Jan 30, 2014

The 101 Best Aquarium Plants

by Mary E. Sweeny

A very nice field guide to a wide selection of hardy, beautiful aquarium plants. I like reading about plants, even those that I can't possible grow, so I breezed through this one in a day. It has a nice introduction to aquatic plants and their needs, the technicalities of lighting, importance of water quality and the benefits of plants in your tank. There's a lot about how to set up a tank specifically for showcasing plants, in which fish are an accent if present at all (called Dutch aquariums). Some very pretty pictures throughout that really appealed to me. The individual profile pages tell a little bit about each plant species, where it comes from, its growth habit and size, needs in terms of water quality, temperature, nutrients, light intensity and how to propagate it. Very useful. I learned in particular that my Rotala, although the less demanding species in its family, is probably still not getting enough light.

My tank is low-light, low tech so most of the plants in the book would probably not grow well for me, but I did note down a short list of some I now consider to add to my tank someday. Aponogeton crispus /ruffled sword plant, Cryptocoryne pygmaea, Wendtii tropica, red melon sword/ Echinodorus x barthii, Fissidens/ phoenix moss, water clover /Marsilea hirsuta, pillea /Monosolenium tenerum (a liverwort), perhaps Elodea canadensis/anacharis although I'd need stronger light.

Rating: 4/5    192 pages, 2008

Jan 29, 2014

The Simple Guide to Freshwater Aquariums

by David E. Boruchowitz

This is the most excellent book on starting up an aquarium, and I wish I'd read it first. It addresses very particularly the needs of someone just beginning in the hobby, focusing on what is necessary and leaving out all the complicated discussions of equipment and other technicalities that are better left for more experienced levels. It points out which fish are best for beginners, and suggests stocking schemes based only on those. Has an easily-understood and thorough explanation of the nitrogen cycle, and how to prepare you tank for the first fish. In every aspect of fishkeeping- maintenance, feeding, disease control, stocking levels, etc. the book points out the simplest, foolproof way to do things, alerts the reader to common mistakes and things to be aware of, how to recognize when something is wrong and what to do about it. It has a straightforward, friendly writing style that made it easy to read through. A must have book for the shelf of any beginning aquarist, in my opinion. I want a copy of my own.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 5/5    255 pages, 2009

Jan 26, 2014

Rolf in the Woods

by Ernest Thompson Seton

Focus once again on "woodcraft" but this time within a story so I enjoyed it more. Rolf is a young man who through confusing circumstances (the beginning of the book was pretty awkward) is left without family and appointed as ward to a cruel man. He runs away and finds refuge with a Native American who lives on the edge of someone's land. The locals soon discover where he is and the community religious leader comes calling, insisting that Rolf live with another family, one known to be very strict. But Rolf has discovered how content he is living rough in the woods. Afraid of being apprehended and forced into civility, he and Quonab pack up and strike out into the wilderness to make their own home.

 I found it quite interesting that the minister was horrified at the idea that Rolf would be raised by "a heathen savage" when throughout the story it was shown that on the contrary, the native man was far more attentive to his own spirituality than most other characters in the story.

So most of the story is about Rolf and Quonab building their cabin in the woods and establishing a trap line. Quonab teaches Rolf survival skills, how to track wildlife and many other things. They explore a lot and have various adventures along with their small, half-trained dog whose activities constantly amused me. There is an enthralling description of huge flocks of wild pigeons, which neatly dated the story for me. They have continual altercations with an unpleasant man who is stealing from their trapline. This culminates with a heightened incident when the man is caught in a bear trap and Rolf in an act of mercy rescues him. He thinks the man will treat them fairly afterwards in gratitude, but this isn't the case. The man turns out to be deceitful and cunning as well, but he has a reputation and other men in the wilderness community step in to administer local justice.

This was one aspect of the book I found disturbing. When the man was caught in the trap his agony was highlighted, and the other men rush in alarm to rescue him, nurse him back to health even though he is their enemy. Yet they continually use these instruments to catch wild animals, often describing the animals' struggles and torn bodies without any sympathy for their suffering at all.

There is another main storyline about a young, relatively wealthy man who takes to outdoor life for improvement to his health, with Rolf and Quonab as his guide. Rolf and this man find fault with the other at first, for each lacks knowledge in the others' area of expertise (woodcraft and book-learning respectively) but soon they learn to like, respect and learn from each other.

