Jul 29, 2016


by Tupelo Hassman

It's about a girl who grows up poor in a trailer park. All the miserableness you'd expect to find. I liked the author's voice, the way she makes pictures with words in a new way really intrigued me. I liked the idea that the main character fixated on a girl scout handbook and yearned to integrate its moral code into her life- but it turned out that was such a small part of the story. I started dreading it was going to be a story about sexual abuse, and it was. I could not read more than one description about that- even though at first what was really going on was only hinted at, the character couldn't even bear to describe things herself. Some of the chapters are just pages full of blacked out lines with a word or two visible here- I have never seen that in a novel before and it baffled me. It's told in bits and pieces, diary entries, social worker's reports and the like- which I suppose could work but here didn't give me any connection at all.

Borrowed from the public library.

Abandoned      275 pages, 2012

more opinions:
Regular Rumination

Jul 28, 2016

TBR 62

The Wicked Boy by Kate Summerscale- Shelf Love
Pit Bull by Dickey Bronwyn- Reading the End
How to Read Literature Like a Professor by Thomas Foster
The Dawn of the Deed by John A. Long
Something New by Lucy Knisley- Bermudaonion
The Invention of Nature by Andrea Wulf- So Many Books
Guide to Bird Behavior  by Donald Stokes
Unearthed by Alexandra Risen- Bermudaonion
The Shepherd's Life by James Rebanks- Farm Lane Books Blog
The Sound of Gravel by Ruth Wariner- Bermudaonion
100 Birds and How They Got Their Names by Diana Wells
The Underdogs by Melissa Fay Greene- Bermudaonion
Finding Wild by Megan Wagner Lloyd- It's All About Books
The War That Saved my Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley- Reading the End
A Kind of Intimacy by Jenn Ashworth- Shelf Love
A General Theory of Oblivion by José Eduardo Agualusa- Reading the End
Never Look An American in the Eye by Okey Ndibe- Caroline Bookbinder
The Book of Memory by Petina Gappah- Reading the End

Jul 27, 2016


by Christina Meldrum

This is a strange one. Aslaug is an unusual young woman- she has grown up in total isolation with her mother. They forage for food in the nearby forest, use herbs for medicines and live without most modern conveniences. She's not unintelligent- Aslaug's mother taught her to read (in several languages) and verses her in botany, science and the mythologies of numerous ancient religions. But the mother keeps secrets, blacks out passages from the books Aslaug has access to and presents some erratic behavior to say the least. When her mother dies, Aslaug is abruptly introduced to the modern world. She is very ignorant of cultural norms, her social skills are rough and her inability to judge others' intentions makes her seem endearingly innocent in one moment, rude in the next. What really charmed me was her way of filtering and describing everything via her understanding of botany- she attributed plant characteristics to all sorts of things around her. It was a very different way to see the world (a bit reminiscent to me of how the narrator in Aquarium described so many things as if they were in an aquatic realm).

The story really revolves around Aslaug's trial- when a neighbor sees her attempting to bury her mother's body in the backyard, he calls the cops and Aslaug is suspected of murder. A social worker assigned to her case looses track of her, but Aslaug herself locates her mother's family- their very existence had been kept secret from her- and finds herself in another place detached from reality. They are members of a fundamentalist christian sect. The second half of the book wasn't quite as engaging for me- but I kept reading to see what the end result would be. Not what I expected! When Aslaug first meets the family I kept wondering whose version was reality- her cousin kept telling her certain things, her aunt had a completely different take on it all, and then when things got really weird I started wondering if Aslaug herself was an unreliable narrator. I don't usually like mysteries, nor do I always enjoy books that jump around in time- this one skips constantly between the trial with snippets of others' testimony and versions of events, and Aslaug's more narrative description of what happened. But in this case it worked for me.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5        410 pages, 2008

more opinions:
A Patchwork of Books
The Well-Read Child
Becky's Book Reviews
Confessions of a Bibliophile
Bookshelves of Doom

