Oct 27, 2015

cleaning house

Title is the name of this puzzle, not the fact that it's the first one I'm considering culling from my collection. I like all the blues in the picture, but little else about it. Although the pieces have satisfying variety of shapes, they're quite small and very shiny, also the picture is darker than it looks here, so I had to lean in close (often bumping heads with my kid or crossing each others' view with our hands) and tipping my head constantly to avoid glare. It was annoying. Also, the pieces are flimsy and the upper layer easily tears off; just from moving pieces around my fingernails inadvertently tore up edges or created crease lines on them.  I've learned a lesson from it: don't buy cheap puzzles. This one is made by papercity puzzles.

It's only the second time I've worked this puzzle, and at 500 pieces it was fairly quick even though I did a background/general-to specific strategy and mostly avoided looking at the box picture as a guide. Previously I've taken a photo about every other sitting, but this puzzle was actually assembled in just six sittings. My four-year-old helped. She did the fish's open mouth all by herself, so had her own sitting between pics 2 and 3 and surprised me with it.

Oct 26, 2015

Kitty Cornered

by Bob Tarte

This was a nice read about people and cats. The author tells how, in spite of never liking cats as a child, his household gradually expanded from just one cat to include six. Adding a second cat seemed impossible- what if they don't get along? a third, not so much trouble, and after that it just seemed to happen. They really do seem to be bird people (ducks, chickens, geese and especially parrots, which starred in a prior book) but cannot turn down a needy cat when its owners are about to ditch it. There's a continual kitty shuffle as each new arrival finds its way to fit in. Very apt descriptions of how determined and inscrutable cats can be. Getting their own way, making you laugh one minute, striking out the next, then melting it all with a show of affection. Anybody who's lived with a cat can appreciate this book with its unique, individual feline personalities. Yes there are some headaches and anxious moments as several of their cats go through illness or meet with accidents, but I will let you know it all turns out well in the end (no death).

I have to say I enjoyed this one a lot more than Fowl Weather. Maybe I just was not in the right mood to read the other book, or this one wasn't so heavy-handed with the humor? But in this case the author's little asides and tongue-in-cheek remarks made me chuckle, they didn't seem exaggerated or tiresome as I recall thinking before...

I borrowed this one from the public library.

Rating: 3/5         288 pages, 2012

more opinions:
Lesa's Book Critiques

Oct 23, 2015

TBR 57

This list proves I'm still reading all your blogs, even if I seldom find something meaningful to say and leave a comment. Book titles not linked to a fellow blogger are from browsing at the public library, were mentioned in another book I read, or were seen in a gift shop at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History...
The Wolf Border by Sarah Hall- Shelf Love
Life in Motion by Misty Copeland- Caroline Bookbinder
All the Light We Cannot See by Antonhy Doerr- Shelf Love
Every Boy Should Have a Man by Preston L. Allen- Farm Lane Books Blog
The Oregon Trail by Rinker Buck- Caroline Bookbinder
The Underground Girls of Kabul by Jenny Nordberg- Farm Lane Books Blog
Make Your Home Among Strangers by Jennine Capo Crucet- Reading the End
The Art of Forgery by Noah Charney- Caroline Bookbinder
What the Robin Knows by Jon Young
Bird Sense by Tim Birkhead
Domesticated by Richard Francis
The Narrow Edge by Deborah Cramer
World Without Fish by Mark Kurlansky
Horses Never Lie About Love by Jana Harris
Invisible Beasts by Sharon Muir
Oh, Rats! by Albert Marrin
The Bluebird Effect by Julie Zickefoose
What If? by Randall Munroe
Animalium by Jenny Broom
Cuckoo: Cheating by Nature by N.B. Davies
Unusual Creatures by Michael Hearst
The Hidden Life of Wolves by James Dutcher
Fifty Animals that Changed the Course of History by Eric Chaline
A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers by Xiaolu Guo- Melody's Reading Corner
The Utopia Experiment by Dylan Evans- Farm Lane Books Blog
People of the Sky by Clare Bell- recommended by Thistle Chaser
Miracle Dog by Randy Grim
Hawk Hill by Suzie Gilbert
The House of Owls by Tony Angell
The Man Who Talks to Dogs by Melinda Roth
Chimpanzees of the Lakeshore by Toshisada Nishida
Chimpanzees of the Tai Forest by Christophe Boesch
Among the Bone Eaters by Marcus Baynes-Rock
The Chimpanzees of Gombe by Jane Goodall
Lost Animals by Errol Fuller
Zombie Birds, Astronaut Fish, and Other Weird Animals by Becky Crew
Mammals of Ungava and Labrador by Scott A. Heyes and Kristofer M. Helgen (editors)

