Dec 31, 2019

The Prophecy

Animorphs #34
by K.A. Applegate

This was one of the better Animorphs books for me. I really liked all the ethical and morality questions it raised. It starts with a dash of humor- Cassie and Rachel using animal morphs to sneak into a teacher's house and retrieve a piece of homework that had "Cassie loves Jake" doodled on it, haha. Then a Hork-Bajir shows up: the free Hork-Bajir in the hidden valley have been approached by the last surviving Arn, that species that invented the Hork-Bajir so long ago. He wants their help to use DNA samples from the Hork-Bajir to create more of them to fight the Yeerks, and also to find a cache of weapons on the Hork-Bajir home planet. The Animorphs are brought in as consultants because the Hork-Bajir with their lesser intelligence don't understand all the implications. Winds up that they all travel back to that planet to find the weapons, but first they have to get the spirit of Aldrea- whose memory and personality was "backed up" or saved in some kind of device- because only she knows where the cache might be. This is weird and corny, but after Aldrea enters someone's mind- happens she chooses Cassie- it gets really interesting. Some other reviewers refer to this as the book where Cassie is possessed by an alien ghost, but I didn't see it that way at all. Once Aldrea was sharing Cassie's body, it was far more reminiscent of how the Yeerks take over their hosts- a fact which the Animorphs did not miss. Cassie actually struggles as Aldrea tries to wrest some control from her- because she has her own ideas, of course. There's some really interesting interactions between Aldrea and Ax- both being Andalites after all- Ax can't help looking down on Aldrea for her choices, they both have a huge helping of arrogance about everything, and Ax scorns Aldrea for her connections to Seerow (who first gave the Yeerks superior knowledge they weren't ready to handle) but Aldrea points out that Elfangor did the exact same thing to the human teenagers, so who's judging? Aside from all that, there's this impossible mission they have to pull off because the weapons cache is under a Yeerk pool, Aldrea is horrified to see how her home planet has been ravaged by the Yeerks, and Toby (the Horjk-Bajir who came to get help) sees her ancestral home planet for the first time, then doesn't want to return to Earth. The morphing scenes were crazy. Cassie's ability with this really shines, and Aldrea's admiration for it (and moment of shock at how the Animorphs are actually utilizing the morphing technology to thwart the Yeerks) is really something, coming from the race that invented it. Lots of heavy stuff. I liked it.

This one seems to be a continuation of The Hork-Bajir Chronicles. Had a copy of this on my e-reader.

Rating: 4/5              141 pages, 1999

more opinions:
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The Illusion

Animorphs #33
by K.A. Applegate

(There may be SPOILERS). The Animorphs team are trying to find out where the Anti-Morphing weapon is hidden, so they sneak into a large event of The Sharing. While there Ax causes some ruckus because he gets carried away with tasting food (introducing some humor once more). They decide to deliberately let Tobias get captured so that when the new weapon is tested, the enemy will think it simply doesn't work (because of course the hawk is Tobias' true form). The plan is that Rachel will sneak along with Tobias as a fly, return to let the team know where they are, and bring them all back to save Tobias and destroy the weapon. Only things go wrong. Tobias ends up being held captive and tortured for most of the book. It's very vivid. Especially the wandering and agony his mind goes through. The reader learns a lot about bad times in his past, as he revists them. Finally he retreats into the mind of the hawk, which just suffers the pain not understanding it, and gives up thinking he's going to die. Of course the team crashes in just at the last minute and manages to save Tobias, in a very confusing and gruesome battle, but it leaves them all incredibly shook up. Tobias wonders about how Jake- as the leader- has been deliberately using him, and Rachel expresses her true feelings, plus all the awkwardness in their relationship. Tobias goes through all this after having faced (earlier in the story) some glum moments feeling awkward when he's in human form to be with Rachel, and realizing that a hawk has a naturally short life span. . . . In addition to all this, there's some equally grim stuff when the torturer reveals to Tobias some of her own backstory- what led her to actually become a voluntary host to an alien Yeerk. Oh, and there's a deeper connection bonding between Tobias and Ax, as in part of the plan to fool the enemy, Tobias acquires the Andalite so he can take the form the enemy expects him to. I don't know why the Animorphs haven't all acquired Andalite morphs before this point- it would be incredibly useful! Anyway, this is all a jumble, as I'm rather tired, but it was such an intense story, don't really feel like this one fits in the juvenile fiction category either, due to the torture scenes. (During which there's there's a strong reference to the Princess Bride Pit of Despair- a few other reviwers noticed that as well). As a side note, there were numerous small typos in the copy I read- I don't know if it's just the e-book version or not.