Jul 25, 2016

Tropical Aquarium Fish

Comprehensive Edition
by Dr. Chris Andrews and Dr. Ulrich Baensch

General book on fishkeeping, an old version. It was kind of amusing to see hairstyles and decor in the photographs of kids leaning over their aquariums, that I recall from middle school years, several decades ago now. Most of the information about setup and maintenance was not new to me, but I kind of liked reading it anyway. I was a little surprised at some of the recommendations- such as running a light ten to fourteen hours a day- that seems way too much to me and I also noticed that lots of the photos of fish had serious algae in the background. Either someone didn't care about finding pictures of fish in clean living conditions for the publication, or it was just norm and accepted to have so much algae in your tank back then. One of the authors here invented tetra flake food, so it's no surprise that for each species profiled in the book, his products were listed as the best foods. Live and frozen foods were dismissed, for the risk of carrying disease. I think you'll find it different now- at least at the places I frequent online, many aquarists opine that live foods are best for the fishes, dried and flake food being of poorer quality overall. Also I was astonished to read a description on how to deal with unwanted snails in an aquarium- it involved stripping the ends of wires attached to a battery and dangling the exposed copper ends into the tank. What.

So those were things that jumped out at me, but really it is a standard book. Tells about essential equipment and how to set it up, explains the nitrogen cycle, how to introduce fish slowly, the benefits of growing live plants, dealing with vacation absence, identifying major diseases and how to attempt breeding certain species. But the majority of the book- over three quarters of it- is pages of species profiles. More than two hundred fishes are shown here and although the pictures are older and not always of the best clarity, I enjoyed looking through them. There were some fish in there that aren't popular now and I've never actually seen them in shops, some rare ones are mentioned and others are interesting because I recognize them even though their common names and appearance have changed through selective breeding, since this book was published.

Rating: 3/5       240 pages, 1993

Jul 20, 2016

The Girl Who Could Fly

by Victoria Forester

It starts out intriguing, with an inquisitive farm girl named Piper, who is born with the ability to float (I kept thinking of Princess Hyacinth) and teaches herself to fly. Her parents disapprove and the community is shocked when they find out. They decide it's best to send Piper to a secret institution for kids with special abilities. Where she meets children of all sorts (mind-reading, super strength, control over plants, etc) and gets involved in a government conspiracy. I thought this would be to learn from or manipulate the kids' abilities, but turns out it is to force them to conform instead. I liked Piper's character- someone else described this book as 'Little House on the Prairie meets X-Men' but she really reminded me of Anne of Green Gables. You'd think the story would get more intense when Piper gets to the special school but that's when it quickly went downhill. The telling got a lot more careless and suddenly I had no investment in continuing. I glanced at some of the reviews on amzn and it looks like I wouldn't have enjoyed where the story was going, anyway.

Borrowed from the public library. A better read on this theme would be Black and Blue Magic!

Abandoned        329 pages, 2008

Jul 16, 2016

Rosemary and Rue

by Seanan McGuire

Sixty pages in, and I'm done reading this one. Too bad, it was pretty good so far. It's an urban fantasy where fae (many kinds) inhabit our world, hiding their activites from humans. The main character, October, is half fae/half human, so she doesn't really fit into either side. After being trapped as a fish in a public pond for fourteen years when she crossed someone, she is shunning the fae and making her way best she can in the human world. But then she gets a horrific message from her old friend and mentor- in the moments of her death. Her friend lays a curse on October forcing her to investigate the murder. So she gets drawn back into the tangle of fae politics whether she likes it or not.

Well- I liked the voice of October. She's got spunk, and some wry humor. And I really liked the setting- McGuire depicts San Francisco very well. But- crime mysteries really aren't my thing, no matter how wrapped up in fantasy they are. And in spite of the main character's frequent asides to quickly explain things, the details of how things worked in this world of magic mixed with reality was a bit much for me to keep track of. I would have liked to read more about her imprisonment as a fish, haha! But of course that was just barely mentioned in the story.