Oct 22, 2015

How I Photograph Wildlife and Nature

by Leonard Lee Rue III

This instructional book by a successful wildlife photographer outlines his methods and gives advice on getting professional level photos of wild animals. The author covers every aspect of it, from technical details on using camera equipment to the artistic side of things- visualizing and framing a nice composition. Also things like how to manage photography trips abroad and simple tips on handling the business side of things like approaching editors, writing contracts and so on. Even what kinds of socks and outerwear he uses in different situations (this can be crucial!) And tons of helpful tips on little things- how to set up blinds, how to approach bird nests, how to hold the camera steady in various situations, what time of day to go out for pictures, what kinds of animals it's better to get photos in the field or in a studio, how to get good pictures at a zoo, how wildlife behaves differently in a park frequented by tourists as opposed to really remote areas and on and on. I'm not really a photographer so the parts that interested me the most were his advice on approaching wildlife because of what it teaches on their behavior- where to find animals, how to get close to them (or when to stay away and use telephoto lens!) how to be safe in the wilderness, how to lure certain animals closer, what to know about their habits and so on. You can tell the man really knows his stuff. I am pretty sure many of the details about equipment are outdated at this point, although the basics of camera use, light metering and composition are still useful. Also the career side of things have also drastically changed- the author tells about sending sample photos (actual prints) off to editors of outdoors magazines, but when I google his name it's easy to see he sells his work on photo stock sites now. When he wrote the book his focus was mostly on black-and-white photography, and his work is high quality. He makes it clear that while he loves what he does, being a dedicated wildlife photographer is a lot of hard work.

The author has written many other books about wildlife (he is a naturalist at heart) and now I'm going to keep my eye out for them.

Rating: 4/5       287 pages, 1984

Oct 19, 2015

Seven-Day Magic

by Edward Eager

Gladly, this book has all the charm of the first two again. Five kids discover a mysterious old book in the library. It appears to be telling a story about them, only the book isn't complete, the end a run of blank pages. So they figure out it's a magic book and they can have adventures that will fill it up. I'm not sure how it happens they decide their rules are how the magic works, but in a now-familiar pattern they take turns wishing themselves into curious and exciting episodes, that don't always turn out the way they expect. The book can only put them in adventures that come from other books, and I happened to recognize most of these. They go to the land of Oz before it was Oz (apparently), visit the prairie of the Little House books (with their own grandmother as a young schoolteacher), pause on Robinson Crusoe's island, and even have an encounter with characters from one of Eager's other books, with magic of her own. The episode where a baby got turned into a man who still acted and thought like a baby but could now speak, was hilarious. The part where one girl gets carried away by a dragon who is then shrunk down small enough to get pounced on by a cat, very clever. (Dragons and cats have always seemed to have similar temperaments, to me. It made sense they would dislike each other!) And the story of a girl wishing her father would make it big on the stage (he was a backup singer for a television performer) turned out to be a big criticism of television, with the kids all hoping this new invention of entertainment would not shoulder out books in the future. It's also fun that apart from this group of children, the book has different contents for each person who picks it up. All in all, it's a very fun bookish story with references dropped all over the place that I very much enjoyed.

Apparently The Well-Wishers was an anomaly of Eager's; other reviewers mention it is also their least-favorite of the series, and reading Seven-Day Magic has upped my hopes that all the rest I find will be good too.

Rating: 3/5       190 pages, 1962

more opinions:
A Little Reading

Oct 18, 2015

The Well-Wishers

by Edward Eager

This story is about a bunch of kids whose friendship centers around a wishing well in one of their yards, which they assume is magic.The style of this book is slightly different. Each chapter is told from a different point of view, as the kids take turns initiating magic by wishing on the well (with the intent of doing good and helping someone). Except- it doesn't really seem to be magic at all. The situations they get into all have a curious outcome, created by the magic well or just lucky circumstance? They do make good stories, and they're nice studies of human nature and kids just being kids, but not the same sort of thing I got in the prior two books.

My favorite chapters were one where the children help a man whose apple orchard is doomed to being plowed up for a new development, and another where they welcome a new family into the neighborhood by starting a garden and gathering houseplants. There's also one about a lonely reclusive child who is befriended, another about a bully who reaches an understanding with them, one where the young son of the new family resents everyone, and a final 'adventure' where an older girl plays on the kids' belief in magic to get her own way. I found that one the most amusing. The final chapter is kind of awkward, where each kid gives a little wrap-up to their part of the story. Part of what didn't work for me was the voices didn't really vary enough to feel distinct, and I wasn't familiar with the characters. I think this is one I would have liked better if I'd read its predecessor first (or maybe if I'd read it first as a kid...)

