Mar 19, 2020

An Indomitable Beast

the Remarkable Journey of the Jaguar
by Alan Rabinowitz

This book seems a companion volume to Jaguar: One Man's Struggle to Establish the World First Jaguar Preserve. It was written many years later, but covers some of the same material and mentions many of the same key incidents. However this book moves much further, describing conservation efforts Rabinowitz was involved with for tigers and other wild cats before coming back to focus on jaguars again. He studied the history of the jaguar- from its ancient evolution through the many cultures that revered it in the "jaguar culture corridor". A lot of the book is about study results and meetings and reports made in effort to protect jaguars and the land they need, and help native peoples where jaguars exist learn to better live alongside them. He took things learned from people who co-existed well in one area with jaguars, and helped apply it to other areas. Much of all this, while very informative, is also really dry reading though (at least for me). I admit I skimmed a lot. I did enjoy some of the final chapters that delve into the nature of the jaguar, what distinguishes it from other big cats in the eyes of Rabinowitz and other men who have worked closely with it- behavior traits in particular. There is some folklore and legend in here too, and overall it is a hopeful story with successes secured and a positive look to the future. But the prior book Jaguar, about direct work in the field study, was in all a more personal story and thus more interesting. It's a narrative, this one is more along the lines of a very detailed report.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5                  241 pages, 2014

Mar 17, 2020

prevention measures

I guess it was inevitable- I've had to turn on comment moderation because my blog has recently attracted spam. I had to erase a lot of junk from the comment section. Unfortunately when I re-visited my blog a few hours later, I noticed some legitimate comments from the past weeks' worth of posts have also vanished. I am not sure how that happened and I apologize to my readers, because I really do like hearing from you!

Mar 16, 2020

Paradise Under Glass

An Amateur Creates a Conservatory Garden
by Ruth Kassinger

I don't know if it's just my mental state, but I found this book a disappointment. It seemed right up my alley- a woman who could barely keep a single houseplant alive, suddenly feels inspired to build what I'd call a large sunroom onto her house to replace an old deck. She stocks it with fruit trees and vibrant tropical foliage plants, learning by mistakes and with the guidance of a helpful local nursery employee. Becoming enthused with all the green growing things, she travels to visit commercial greenhouses and public arboretums, admiring a living green wall, learning about the history of clivias and Victorian fern hunters, seeing what it takes for an operation to produce thousands of houseplants for sale. She tells a lot about the history of greenhouses- starting with how citrus trees were first imported from China to other countries and kept alive through the winters- and early plant collectors and the architecture of glass buildings and so much of that overwhelmed the main story and made my eyes swim. I really was not interested in all the historical people and their doings. I'd have rather just read the personal bits- the part about butterflies was really wonderful, also the chapter on how she battled infestations in her sunroom and learned about beneficial bugs. The section about her sister's poor health very sad but also felt a little out of place. In all it was a rather uneven read for me- I really liked reading about her own plants and how she learned to care for them, but the historical sections failed to hold my interest.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 2/5          347 pages, 2010

Mar 14, 2020

Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?

by Frans de Waal

The difference in intelligence between humans and animals is not as much as we'd like to think. A lot of this book -in the beginning at least- is showing a history of animal cognition studies, how every time scientists demarcated humans from animals (we can use tools! we have language!) experiments showed certain animal species entirely capable of doing the same things. Even birds and fish have proved able to do complex problem-solving. Dolphins recognize each others' names. Chimpanzees plan ahead.  It turns out that in many cases, earlier studies that failed to illuminate animal smarts often weren't taking into account how that animal perceives the world. What matters to it. What motivates it. Or even physically how it could manipulate the offered tools. Their brains are not necessarily higher or lower on a scale to ours, they are simply other. That's not to say all are equal in ability- there's a seabird that can't recognize its own young- but then it would never have to, since it nests on cliff faces and in no natural circumstance would another chick stumble into its nest. But it performs other feats we could never match. This book is dense with information and very intriguing studies and I fail to do it credit here- I've been unwell the past week so read this in pieces with a lot of breaks for easier fare (mostly Chi's Sweet Adventures). I really would like to revisit it someday when I can give it better attention. At the end of this book, I could totally see how de Waal was gearing up to write Mama's Last Hug next. Similar reads: Animal Wise and Bird Brains. I'm sure there's more titles I could link to but I can't think of them now.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 4/5         340 pages, 2016

more opinions: Reading the End  . . . anyone else?