Rating: 3/5            156 pages, 1999

more opinions:
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Dec 30, 2019

The Separation

Animorphs #32
by K.A. Applegate

Warning for possible SPOILERS as this is pretty far into the series. Rachel's falling apart, seems to be experiencing some pretty bad PTSD. She's jumpy, easily angered, and does some stupid stuff, morphs a starfish on a field trip within view of other kids in order to retrieve her earring from a tide pool. Being a starfish didn't last long- a kid comes along with a shovel and chops starfish/Rachel in half. In a panic Rachel morphs back to human, avoiding death- but now there's two of her. With two different parts of her personality, and two different parts of her brain. She's impossible to work with- one side of her being indecisive and  timid, the other incredibly volatile and violent. While trying to deal with the Rachel issue, the Animorphs also have to find out where the enemy is keeping a secret weapon that could defeat their morphing abilities. They don't want the two Rachels involved, but they need the Nice Rachel along to have enough numbers to cover all the bases and can't avoid the other as Mean Rachel is furious at being left behind. Luckily in the scramble to avoid disaster when (of course) they confront the enemy in the final scenes, the two Rachels realize they need each other to be whole and functional (Mean Rachel does so very grudgingly) and with some help from the Chee, the Animorphs are able to fuse the two halves of Rachel back into one. There were -as always- some completely ridiculous situations, but for the most part I found this one interesting. Seems like the Animorphs are using their abilities more cleverly, too- not always barging into the fray with large, dangerous morphs but using the small ones to be sneaky and pose a threat from the inside. I liked that. (This book is on my e-reader).

Rating: 3/5               158 pages, 1999

more opinions:
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Dec 29, 2019

The Conspiracy

Animorphs #31
by K.A. Applegate

Note that there might be SPOILERS if you haven't read so far in the series. This one kind of has the same premise as the previous book- one of the Animorphs has to face a terrible dilemma: protect his family or keep the Animorphs from being exposed. It's Jake. His great-grandfather has died so they're all leaving town for funeral arrangements- which will take four or more days. His brother Tom's Yeerk is panicked at being away from its source of nutrients too long- it will die. Their father refuses to let Tom stay behind, so after several different attempts to thwart events, the Yeerk in Tom is plotting to do away with his father. Jake has to stop him without letting Tom realize that he's an Animorph. A lot of this one is focused on Jake's family interactions, his fear for Tom and hatred of the Yeerk controlling him, his inability to be ruthless like Marco was about the similar situation with his mother/Visser One. There's also conflict within the Animorphs team, who makes the decisions, can they override their leader. Jake's futile plan to simply keep twenty-four-seven surveillence on his father until the weekend is over fails; luckily his friends step in and save the day with their own crazy plan. It's a bit of a stretch to think that Marco as a gorilla bashing cars around in a parking lot would have no reactions from the public (although the illustration inside the cover showed it being cars parking on a curb with passerby right there, I pictured it being a mostly-empty parking lot, all the shoppers being indoors until after the incident) and that Rachel as a grizzly, Jake as a rhino and Marco as gorilla again wouldn't get noticed by any neighbors when they smash through Chapman's house to take him hostage as a distraction to the enemy! Ridiculous and reckless. In spite of that, I was able to enjoy the story this time. I didn't notice any new morphs, they all used familiar ones- including birds of prey, cockroach and tiger- and that's part of the series I always really liked- seeing how they felt inside new animal skins and dealing with the instincts and sharp senses- but now it's getting more intense with the stakes even higher in the alien conflict so I still like reading them.

Rating: 3/5             139 pages, 1999

more opinions:
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Dec 28, 2019


the Amazing Story of OR-7, the Oregon Wolf that Made History
by Beckie Elgin

As part of the apex predator reintroduction program started over a decade ago, wolves were released not only in Yellowstone but also in central Idaho. In 2008, one of these wolves crossed the Snake River into Oregon, found a mate and started a family. OR-7, later named Journey, was a young wolf born to that pair. In 2011 he was collared and tagged by researchers, so when he dispersed from his pack a few months later, the researchers knew exactly where he was. They didn't know how far he would go! This young wolf traveled all the way into Nothern California where he lived for several years before making his way back into Oregon, encountering other wolves and finally settling down to start his own family. He became famous for being the first live wolf to set foot in California in 87 years, and his whereabouts were followed by avid fans as well as the research team. This lovely book details what is known of Journey's life- including many trail camera photos and maps of his peregrination. There's parts narrated as if from the wolf's point of view (with detailed notes in the back indicating which parts are purely invented -based on other research of wolf behavior of course- and which were drawn from known incidents), and other sections and sidebars with information about wolves, their history with mankind, how the research is conducted, and so on. In context it's a lot like Heart of a Lion, although with less detail and more pictures. It's an easy enough book that kids reading at middle grade level would enjoy, and learn from. I'd shelve it alongside Romeo.

