Sep 21, 2019

The Magic of the Unicorn

Choose Your Own Adventure
by Deborah Lerme Goodman

My eight-year-old has recently discovered Choose Your Own Adventure books. I hadn't read any since I was a kid myself, until now. In case you're not familiar, these books have alternate endings and threads of storyline; when you get to the bottom of each page there's an option: do you follow the path or climb the hill? or whatever- and you turn to a different page according to your choice. Some choices lead you to a happy or satisfying ending, in others you fail to succeed, or die. In this book there was one ending where you simply forgot about the mission and got distracted by something else, leading an entirely different life. Sometimes what seems like the safe or rational choice leads you to disaster, while the risky-looking option obtains the goal. It's unexpected. Which adds to the fun. Sorry for a few spoilers below.

So, the main premise here is that you live in a medieval village, there's a drought and the well has been tainted by a dead rat. An old woman tells you that a sorceress could help, or a unicorn could purify the well with its horn. The rest of the book is a search, either to find the unicorn or the sorceress and magically clean the well. I admit after doing one or two reads for fun- picking options I would imagine myself choosing in the situation- I read through the book methodically, choosing every possible variance to see where they all lead. In some, you end up tramping through the forest following different suggestions where to find the unicorn. The unicorn has inevitably lost its magic and needs your help to restore it. In other scenarios, you go searching for the sorceress in unlikely places, or follow another path to rumors of someone possessing a unicorn horn who might let you use it. In one instance, you end up stealing the horn from a wealthy duchess! In another, you end up crawling through a tunnel under a church to follow a bat- weird. There's not only a sorceress in this book, there's also possible encounters with an evil warlock, or an old witch. One thread leads you to meet a griffon, in another you encounter a dragon (not good endings). I was kind of surprised how many endings had you finding a cure for the poisoned well that didn't involve the unicorn at all, but some other magic. Some threads lead you to find the unicorn dead from its loss of magic, you didn't make it in time. But there's plenty of options where you do find the unicorn, help it out, and in gratitude it fixes the well. In one ending, the unicorn ends up your pet. My favorite was the one where you don't find the unicorn at all, but get turned into one yourself!

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5            118 pages, 1985

Sep 20, 2019

A Useful Dog

by Donald McCaig

This is a tiny little book, the first thing that surprised me about it. It's a collection of writings about sheepdogs- mainly border collies the author keeps and works with in Virginia but there's also one part about large white guardian dogs helping to move huge flocks in Montana. Most of the pieces- a few pages each- are about personal experiences with the dogs and the sheep, at home bringing lambs in from bad weather, facing down wily ewes, or working sheepdog trials. I liked all that. I found it interesting and thoughtful. But at least half the book diverges to talk about dog breeding, how shows have changed the animals, how they might have evolved in the first place and what DNA studies have taught us about dog origins. Which I've read about in much greater detail in other books, so I rather would have preferred more personal stories by McCaig about his own dogs. Oh well. It does make me remember that another of the author's books Eminent Dogs, Dangerous Men has long been on my TBR list and I will probably like that one better.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5              80 pages, 2004

The Time in Between

by María Dueñas
translated by Daniel Hahn

I saw this at Indextrious Reader, and wondered immediately if my nearly-fifteen-year-old would like it. It has a lot of elements my teenager enjoys in books: romance, a bit of drama, intrigue and spying. This is a war story, set during the Spanish Civil War. The main character, a young seamstress-in-training named Sira, flees the turbulence in Madrid and goes to Morocco with her fianceé. Where she gets unexpectedly stranded, betrayed and burdened with a heavy debt due to someone else's reckless behavior. She turns to her sewing skills to get herself out of the mess, and it evolves into something else, leading to connections that get her involved in espionage.

I didn't quite get that far. I read about a third of it and then began skimming, loosing interest and not willing to push through six hundred-plus pages. It's a good story, with a strong female character who remakes her life several times over, but I just didn't find anything I could quite connect to. The political events all felt like flat background material and Sira's personality never really felt alive to me. I suppose it could be the fact that the text is translated, or it could be that it's just not my usual type of read, so I didn't find it exciting. I did, however, get enough of a feel for it to surmise there's nothing I'd object to my teenager reading! although I don't quite know if the author's style will be appreciated more than I could.

Borrowed from the public library.

Abandoned                   615 pages, 2009

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Sep 17, 2019

The Eye of the Elephant

by Delia and Mark Owens

Many many years ago I read Cry of the Kalahari- the story of this couple's studies in an untracked African desert, and I was enthralled with the descriptions of close encounters with wildlife and rough living. Now I finally read their following book, and it was- not the same. Eye of the Elephant isn't as much about wildlife behavior as it is about human behavior. Poaching. After having to leave the Kalahari, the Owenses searched for a new wilderness to make their home, hoping to study lions and other animals again. They thought they had found the perfect spot in a remote valley in Zambia. It was rugged, difficult to navigate, sparsely populated, full of lions, rhino, crocs, antelope etc. But they were puzzled at the scarcity of elephants, until they started finding piles of bones. Dismayed and -on Mark's part- enraged at seeing the elephants killed in huge numbers, the Owenses took it upon themselves to stop the poaching. They tried to encourage game patrols, to teach local villagers that wildlife was worth more alive than dead (many other animals were killed in addition to elephants- for bush meat), to give the people jobs and support them in creating cottage industries- all to save the wildlife. Really it's amazing what they went through, literally bending over backwards to turn things around. Never having time to just sit and watch the animals. Doing things that threatened their own health, driving themselves to exhaustion, many close calls with wild animal encounters and flash floods, not to mention the dangers of facing down heavily armed poachers keen on protecting their habitual livelihood. There was a lot of corruption, they faced death threats, and several times were nearly trampled by buffalo. Some of Mark's tactics against the poachers surprised me, and his flying at night sounded hair-raising. At one point Delia couldn't condone the direct approach Mark was taking and set up her own separate camp. Not surprisingly, their relationship suffered somewhat. In the end they finally accomplished a sort of peace after a lot of difficulty, hardship and frustration. What descriptions of animals there are, I found intriguing, but because of all the focus on their efforts against poaching, this book reminded me far more of The White Bushman than of anything by the Adamsons. The parts Mark wrote about flying his plane made me recall Beryl Markham.