This one had been on my older TBR for a long time- don't remember where I first saw it menitoned. Borrowed from the public library. Moving on now.

Abandoned       358 pages, 2009

more opinions:
Fantasy Cafe
Discriminating Fangirl
Fantasy and Sci Fi Lovin' Reviews

Jul 14, 2016

The Majesty of the Horse

by Dean Server

I have two coffee-table books on horses. When I started reading this one, I thought I might decide to keep it in place of the other- it's more up-to-date and has nicer quality photographs. But I'm holding onto both, because it turns out they have different focus. This book was an easier read, the prose is more casual and friendly and it's not as dense with information. Tells more about the biology and keeping of horses. It also has an overview of their history with mankind and a snapshot of various breeds, but gives me different details on those. For example, I noticed that the other book said Arabians have different body structure, the number of ribs and vertebrae, that makes them so unique among horses at one point scientists were going to consider them a different species. This book doesn't say anything about Arabian skeletons, but points out that Exmoor ponies, one of the oldest breeds, have a different jaw formation than other horses, including an extra molar. Also of note in a historic kind of sense- it tells of the Przewalski's horse being extinct in the wild, with captive populations growing in hopes that they would someday be introduced back into the wild. That is now a success story.

Great photographs. If I was still in the habit of making detailed drawings from photos, I'd definitely source these.

Rating: 3/5       128 pages, 1997

Jul 13, 2016


by Octavia Butler

The narrator wakes up alone, in the dark, with a severe head injury and a desperate hunger. She has no idea where she is, what has happened to her, or even her own name. She feeds on animals she catches (craving raw meat) and slowly healing, starts walking out of the forest. Gradually the names of items around her come back, and she starts to make sense of the world. But other things she cannot recall, so when she first meets a human she has no idea of their differences. She stumbles through the world unknowing, and so does the reader along with her.

She is Ina. An ancient species that lives by feeding on human blood, that cannot stand the daylight, that has extra-heightened senses and strength. Vampires, but not exactly the same as those in human folklore (even the characters in the book have misconceptions of the Ina). For example, they can't convert humans into their own kind, they are not undead, they raise their young and live in family groups separated by gender. The main character here- who looks like she's ten but in Ina years she's over fifty- gradually learns about herself as she comes across others of her own kind. It's an urgent matter, because almost as soon as she discovers what she is and where her people are, she finds out that someone is very seriously trying to kill them, and maybe they are targeting her in particular. Because it turns out she's not quite like the others of her kind. Her skin is darker and she can walk around in the daytime. She barely understands herself what these differences mean, but it's very apparent that someone else finds them threatening.

I liked the idea behind this book, and the themes it explores. Especially how it showed the Ina creating symbiotic relationships with the people they fed on- becoming bonded, giving something of value to the humans in return. Their social structure is different from what I expected, and it takes the humans in the story time to adjust to that as well.  Her first human partner is a grown man but oddly enough I didn't find it disturbing to read descriptions of this to-all-appearances pre-pubsecent girl being in such a relationship. I suppose because I expected a vampire story to be creepy or disturbing in some way. And this one doesn't really have any gross factors. But the other reason might be because I never really felt connected to the characters, it never felt real or engaging. The prose often felt stiff, the descriptions were not of things that interested me, and even though the backstory and explanations came through other characters, it felt like they were just there to do that: lots of people standing around telling each other stuff, in the most deadpan ways. I admit I skipped an entire chapter in the middle because I was loosing interest, then picked up reading again and skimmed more near the end.

Read more about it in the reviews linked to below- I didn't even tell you some of the more interesting points because I'm tired now.