Mar 10, 2020

Chi's Sweet Adventures

vol 4
by Konami Kanata
Adapted by Kinoko Natsume

This fourth volume of Chi's Sweet Adventures is obviously aiming more at entertaining children watching the cute tv show, so it wasn't quite as appealing to me. I really prefer the earlier series that sticks more or less to what a real kitten's life is like. There's still plenty of normal stuff in here- Chi gets repeated lessons from Blackie on how to hiss and intimidate- practicing on frogs and lizards- but she's too darn cute to make it convincing. Chi and Cocchi go wandering at night, someone gives them fish to eat, but older stray cats chase them trying to steal the food. The kittens are out on a very hot day and try desperately to find shade- sometimes in amusing places. They chase cicadas up trees and then admire the view, but are a bit scared to come down again. They're frightened by a coiled hose, thinking it a snake. At home, Chi watches her family argue and fight, and feels lonely in the empty rooms when everyone's avoiding each other- and later she helps them come together again.

The bits that stretched reality were Chi and the other kittens climbing up into the clouds (turned out to be a dream), pushing a skateboard then deliberately jumping on it for a ride, and Chi visiting the beach with the family. That part could be realistic, except Chi acted excited and curious and played with the waves more like a dog than a cat, in my opinion. I did appreciate one part that was really true to modern life- the boy Yohei busy playing video games on a device, ignoring both Chi and his dad. Dad brings out a bunch of nostalgic old-fashioned toys trying to convince Yohei to play, Chi starts joining in which finally gets the kid interested too. I liked that.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 2/5           88 pages, 2017

Mar 9, 2020

Chi's Sweet Adventures

vol 3
by Konami Kanata
Adapted by Kinoko Natsume

More kitten cuteness. I finally realized these books aren't supposed to chronologically follow the first set of Chi stories, but fit into the same timeframe. If I'd known that from the start, the overlap wouldn't have bothered me! In this one, the kittens explore together, run into a dog, and momentarily get stuck in a tree. The dad tries to take photos of Chi to enter a "chic cat" contest, but mom realizes Chi would be appreciated more for being cute and silly. Chi and Cocchi go roaming, and people offer them food, responding to Chi's cute pleas. So Cocchi tries to copy Chi's "smile". The Bear Cat has to give him some pointers on that! As Cocchi's usually kinda cranky. He tries to be more playful with the other kittens, but it's hard for him to act carefree- having to worry about survival as a stray. Blackie tries to teach the kittens how to play-fight, holding back their claws and biting gently. They don't quite get it. The parakeet shows up again, startling the kittens when it mimicks Chi. Then there's family stuff- Chi playing hide-and-seek with Yohei, messing up the dad's work by stomping all over his keyboard, feeling antagonized by the roomba. Being freaked out by the cat tower the dad builds her. Yohei gets sick and the mom wants him to stay in bed and rest, but she can't keep Chi out of his room. Then there's the part where Yohei briefly runs away, being angry with his dad. And the four kitten friends go on a grand adventure, venturing further than they ever have before, out of the park. It ends with a dog encounter, which oddly enough has the kittens clinging to the dog's back as he bolts down the sidewalk, ending up in a nice garden, and the kittens find out this dog at least, can actually be friendly.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5           88 pages, 2017

Mar 8, 2020

Chi's Sweet Adventures

vol 2
by Konami Kanata
Adapted by Kinoko Natsume

Well, the cute factor keeps me reading on, but really the 'episodes' are too short and once again stuff was repetitive- like the part where Chi and Cocchi get stuck in the rain and end up snuggling together in a tiny spot- after the kittens spat over the space. Chi searches for a warm spot when the power goes out in the family home. Chi has more lessons from the older cat Blackie- how to sneak up on prey, how to find safe spaces, avoiding bad food. Chi follows along when the mom of the house does exercises (something I think a dog would be more likely to do). Chi attends a gathering of cats, but is disruptive so Blackie leaves her with some other kittens, being tended by an "Auntie". Later Chi and Cocchi romp and play with the tabby kittens, puzzled again by their similarity to Chi. There's a tender nostalgic moment when the three tabbies tumble into a bucket together, curl up in a group and promptly fall asleep. Chi has a nagging sense of memory but can't quiet place why this feels so familiar and comforting. Then there's a part where Chi forgets Blackie's teachings and eats some spoiled meat off the ground, getting sick later. And a funny part where a frog gets loose in the house- the mom freaks out, Chi and Yohei both try to catch it.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5           91 pages, 2017

