Sep 26, 2017

Lady with a Spear

by Eugenie Clark

Memoir about her younger years, when Eugenie Clark as a budding marine biologist travelled the world's oceans to collect fishes for science. It starts with how her interest in fish was sparked by long days spent at a public aquarium while her mother was working, and she pursued this into university studies. She describes first learning to dive, to use different netting techniques, and most of all, to track down individual fish and capture them with a spear. Her travels for study took her to the South Sea Islands where native fishermen would help her find rare fish. Even when language was a barrier, her requests were usually met with enthusiasm. Many of the natives she met had never seen a white woman before, much less one who was a scientist and went fishing. I liked reading the descriptions of strange, unusual fish and other marine life. The constant killing for collections, not so much. Even though I understand her reasoning why it was important to get all the specimens out of particular chosen tidepool, it is still a bit distressing to read of how the entire population of the pool would be knocked woozy with poison dropped in the water, and then promptly dropped into preserving fluid.... which happened to impress the locals very much. She made careful inquiries of the locals at each island which fishes were good eating (and often sampled them, including raw) and which they assumed were poisonous, and sent samples off to a lab which tested them for poison. It was a survey to find out which fish naturally carried venom, which were only poisonous in certain locales or at certain times of year due to what they ate, and which were not poisonous at all, even though the locals assumed so. At different times she was stationed in marine laboratories, and describes several extended stays in Hawaii, Guam, and on the Red Sea. She explains some experiments done on captive fishes in the lab- to study for the first time the reproductive behavior of guppies, and to learn more about visual memory using marine gobies. Those were pretty interesting. Sharks also come into the book, at the very end when she also talks briefly about meeting her future husband Ilias.

I am not sure which book I like best- this one is certainly less formal, being just as much a travel diary as it is a description of fishing and diving for scientific inquiry. Mostly, it is an intriguing look at marine fishes through the eyes of one who studied them with a lifelong passion.

Rating: 4/5               243 pages, 1951

Sep 24, 2017

second half overdue TBR

List of books I will have to be lucky to come across someday (not available at my library).
Mountain by Ursula Pflug- Indextrious Reader
Wind Rider by Susan Williams- Snips and Snails
Bohunk Road by Hope Moritt- Indextrous Reader
Dinosaur Tales by Ray Bradbury- Opinions of a Wolf
Wicked Weeds by Pedro Cabiya- Work in Progress
Specimen Stories by Irina Kovalyova- Indextrious Reader
Magnus by Sylvie Germain- Work in Progress
The Night Visitor by Lucy Atkins- Farm Lane Books Blog
Love Lessons by Joan Wyndham- Reading the End
Waterlily by Ella Cara Deloria- The Lost Entwife
Of Men and Monsters by William Tenn- James Reads Books
Gone to Pot by Jennifer Craig- Indextrious Reader
Kalyna by Pam Clark- Indextrious Reader
Someone at a Distance by Dorothy Whipple- Shelf Love
A Spare Life by Lidija Dimkovska- Work in Progress
In the Garden of Iden by Kage Baker- Reading the End
Shattered Shields edited by Jennifer Brozek -Snips and Snails
Earning My Spots by Mark Eastburn- Snips and Snails
Bear by Marian Engle- Indextrious Reader
The Farm in the Green Mountains by Herdan-Zuckmayer- Work in Progress
The Beasts of Tabat by Cat Rambo- Snips and Snails and Puppy Dog Tales
The Weigher by Vanicoff and Martin- Snips and Snails and Puppy Dog Tales
Wild Urban Plants of the Northeast by Thomas Christopher
All the Real Indians Died Off by Roxane Dunbar-Ortiz and Dina Gilio-Whitaker- Reading the End