Rating: 2/5        316 pages, 2005

more opinions:
Things Mean a Lot
Speculative Book Review
Amy Reads
Savidge Reads
Rhapsody in Books
Literary Omnivore

Jul 6, 2016

The Bird King

an artist's notebook
by Shaun Tan

I love looking at how other artists work, and that's exactly what this gives me. For it's not a book you read, it's one you look at. One I want to keep on looking at. A selection of quick drawings and detailed studies, from Shaun Tan's sketchbooks. Some are working studies for film and book projects he did, others are drawings that grew a life of their own- titles suggesting a story behind them, although he claims the pictures originate first. There are drawings from life- I particularly like the ones from museum figurines- people around him, landscapes made into wild abstractions. My favorites are among the final pages, little idle doodles and quick jottings that are full of half-formed thought and lively action. It's really inspirational. It makes me want to go spend hours drawing.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 4/5        128 pages, 2010

more opinions:
Waking Brain Cells
Charlotte's Library
Apples with Many Seeds

Jul 5, 2016

The Girl's Guide to Homelessness

by Brianna Karp

There are many different reasons that people become homeless. Brianna Karp found herself in this situation in spite of being educated, skilled, and having kept regular jobs since she was a teen. She was laid off during the recession, and could not find new employment. Her friends were just as strained, and living with family did not work. She was molested as a child, routinely abused by her mother, and all her hard work did not earn her any savings- her mother took all her money and then some. She found herself in a parking lot, living in a trailer her estranged father had unexpectedly left behind when he committed suicide. I think I might have liked this book more if it was focused on how she put her life back together, which really is admirable considering what she went through. I don't at all judge her for having kept a laptop, a cell phone, a dog while she was homeless (eventually she found a new home for the dog). Other decisions really made me wonder. Early on the book is mostly about her attempts to escape the mindset and restrictions she'd been raised with- her family behind Jehovah's Witnesses- and deal with the abuse. Then the focus becomes a new relationship with a man she met online, who was an advocate for the homeless. She got a lot of attention and publicity from writing a blog (which I haven't seen) and then the future she'd hoped for starts to unravel. It's upsetting to read about some of the things that happened to her. It was a pretty good book and I like the way she writes, but I wish it had been more about the homeless situation. Instead I got rather tired of the drama near the end, and found myself skimming the last few chapters.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5         341 pages, 2011

more opinions:
Book Chase
Shannon's Book Bag
Book'd Out
Sarah Reads Too Much

Jul 3, 2016

The Hidden Half of Nature

Microbial Roots of Life and Health
by David R. Montgomery and Anne Biklé

The smallest living things on our planet can have the greatest impact on all those life forms we do see. This book is about microbes, what they do and how to cultivate them. In the soil, and in us. The first half is about soil microbes, how they interact with and benefit plants. How industrial agriculture decimates them. How that affects our health in turn, because the plants we eat have less micronutrients than they used to. The authors became interested in soil life when starting a new garden on barren property. Biklé started piling organic materials onto the soil, mulching with wood chips and whatever else she could find, and the results were stunning. The more she fed the soil, the healthier the plants got. The second half of the book discusses the microbes that live in our gut. Interest in this was triggered when Biklé herself was diagnosed with cancer and became concerned with how diet affected the climate of microbes inside her digestive system, which in turn can have serious implications on overall health. I'm amazed at the amount of details in this book, at connections between things I never realized influence each other. It's dense with information, but presented in a fashion that's easy enough for a casual reader like myself to understand (although it does merit a second or third read: I'm definitely shelving this one to keep).

The range of subjects discussed include how microbes evolved (I had never heard of the archaea before and they are one of the major groups), the development of vaccines (stories and connections I'd never heard of before here, too, although I recognized a lot from reading of Jonas Salk), how germ theory isn't quite what we imagined (or at least the basics I recall learning in highschool), how the populations of microbes in the soil and in our gut work with each other, agricultural practices from the past and how trends are (hopefully) changing, how what we eat changes the microbiome within us, how to encourage a good balance of them, etc.

There's no way I can explain this book in depth: you just have to read it! I found it very eye-opening, and incredibly encouraging too. It backs up and explains a lot of the things I've been trying to accomplish in my garden in my own small way, and spurs me with desire to change my eating habits for the better.

I'm really glad my father gave me a copy of this book.

Rating: 5/5        309 pages, 2016