Borrowed from a family member.

Rating: 3/5              102 pages, 2017

Dec 27, 2019

The Reunion

Animorphs #30
by K.A. Applegate

Ah, this one didn't work for me. Maybe I wasn't in the right reading mood. Maybe because it's been so long since the last Animorphs read, I didn't really recall what was going on. Oddly enough, this book jumps straight into the storyline without the usual recap, but it was so awkward at first. Please note there are SPOILERS below if you haven't read this far in the series.

So Marco skips school and walks downtown, running into Visser One (his mother) in disguise, so of course he follows her and uses morphs (in a very risky way) to get into the office she 'works' at and almost gets caught but doesn't and tells the other Animorphs what he's discovered and they go back the next day as a team. The confrontation is a mess of course but they learn that Visser Three has his forces following Visser One, having convinced their council that's she's a traitor and obtained a warrant to execute her. The Animorphs see an opportunity now to do away with either one or both of the Vissers, but Marco is dealing with some serious internal conflict: protect the Visser One who is his mom as a controller, or take the opportunity to kill her, as one of their greatest enemies. Marco decides to plow ahead with a plan to trick the two Vissers into fighting with each other- and for some reason his friends go along with this. In a nutshell it entails taking Visser One up the mountain in disguise leading her to think she's going to wipe out the hidden Hork-Bajir colony meanwhile Visser Three and his forces are following behind and yes there's a showdown on a mountain top that is only partly actually there- because the Hork-Bajir valley is actually a hologram to trick Visser One- and it's Marco who attacks Visser One but Jake knocks him aside and even though she falls off the mountainside it appears she may have survived. Marco, needless to say, is a mess. He goes home and zones out in front of the television for days.

A lot of it feels infused with anger and confusion (on Marco's part). The plan was never clear to the reader, only as it unfolded. The new morph in this book was mountain goat, by the way. A lot of things are mentioned only once and briefly, then left entirely up to the reader's imagination- such as when an underling angers Visser Three who instantly chops his arm off. The limb falls to the ground, and the narrative immediately moves on to someone talking- there's no description of bleeding, or fainting, or the maimed person screaming or anything. Just oh, his arm is gone now!

Um, I'm going to read two or three more here and if I'm getting the same vibe it will be an indication to take another long break and read something different for a while. Had this one on my e-reader.

Rating: 2/5                pages, 1999

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The Folded Leaf

by William Maxwell

I finished this book a few days ago, but hadn't had time to write yet. It's a very slow, quiet novel with lots of subtle undercurrents. The Folded Leaf is a story of friendship, two high school boys who have nothing in common- Spud is athletic, outgoing and quick of temper; Lymie is an introvert- lacking physical strength but keeps to intellectual pursuits. They meet when Spud saves Lymie from drowning in a pool. The two unlikely boys strike up a friendship, Lymie often spending time in Spud's home, enjoying the comforts his own seems to lack (it's just him and his father after his mother died). Then the boys go off to college, and their friendship gradually starts to fray. Spud gets involved in all the normal things college kids do- parties, fraternities, sports (boxing). Lymie tags along, kind of idolizing his friend. They room together. They befriend a few girls. Spud mistakes Lymie's casual affection for Sally as something more- and in jealous suspicion starts to distance himself from Lymie, without of course explaining anything. It seems that the only person Lymie really loves is Spud- although he could never say so- so this breaks his heart. Desperately he starts questioning all the assurances he had built up in his mind before, leading to an unhappy crisis.