Rating: 3/5              306 pages, 1992

Sep 13, 2019

An Elephant's Life

An Intimate Portrait From Africa
by Caitlin O'Connell

The author spent some twenty years doing research in Etosha National Park in Nambia, and wrote this book about the social lives of elephants. It's really a grand photo essay. The observations were all done from a research station set up next to a water hole, and while some of the book is about how that was conducted, their daily activities and hardships living out in the bush, most of it is about the elephants. Their interactions, tender and threatening gestures, friendships and enmities, shifting relationships as they age and elephants move in and out of the herd. New births, mother's guidance, the matriarch protecting the group from other elephants that encroach on the water rights (as elephants perceive them). Also against predators- lions hanging around. Mostly, though, the focus is on the male elephants- how the young adult males start to show their independence, until their behavior becomes obnoxious and the females push them out of the herd. How they form alliances with other young males, or shadow adult bulls. How the bulls compete for water and access to females- but also surprisingly spend a lot of time just in each other's company or supporting one another. The final chapter details the fall of one older bull from power, when he sustained an injury that weakened him. It was all pretty interesting because I never read so much about the social interactions of male elephants before, always assumed them to be loners except when it came time to mate. I think the author put a lot of focus on the males to change these assumptions.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 4/5               196 pages, 2012

Sep 12, 2019

Arctic Tale

Narration by Linda Woolverton, Mose Richards and Kristin Grove
Adapted by Donnali Fifield

Another book of striking photographs and brief paragraphs. I haven't seen the film this is based on, but it doesn't matter, it was a nice read by itself. It follows the lives of two predators in the Arctic- polar bear and walrus- from birth to independence. Shows a bit of family life, learning skills, social interactions, hunting attempts and so on. Mostly pictures, and the majority of those are good quality. There's images of other animals that live in the same region too, as their lives cross paths- arctic foxes, harp seals, caribou and various seabirds. Theme is on the struggle for survival- especially in the face of warming oceans which shrink the sea ice these animals depend on- the walrus as a secure resting spot, the polar bear as it gives access to food sources. I especially enjoyed reading the final chapter, where the filmmakers and photographers described how much work it took for this production, what they learned from it, their impressions and experiences of the arctic. Now I ought to get the DVD and watch it with my kids.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5                 160 pages, 2007

The Mating Lives of Birds

by James Parry

Seems that this book has also been printed with a different title- The Mating Game: Bird Courtship and Display, which I find more descriptive. It's very accessible and general- an easy enough read, with a wide variety of examples from many species in different bird families. It's all about the interesting and curious behavior many birds use when trying to impress a mate or ward off rivals, as well as the beautiful plumage they grow during the breeding season. There's sections on how birds find and select mates, their often-stunning methods of showing off to each other, the varied types of relationships they form and maintain, territory defense and colonial living, nest building (presented in order from the simplest- a dry scrap on bare ground- to the most complex woven nests or mud-daubed structures), and how the eggs and young are cared for. Each section really only has a few pages of text, more space being taken up by large, striking photographs. Most of the birds mentioned in the text are shown in the pictures, which I definitely appreciated. Very nice book showing how birds manage one of the most intense events in their lives- finding partners and raising a family. Sample of the pictures- vivid throat feathers on a hummingbird:
Adult cuckoo:

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5             160 pages, 2012

Sep 11, 2019

The Genius of Birds

by Jennifer Ackerman

Birds are smart. They can be resourceful, curious, inventive and opportunistic. It is true that many show limited responses to novel situations, or avoid them altogether- living in a narrow band of specific habitat where their needs are met, following set behavior patterns. But other birds can vary widely in their habitat use, discovering new food sources, solving problems and inventing new ways of doing things. Like the blue tits in Britian that learned to skim cream off milk bottles on porches- and the behavior spread as birds learned it from each other. This book looks into things like exactly how birds learn to do things like that- what parts of the brain are used, what kinds of behaviors do they copy from each other. Which species of birds learn by mimicry, or by being actively coached (some parent birds give their offspring practice and guidance in learning certain skills). It discusses a ton of other stuff too- the complexity and variety of birdsong- in some cases akin to language. The ability of some birds to navigate hundreds of complex social relationships in colonies. How they can steal, cheat, deceive and conversely, console one another. How they can remember thousands of locations where they hid food. Recent findings that poke holes in many long-held notions about birds: many monogamous pairs (including swans) actually perform myriad "extra-pair copulations on the side" (and speculations on why they do this). How they perform astonishing feats of navigation- the details of this are still not understood. From the angle of the sun, position of the stars, magnetic field of the earth, visual landmarks and even olfactory memory- it appears to be a combination of it all. The intricacies of nest-building. The artistry of the bower birds. And the astonishing ability of some birds to make tools for specific uses- the New Caledonian crow will even save a tool it has made, and carry it around to use again later. The book doesn't just describe observed behavior about all these things, but specific studies done to investigate what types of skills birds could learn and how they managed to solve problems. Points out that scientists have discovered that birds' brains are organized very similarly to humans', and in some cases their intelligence level is on par with that of great apes. Pretty amazing.

Except that I've read a lot of it before: see Bird Brain by Nathan Emery. And it took me a while to get through this one because I found the writing a bit uneven. The introduction, in particular, is very redundant and it almost put me off reading the rest of the book. I was also sometimes dismayed to read how the experiments were done. Some simply presented wild birds -caught and kept in aviaries for a short time- with problems to solve and then released them to see what they did back in their natural environment, with their new skill. Fascinating. Others used birds in a lab, studying what parts of the brain lit up when certain behaviors or emotions were active - not hard to imagine what that really entailed. More disturbing was when researchers trapped birds during migration, cut a nerve that communicated a certain sense or organ with the brain, and then released them to see if they could still navigate. I guess that's a way to see what the bird relies on most to find its way, but I couldn't help feeling bad for all those individual birds lost and wandering because of their inflicted disability. They never found their way home.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5               340 pages, 2016

Sep 4, 2019

Fresh Eggs

by Rob Levandoski

Kind of a modern fable. It's fiction, with all the horrors of factory farming, and the tenderness of a young girl's heart. The main characters in the story are father and daughter- Calvin Cassowary has an abrupt career change when his father suddenly dies, leaving the family farm in sad state. Calvin doesn't want to sell the farm to developers to be turned into housing, as some of his neighbors have done. But he can't keep it running the way his forefathers did, there's no profit. Instead of growing multiple crops and raising a variety of animals, he signs a contract with a huge corporation that produces eggs, and builds layer sheds on his land. His young wife keeps a small flock of hens in the yard and sells eggs to the local customers, while the confined company hens - literally a million of them- keep the farm afloat. Until they don't . . . Meanwhile, Calvin's daughter Rhea loves tending her mother's chickens, but is horrified by what she sees in the layer sheds. As her father starts to sink under growing debt, falling egg prices and strict company rules that never allow him to get ahead, Rhea becomes more involved with the chickens and more determined to do something about those million layer hens locked up in the sheds, forced to produce for a mere eighteen months before they are turned into pet food . . . Calvin's wife passes away, and Rhea carries on her memory with the small backyard flock, and then something very strange happens which draws the attention of local media. There's lawsuits and drama galore. I can't say what or it would spoil the story for any of you. It's disturbing and intriguing and by the way it all has a very tidy ending. Unrealistic maybe, but nice- and why not, for such a quirky story.

The tone of the book kind of reminds me of Jane Smiley. There's a slight mix of fantasy and reality akin to Tender Morsels (although this book doesn't  have such heavy topics). There's a part that takes place at the county fair, reminding me a lot of Geek Love. It's also a story of young first love, and a lot of it is about how the daughter's relationship with her father changes over the years, and how she finds acceptance with who she is.

Side note- one interesting detail is that Calvin's second wife suffers from multiple allergies and sensitivity to chemicals in the environment. Basically everything makes her sneeze or itch or both and she's always miserable except when having sex- it's the only time when her allergic symptoms abate. Oddly, there was another character in the story who had an unusual physical affliction, which only started to go away after the loss of virginity. I keep trying to figure out what the author meant by this, if there's some symbolism to it.