I borrowed this book from the public library. After liking Half Magic and Magic by the Lake so much, I wanted to read all of Edward Eager's magic series, but my library system doesn't have Knight's Castle at all, and I'm approaching the others out of order as they come up individually on hold. (Hey, at least that means someone else out there is reading them!)

Rating: 2/5      220 pages, 1960

Oct 15, 2015

Reason for Hope

by Jane Goodall
with Phillip Berman

Jane Goodall is one of the field research scientists I have long admired. I was enthralled by her earlier books about studying chimpanzees in the wild and theorizing on what the behavior of these apes, so closely related to humans, could teach us. While this book mentions many of the highlights of her chimp studies, most of it is about her life before and after the pivotal Gombe studies. She tells of her childhood, what her family life was like, at what young age she displayed great concern for all animals. She describes how her life path led to working for Louis Leakey, how she first arrived in the rainforests surrounding the Gombe, and how the chimps changed her life. There's a switch in focus when she had a son to raise; by then students and other researchers had taken on the bulk of the chimpanzee work. Goodall learned of the often horrific conditions chimps were usually kept in when captive- whether in the pet trade, zoos, or research facilities, and it became her life work to fight for their cause. She does express regrets and not being able to spend time in direct contact with the apes she had grown to know so well, in the peaceful natural surroundings of the forest. Now her work is about environmentalism and educating the public, especially those living in poor areas near threatened wildlife. Throughout the book she also discusses her own spirituality, her faith in mankind despite the awful things she has seen and pondered over (particularly the Holocaust), how she has overcome personal trials, and various small stories about changing attitudes of individuals regarding the need to care for the environment and wildlife. Such an inspiring woman.

And yet I feel a bit disappointed in the book. It doesn't have quite the depth I recall from earlier books that were solely about the chimpanzee research. Sincerity and a good cause, yes. Interesting writing- not really. Overall it is rather bland. I also felt this way about her book on mindful food consumption, but wasn't brave enough to mention it then. I do still think I'd like the read The Chimpanzees of Gombe, but after that I'm afraid I'm loosing interest in her books.

Rating: 3/5       282 pages, 1999

Oct 13, 2015

kodacolor kittens

Here's an old puzzle. It's a 550 piece Kodacolor with teal colored backsides. The pieces are very uniform- I don't think there's a single piece in this puzzle that doesn't have two bumps and two holes (aside from the edges of course), so putting it together is all a matter of matching colors. The pieces are too small to easily visualize slight differences in shape. Surprisingly, I enjoyed this one- the foliage is a challenge. And my kids were all into it just because the kittens are cute!
I didn't make an effort to challenge myself on this one, but just started with the areas of greatest contrast or interest, and worked from there.

Oct 11, 2015

Seven Wild Sisters

by Charles de Lint

Just for fun I read another book connected to The Cats of Tanglewood Forest- this one tells another adventure set decades later. Lillian of the first book is now an old lady. A family of girls lives down the hill- seven red-haired sisters. They all have their own interests and personalities of course, which comes into play significantly in the story. One girl meets Lilian, goes off collecting ginseng root in the forests, and rescues a 'sangman (personification of the spirit of the ginseng I guess) who had been injured. Her good deed is seen as an unwanted intrusion into an ancient quarrel between two groups of fairies- the woodsy root-like 'sangmen and the bee fairies. As one sister gets drawn into the strife, others do also- several sets of twins are taken hostage by either side, there are bargains and fiddling contests (that fail) and strange magical characters and differing codes of honor and fair play among the fairies. Lots of familiar themes with a new turn. I did like that.

But it wasn't quite enjoyable. Too many sisters to keep track of, not enough depth or story for my liking. I wanted more of the cat-man L'il Pater! There were hints of other stories untold- some secret history between Lilian and the Apple Tree Man that I don't recall at all from Cats of Tanglewood Forest, and suggestions of another story that might someday follow this one. I don't know if I'll ever feel motivated to pick it up, though.

It was curious to see some similar themes to another very different book I just read, A Girl of the Limberlost. Here we also had a woman protecting acres and acres of land, refusing to fell the trees for profit, handing ownership to a younger woman with an injunction to keep it whole... People living close to the land, using their own resources. I kind of wished for more of that stuff and less of the fairies, but then it wouldn't have been the same story at all!