This book is really good at depicting the inner mind- how Lymie daydreams and invents reasons for people's reactions in his head, how he frightens himself with speculation and turning small insignificant things into giant obstacles sometimes. But all the background material- closely described places, family members, interactions between the adults- parents and professors around them- felt rather dull to me. Sometimes it added to the feel of place- this is all set in the 20's or 30's I gather- but other times it didn't really seem to add anything. It's got a lot of similarities to A Separate Peace, which I find I like better, and for a book with university atmosphere I also prefer Tam Lin (although that one has a realm of fantasy so I can't really compare them). I guess you could say this is very much a book about ordinary people, the closeness these kids had growing up, and what happened when they got out on their own, how some misunderstandings made it unravel. And as a silly side note, they sure seem to eat a lot of malted milkshakes!

Rating: 3/5         274 pages, 1945

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A Guy's Moleskine Notebook

Dec 22, 2019

Cross Creek

by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings

Even though I categorized it with memoirs, this book is more like a collection of essays or short stories per se; it doesn't really have a plotline or story arc. It's a deep reflection on the time Rawlings spent living on a farm at Cross Creek in central Florida, most of her neighbors being very poor and the majority of them black. It's very much about place, local culture and backwoods Florida cuisine- in fact there's an entire lengthy chapter just about food- I didn't know Rawlings was so ambitious in the kitchen (and proud of it!) I have a mind to grow okra once more just to fix it the way she describes.

Her writing is lovely, and of course I especially liked the parts about the weather and changing seasons, the local wildlife and flora. She describes keeping a garden, tending to fruit trees, going river boating or hunting with friends- and often as not she was glad to miss her shot, admiring the beauty of the animals instead- even though she also liked cooking up squirrels and quail and one time as an experiment shot a bunch of red-winged blackbirds and made a pie (before she knew they were a protected species). She describes the keeping of animals- her milk cow and an old mule, a succession of dogs; and dealing with the neighbors' cattle, half-wild hogs and hounds that roam onto the property at will. Most of all though, the book is about people, her hard-working poverty stricken neighbors and the various people she hires to take care of her house or work in her orange grove. Her attitude towards the black servants is sometimes deplorable- you can tell she tried hard to be kindly, often gave gifts and assistance to those around her, sent for the doctor when needed, etc. But the words she uses to describe them are offensive, and one incident in particular when her visiting brother became angry seeing how her home had been neglected by the servants when she was away and accosted them in the middle of the night- well, that really made me cringe. I also didn't like reading how she and a companion treated a sea turtle they encountered on the beach- although they were conscientious enough to leave half the clutch behind when taking turtle eggs to eat.

Aside from many colorful characters and interesting stories about the author's dealings with them, there's plenty about the raccoons and alligators, the deer and wild birds as well. I particularly admired how the author dealt with snakes- she wrote a whole chapter about snakes and deliberately went on a rattlesnake hunt with someone in order to make herself get over her fear of them. Many times she had to dispatch dangerous snakes found in the house; one time she cornered a snake and hit it first with a thick catalog and then with her own copy of The Yearling!

In spite of the discomfort some things in this book give me, it's one I'm definitely keeping on my shelf to read again. It inspires me to look for more of her fiction, especially after reading about some of the real-life incidents and people who inspired her to write. Somewhat similar in tone to Out of Africa.

Rating: 3/5                      368 pages, 1942

Dec 18, 2019

Where the Crawdads Sing

by Delia Owens

Kya is known as the Marsh Girl. Abandoned by her dysfunctional family in a shack by the water on the North Carolina coastline, she pretty much lives alone after her drunken father never returns one day. She survives digging mussels and catching fish, gathering eggs from the small flock her mother left behind and tending a scanty garden. Wanders the wetlands and communes with nature. Truant officer tries to make her attend school but she adroitly evades people in the marsh. One compassionate black family- very poor themselves- takes pity on her and pays her for the meager catch she offers to sell or exchange for gas (for the boat), gives her clothing and a few supplies. So she does get a little help from the community, but otherwise is very isolated. Most of the townspeople mock or shun her when she does venture into town. Then a boy Tate she occasionally ran into while boating as kids, starts to visit more often as a teenager and teaches her to read. Starts to open up her world- and her heart- until he leaves suddenly for college. Kya is of course hurt at feeling abandoned all over again, but also aches for companionship now- so when she catches the eye of a popular guy in town, lets herself get drawn into a different kind of relationship . . . Years later- this part told in alternating chapters-  the popular guy Chase, is found dead under a fire tower in the marsh. Kya becomes the primary suspect for his murder. The final chapters wind up with a courtroom drama- not my favorite kind of story but those scenes weren't as dull to read as I expected.

