I came across it because Caribousmom heard about it on NPR

Dogged Pursuit by Robert Rodi- Sounds like a fun read about a guy trying to train a troublesome rescued sheltie for agility trials. Caught my attention on the Stay at Home Bookworm's page.

The Long Song by Andrea Levy- I read about this one on The Black Sheep Dances. It's about slavery in Jamaica, spanning the time just before and after slavery was ended there. Looks like a very interesting story that examines all the complex emotions and relationships people had and how they changed (or didn't) when slavery there was made illegal.

Zan-Gah by Allan Shickman- For a YA book it sounds very well-written, and it's set in prehistoric times. I haven't read many but I do like these books that imagine how our earliest ancestors lived, survived and ultimately progressed. This one is about a young man who goes on a hunt against a fierce beast, then off on a journey to search for his missing brother. Found on Raging Bibliomania.

Purge by Sofi Oksanen- I've never read anything about Estonia, so this book caught my eye on a now-defunct blog. Softdrink says there are lots of details on Estonian crops and canning, which interests me, but the story is also about a girl who was held captive as a sex slave and I'm not sure I could handle reading about that. Still, I'm curious enough in reading about an entirely new-to-me country that I'll add it to my list.

Crow Planet by Lyanda Lynn Haupt- a book about crows, from Bookwyrme's Lair (a blog I've just discovered). Crows are so clever they really intrugue me, and the book has pen-and-ink illustrations! which I'd love to see.

What new titles have you come across recently, that you're itching to read?

Jul 1, 2010

The Pen and Ink Book

Materials and Techniques for Today's Artist
by Jos A. Smith

I thought for something a little different I'd tell you about an art book today. This one is not so much an instruction book as a showcase of the wide versatility possible with inks. It's not really for beginners but if you've already tried drawing in ink and are excited about it, this book can really springboard you into some new techniques and creativity. It starts out by describing some unique tools used for inking- from steel nibs to those made of cane and quills (yes, cut from bird feathers!) to fountain pens or the everyday ballpoint. Quality papers and other drawing surfaces, varieties of ink and other useful materials are also discussed. Then the book goes into a series of examples of technique- linework, cross-hatching, stippling, washes, etc. There are some very interesting effects he creates using mixed media- combining inks with acrylics, or pastels, or even crayon. All the techniques are illustrated with the author's own work, which is surprisingly varied. Some are lively and fun -done for children's picture books- others quite complex and dark in nature. A few could be disturbing to the sensitive viewer. I thought they were all really imaginative and fantastic. Anyhow, the book doesn't really show any step-by-step examples of how to arrive at the finished product, although he discusses the techniques a lot is left up to the individual artist to learn by experimenting himself. That doesn't bother me much, I find the book highly inspirational and love looking at all the images. One part I really like is a section where he shows how a single image- in this case a person's face- can have a different feel just by how it is rendered. The example shows this same face drawn in a dozen different styles of linework and it really is quite illuminating. This is by far one of my favorite art books. It was a gift from my father. You can see some of the artist's work here.

Rating: 5/5 ........ 176 pages, 1992