Rating: 2/5        260 pages, 2014

more opinions:
Puss Reboots

Oct 9, 2015

A Circle of Cats

by Charles de Lint

This is the original telling of Charles de Lint's fable about a girl who gets bitten by a poisonous snake and saved by a bunch of wild cats. To escape death, they magically turn her into a cat. She doesn't want to be a cat and her first thought is to find out how to get changed back into a girl. At first she believes that fairies turned her into a cat, but an owl sets her straight. This story is rather brief; the girl goes straight to the spirit of the apple tree and the panther Father of Cats himself for her remedy. It's still got a lot of charm and good morale (about repay your debts and making wise choices) but personally I like the expanded version The Cats of Tanglewood Forest better. I'm glad he wrote it. The illustrations by Charles Vess are better in the second book, too.

I saw this one mentioned on Puss Reboots, which prompted me to pick it up at the library.

Rating: 3/5        52 pages, 2003

Oct 8, 2015

A Girl of the Limberlost

by Gene Stratton Porter

If you loved Anne of Green Gables, you're sure to like this book. It has a rather similar story, set in the late 1800's. Elnora lives with her distant, embittered mother on the edge of an Indiana swampland. Her mother has a cold, unfeeling attitude due to the father's untimely death when Elnora was an infant, and yet Elnora is patient, kind and understanding beyond measure. She loves the wild things of the woodlands, especially the large, beautiful moths which she collects and studies. Her greatest dream is to attend school but she has no money to pay for books and tuition, and her mother refuses to help. She doesn't want the assistance neighbors and friends offer, either, but finds a way to use her knowledge of the forest and her moth collection to raise money for highschool. Through many setbacks, Elnora comes through with determination and not a little cleverness in finding solutions as new problems that arise. The storyline shifts directions when a revelation about the past changes her mother's attitude towards her. Later Elnora is attempting to raise college funds when she meets a young man from the city who is spending time in the countryside to convalesce from an illness. You can guess right away that something will develop between these two, but it's complicated by the fact that the young man is already betrothed to a wealthy, primping lady who isn't about to let some unknown country girl disrupt her engagement. It does end well, but the route to that ending was not what I expected, and really made the moral fiber of these characters shine.

It's a really good book, and I'm a bit disappointed that I didn't actually love it. In the first place, I was expecting more nature writing, or at least descriptions of the swamp habitat. There's not much of that. In fact, there wasn't any of it for the first 150 pages. I almost wonder if the book I read was missing some of the original? because a few other reviews I see online mention the first few chapters of the book having wonderful descriptions of nature in the swamp and forest, whereas the first chapter I read was about Elnora going to school... And the parts about moth collecting aren't until the later third of the book.

It's really mostly about relationships and while that is interesting enough to make a good story, the people are a bit too noble and kind in these pages, a bit hard to believe. The turnaround Elnora's mother makes is also hard to credit, so instant and complete. I was also rather dismayed how much importance everyone put on appearances, that Elnora and all those around her were so set on getting her nice clothes to wear so she wouldn't be scorned and laughed at by other kids at school. I think it would have made a much bolder story if Elnora had found acceptance in spite of her old-fashioned, poverty-stricken looks. And it distressed me how much neighbors kept urging Elnora's mother to sell portions of her land for logging or oil drilling, so she could provide for her child. Both mother and child obviously loved the land and didn't want to see it despoiled, yet they couldn't be in accord with each other? And if she so loved the forest, why did she have so few qualms about collecting hundreds of moths and cocoons, especially the rare ones, to sell to collectors? Grated, they kept stating how important it was to educate other folks about wild things, but it seemed a hollow rationale to me.

Am I being too nitpicky? I probably would have adored this book as a younger reader, and I do love the solid message it gives of being honest and forthright, forgiving and true to yourself, kind to those in need, etc. The love story that unfolds near the end of the book is particularly well done. It shows just how true certain people can be, and how spiteful others. How some people are attracted to each other for all the wrong reasons, and how deep love can go when you approach it in the right way (at least, in my opinion). Elnora sure is an admirable character. (Oh, and did I mention she is pretty much a self-taught genius at playing the violin?)

But I do want to read more of this author's work, particularly Freckles, which precedes this story. Its characters and events were alluded to a lot, without enough satisfactory explanation. The author wrote as if she expected her readers already knew half her characters from before, and while I often find rehashing of previous books annoying, here I did want a little more backstory! Maybe I would have appreciated Limberlost a bit more, if I'd read Freckles first?