way overdue TBR

I have not compiled a TBR list in seven months. So as you can imagine the list is very long. I have broken it up into two posts, this time. This one has the books I can find at my public library.
The Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide- James Reads Books
The Wanderers by Meg Howry- Farm Lane Books Blog
A High Wind in Jamaica by Richard Hughs-from Shelf Love
Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough- Melody's Reading Corner
The Book of Joan by Lidia Yuknavitch- So Many Books
The Zoo at the Edge of the World by Eric Kahn Gale from Snips and Snails
Babel-17 by Samuel Delaney- James Reads Books
In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden- Reading the End
The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben- So Many Books
Other Minds by Peter Godfrey-Smith - Caroline Bookbinder
Shrill by Lindy West- Bookfoolery
A Novel Bookstore by Laurence Cosse- James Reads Books
The Last Neanderthal by Claire Cameron- Indextrious Reader
I Contain Multitudes by Ed Yong- Caroline Bookbinder
The Survivor's Club by Michael Bornstein- Bookfoolery
Uprooted by Naomi Novik- Musings of a Bookish Kitty
The Owl That Fell From the Sky by Brian Gill- library catalog
The Wild Robot by Peter Brown from James Reads Books
The Last One by Oliva Alexandra- Snips and Snails and Bookfool
Dragon with a Chocolate Heart by Stephanie Burgis- Bookfoolery
Hammer Head by Nina MacLaughlin- Sophisticated Dork
Monstress by Marjorie M. Liu- Musings of a Bookish Kitty
Tell Me How it Ends by Valeria Luiselli- Shelf Love
Gulp by Mary Roach- Ardent Reader
The Chicken Chronicles by Alice Walker- So Many Books
Birds, Art, Life by Kyo Maclear- Indextrious Reader
If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo- Caroline Bookbinder
This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki- Caroline Bookbinder
No Man's Land by Simon Tolkien- Bookfoolery
The Cloud Roads by Martha Wells- Read Warbler
Do No Harm by Henry Marsh- Caroline Bookbinder
Memoirs of a Polar Bear by Yoko Tawada from So Many Books
The People in the Trees by Hanya Yanigahara - Reading the End
Etched on Me by Jenn Crowell- Musings of a Bookish Kitty
War and Turpentine by Stephan Hertmans- Work in Progress
The Wolf's Boy by Susan Williams Behold- Snips and Snails
The Wild Places by Robert Macfarlane- Shelf Love
Tangles a Story About Alzheimer's by Sarah Leavitt- Indextrious Reader
Animal Madness by Laurel Braitman- site
Brief Histories of Everyday Objects by Andy Warner- Caroline Bookbinder
North Face by Mary Renault- Read Warbler
Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See- Melody's Reading Corner
Evicted by Desmond Matthew- Shelf Love
My Life with Bob by Pamela Paul- Book Chase
Radium Girls by Kate Moore- Caroline Bookbinder
Cultivating an ecological conscience by Frederick Kirschenmann- So Many Books
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Fowler- Shelf Love and Reading the End
Girl Who Circumnavigated the World in a Ship of Her Own Making by Valente- C Bkbndr

Sep 22, 2017

Journey on the James

Three Weeks through the Heart of Virginia
by Earl Swift

It was written because a journalist decided to paddle a canoe the entire length of the James River- from one of its beginning trickles of a stream- the Jackson- high in the mountains -down to the broad river mouth. Twenty-two days, some four hundred and thirty miles. The first part of it he hiked alongside the stream, then tried floating an inner tube (the water was usually too shallow at first). Canoed most of it and kayaked the last day when water infused with tide and buffeted by wind got too choppy. He talks about finding ways around dams, and muses on pollution probably caused by the paper mills, power plants, factories, etc on the water's edge. Talks about devastating floods from times past. I liked the parts about the personal river trip, the efforts to find camp sites (glimpses of wildlife were brief. I bet the creature that stole their cup was a raccoon), arrange portages, even just locate food in the small towns they passed through. He had a photographer accompanying him in a car- to meet up at prearranged points along the river, document the trip with photos, etc. There's brief descriptions of local folks they meet along the way, and a lot more about deserted towns- gradually abandoned when river travel gave way to rail and highways- and local history. Especially revolutionary war history. I wanted to read it mostly because I like canoeing myself (I know what he's talking about when he describes the estimated paddling difficulty by class levels), enjoy the descriptions of scenery, and thought it would be nice to learn a bit of Virginia history (since I didn't grow up here, I didn't get that in school). But for some reason the last forty pages were hard to get through- it just wasn't quite as engaging anymore.

It was originally a local newspaper series. What I gather from the notes in the back is that a lot of the history stuff was added in, to flesh it out in book form. For a book detailing a day-to-day river trip, especially with all the historical points of interest, it really could have used a map. And I was a bit surprised at how few photos were included- considering he had a photographer along.

Rating: 3/5                    239 pages, 2001

Sep 21, 2017

The Lion and the Puppy and Other Stories

by Leo Tolstoy

I don't remember where I once came across this collection of short stories by Tolstoy- must have been from a library when I attended college or in the years soon after. The stories were actually written in the 1850's when Tolstoy established a school for local peasant children at his estate and himself wrote a primer to teach them reading. His fables were not re-tellings of Russian folktales, but original material. The stories are in the style of Aesop's fables- each with an obvious moral. They don't all have happy endings- in some the lesson is brought home because one of the animals or characters dies... One was of a wolf visiting a dog- the wolf asks the dog how he is so well-fed and the dog invites him home to share in the duties of guarding the farmhouse, and also the meals provided by his master. The starving wolf is agreeable until he notices a worn spot around the dog's neck from being tied up at night. The wolf changes his mind, deciding he'd rather be hungry and free than well-fed in chains. I also recall the title story where an unwanted puppy was thrown into a lion's cage in a zoo- and instead of eating the puppy (as was intended) the lion befriended it. I wish I could remember more of them better, or find another copy of the book to read again.