I liked most of this book- especially the nature writing and Kya's connection with the marsh wildlife- but I also had some issues with it that spoiled my enjoyment. Some aspects of the story just did not make a lot of sense or felt unrealistic. I couldn't believe how fast she learned how to read, and how easily she lost her lowcountry accent. For all of Kya's isolation, she picked up complex skills and cultural expressions very quickly. (Reminded me of how Ayla in Clan of the Cave Bear turned out to be this kind of super woman- teaching herself so many difficult skills while living completely alone). I could have just gone along with that, but there was a point in the middle of the story where she had an argument with Tate during a brief visit he made after college. Things she said in that argument, words thrown in Tate's face- didn't sound like the kind of things an isolated, wild, self-taught girl would say. Having never even attended school, having never dated anyone else, having no social context outside of selling mussels and occasionally going to the small convenience store, what would she know about relationships and breakups? From reading a few romance novels? Also after being deserted by her mother and all her older siblings when she was less than ten years old, I would have expected her to have a lot more difficulty confronting or recognizing her own emotions about things. A lot of the conversations she had with the few people close to her, later in the book, looking back on what happened in her early childhood seemed awfully simplistic, and too insightful and levelheaded for someone who had gone through that kind of early trauma. It just didn't feel real. A lot of the dialog likewise felt awkward to me and the romantic parts of the story trite. Which ended up making it overall a dissatisfying read.

This book actually reminded me a lot of Girl of the Limberlost- it has a similar basic premise- wild girl who spends time alone in nature, becomes something of an expert on local fauna, falls in love with a man later on who is intrigued by her innocence and differences. But I also thought a lot of Lady on the Beach- there's a story about a woman living in poverty on the edge of the water, surviving partly off the land- and it's far more realistic about the miseries and struggle that come along with that.

Rating: 3/5              370 pages, 2018

more opinions:
Book Chase
Bibliophile by the Sea
Bookalicious Babe

Dec 14, 2019

Wild Cats

Lynx  Bobcats  Mountain Lions
by Candace Savage

It's about the wild cats that inhabit North America- bobcats, lynx and cougars (aka mountain lions). The first section is about lynx and bobcats, the middle part is about mountain lions, and the last segment discusses threats from mankind and conservation efforts. It was nice to read more detail about the lives of bobcats and lynx (which I don't often come across) but the part on cougars was awfully reminiscent of Heart of a Lion- lots of reiteration on how they are ruthlessly killed by man. I'm glad to say we've made some changes for the better- when this book was published, the author predicted that Florida panthers would go extinct by 2015. Here it's almost the year 2020, and numbers have grown steadily due to lots of work. (At this book's printing, Florida panther numbers were around only fifty individuals. In 2015 there were 100 to 180 of them. The most recent count appears to be 120 to 230- still not a large population, but definitely a vast improvement!) The strength of this book lies in its photographs- most of them are great and I thumbed through the book more than once just to look at them all again. This would be great for younger readers- it really only has a few pages of text per section, followed by twice as many full and double-page spreads of photographs, with captions giving some more information. A really nice read for a single sitting, if you want to learn a bit about the American cats.

Rating: 3/5              136 pages, 1993

Dec 13, 2019

Heart of a Lion

A Lone Cat's Walk Across America
by William Stolzenburg

In 2011, someone driving on a parkway in Connecticut hit a mountain lion. Cougars had not been seen in that state since the 1800's. People thought it was a pet gotten loose, but DNA testing showed the mountain lion came from the Black Hills in South Dakota. It was a young animal, travelling probably in search of a mate and territory, who had trekked two thousand miles across America. The trail was patched together- hair and scat samples from various locations it had passed through matched perfectly- and camera trap photos showed further proof of its passage. This book traces the big cat's journey, through news reports (full of local uproars about safety) and firsthand accounts of people who glimpsed the lion or found its tracks. Also accounts of other dispersing young mountain lions- mostly found and recorded because they met their end at the hands of law enforcement panicking when lions were found skirting backyards in towns, or ranchers claiming to be protecting their livestock. Those wanting to protect the cougars claim that shooting mountain lions only exacerbates the problem (leaving untutored young ones prone to going after easy prey) while those wanting to see lions populate the Eastern part of the states again talk over and over again about seeing lions in the landscape that simply aren't there, and spending tons of hours out searching for them. Unfortunately it sounds like all the mountain lions that ever tried to move east into habitable land (swarming with deer populations that could really use some natural control) met with frightened or trigger-happy people who shot them on sight. A few chapters look at the history of mountain lions in North America- going all the way back to prehistoric times- explaining the deep-seated fear most people have upon encountering the big cat. The language gets kind of flowery at times, and it can also be repetitive, and the blow-by-blow conversations between different people trying to find the mountain lions, or deny their existence, or fight for/against protecting them, got a bit tiresome. Still, pretty interesting overall.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5                    245 pages, 2016