Found this one at a used book sale.

Rating: 3/5                  252 pages, 2002

Sep 1, 2019

Winging It

a Memoir of Caring for a Vengeful Parrot Who's Determined to Kill Me
by Jenny Gardiner

Story of family life with an african grey parrot. When the author was newly married, she and her husband had always wanted a parrot. They couldn't afford a captive-bred bird, and felt dubious about acquiring a wild-caught one. So they got a dog. Who turned out to have tons of health problems- allergic to everything, including dog food. The family was advised to put the miserable labrador to sleep, but they insisting on keeping their family pet, in spite of its chronic health problems. Then a relative came home from a stay overseas and brought them a parrot. A frightened, unhappy, feather-plucking vicious young parrot they named Gracie. They tried to give Graycie the best care, but unfortunately whenever things happened in the family (leaky roof during snowstorms, multiple kids with chicken pox at the same time, frightening episode of seizures complicated by their daughter's adverse reactions to medication when she was older, etc) the parrot got ignored. In boredom it self-mutilated and destroyed whatever it could reach- including pulling tiles off the wall. Not to say they didn't speak kindly to it, provide it with veterinary care, research proper diet, etc- and recorded plenty of amusing moments, the kids' delight in the bird's antics, amusing incidents when Graycie repeated phrases in appropriate context- scolding the dog or the children, for example. But I have to say overwhelmingly it sounded like keeping a parrot is a ton of work and trouble, constant cleaning of messes, and not very encouraging when the bird never warms to you and is always ready to attack. It is admirable that the family never gave up on Graycie, nor on any of their other pets that turned out to be troublesome (after the hyperallergic lab, they had a dog with a penchant for biting). The author relates how caring for Graycie taxed her patience and sanity, but also taught her kids responsibility to other living things, a firm commitment to the creatures we take into our lives. It all cements my impression that parrots don't really make good pets. Similar read, but with a parrot that actually liked its owner: The Parrot Who Owns Me. Similar read in tone, but about a dog. In the end, I found this one disappointing. While the stories about the family's trials and challenges made me sympathize with them, I wish there had actually been more page space given to the bird, except that I was feeling bad for the bird, so maybe not.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 2/5                240 pages, 2010

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Aug 28, 2019

The Wild Robot Escapes

by Peter Brown

Sequel to The Wild Robot. My kid brought this one home from school, and we were reading it together as a bedtime story. But then of course she read ahead, finished first, and I had to catch up later. Sorry, there are a few spoilers below.

Picking up straight where the previous book left off, Roz the robot has been refurbished and sent to work on a farm. The farm is mostly run by technology- this farmer rarely leaves his house- but has fallen into a lot of disrepair. Roz is there to fix it all up. But she's no ordinary robot, she remembers acutely her old life on the wild island, and misses the animals especially her adopted son the goose. Roz starts having conversations with the dairy cows on the farm, but can't let any humans know of her ability to talk to animals- she'll be seen as defective and sent back to the factory. She comes to befriend the farmer's children, who help her make a plan to run away, and return home to her island. When the moment comes- after a lot of difficulty- Roz is suddenly torn- having grown attached to the children, the cows, the farm itself. Ahead of her is a long, dangerous journey. Migrating geese find her and spread the word, so eventually she comes in contact with her 'son' again and they travel together. They have to face down wolves, a ram that randomly bashes anyone with its horns, human hunters and terrible storms. They see other farms, some operating with greater efficiency than the one Roz worked at, but at greater suffering to the animals- this isn't elaborated on, it's kind of mentioned in passing. As is the presence of an abandoned mine, the idea of humans living on a space station, working conditions for other robots, and so on. Lots of big issues, gently skirted by.

Eventually Roz and Brightbill the goose have to travel through cities, where the robot tries to blend in but eventually attracts attention and has to run for her life again. Flocks of city pigeons mobilize to help her, a rat leads her through the sewers, but she ends up back at the factory anyway- where she meets the very scientist who made her. The doctor is adamant that Roz must be destroyed- the public fears her aberrant behavior- but first she insists on having a few long talks with Roz, and finds the robot's way of thinking fascinating. Will Roz be melted down into parts? or will she finally find a way back home to her island. There, I left you something to find out!

Borrowed from the school library.

Rating: 3/5          278 pages, 2018

Aug 27, 2019

Zoo Story

Life in the Garden of Captives
by Thomas French

Picked up another book from my shelves, on the same subject matter. I was a bit surprised how very similar they were. In both books, the same animals get a lot of focus- tigers and elephants. This one also has a lot about a certain chimpanzee who had lived in the zoo a very long time, seen many changes- but started his life raised in a private home, so he had some confusion including a fixation on human females instead of his own species. The shuffling of hierarchy among the half dozen chimps at the zoo as some aged and younger ones came in, was pretty fascinating. The tiger- beautiful and always fierce- even to the older, larger male tigers they bought in hoping to be her mate- met a tragic end after getting out of her enclosure one day. Main thread going through the book was about the elephants- brought over from Swaziland to spare them from being killed in a cull (the area they lived in had too many elephants, no room to roam, and they were destroying the habitat, running out of food. This felt very familiar to me- I think I read about the same elephants in Animal Wise). The zoo's acquisition of these elephants caused a huge outcry from animal welfare groups. There was also a lot of conflict among the zoo staff- some wanted direct contact methods used with the animals, others pushed for new methods that kept the keepers and staff safer from the elephants. This book, like the other, also had a lot about how inner operations and politics, but it felt more focused. Quite a lot about the zoo director's decisions and actions, how it impacted the workers, the animals, even how his wife felt about things.

Some other animals featured in the book are the manatees which the zoo rehabilitates and releases into the wild, patas monkeys that escape off their island and run around the outskirts of the city for weeks, and endangered frogs being bred in captivity. It's all based on six years of research- four of which the reporter spent in visiting the zoo and going behind-the-scenes. The appendix has detailed notes about sources for all the described scenes and conversations, very thorough. Most of the time I appreciated the author's attempts to imagine what the animals were thinking, feeling or perceiving in certain moments, but I found his constant comparison of human behavior to chimpanzees (especially in terms of males seeking high status) annoying- it just started to get old. Although he made a good point to reiterate what zoo staff told him about how they help endangered species and work for the good of the animals, a lot of what's in this book made me feel dubious about zoos for the first time- usually I enjoy visiting them. Now I'm not so sure.