Rating: 3/5              76 pages, 1989

Sep 18, 2017

Pacific Marine Fishes Book 2

fishes of southern japan and the western pacific
by Dr. Warren E. Burgess and Dr. Herbert R. Axelrod

This book is a continuation of Pacific Marine Fishes Book 1, in fact it uses the same index and the pagination starts at 283. Here there are anemone fishes and damsels, scats, mullets, herrings, sardines, razorfishes, needlefishes, the archerfish! a few seahorses, flying fishes, squirrelfishes, soldier fishes, perches, goatfish, sweetlips, moray eels, two types of batfish (completely unrelated), more kinds of angelfish, surgeonfishes and lots of butterfly fishes. Triggerfish and filefish. Puffers, boxfish and cowfish. Jacks, porgies, snappers and nibblers. Many wrasse, basslets, gobies and blennies.  Parrotfishes and scorpionfish. Hawkfish, catfish, sharks and wobbegongs. Sea robins and pearlfishes, lionfish, frogfish and porcupine fish. Rays, gunards, knifejaws and many more. They sure do have curious names, don't they- and even more curious shapes and patterns. I did not know there were so many kinds of cardinal fish- the two I am familiar with are the pajama cardinal fish and the banggai cardinalfish. Here eight others are pictured- and one of them- Bleeker's- has the only double-page spread in the entire book. The fish pictured left of center on the cover- a devil stinger- looks like someone took a bite out of its face. Some of the fish in this book are repeats of species featured in Book 1- but shown again because much better photos were provided. In particular, the images of the psychedelic fish and the mandarin fish in here, while not as vivid as what you can find online, are much improved over the first volume. There are many detailed illustrations for fish species of which no clear photos were available. I didn't find the text quite as interesting as before- but still read it through.

Rating: 3/5                 277 pages, 1973

Sep 16, 2017

The Lady and the Sharks

by Eugenie Clark

The author of this book was a famed marine biologist who began her career simply because she was so passionate about diving and interested in fishes. In the 1950's she was invited to set up and run a marine laboratory on the coast of Florida, now the Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium. It started out as just a small dock and one building where she and a few colleagues would collect, identify and study specimens they collected of various marine life. She was known for spearing fish but obtained many specimens by offering to take the bycatch or "trash fish" off the hands of fishermen in nearby waters. One chapter delightfully explains how she learned to catch small territorial fishes in a glass jar. She would dive down to the area where the fish lived, and gently chase them to study their habitual routes through the territory, and what corners they would dart around to hide when pressed. Then situate a jar around a hidden corner of the usual escape path, and later return to follow the fish until it naturally swam around the corner into its hideyhole- which was now a glass prison.

There are many pages describing dissections and what they learned from the anatomy or stomach contents of fish, particularly sharks which were her speciality. But they also caught fish alive and studied their behavior in aquariums, made films underwater and most famously, build a pen on the shore where they kept sharks. At first just intending to solve some mysteries about basic shark biology- they had rarely been seen to mate, for example, and nobody knew what these structures called abdominal pores were for. Then Eugenie was curious to find out if a shark could learn. So she set up experiments to test their ability to press a target and ring a bell to get a food reward, and to distinguish between targets of different shapes, patterns and colors. Reading about the experiments was my favorite part. A female shark gave birth in the pen, and they promptly began behavioral studies on the pups. They found that a young nurse shark could learn as quickly as a typical mouse in a lab!

A lot of the book is about the work it took to set up the laboratory, difficulties in keeping tresspassers who wanted to show off to their friends from harming her live sharks, how her young children were involved at the lab (she thought all children should show a healthy curiosity in watching a parent clean fish or a whole chicken for dinner, and get a natural lesson in anatomy!), her work involving and educating the public, and many interesting discoveries in the field of ichthyology. I liked reading about the gobies, garden eels, manta rays, hermaphroditic serranus fish and others just as much as the sharks. There are many written descriptions of diving experiences- her favorite activity. One very curious chapter describes a dive into deep sinkholes in the Salt Springs and Warm Springs of Florida- where she and some other divers discovered human remains. Their most spectacular find was a skull that appeared to contain mineralized brain tissue estimated to be 10,000 years old. Eugenie reports that they attempted many times to convince archaeologists to come study the site, but their claim to have found a fossilized brain was scoffed at and their announcements of the find were ridiculed and ignored. Now the site is considered an important site and under study! I found a few articles about it online, including one here and here- the William Royal mentioned in the second article is the man Bill Royal whom Eugenie dove with. Of course she herself is not mentioned in these articles. Reading her vivid description of what it was like to dive in that sinkhole is particularly eerie- especially when she writes about experiencing nitrogen narcosis, which sounds incredibly frightening.