Dec 8, 2019

The Wolf

by Dr. Michael Fox

Lovely little book about the family life of wolves. Part of it is story, following one pup from birth to adulthood as it learns life skills, how to stay safe, hunting with the pack etc- all the usual stuff. Interjected are explanations about wolf behavior and ecology, so it's very educational as well. The little wolves grow and play, although one dies young from a disease. This book has a lot more about their intimate social lives- showing how the interactions form their bonds and organize their place in the pack. The young wolves encounter threats from a bald eagle, a wolverine and porcupine (seems to be the classic encounter in any book about young wild animals). They learn to catch mice and grasshoppers on their own, and are schooled in hunting caribou by their parents. I thought for once this would be a story just about the (relatively) peaceful lives of the animals, but man does make an appearance at the end- the wolf pack is hounded by hunters using airplanes. Some are shot and left to die. The ending is a plea for wolves to be protected, pointing out their role in keeping populations of caribou and other prey animals healthy, and a little bit about conservation work. Of course the book is dated- it hopes for example that wolves will someday be re-introduced to Yellowstone (which has now occurred).  The illustrations by Charles FracĂ© are very nice.

As I read this book immediately after Cry Wild, I couldn't help notice the differences between a few very similar scenes. In both stories the young wolf pups find a porcupine, but in this case the parent warned them from approaching, and later they came across a dead one and found out how sharp the quills were against their curious noses, so escaped injury. In both books one pup dies very young, and the mother's reaction is opposite. In Cry Wild the mother wolf anxiously licked and tended the dead pup, trying to coax it to nurse again and finally when they all moved to a new den, simply left the body behind. Here in The Wolf, as soon as the dead pup ceases moving, the mother apparently no longer recognizes it as her young, and matter-of-factly eats the body.

I wonder which depiction is more accurate. I suppose they both could be, if the wolf learned how to react to the situation according to what wolves around it normally did?

Rating: 3/5                96 pages, 1973

Cry Wild

by R.D. Lawrence

The life of a wolf in the wild, growing up and then eventually encountering mankind, to its misfortune. I was surprised how much this book reminded me of White Fang- although it feels a lot more realistic, it has similar sentiment of "tooth and claw" ruling in the wild, and it starts out very similar- opening scenes of a wolf pack struggling to survive famine in the winter wilderness, then better times come with spring and the female gives birth to pups, the strongest of which becomes the animal protagonist of the story. Much of the narrative is just about the family life of the wolves, their tenderness towards each other, the pups' fumbling play-wrestling with each other and curiosity at encountering new animals, and their growing survival skills- finally becoming adept at hunting together with the adult wolves. It often switches viewpoint to depict other animals living in the forest and how their lives interact, reminiscent to me of One Day At Teton Marsh. As the young wolves grow up, they meet some harsh life lessons and two of them don't make it to adulthood but otherwise the pack life seems pretty stable until a forest fire forces them to flee to a new area. Here one of the young wolves comes across a baited live trap, and his subsequent experience at the hands of man marks him forever. What follows is brutal, but I will say the book ends on a final positive note.

There was one odd moment in the story, when the wolf pups found a porcupine. Of course one got smacked with the quills, and the other wolves pulled them out of her face with their teeth! The pup suffered for a few weeks but then her "iron constitution" overcame the embedded quills and she was fine. I think in real life a wolf would die of the infection, if not starve because they couldn't eat due to the pain. In The Last Wild Wolves there was a photograph of a wolf that had one quill stuck in its nose. The research team found that wolf dead a month later. Regardless, this one detail among so much realism was easy to overlook and overall it's a really good book depicting the wolves' lives.

Rating: 3/5                     146 pages, 1970

Dec 7, 2019

Wolf Pack

Tracking Wolves in the Wild
by Sylvia A. Johnson and Alice Aamodt

For a juvenile non-fiction book about wolves, this one is pretty thorough. It details how wolves live in the wild, their social structure and pack life, how the pups are raised, what they eat, hunting methods, territory defense and so on. Also conflicts with humans, some folklore and misconceptions about wolves, and how radio-tracking is used to study them (thus the subtitle, which I found a bit odd because it's only one short chapter at the very end that discusses this). It's basic, but really informative for all that. I recognized most of the photographs. I think I've seen them before in some older edition of National Geographic.