Rating: 3/5                 288 pages, 2010

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Aug 22, 2019

The Peaceable Kingdom

a Year in the Life of America's Oldest Zoo
by John Sedgwick

A reporter spent a year at the Philadelphia Zoo and then wrote this book about it. He talks just as much about the keepers, administrators, construction, repairs, management problems and so on as he does about the animals- getting a lot of behind-the-scenes look at how the zoo operates. For me, these details about how the people and politics in running the zoo weren't nearly as interesting as the animals- so I ended up skimming quite a lot, especially in the beginning. I even skipped an entire chapter (two pages) that was all about the budget. That, and the fact that much of the humor missed the mark with me, is why this book rated low for me. On the other hand, I did enjoy reading about all the wildlife- attempts to breed a rhino, raising baby animals rejected by their parents- kangaroo, binturong, marmoset- veterinary procedures, moving gorillas from old bare cages into new outdoor habitats, tricky work with dangerously strong elephants, bringing in a new zebra to replace one that had died, making a stubborn camel move into its shelter from the winter weather (it didn't want to go indoors), watching interactions among the group of wolves. There was a koala on loan that was a star attraction for weeks- even though it slept ninety percent of the time on exhibit. Some of the descriptions are very brief, others- the wolves, elephants, rhino and gorilla in particular- are longer or revisited through the book. You might want to know there's a several-page very detailed account of the rhinocerouses mating. The author seems to take delight in nonchalantly describing the animals' sexual endeavors, including the tiger, the gorilla, and a tortoise (who kept mounting boulders). He also keeps mentioning how dangerous certain animals are, or how stupid others, without much attempt to see beyond this sensational or disparaging attitude. This was the era when zoos were just starting to recognize the importance of conservation and captive breeding as a means to preserve species, rather than just have more lion cubs to show off to the public. There's a bit of history and side stories about collectors (but with none of Durrell's charm) which unfortunately only detracted from the main narrative for me. It's certainly a piece of its time, an honest look at what a zoo was like in the 1980's. Rather sad how ineffective most of the veterinary attempts were- there seems to be more mention of animals getting ill or dying than of new births and successful treatments- but maybe they just stood out to me more.

Rating: 2/5                 299 pages, 1988

Aug 18, 2019

Finding My Distance

A Year in the Life of a Three-Day Event Rider
by Julia Wendell

Daily journal of a horsewoman, she and her husband owned a farm in Maryland. There are racehorses, and retired racehorses turned to show jumping or breeding, but her main focus is three-day eventing which entails dressage, steeplechase and show jumping. Seems a very demanding sport for one horse to learn but I gather that's the point- it requires skill, finesse, endurance and guts. Some of the jumps are set up specifically to test how brave a horse (and rider) can be. The author tells about her daily challenges and struggles, not only with the horses, their training and constant upkeep- especially dealing with injuries, wow the legs seem to need a lot of attention- but also with her family, her grown children (one newly off to college and the other travelling India), her poetry-readings (she includes some of the poems in this book), and just life in general. Coming to the sport late, in middle age, she relates the learning curve, working with different instructors, trying to build up her confidence, and all the hard choices that come with keeping and showing horses. It's always one thing after another and there's lots of discouragement but her passion for it blazes through. It's rather strange to read a book written so intimately about a world so different from my own- and yet with striking familiarity- I live the next state over and know the locality. I've even driven on the road past Morven Park- but without any reason to ever go in. I like reading about it for the glimpse of it all- but I bet this book would really be loved by anyone in the horse world. It feels so honest and real.

I found there's a sequel, Come to the X, which I'd also like to read- particularly I want to know what happened with several of the author's horses and how her progression went in the sport. You can read a sample of her writing style here.

Rating: 3/5              399 pages, 2009

Aug 11, 2019

Indian Saddle-Up

by Glenn Balch

Two young Native Americans from the Comanche tribe are out hunting pronghorn and bison when surprised by enemies from the Ute tribe. As one youth runs back to warn their tribe, the other decoys the enemy. When he finally evades the Utes and makes it back to camp, all his people are gone except for an elderly man they call Old Man Crazy, because he speaks of things no one believes- people with white skin who wear armor and travel on the backs of animals. At this time none of the Comanches had ever seen a white man and horses were unknown to them. So the youth and the crazy old man travel alone together, and they come across a small band of horses, (escaped from the Spanish Conquistadors). At first they find the strange animals frightening, then are eager to learn how to possess and ride the horses themselves, so they can take these new valuable animals back to the tribe. It isn't easy, particularly as the natives don't have any idea how to approach or control the horses, but they are smart in the ways of wild animals, and quickly learn by observing how different horses are from wild game (being domesticated, and already accustomed to humans). The younger Comanche is particular invested in the attempt to use horses because he has a lame foot which always slowed him down; this will give him an advantage among his people. But he has to face a lot of unexpected challenges, and looses the guidance of the old man too, ending up on his own to figure out how to ride the horse and then find his own people again.

This was a really well-told story, with good descriptions, realistic animal behaviors, engaging writing style and an interesting plot that surprised me a few times. I suppose its quality really stood out to me following close on a just-okay book, but it reminded me why Glenn Balch is still one of my favorite authors.

Rating: 4/5            210 pages, 1953

Aug 10, 2019

Horse Tradin'

by Ben K. Green

I know I read this book long ago as a teen, found at the public library. So when I came across it recently in a discard sale, snatched it up eager to see how it compared to my fond memory. It was a good read- enjoyed all over again.

It's a collection of short stories written by a man who traded horses and mules for a living, back when they were the major form of transportation and power in America (although a few stories feature early cars, or tractors first coming into use). The stories are mostly with a little twist- where the man thought he made a good trade but found out the horse had a hidden fault or behavior problem, sometimes thought he had sneakily played a poor horse off on a better trade, only to discover the animal he'd acquired wasn't as advertised, either.

There were mules painted to look like young, grey dapple, a gypsy mare trained to lie down and groan when saddled, a spoiled lady's riding horse that wouldn't go more than a few yards from the barn. Many times the author showed how he could make the best of a poor situation, due to his understanding of equine behavior- train them out of their bad habits, or cleverly corral a bunch of wild mules that he'd been given in trade because the prior owner assumed he would never be able to catch them. Most of the tales take place in Texas, a few further south- he traveled a lot in his work. There's one story of a match race on a native American reservation. Sometimes, Green couldn't make good on a bad trade, and foisted the poor quality mule or horse off on another unsuspecting person. But there are good, honest transactions in here too, where both parties were well satisfied and respected each other.

I was kind of shocked to read an instance of wasted, sickly horses fed arsenic to fatten them up (and have since read online that inorganic arsenic is commonly used in animal feed to make hogs and chickens grow faster). And the last story surprised me with a little detail that made sense of a totally unrelated book I also read and loved as a kid, An Edge of the Forest. In that one, a herd of deer feeds in a valley that makes them all sleep like death. I always puzzled over that. Here in one of Green's stories, some wild unbroken horses were put to graze in a valley of "sleepy grass" so they could be pawned off as tamed and gentle. There was something in the grass that made the animals lethargic. I've looked it up, and it's a real thing. In some ways, this book also reminded me of Mr. Sponge's Sporting Tour.

Rating: 3/5             304 pages, 1963


Stallion of Broken Wheel Ranch
by Albert G. Miller

Fury is a stunning wild horse, viciously aggressive to anyone who approaches his herd. Two ranchers manage to catch him and pen him in a corral. Joey is an orphan boy who loves horses; he sneaks into a rodeo show, almost gets caught and hides in a vehicle going back to that same ranch. When he arrives, of course the ranchers insist on taking him back, but he really wants to see the wild horse first. The first moment they meet, this wild stallion is tamed by the boy's touch. The kid doesn't even know how to ride, throw a rope or shoot (basics for ranch kids) and yet he is able to calm Fury. It winds up he stays at the ranch, they're going to adopt him. Adventures ensue with the wild horse. The boy starts to learn ranching skills and is very happy in his new life. Then the stallion starts breaking out of his corral at night, and neighboring ranchers complain that someone is stealing their mares. They blame Fury. Joey is knows Fury isn't the culprit; there's another wild stallion out there taking mares, and Fury simply keeps busting out of his corral to go fight the other stallion. But nobody else has seen the white stallion, so how will Joey convince them?