Needless to say, I want to get hold of her earlier memoir, Lady with a Spear- it's sad my public library only has books about Eugenie Clark, not a single one by her!

Rating: 4/5            269 pages, 1969

LIFE Wonders of Life

the Amazing World of Nature
Time, Inc. edited by Robert Sullivan

I read quite a few magazines, but I never thought of writing about one on my blog before. We have subscriptions to National Geographic and Tropical Fish Hobbyist and I sometimes collect back issues of Amazonas or Aquarium Fish International. So often when there's a long gap here between book reviews, it's because I'm reading a pile of magazines!

This particular one felt more like a book, though. I was leafing through it with interest when visiting my parents once, and my dad let me bring it home. I originally intended to sketch from the stunning photographs- a collection of quality images from major microstock sites. But I ended up actually reading the volume. It's basically a showcase of amazing and curious wildlife and plants from across the world. Neatly divided, the first half of the publication shows plants, and the second half animals. The biggest, the smallest, the ugliest, most beautiful, strange, bizzare and downright dangerous. Whatever makes something stand out. I was familiar with most of the living things presented in these pages- giant sequoias, lionfish, aspen groves, sundews and pitcher plants, even the surprisingly maternal poison dart frog, unbelievably durable tardigrade and shockingly odiferous corpse flower. But I had never heard of the yareta- a tiny plant from Peru that grows in huge masses, which remind me of a mineral specimen in my husband's collection called mottramite! I didn't know about the megamouth shark, the Barbados threadsnake, or the smallest lizard- a dwarf gecko from the Dominican Republic. So there were quite a few things I looked up online to learn more about. The writing is brief, and a bit corny- I guess the humorous asides comparing things to popular culture and sports was intended to appeal to a broad audience, but it made me wonder at the age of this publication- I was a bit surprised to look and find it was written just three years ago. My six-year-old looked at the pictures with me, but she found the image on the last page disturbing- of a preserved two-month human fetus within a membrane.

Oh, and Giant George is in here.

Rating: 3/5                     Vol 13 No. 24 Dec 2013

Sep 11, 2017

Vulpes the Red Fox

by Jean Craighead George
and John George

Life of a fox, in the woods of Maryland. He is a regular animal hero- the smartest one of his litter, the terror of small creatures, a clever trickster who enjoys fooling the hounds. At an early age he sees his siblings fall- one is caught by an owl as a young pup, another snared in a trap when they are a little older. Vulpes remembers keenly the lessons from these tragedies. He meets the challenges of the wild with skill and bravery. The story shows his interaction with other wildlife, how he he finds a mate and helps raise the cubs. But must always evade those who hunt him- man. Many scenes are from the viewpoint of men who live near the same woods- trappers and hunters keen to catch our furry protagonist. It's a nice touch that the author uses the scientific identity of all the wild animals in the story as their name- easy way to get kids to learn them.

This was another one the library system recommended to me. But- I tried three times to get through it- and it just wasn't holding my attention. I ended up skimming the majority of the book. It's one of those written for younger readers and the lack of detail, rapid advances in the story and very humanlike powers of reasoning attributed to animals just didn't work for me this time. If you must know: death is frequent, but not lingered upon or described in detail. (The fox meets his end abruptly, via a hunter's gun).

The wash illustrations done by the author herself are quite nice- here's two of my favorites. It was her first published work.

Abandoned         240 pages, 1948

Sep 5, 2017


by Sara Pennypacker

Twelve-year-old Peter loves his pet fox, Pax. He has a particularly strong emotional attachment to it- he found the baby fox barely alive in a den after its mother was struck by a car. This was just after his own mother had died in a car accident. The bond between them is strong, and the fox has never known any other life than beside his boy. Now war is coming. Peter's father enlists in the military; Peter is sent off to live with his grandfather. He feels sure his fox will not survive in the woods alone, and runs away to go back and get him. But meets with his own accident along the way, that threatens to hold him up indefinitely. Meanwhile, Pax has run into all the challenges of the wild: finding food, avoiding bad weather, meeting wild foxes who claim their own turf. Will the two ever be reunited?