The best part of the book is the overall arc of Rolf's growth, as his character develops from an overeager boy rather full of himself, into a young man full of skill and integrity. But unfortunately I lost interest at the end of the book, just when Rolf came into his glory. As one circumstance builds upon another, Rolf and Quonab are enlisted as scouts assisting in the American struggle for independence. So there is a lot of historical battles, names and places suddenly taking over what was an individual story. I'm sure some readers would find this thrilling, but for me Rolf got lost in the bigger events and I ended up just skimming the last quarter of the book, to know what happened in the end.

Abandoned    373 pages, 1911

Jan 24, 2014

Woodland Tales

by Ernest Thompson Seton

The book is not quite as I had imagined it, and does not really live up to my admiration of this author. It is a collection of short fables and tales about how many animals and plants got their particular traits, relative to the northeast region of the United States. Origin tales, if you will. Some appear to be created by Seton himself, many are based on Native American folklore, although I could never discern what tribe they might have originated from. I was interested in the details of plant characteristics because I live near the area the stories focus on, but unfortunately did not recognize many. It would have helped to have illustrations, but while the text referred to many, none were included in my e-reader edition. (A double disappointment, there were points where tunes or old songs were referenced, and with a link provided to listen, but they didn't work).

Nevertheless, the stories unfolded a richness in the plant and animal life around me that I was unaware of before. It sent me many times to the computer to look things up, especially plants which the stories claim are edible or good for other uses. Besides origin stories there are also some folk tales, which I enjoyed to a limited extent. It is obvious that Seton viewed Native American skills and lore as a perfection to aspire to, but the way he conveyed it in the stories often used language that could be found offensive to modern readers. Even when he was admiring "the red man" his phrasing was frequently condescending or overly simplistic.

There are also lots of activities described, by which you can teach children about nature, or test your skills in finding constellations, recognizing species in the woods or creating small crafts using various plant items and things found in the woods. It was this last group that interested me, particularly the description on how to make a fish figure from a young pinecone and brown paper. But although this bit of "woodcraft" was interesting, I know I will probably only try a few and ultimately found it tiresome.

I did appreciate that at the end a listing was provided of all Seton's published works, along with brief descriptions of each. So now I know which books of his are more about "woodcrafting" and also which titles are simplified "junior" versions of the originals I have so enjoyed. I intend to keep searching for Seton's works, but know to avoid these two types as they won't hold my interest.

Rating: 2/5    212 pages, 1921

Jan 22, 2014

Little Black Goes to the Circus

by Walter Farley

Just like Little Black, A Pony, this story is about friendship, jealousy and finding new skills- although this time it is the horse who briefly leaves the boy for some exciting new friends! Little Black is out for a ride with his boy when they see posters about a circus coming to town. They go to watch the circus being set up, and see a circus horse doing tricks. Little Black wants to try the tricks, too, but he fails and the circus people laugh at him. He is ashamed and sad, so the boy helps him learn a trick of walking across a plank. Then the excited pony runs back to the circus to show what he can do. The ringmaster tests his skill and everyone applauds; they now want to make Little Black a circus pony. Now the boy is sad- will his pony want to stay with the circus?

Once again, the pictures are well done- especially the horses- and it is a good story. Sure to be a favorite with young kids, especially those who are crazy about horses!

Rating: 4/5    62 pages, 1963

Jan 19, 2014


Longing for milder weather? I know I am. So I looked through my pile of handmade bookmarks for a spring theme and found these interesting plant ones. I think they're some kind of carnivorous plants- pretty red and orange patterns. If you like them, simply leave a comment here to win the pair! I'll be choosing a name at random next weekend.

Jan 17, 2014

300 Questions About the Aquarium

by Petra K├Âlle

I am learning that when you want to research something, don't just go to the library and browse the shelves. The really good books are all in the hands of other readers, not sitting on the shelf waiting for me! Search the catalog. So now I have the final fish books of my selection available to read, been waiting for them to come to me from library holds.

This one is laid out as a series of questions regarding fish, their care, aquarium setup, all the usual stuff. Fairly well-organized, layout makes it easy to find what you want to look up, and the pictures are good quality. It's concise and very informative. I wish I had read it in the beginning of my foray into fishkeeping, as it addressed some of the problems I initially had and could have saved me a bit of trouble!