It's quite a lively story but I'm afraid this one suffers from its age. Aside from the golly-ghee-whiz attitudes, and the penchant of grown men to want to beat up their rivals (especially a con man who shows up on the ranch at the end of the story claiming to be Joey's true father) there's the entirely unrealistic behavior of the horses- Fury in particular. The taming could have been a little more plausible if it hadn't happened so instantly. But there's quite a few scenes where the horse acts like he understands human speech and motives. I have the two sequels and started to read the second one, but was dissuaded when the horse started acting like Lassie the dog- eagerly leading people to those in trouble, snorting and prancing as if he understood human jokes. It was a fun read at first, but oh well. I guess I'm just too old for this one. Moving on.

Rating: 2/5                   190 pages, 1959

Aug 8, 2019

Golden Bats and Pink Pigeons

a Journey to the Flora and Fauna of a Unique Island
by Gerald Durrell

This book predates the one I just read- it's about a collection trip Durrell took to Mauritius (near Madagascar in the Indian Ocean), in particular visiting several tiny islands- Round Island gets a lot of mention- where species of snakes, birds and lizards live that exist nowhere else in the world. These species were nearly extinct due to introduced rabbits, goats and monkeys which either denuded the vegetation or destroyed the native animals' young. When Durrell visited the island, less than forty pink pigeons remained, there were only eight Mauritian kestrels known to exist, and the Round Island boa numbered seventy-five. Their purpose was to get an estimated count of the various endangered species, capture just enough individuals to set up a captive breeding program, and ascertain what could be done about the invasive animal problem. A lot of it of course, is about the mishaps and struggles working in remote, foreign conditions- in this case under constant blistering heat with little shade. Giant land snails invaded their tent and ate their sandwiches, shearwater chicks kept them awake at night screaming and trampling on everything, and mosquitoes swarmed in hordes. While the focus of the trip was the golden bat, pink pigeon and Mauritian kestrel, a lot of the text describes the numerous and beautiful lizards- there being plenty of those to observe. The phelsuma day gecko in particular has gorgeous colors (look it up!). Apart from the collecting efforts, Durrell also describes the beauties of the reef, as they spent several mornings snorkeling. The descriptions of the dazzling variety of fishes, corals, invertebrates and more is just wonderful. Unlike most Durrell books I've read, this one is illustrated with photographs (as well as some nice pen-and-ink drawings).

Happily, a bit of online search reveals that Durrell's efforts were the first of many (the Mauritian government, various other conservation groups and zoos became heavily involved), and they have paid off to save the species in Mauritius. While still vulnerable, the pink pigeon population now has over 400 birds, the Mauritius kestrel numbers about 200, the golden bat more than 20,000, the Round Island boa around 1,800 but the burrowing boa Durrell described is now considered extinct.

Rating: 3/5                       190 pages, 1977

Aug 7, 2019

The Aye-Aye and I

by Gerald Durrell

Charming little book about the last collecting trip Durrell made to bring rare, endangered animals back to his European zoo for a breeding program. His main purpose in visiting Madagascar was to find the aye-aye, a strange nocturnal lemur at risk of going extinct. They also searched for and collected snakes, endemic tortoises, gentle lemurs, a jumping rat and spiny-tailed iguanas. As always, Durrell's writing is interesting and humorous. He describes the difficulties they had navigating bad roads, finding accurate sources of information, getting local men in power to allow them access, dealing with breakdowns and scant supplies, etc. All the logistics involved in finding, feeding, and safely transporting the animals home. Coaxing newly-caught, frightened lemurs to eat. Scrambling to find medical care when one of the team members became ill. The descriptions of the red, pothole-strewn roads, the upright brick houses and the gentle native people are vivid. He also describes beginning attempts at conservation, the plans they made with local government to set aside wildlife refuges, do something about severe deforestation and protect the wildlife- many animals were illegally caught to be eaten or sold as pets, with no law enforcement in place. Aye-ayes were often killed outright by local people, who had strong superstitious fear of the animal. They did a lot of work to educate the people on the true nature of the wildlife, and to teach the local children about animals they had heard many fables of, but never actually seen. I think my favorite passage of the book was Durrell's description of a fossa- he was sitting quietly by himself one day while the team went ahead, when the animal walked into the road, treating him to a personal, rare encounter.

The end of the book has a sudden switch to the island of Mauritius, where Durrell and part of his team stopped on their way home from Madagascar, to check on a program they had put in place there years earlier to save some rare animals, especially the pink pigeon. I haven't read the book about the Mauritius trip yet, although it's on my shelf. Finally, Durrell sees the newly acquired animals safe home from their trip, settled into quarantine quarters at the zoo. There is an afterward by a Mammal Keeper from the zoo, who gives more details on how the animals fared after the expedition, and more information on the conservation and breeding programs set in place by Durrell.

Rating: 3/5                184 pages, 1992

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Aug 5, 2019

Fillets of Plaice

by Gerald Durrell

Five short stories, wonderfully descriptive and intriguing, often had me laughing. While I (mostly) enjoyed reading them, I think it's really best to start somewhere else, if you're new to reading Durrell. They don't have a lot of introduction, are unrelated incidents that Durrell realized later in life he had never fit into any of his other books, so he put them together here. His brother suggested the title, as a joke- it has nothing to do with the contents.

'The Birthday Party' is a story from Durrell's childhood on Corfu, where his family decide to give their mother a birthday outing in a boat, which turns into a huge mishap. I felt sorry for the woman, and the only reason I could laugh during this one was I knew that it all came right in the end. It's packed with amusing (or insufferable, however you like to look at it) characters, but it's really more funny if you already know how these people relate to each other from the Corfu trilogy.

'A Transport of Terrapins' - This was my favorite of the stories. Set later on, when Durrell's family had returned to England, and he found his first job as assistant in a pet shop. He loves the animals and wants to enrich their dull cages, but has to find a way to do so without offending the owner (who doesn't have a lot of interest in or knowledge about the animals himself, but as the boss has his pride). Later in the story Durrell meets another eccentric shop owner in town who keeps birds, with a curious way of running his shop. Then there's an older gentleman he meets on the bus over a spilled box of baby turtles, who invites him to his house to play a game. He is at first suspicious of this man's intentions, but it turns out to be honest and they strike up a nice friendship over strategy games with tin soldiers.

'A Question of Promotion'- Jumping ahead years, this one takes place in Africa, when Durrell was in the Cameroons collecting wild animals. That's not the focus. Most of the story is about plans he helped an acquaintance make for a dinner party to impress a visiting District Officer. There's pages and pages of conversation between Durrell and the other people he gathered together to help plan the meal- difficult because they lacked supplies- but it is lively and amusing enough. When they event finally takes place, all their careful planning meets with one huge accident. It was hilarious. However this was during time of British colonial rule, so there are unfortunately some attitudes towards both native servants and women, which I know some readers would find offensive.