I wanted to like this book, but about a third of the way through felt my interest slowly lagging. It just doesn't hold up to the style of recent reads. Something about the storyline made me think it was set during an earlier era- WWII? but the conversations between people feels perfectly modern. So I was never sure about the place and time. Maybe it's mean to be anytime, anyplace... The chapters alternate between the boy's perspective and the fox. I liked most of what I read about the fox- but a lot of its behavior was more reminiscent of a dog- the devoted loyalty to his owner. And the way the foxes communicate with thoughts conveyed by gesture and scent but expressed in short sentences- I understood how the author was trying to portray that, but it didn't quite work for me. Ah, well. It's written for middle-grade readers, after all. By the way: for that age group, it may be a bit stark. There's quite a bit of bloodshed, suffering and death, especially for the foxes.

My public library's website now has a feature that suggests titles to me based on what I've checked out before. Usually I ignore it, but since I read a J fiction book about a fox, it recommended a few more to me. This one caught my eye because I recognized the illustration on the cover- I have really liked the picture books by Jon Klassen. But this is a chapter book, not a picture book. Most of the illustrations inside are small, there are a total of four full-sized ones, and they're all black and white. I think what really appeals to me about Klassen's illustrations is his use of muted earth tones; that effect is totally lost in the monochrome reproductions.

Abandoned               276 pages, 2016

Sep 4, 2017

Pacific Marine Fishes Book 1

fishes of southern japan and the ryukyus
by Warren Burgess and Dr. Herbert R. Axelrod

This book is a catalog of fish species. It's the first of an impressive series of ten volumes that aimed to describe every known species in the Pacific- many which -at the time- had never been photographed before. I have to admit some of the photos are rather poor quality- the fish so deftly camouflaged against the background you can barely see it, or the photo just blurry and indistinct. But the majority are stunning, especially when you consider their age. I thought the descriptions might be strictly scientific or dull, but it's actually interesting reading- each section tells of the known distinguishing characteristics of the fish. Including physical features, curious feeding habits, mating behavior, methods of finding food, avoiding predators, raising the young (or not) and the like. Brief enough that you remained fixated on the reason you opened the book: to ogle the vast array of pictures (489 color plates). It's particularly nice that there are repeated images of the same species- some show the difference between males and females, or how juveniles change into adults, or just individual variations. I was really intrigued by the first set of pictures, showing how several kinds of marine angelfishes morph from juvenile colors into adult form. I knew that they change appearance completely- but not how. Here the intermediate stages are shown- with one color form and pattern overlaying the other on the fish's sides. Sometimes the photos were able to show a series of the exact same individual, as it was reared in captivity. Visually fascinating.

I found this series quite by chance: I was at the lfs for the first time and wasn't ready to buy fish yet but wanted to purchase something to support this locally-owned shop. I saw two books sitting on a shelf and started thumbing through them. They looked quite old but I was really taken with the detail and quality of the photographs: I wanted those books. However the owner said Oh No, those aren't for sale, they are from my own personal collection! So I came home and looked them up on amzn, bought the first few volumes to see if they were keepers. So far, definitely.

Rating: 4/5                  280 pages, 1972

Sep 1, 2017


Volume 13
by Kiyohiko Azuma

Back home from camping, Yotsuba wants to give 'souvenirs' from her trip to Asagi- but they're odd things like a stick she found in the woods, and a giant pinecone. Asagi is surprised, but gracious about it. Yotsuba convinces Fuuka to take her to a park with a sandbox- where her make-believe games really bemuse the older girl. The younger friends she meets up with play right along. The main event, which takes up most of the book, is a visit from her Grandma. At first it seems her grandmother is rather tight-lipped and stern- "Grandma has an angry face, but she's not angry! It's just that way!" she explains to one of her friends. As the story progresses you see she really does have a kind heart and cares for Yotsuba. She teaches Yotsuba some cooking and cleaning skills, and the names of birds they see on walks. Yotsuba tries her best to be a good helper and meet with Grandma's approval, although it is hard for her and she throws a few tantrums when things don't go her way. In the end, Grandma has to leave much sooner than Yotsuba would like. She has difficulty dealing with that as well, but Koiwai and his mother calmly handle her outburst. Such dear people.

I'm sad this is the last Yotsuba book available. It's been a lot of fun. I like this series better than Bunny Drop- there's none of that drifting into uncomfortable territory as the kid grows up. Yotsuba is a lot more lighthearted, and more focused on simply what it's like to be a kid- meeting everything with enthusiasm, expecting life to be good, making up funny connections and explanations for things. Yotsuba's motto: enjoy everything!

Rating: 3/5              224 pages, 2015