Bonus material: looking for pictures of the beautiful moths mentioned in the book, I found these images of incredible moth sculptures by artist Michelle Stitzlein

Rating: 3/5      485 pages, 1991

more opinions:
Shelf Love
dear author
bookshelves of doom

Oct 5, 2015


by Toni Morrison

Beloved is the story of a family that escaped from slavery, crossing state lines to get away from a situation of horrible abuse. The main character, Sethe, goes through some awful things to reach freedom, and ends up in a lonely house- loosing nearly everyone she cares about- her youngest child dead, her older sons run away, her husband is missing, and the local community shuns her. I thought at first this was because her house is haunted, but it turns out there is something horrific in her past and for this all the faces turn away from her. She is only left with her daughter Denver, who was born while she was fleeing the old plantation. This daughter grew up in isolation with her in the haunted house, until two people appear on their doorstep- one Paul D, a former slave from the same plantation as Sethe, and a strange young woman who is silent about her past and where she came from. Sethe takes her in regardless, and the relationship between these four is rocky, especially because the adults are suffering through the memories of their past, struggling to find new identity as free people- how do you decide what to do, what to become, when all you've ever known is what other people forced you to be...

This book is raw, powerful, and convoluted. I had a hard time with it. Not just because the content is often difficult to read about- the characters suffer through things no one should have to endure and they don't fall down and quit but just keep on going- also because it's told in such a circular style. Constantly turning on itself, as characters remember and relive and re-explain their past, to themselves and to one another. First from one viewpoint, then another, then someone else retelling the story as it was told them by a third. I was baffled, at first, not always sure whether I was reading about the present or the past, until I saw certain events cropping up again, and realized the narrative was looping around. Each time a little more is revealed until you reach the final revelation of what it is Sethe has done, why she is so haunted, why the community avoids her. It's heartbreaking. I can't stop thinking about it.

Such a vivid narrative, and yet at the end I don't think I liked it much. Partly because I'm just not into ghost stories, but I made myself finish this one. Also there are certain things I would just rather not know. I had to shut the book for a day my insides clenched shock brain reacting: how could people do that to each other?! and this happens several times. I hope the author is exaggerating what bad situations were like for slaves in the late 1800's, but she's probably not, which is all the more terrible. Years ago I tried reading The Bluest Eye and just could not get through it. I think of two other books I read not so long ago about a similar time period and events- Cold Mountain and The Book of Negroes- they remind me of each other and they were a lot easier to read. But even though I don't personally like this book, the writing is good and I can't fault her skill. The stories she tells need to be told, but sometimes I'm not sure I want to read them.

Rating: 3/5     273 pages, 1987

more opinions:
Things Mean a Lot
I'm Lost in Books
Estellas Revenge
The Literary Omnivore
Leeswammes' Blog

Oct 1, 2015

Wesley the Owl

by Stacey O'Brien

I laughed, cringed and wowed my way through this book in just two days. It's that good. Stacey O'Brien is a biologist who worked at Caltech and was given the opportunity to raise a disabled owl. She found out quickly that this would be a lifetime commitment- the owl could never be released into the wild, would imprint upon her as its mother (and later, its mate) and could fall into a serious depression if later separated from her. It turns out owls are very sensitive, devoted to their chosen companion and quite intelligent in their own way. It was delightful to read about all the surprising things O'Brien learned about owls while caring for Wesley, and the deep bond they developed. I absorbed all the little details about the owl's development and behavior, but even more fascinating were the uncommon things he did- learning to recognize what certain words meant, expressing delight at playing in water (owl feathers are not waterproof, they usually avoid getting wet) and modifying his vocalizations to communicate what he wanted. It is definitely a special person who will tolerate an owl as a housemate- Wesley needed to eat freshly killed or frozen mice every day (dealing with that sounds rather disgusting), liked to shred piles of magazines and had several unpleasant-sounding habits. Some of the things O'Brien describes doing as matter-of-course during her research work at Caltech also would make my stomach turn. But I liked her descriptions of the camaraderie among scientists and the local mini-culture there, as well as the work other biologists she knew were involved with. And the owl of course true to his wild nature is described as a fascinating, endearing and beautiful creature, even though he has a few disgusting habits.

I will tell you, the book does have a sad ending, and it's not only because the owl reached the end of his (very long, being so well-cared for) lifespan- it's also because the author went through some serious illness and suffering. She remained devoted to her owl regardless. What a great book.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 4/5        229 pages, 2008

more opinions:
Book Chase
Maggie Reads
A Bit Bookish
Bibliophile by the Sea
Puss Reboots