The book sent me to the computer to look up a few things- what's a tiger teddy fish, what kinds of algae are actually a sign of a healthy fish tank, does calcium deficiency really cause a crooked spine (danios are prone to this deformity from genetics as well), what does a gill fluke infection look like (I now suspect Bluet had this), and are plakat bettas more aggressive than betta splendens (yes, but they still have individual varying temperaments).

Rating: 4/5   256 pages, 2005

Jan 15, 2014

Little Black, A Pony

by Walter Farley

I remember this book from my childhood- my grandmother had a copy at her house. It's out of print now so I was thrilled to find one for my own kids (I can't remember exactly where- a used sale someplace). Written by the author of The Black Stallion, this is a wonderful story about a boy and his pony.

The nameless boy who narrates the story loves his pony, Little Black. Then one day he decides to ride a larger horse, Big Red. The bigger horse can run faster and do more things, so the little pony gets left behind and starts feeling very sad. The boy frequently chastises his pony for trying to do things the bigger horse does, that could be unsafe. Finally the little pony runs away in the snow, and the boy follows him on Big Red. The pony has run across a frozen river and Big Red is too heavy, he breaks through the ice and the boy falls into the cold water. Only Little Black can save him. After the rescue Little Black is proud of his accomplishment and the boy promises to only ride him from then on.

It's a very sweet story about friendship and loyalty. I think children can well relate to the prevailing themes- feeling rejected when your best friend plays with someone else, the frustration of being told you're too little to do something, and the satisfaction of finally finding something you're good at. And of course any kid who loves horses is bound to fall in love with this book, as well. The sentences are short and simple, making it appropriate for beginning readers, but the story is a lot more complex and satisfying than most easy-reader books I see at the library nowadays.

One of the biggest things that makes a good children's book for me, is the quality of the pictures. The illustrations here by James Schucker are just excellent. It's only printed in three colors- black, red and green- but the varying shades of gray and how the green can be almost a yellow, the red approaching orange- actually provides a wide variety of color. Even though it feels dated and quaint I think it still looks very classic. The draftsmanship of the drawings- especially the horses- is excellent and since I like drawing animals myself I enjoy looking at these pictures and studying how the artist did them. He obviously knew horses very well.

Rating: 5/5    64 pages, 1961

Jan 12, 2014

500 Freshwater Aquarium Fish

A Visual Reference to the Most Popular Species
edited by Greg Jennings

Similar to What Fish? this book just shows them all. Well, as many as it could fit into five-hundred-some pages. Lots and lots of fish. It has a brief introduction to what a fish is, and a glossary of fish-related terminology, but the rest is just tons of profile pages. Each has a nice, large photograph of the particular fish, a description with any interesting points on the species' taxonomy, behavior, rarity, difficulty or ease of care, color/finnage variants and the like. On the side are the requisite details: common names, size, diet, recommended aquarium conditions, breeding info etc. So for the most part I browsed through the book. I did look at every photo and read every description, but for the rest I glanced at the mature size and aquarium requirements, and only read details on fish I might possibly keep someday.

The book divides all the fishes into family groups: cichlids, catfish, cyprinids (barbs, danios and "sharks"), characoids, loaches and suckers, gouramis and relatives, rainbowfishes, killifish, livebearers and then a group of miscellaneous oddballs. While compared to a more focused book (such as the catfish atlas) this can only feature a few of the many many species, it still introduced me to a lot of fish I had never "met" before; in particular some lovely varieties of danio (five are shown), six kinds of betta and many killifish (I like those). It was a book to enjoy looking at, which sent me to the computer at various times to look up more information on the fish that were new to me.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 4/5      528 pages, 2006

Jan 9, 2014

another list

here's a few more enticing titles the book bloggers have introduced me to:
Beatrix Potter's Gardening Life by Marta McDowell- Commonweeder
An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield- Indextrious Reader
The Tropic of Serpents by Marie Brennan- Things Mean a Lot
Naming Nature by Mary Blocksma- A Striped Armchair
Watch How We Walk by Jennifer Lovegrove- The Lost Entwife