'A Question of Degrees'- the one story that had me cringing. Durrell is ordered by his doctor to take some rest, sent to a place he calls 'the loony bin' but the doctor insists sternly is 'a highly respectable nursing home that specializes in nervous complaints'. So, mental health in-patient. While there, Durrell suffers a series of very bad nosebleeds, that won't stop, so he is sent to the hospital. Twice. The first time, the taxi takes them to the wrong place. The doctor is careful and efficient, and it's all over quickly. The second time, the doctor is very rough with crude methods that leave Durrell in worse pain than ever- and it ends with him staggering back to his bed in the inpatient facility, given a shot of drugs to wipe out the pain and fall asleep, wishing he'd gone to the wrong hospital again instead. I guess it was supposed to be funny, but it had me feeling sick the way some 'Mr. Bean' episodes do.

'Ursula'- The last story is about a young woman Durrell dated for a time. She was incredibly vivacious, with a loud animated way of speaking that always drew attention whenever they went out. Durrell soon found himself in a number of embarrassing situations, especially the day he took her to a Mozart concert and she brought a dog in a basket. Of course it escaped. The nice thing about this story is that Durrell comes to see the tenderhearted, kind side of Ursula, even though her manner is sometimes off-putting to others. I had a very personal reaction to the this one. Like the main character, I sometimes use the wrong word when speaking. In my case, it's often mispronunciation rather than the malapropisms Ursula frequently uttered- but I could oddly sympathize with her. I don't angrily insist I'm always right, like she did- but I do feel criticized and sometimes made the fool, depending on how the correction is worded. So the end of this book made me feel oddly unsettled and uncomfortable, because I identified with a character I felt the author intended us to laugh at.

Rating: 3/5                 216 pages, 1971

A Passage to India

by E.M. Forster

Just a quick note on this one. I tried to read it on a very long drive. Sixty pages in, after picking it up and putting it down repeatedly, I had to give up with a sigh. If this is Forster's best work, it makes me wonder if I should cross Room with a View and Howard's End off my want-to-read list. It's about a bunch of people in India nearing the end of colonialism, snobs of the British ruling class trying to mix socially with native Indian people (who are well-educated themselves) but nobody understands each other and it all goes wrong. At least, I gathered that much from the back cover text and glancing at a few reviews online. I just could not picture anything in my mind, or figure out what was going on, or keep the characters straight, while reading this. So I ended up disinterested and bored. Of course, it could just have been my mood and the surrounding circumstances (long hours in the car with a restless eight-year-old in the back seat) so I am re-shelving this one to try again at a later date. Do tell me if it's worth the effort of another attempt.

Abandoned              335 pages, 1924

Aug 4, 2019

Collected Short Stories

Vol. 4 
by W. Somerset Maugham

Thirty short stories. Surprisingly, I found Maughum's short stories really satisfying- they didn't leave me wishing a whole lot more or feeling adrift, like I usually do after reading short pieces.

Most of these stories take place in Malaya, during British rule, and are about Europeans stationed there, their wives and sometimes families. Several are situated in a nearby Asian countries, a few in America or England. They are all quite astute with character development and really intriguing, in spite of being so brief (a page or two, up to twenty in some cases). Sometimes it took me a while to get into the tale- often the crux of the subject is approached in a roundabout way- the narrator telling how he met a certain person, got a certain impression, had curiosity piqued, found out so much more later, here's the whole story wrapped up then, etc. They are about scandals, folks who have certain oddities, or get into troublesome situations by chance, or who do astonishing things that no one expected. Maugham himself said (in the intro) that he liked to write about people who were strange or got themselves into unusual circumstances, being more interesting than the majority who led quiet, ordinary lives. A lot are about women or men unfaithful to each other- some hiding it all their lives. Stories about men in different situations and how they struggled to get along with odious characters they had to work with. Quite a number grouped together about men in a French penal colony (reminded me immediately of Papillon). One quite unlike the others- more fairy-tale like in tone, about a princess with a wild nightingale she tamed, that her sisters convinced her to lock up in a cage . . . My favorite was the last one, about a young man who loved natural history and was sent to a remote place to work in a museum, went out into the jungle to find specimens, got into a pickle when his superior's wife began flirting with him. I did smile a lot when I ran into characters that loved books, in these pages. They stood out to me.

I wonder if most of these stories are based on real people or incidents the author heard about- it certainly sounds like he traveled about talking to and observing people, and then wrote based on that; I've heard tell it's more or less embellished fact. I borrowed this book from my brother-in-law while on holiday- it's the fourth volume of a complete collection of Maugham's short stories- someday I'd like to read all the others.

Rating: 4/5              464 pages, 1951

Jul 30, 2019

Elfangor's Secret

Megamorphs #3
by K.A. Applegate

In this Megamorph- longer than the usual books in the Animorph series- one of the alien leaders, Visser Four, has got hold of a dangerous device called the Time Matrix. It allows him to travel through time and change events in history. The Animorph team get a jarring view of how this could drastically change reality in the opening scene. They are granted the ability to follow Visser Four through time, in a desperate attempt to prevent him from changing history. Problem is, they don't know what events he's trying to alter, and what exactly they can do to stop him. They find themselves, at various points, on a French battlefield, in a naval war, with George Washington crossing the Deleware and on the beaches at D-Day, among other points. All significant, pivotal moments and the details are horrific. The chapters are told in alternating points of view. Ax is shaken by what he sees- are humans worth saving from the Yeerks, he wonders, if they are capable of such brutalities as the Holocaust? Also for the first time they face death that is not easily shaken off by morphing. One of the main characters, I thought until the last chapter, had actually been lost forever. The complications and problems with time-travel was, I thought, well-considered in a book aimed at children. Although I agree with another viewer this book boarders on YA not juvenile fiction. So much warfare, explosions, terrible injuries, vicious quick decisions made by some you would not expect (Cassie, for one). At one point a character escapes seeing what's going on by morphing into a fly, at another part of the story someone morphs a dolphin in the river and decides it might be better to swim away and stay dolphin permanently. But in the end, they do manage to thwart the enemy, and regain control of the device- in a strange scene of altered history where Hitler was a mere driver for someone higher-up, but Tobias felt compelled to execute him anyway. It feels like this series just got a lot more serious.

Rating: 4/5            224 pages, 1999

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Jul 28, 2019

The Bean Trees

by Barbara Kingsolver

I have finally read Kingsolver's first book. It's my third try- twice before- years apart- I attempted and just couldn't get into it. Must have been the mood. It's a good story with some heartwarming and heartwrenching themes, but not as finely written as her later novels so I doubt this one will ever be a favorite of mine. However I am glad I read it.