Rating: 3/5                96 pages, 1985

Lone Wolf

Wolves of the Beyond
by Kathryn Lasky

Wolf pup Faolan is cast out by his pack at birth for a deformity- he has a splayed front paw with a strange mark on it. He would have died, but a grizzly bear that had just lost her cubs took him in, nursed him and taught him all she knew. When the wolf pup grows up he realizes he's not actually a bear, and sets off to find his own kind. Adventures ensue, hinting at some grand destiny for this little wolf.

I liked the beginning of this book, when the wolf was being raised by a bear. I thought the talking animals were written really well, with realistic behaviors and some interesting invented animal culture in there. The story moves pretty quick and things really change when the wolf leaves to find his own kind. He encounters savage cannibalistic wolves that live with no apparent laws, then explores a cave with depictions on the walls that teach him history (this was rather confounding, I couldn't figure out how the wolf learned to read the symbols on the wall so instantaneously), and then meets a clever metalsmithing owl. It all takes place in the same universe as the Guardians of Ga'hoole (which I haven't read, but saw the movie) I read it as a standalone but ended up it didn't really work for me. I started skimming at some point, it was feeling like a very different kind of story and some of the elements got a bit too mystical or fantastical for my suspension of disbelief. Also, it seemed really unlikely that a young, lone wolf, no matter how well-fed and taught by a bear, could kill a cougar on its own, and later take down a full grown caribou, also solo. There's lots of killing- the wolf and other characters talk about it matter-of-factly and it's not deliberately gory but might be off-putting for some kids (this is middle-grade fiction). The more spiritual elements like the wolves, bears and other animals telling things by star patterns, was a bit of a stretch for me too. Oh well. This series (and others by the same author) have lots of fans, so it's probably just me. Being too old, and too critical.

Rating: 2/5         219 pages, 2010

Dec 5, 2019

The Last Wild Wolves

Ghosts of the Rain Forest
by Ian McAllister

Gorgeous book about a wolf population that lives in the temperate coastal rainforest of Canada- the Great Bear Rainforest. It's an isolated area, cut off from the mainland by a large mountain range, so the wolves there have been unmolested by humans and evolved apart other wolves. The author studied some forty packs in the region and shares his findings in this book, liberally illustrated with some really stunning photographs. He describes the methods of study- it was completely hands-off: the wolves were habituated to a few people following them from a distance while scat and hair samples were taken to determine exactly what they were eating, how they were related, what diseases they'd been exposed to, etc. Reading why, I learned for the first time how being trapped for radio-collaring can be very stressful and traumatizing to a wolf (or any other wild animal I assume). There's some about the wolves' social structure and individual personalities, but a lot of the book is about how the wolves are adapted to live in the coastal environment. Most of their nutrition coming from the sea- they eat shellfish in the tidal zones, beached carcasses of mammals like seals or sea lions, and spawning salmon in the creeks. Only in the winter do they seem to depend on deer for food. They swim between the islands to reach different areas of their habitat, and compete with black and grizzly bears for territory and food. One wolf family denned in the site of a long-since abandoned First Nations village, and the author speculates on what the relationship between wolves and native tribes may have been like in the past. Some wolf trails on the islands were actually worn into the rock, indicating the wolves had used them for literally hundreds of years. I definitely want to read some other books written about the "sea wolves" now- have added Following the Last Wild Wolves to my TBR. The copy of this book I borrowed came with a DVD which I viewed. Some of it was poor in visual quality- grainy, blurry or shaky footage- but it was still wonderful to see on film the landscape and individual wolves described in the book. While the afterward can be sobering- it tells how commercial logging and hunting is finally encroaching into the Great Bear region- looking up the current situation I find websites about eco tours to view the wolves, so I hope the area is more protected now.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 4/5              192 pages, 2007