Jan 8, 2014

Aquarium Owner's Manual

by Gina Sandford

Another solid book on fish and their care. It covers freshwater, brackish and marine setups; I focused most of my reading on the freshwater parts and browsed through the rest. Detailed descriptions of fish biology, including things like scale types and how the body performs various functions. A nice little history on how the fishkeeping hobby began and what early aquariums were like- very interesting. Nearly two hundred species of fish, representatives from every family group present in the aquarium trade, has a species page with specifics on their needs. There is a short section on plants (unsatisfactory) and lots of detailed explanations of various equipment and their use- probably the best information I've read on the different types of filter systems yet. Tells you step by step how to set up and establish an aquarium, which is useful if you've never done one before (certain things done out of order or carelessly can be disastrous later). Also outlines how to choose healthy fish, introduce them with the least amount of stress, distract resident fish from harassing newcomers to your tank, feed them all properly, deal with health problems and more. I liked particularly that there was a page on evaluating an establishment and how to choose a retailer or fish dealer who will have healthy, well-cared for specimens and not just be about making the sale. I appreciated that on most areas of fishkeeping, this book points out common errors and how to avoid them. And it made me chuckle when among the list of essential items to having an aquarium was "tolerant family members"!

Through all these pages I learned quite a few interesting facts about fish themselves, and encountered a lot of new, very beautiful species I never saw before (as this book features saltwater fish too, which I haven't really been reading about since they're beyond my ability to keep) I have to say the most stunning, gorgeous creature I've ever seen is the mandarin fish. Wow. It's so beautiful it doesn't look real. Very good photographs and illustrations throughout.

Borrowed this one from the public library.

Rating: 4/5     256 pages, 1999

Jan 5, 2014

diving into the Dare

A new year, and the Dare is underway. I'm participating for the fourth time. Last year I manage to stick to it all the way to April, and read thirteen books off my shelves. In 2012 I cleared seventeen books. 2011 was siderailed by the urge to read pregnancy books, so I only did the Dare for one month. I'm planning to go all the way again this year, although I still have a handful of fish books from the library in my house. But they came in before the year rolled over, so that's fine. Here's what's on the reading menu this year!

This is my main TBR shelf, plus that stack on the floor to the side.
I also have this small bookcase, the bottom shelf holds a lot of coffe-table nature books, mostly National Geographic ones and books featuring some national parks.
There's also a lot of large books full of nice big photographs on this shelf that I haven't read yet, most of them about animals.
And we can't forget the addition of some fishie books that were recently given to me!
That's a total (if my LibraryThing tally is accurate) of 244 books I have available to read off my own shelves. Let's see how big of a dent I can make this time.

Jan 1, 2014

2013 book stats

The numbers can be deceiving. I had an idea that once again, I've not been reading as much as I used to (it's hard to find time anymore) so I was pretty pleased when my initial count of books came up to a hundred and ninety one! But then I realized that's the number of titles I blogged about. Many of those books I'd read years before (and was just remembering as best I could). They don't really count. So here's the real numbers:

Total books read- 148

Fiction- 97
Non-fiction- 51

non-fiction breakdown
Art- 2
Self-help, Parenting- 3
Gardening- 4
J Non-fiction- 4
Memoirs- 6
Nature- 6
Animals- 30 (of those, 20 on fishes!)
Other- 2

fiction breakdown
YA- 1
Historical Fiction- 3
Fantasy- 8
J Fiction- 9
Picture books- 14
Animals in Fic- 26
Baby books- 39

Short stories- 1
Graphic novels- 15

Owned- 58
Library- 87
Review copies- 3

other numbers
Abandoned books- 9
Re-reads- 2

Well, that's not quite what I expected, when I began this tallying exercise. I had the impression I was reading more non-fiction this year, but perhaps that's just lately. On the other hand, the beginning of the year was heavy with posts on children's books, and I read far more of those (with my kids) than I ever write about. So that skews the numbers somewhat. They never add up perfect, because I inadvertently stick some books in one or more categories. I'm glad that I've continued to read more graphic novels, and have gotten back into some more fun stuff again (fantasy).

I think it's funny that I felt I hadn't read as much as I used to, but when I look at the totals, it's very similar to last year. I guess that just means I never read as much as I want to!

Places I visited via the books: Sweeden, Africa (I don't recall which countries exactly), New Zealand, England, Japan, Ireland, Alaska, Scotland

Notable books from my year of reading: by far the funnest one was Rosy is My Relative. Made me laugh so much. One of my favorite non-fiction books was Garden Anywhere, I just loved the spirit of it. In terms of an excellent read, very well-written and rich in character, the best book has to be The Loon Feather. And two books that really caught my notice, made me sit up straight with astonished recognition and indignation, were The World Without Us and The Camera My Mother Gave Me. I recommend all these heartily.

Previous year's numbers: 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009
Let's see what 2014 brings! Starting off with the Triple Dog Dare.