Its main character, Taylor Greer, is young when the novel begins, relieved that she managed to finish highschool without winding up pregnant like so many other girls, and her only plan is to escape rural Kentucky and see some of the world. She drives west in a barely-functional car and finds out pretty darn quick that people can be miserable and meanspirited anywhere you go. Seeming by chance- being in the wrong (or right) place at the wrong time she winds up with a young Cherokee child foisted on her, and not knowing what to do, keeps driving until finally she winds up in Arizona. Where she tentatively puts down roots, finds a roommate, patches together friendships and some turn out to be strong enough to call family in the end. She ends up working at a used tire shop owned by a woman, and becomes close to a Guatemalan couple looking for a safe haven. There's a lot in here about abuse, child neglect and mistreatment, drunkenness, poverty and misery, immigrants on the run, etc. But it's all about the goodness and strength of human nature in overcoming those things. In reaching out to others, giving helping hands, making sacrifices, lending time to heal. Not told in quite enough depth and detail for me, but moving nonetheless. Tackles a lot of difficult subjects and comes out hopeful. I liked more of it than I expected to.

The tone of it all reminded me somewhat of She's Come Undone, but the lovely metaphors with plants (at the end of the novel) very much a Kingsolver thing.

Rating: 3/5                323 pages, 1988

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Jul 25, 2019

The Sickness

Animorphs #29 
by K.A. Applegate

Rachel is always bold and gung-ho, but I think Cassie showed true bravery in this episode. Ax becomes deathly ill, and all the other Animorphs get sick also, leaving Cassie the only one who can save Aftran- a Yeerk on the side for peace, who knows all about the Animorphs and has been captured, about to be interrogated by Visser Three and spill all. Cassie moves desperately, sneaking into the Yeerk pool by morphing a Yeerk herself and hiding in the brain of a Controller who's also part of the peace movement. You'd never think she'd get away with what she has to do down in the Yeerk pool, but she does. By the skin of her teeth. Later in the story Cassie allows a Yeerk into her own brain. The same one that she came to know in The Departure The other really crazy part of the story is when Cassie has to do brain surgery on Ax in attempt to save his life. Yeah she was nervous and shaking and fumbling but it was successful and sounded way too easy. It's a dark storyline, but I couldn't put it down. Really a lot of depth, the stuff Cassie was thinking about: why should the Yeerks be denied sight, sound, taste, etc? also the realization that many of them simply don't want to be part of the war to dominate Earth. Oh, and I really liked the ending, where Aftran ended up when they realized she had no place to survive as a wanted Yeerk. It was really nice.

Rating: 4/5               152 pages, 1999

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Jul 24, 2019

The Experiment

Animorphs #28
by K.A. Applegate

The Chee inform the Animorphs that the enemy have recently acquired ownership of both a research lab and a slaughterhouse, so of course they are suspicious and have to check it out. They break into a truck carrying animals to the lab- while it's driving through a tunnel by the way- take the place of the chimps inside, and set them free. Wind up in the lab themselves and find out the experiments are completed and Visser ordered all the animals killed (after they lobbed excrement all over him). They scramble to escape in time, just manage to set some animals free as well (because Cassie insists). Next stop is the slaughterhouse which they can only get into morphed as cows- and Ax nearly gets killed. It's pretty horrible and Ax is very shaken. Of course once again they barely escape with their lives- and having found out very little this time. Visser Three had intended to put something into the ground beef that would destroy humans' free will if they ate it- but it turns out the experiment results were all faked by his terrified inferiors. Other readers have said this plot was pointless, but I found a lot going on here. There's plenty of angst between Cassie and the others about how the animals are treated, is it okay to morph chimps because they seem intelligent and self-aware but can't give consent, the ethics of eating animals- brought up by Ax who is the narrator, no less. His viewpoint is always intersesting, and here is no different. Sidestory in this book is that Ax has acquired a television and spends a lot of time watching soap operas, enthralled with the commercial breaks. He starts quoting things and mimicking some of the tv actors' mannerisms and phrases, which gets him a lot of odd looks, and made me laugh. There's also a particularly chilling moment when some bystanders are in the way- and Rachel without hesitation tells Ax to remove their heads, with his tail blade. Instead he just knocks them out. But hey- Rachel. Resorting to violence a little to easily now?

Rating: 3/5                 139 pages, 1999

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The Exposed

Animorphs #27
by K.A. Applegate

Rachel and Cassie are in the mall when they find Erek- the android Chee- in trouble. His hologram is failing- so the mechanical parts show through his disguise. Quickly they hide him in plain sight- in a display- and stammer explanations to passerby while Marco shows up in gorilla morph to haul them out of there. Strangely, none of the other shoppers blink at this- they think he's a person wearing a gorilla suit- and they pull it off. Discover that all the Chee are in trouble- there's a station deep under the ocean built long ago by the Pemalites (who designed the Chee) and someone shut off the program that controls all the Chee's holograms. If the Chee disguise is blown, it exposes the Animorphs too.

So they bust into a flophouse overrun by drug addicts and homeless people while it's being raided by police, to rescue a Chee that's stuck there (oh yeah because they also can't move during this shutdown). It's a crazy chaotic scene with Jake as tiger, Marco as gorilla, Cassie the wolf and Rachel the elephant rampaging around. Well, after that scene they find out about the station- it's so far down in the ocean impossible reach it- unless they could morph into giant squids. The only way to get a giant squid is to be a sperm whale. And then there just so happens to be a sperm whale that beached itself nearby. The Animorphs are highly suspicious, even they recognize this is too convenient, but it's their only option so they go for it. Manage to acquire the whale in spite of all the people crowded around saving it, get out into open ocean in seagull and dolphin forms, then Rachel and Tobias morph the whale to dive deep and find a squid. That part was creepy. Obvious how frightened their human minds were, inside the whale that didn't care.

So long story short, they manage to find a squid- which puts up quite a fight- and get it to the surface so everyone can acquire. Then they get down to the station and things get very weird. There's a confrontation with the Yeerks (again, of course) and they find out the evil Crayak was behind the whole thing. This thing called the Drode is there, representing Crayak, and seems to know all about them, even their inner thoughts and self-doubts. A very dark scene where the Drode is tempting Rachel to join with him; he recognizes the part of her that favors violence and puts serious doubt in her mind. He even incites her to turn against her fellow Animorphs. Curious where this will lead.

Rating: 3/5                     154 pages, 1999

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Jul 23, 2019

more TBR . . . .

Not as fun to look at this time because I didn't make an image collage of the covers. But the list is growing unwieldy again so I typed it out. Thanks to all the bloggers linked to below, the books-I-want-to-read-someday are a mountain!

-at my public library-
Beast Rider by Tony Johnston- Bookfoolery
Hotbox by Matt Lee- Caroline Bookbinder
Girl He Used to Know by Tracey Garvis Graves- Bookfoolery
Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss- Shelf Love
Girl with Seven Names by Hyeonseo Lee- It's All About Books
Why Cows Learn Dutch by Randy James
Why Cows Need Names by Randy James
Waiting for Fitz by Spencer Hyde- It's All About Books
Song for a Whale by Lynn Kelly- Bermudaonion
Losing Earth by Nathaniel Rich- Curiosity Killed the Bookworm
A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World by Fletcher- ditto
Professor Chandra Follows His Bliss by Rajeev B- Reading the End
People's History of Heaven by Mathangi Subramania- A Bookish Type
Into the Jungle by Erica Ferencik- Bookish Type
Machines Like Me by Ian McEwan- Curiosity Killed the Bookworm
Silent Spring at 50 by Meiners, et al
Rules for Visiting by Jessica Frances Kane- Bookfoolery
Maid by Stephanie Land- Caroline Bookbinder
Laughing at My Nightmare by - It's All About Books
Rabbits for Food by Binnie Kirschenbaum- Bookish Type
The Last Man by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Richardson- Indextrious Reader
Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris- Bookfoolery
Eliza and her Monsters by Francesca Zappia- It's All About Books
The Scarlet Plague by Jack London
Rough Magic by Lara Prior-Palmer
The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman- Bookfoolery
Things You Save in a Fire by Katherine Center- ditto
Voyage of the Dogs by Greg van Eekhout- Thistle-chaser
Little Fish by Casey Plett- Bookish Type