Dec 4, 2019

Becoming a Veterinarian

Masters at Work
by Boris Kachka

Little book packed with stuff. Kind of an overview about what it takes to be a vet, it follows several different veterinarians through what led them to the career, how they got into vet school and fulfilled their on-the-job training, what motivates or discourages them, what keeps them going- including job switches when they start to face burnout. The author follows one rural vet to farm visits treating cattle- it's not at all like it was in the James Herriot books, he keeps pointing out. Then there's a day spent in a small animal practice, one in a busy city on a mobile spay/neuter unit providing low-cost services, another in an animal hospital ER, and a high tech specialty treatment center where innovative procedures are created. Kind of shows a little bit of everything- hectic working conditions, co-worker conflicts, difficulty with finances, managing owner's expectations and making decisions based on their ability to pay, long hours and stress. How veterinary medicine compares to the very similar work in human medical care- although the gap is closing in many ways (procedures available more and more for animals that used to be just for people), the pay certainly isn't. Some of the chapters- the one in the small animal practice in particular- felt very jumpy, abruptly moving from one moment to the next but it just shows how fast-paced that can be. I was surprised and pleased to read about how much animal care has improved in shelters across the country. It was also nice to see how many varied types of jobs are actually out there- some veterinarians end up working in public health or in education, not being hands-on with the animals. Some people enjoy the tension and challenge of a high-pressure environment like the ER, others find they like working at a slower pace and getting to know patients better at small local practices, or that they prefer the technical side of things, not being near animals at all. Of course there's a good number of very brief case studies in here, telling how the animals were treated- but mostly the book's intent was to give an honest look at the realities and options out there for work in the field nowadays, and I think it probably does a good job of that.

Borrowed from the public library, found browsing the shelves.

Rating: 3/5                  152 pages, 2019

Dec 3, 2019


the Epic Journey from Adolescence to Adulthood 
in Humans and Other Animals
by Barbara Natterson-Horowitz and Katherine Bowers

All living things go through a transition from youth to adulthood. It's a time of trying out survival skills and independence, testing boundaries and rebelling against parental control. The authors look at a wide variety of animals- from sea-dwelling mammals and crabs to birds, wolves and hyenas- even fruit flies. They examine how all these different animals navigate the stressful, exhilarating and downright dangerous time of adolescence. The book is divided into several parts, focusing on how animals learn to be safe- flirting with danger in order to learn about it, navigate social structures attempting to gain or hold status, experiment with courtship skills, and learn how to provide for themselves- hunting or finding food. They compare the way animals manage all this, to how human adolescents also learn to become independent adults. Some animals immediately shove their young off on their own, others have a long teaching period or allow their offspring to linger around the home territory with partial support for as long as they need it. It's all very interesting and I came across lots of things I never knew before. There are a few specific individuals whose coming-of-age moments are in the book as a narrative- they are a penguin, humpback whale, Eurasian wolf, cougar and a spotted hyena- but their stories are told in a very stretched-out manner. One or two sentences about the animal first leaving home- it's about to leap into the ocean!- and then paragraphs on scientific data or explanations or examples from other species- and then one more snippet about the animal- followed by a whole chapter of tangents. Well, the tangents are actually the point, but I nearly forgot about the penguin or hyena example in the meantime. Also there's a very odd typo where a klipspringer is repeatedly called clip springer (it's a small antelope) which really bugged me. And I didn't really care for the term "wildhood" which the authors chose to use. They explained why, but it still felt gimmicky to me. I don't know what's wrong with just using the term adolescence or youth, even when talking about animals. Regardless, I really enjoyed this book. Similar read: Becoming a Tiger.

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from the publisher.

Rating: 4/5                      354 pages, 2019

Dec 1, 2019

A Gentleman in Moscow

by Amor Towles

I tried very hard to like this book, because it was highly recommended to me by two family members, but I just can't get into it. I did read as far as the first passage my dad or sister marked (p. 96) and flipped through to read the other marked passages. It's full of elegant language, insightful and clever remarks, unflappable characters who meet awkward circumstances with dignity. It's about a gentleman who is placed under house arrest by the Bolsheviks in 1922. His crime -as far as I could tell- is writing some revolutionary poetry so he is spared being shot and instead condemned to live in a grand fancy hotel. For some thirty years. So he watches a lot of history pass by, gets to know the various hotel staff intimately, and some of the other guests, including a nine-year-old who first shows him the rooms in the basement and where to sneak to spy on meetings in the old ballroom. The story wanders all over the place, in past reminiscences and current musings to stories told and heard by others. All very rich and fine and sometimes amusing or insightful, but somehow boring too. I'm sorry to say I was relieved to give up on it. Could just be wrong timing for the reader. It's popular enough I'll always be able to find a library copy if I want to give it another try someday.

Borrowed from a family member.

Abandoned                             462 pages, 2016

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