found browsing the library catalog- 
An Unquiet Mind by K R Jameson
Haldol and Hyacinths by Melody Moezzi
Dark Side of Innocence by Terri Cheney
What Works for Bipolar Kids by Mani Pavuluri
Long Shot by Silvia Harris
Back to Normal by Enrico Gnaulati
Voices of Bipolar Disorder edited Juliann Garey
This is How I Find Her by Sara Polsky
Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert
To Be Mona by Kelly Easton
72 Hour Hold by Bebe Moore Campbell
No One by Aubry Gwenaelle
RX by Rachel Lindsay
Dancing on Broken Glass by Ka Hancock
All the Things We Never Knew by Sheila Hamilton
Marbles by Ellen Forney
Rock Steady by Ellen Forney
Show Me All Your Scars edited Lee Gutkin
Manic by Terri Cheney
Lily and Dunkin by Donna Gephart
A Tragic Kind of Wonderful by Eric Lindstrom
Bipolar Handbook for Children, Teens and Families by Wes Burgess

-not at my library-
What's it Like Out? by Penelope Gilliatt- Indextrious Reader
Wild Comfort by Kathleen Dean Moore- Beth Fish Reads
Credo by Peter Bagge- Caroline Bookbinder
The Secret Life of Cows by Rosamund Young
The Way Home by Mark Boyle
Diary of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell- Bookish Type
The Burnt Country by Joy Rhoads - Work in Progress
The Nature of Spring by Jim Crumley
If I Die in a Combat Zone by Tim O'Brien- Bookfoolery
The World Doesn't Require You by Rion A Scott- Bookish Type
November Grass by Judy Van der Veer
A Few Happy Ones by Judy Van der Veer
In Pain by Travis Rieder- Bermudaonion's Weblog
The Death of Grass by John Christopher
Wilding by Isabella Tree- Captive Reader
Learning to Die in the Anthropocene by Roy Scranton- So Many Books
Beyond Rosemary, Basil and Thyme by Theresa Mieseler- Veg Gardener

The Attack

Animorphs #26
by K.A. Applegate

This one was different. Bizarre, otherworldly, crazy circumstances, but then had such a unexpected, clever twist at the end I was intrigued. The Animorphs team are engaged once again by that all-powerful being the Ellimist and wind up on an alien planet lightyears away from Earth, where they have to figure out how to defeat seven deadly creatures. The Eillimist is having an eternal war with an all-powerful, evil being called Crayak. Instead of wiping out entire galaxies with their battles, the Ellimist and Crayak decide to pitch their best warriors against each other. Crayak chooses a group of ruthless war-machine creatures called the Howlers. Ellimist choses the Animorphs (plus Ax and Chee the android). They are pitched to fight on an alien planet inhabited by the strange Iskoort. For once, the battle turns out to be the focus of most of the book, not a sudden hurried hectic scene at the end. The Howlers seem impossible to defeat; the Animorphs have to figure out their weakness, and also how the android can help them (because it's programmed to be a complete pacifist). Their realizations about the Howlers are startling; also they have another revelation near the end about why the Ellimist put them on this particular planet to fight. Something about the ancient history of the Iskoort holds a key to possibly ending the parasitic domination of the Yeerks, if only the Animorphs can win- and now they realize how important it is to do so.

Once I saw the issues and complexities raised in this book, I was hooked to find out the answers. I didn't see many of them coming. On the other hand, there's still a smattering of humor through the whole thing, even though the battle was pretty brutal. I thought at one point this was going to be the book where a main character dies- but they didn't. Almost though. It was very close. Oh, and there's a first kiss between Cassie and Jake.

Rating: 4/5                 145 pages, 1999

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Jul 22, 2019

The Extreme

Animorphs #25
by K.A. Applegate

In this episode, the Animorphs- as you can guess by the cover- acquire a new morph, polar bear. But not until the very end of the story. This one had a fairly straightforward plot: they find out the enemy is building a structure in the Arctic that could populate the world with Yeerk pools (don't ask how) so they travel undercover there to stop it. Only they don't have any animal morphs that can deal with the cold, and aren't prepared to withstand it as humans, either. So a lot of the book is them desperately trying to survive the cold (morphed as wolves most of the time) while also trying to escape a new alien used by the enemy. At the very end they manage to acquire the polar bear, and then it's easy to live in the cold, they bash up the station, trick the aliens into disintegrating themselves (too easily) and run off. The part where they get the polar bear confused me, though. Rachel as a grizzly and Marco as a gorilla pinned a wild polar bear down while the others touched it to acquire its DNA, but there was no mention how they switched so that Rachel and Marco could also (they would have to be human to do so) I was actually waiting for that, see how they worked it out- but then they just, didn't. Someone suggested elsewhere the bear was calm enough in the acquiring state they could de-morph and touch it themselves, but it was never explained this way in the text. Hm. I also had a reading hitch when the animorphs as seals were making clicking noises to echolocate underwater- until I looked it up afterwards. Well, who knew. A lot of what made this story flow was just the characterization, banter between them, Ax involved in jokes about time, some hints at growing romantic feelings between Tobias and Rachel, Cassie and Jake. There was a bit of that in the last book, too- I forgot to mention it.

Rating: 3/5             146 pages, 1999

more opinions:
The Library Ladies
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Jul 21, 2019

The Suspicion

Animorphs #24
by K.A. Applegate

Ridiculous premise, but amusing anyway. The Animorphs team encounters a new type of alien- tiny little things that haughtily declare their superiority and intentions to take over the world (they're offended when they find out the Yeerks are already trying to do so) and everyone scoffs at them until the little aliens get hold of the blue box that contains the morphing technology, and use it to shrink others, so they can overpower them. Most of the storyline is Cassie and Marco experiencing what it's like to be a creature small enough to see individual cells (because they shrink again from being quarter-inch-high humans to being literally microscopic when they morph into flies) while they and the others try to thwart the tiny aliens and retrieve the blue box. Crazy ridiculous chase scene involving a speeding limousine and a toy-sized flying spaceship, while normal traffic seems to notice nothing. Pretty clever how Cassie and Marco redirected the aliens' attention onto their enemy Visser Three. Odd closing scene where the Visser had them in his power but the standoff resulting in each side giving up the others they held captive. Which means the struggle can continue, I suppose. The cover shows Cassie morphing into an anteater- the new animal acquired in this book- but it happened at the very end, and although solved their problem with the tiny aliens, there wasn't really much about experiencing that animal form. Which is what I've previously liked about this series, but oh well.

Rating: 3/5                151 pages, 1998

more opinions:
Arkham Reviews
Snips and Snails and Puppy Dog Tales