Chi's Sweet Adventures

vol 1
by Konami Kanata
Adapted by Kinoko Natsume

I checked out the first few volumes of Chi's Sweet Home, thinking my eight-year-old would like it. (She does immensely!) Discovered at the same time there's a new series featuring the same kitten- Chi's Sweet Adventures. Seems to be based on a television show. Not quite as good as the original Chi- the snippets of storyline can feel abrupt, the material is somewhat repetitive (in this volume Chi meets Cocchi for the first time?) the panels are smaller so I don't enjoy the art as much and it doesn't have quite the same depth of feeling. The little boy in the family, Yohei, looks older now- so I guess the story has advanced chronologically (which makes it confusing why Chi doesn't already know Cocchi, but oh well). Regardless, it's still darn cute. I'm enjoying them for a light read. In this one, Chi attempts to eat various things in the house that aren't for cats (a bread loaf, a potted plant, daddy's coffee), goes on excursions with Blackie for safety lessons (how to deal with dogs), goes camping with the family, gets put into a costume for Halloween, meets temptation when the family babysits a neighbor's parakeet, and finds that while the vacuum cleaner makes a terrifying noise, it feels wonderful on her fur.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5              91 pages, 2017

Mar 7, 2020

The Martian

by Andy Weir

You've probably heard of this one. Astronaut gets stranded on Mars and has to figure out survival completely alone in a hostile environment, for over a year while he hopes for rescue. He does manage to make contact with Earth eventually, so knows when he might get rescued- and the food will run out long before it's possible. So he rigs stuff up, activates soil, reclaims more water, grows potatoes. Has lots of equipment failures or simple mistakes that throw things awry, sometimes to the point of disaster it looks like- but he always manages to squeak past death and survive another day. I thought I would enjoy this just as much, if not more, than the movie version- which I saw quite a while ago- because a lot of the science is explained here (and it's based on a lot of research, reputedly very true-to-life what that kind of situation would be like) but unfortunately the explanations mostly either went over my head or were boring, so I found I didn't get more out of it. The film was more gripping, I followed along better seeing the suspenseful moments, whereas this book doesn't really convey a lot of emotion. You hardly get to know the main character as a person. It's all about the problems he's tackling. There is some humor thrown in there- but honestly I didn't find it funny, just tiresome. Being a gardener, I was pretty interested in how he got a potato farm going on Mars to feed himself, but even that lacked the kind of description I enjoy. When the story moved on I still wanted to see how it all played out (having forgotten a lot of key points) but turns out it was fairly dull and I didn't get a sense of tension in the end, I was just turning pages to be done. So this is another case where I actually preferred the movie. That's all.

However, lots of other readers enjoyed it- see the links below.

Rating: 2/5           435 pages, 2011

more opinions:
Indextrious Reader
Attack of the Books!
That's What She Read
Bookalicious Babe

Mar 2, 2020

Herb Gardening at Its Best

Everything You Need to Know About Growing Your Favorite Herbs
by Sal Gilbertie and Larry Sheehan

Simply a practical how-to on growing herbs. Written by someone who grew them commercially for over forty years. The cultivation methods are slightly different from what I've been doing, and maybe I will try some in my own garden. I knew enough to water the herb bed less frequently than the other plants, but didn't realize they also require less fertilizer. Because the oils that give herbs scent and flavor are less concentrated if they have lush, excessive growth. So I might quit feeding that bed compost and just give it leaf mold. Except this book also says that herb gardens shouldn't be mulched during the growing season, as it keeps them too damp. It's pretty hot here in summers so I'm not sure about that in my case. Anyhow, aside from information on germination, cultivation and harvest times for herbs, the book also has a section of layouts for different types of herb gardens, each with a specific focus. Herbs for making tea, for soups, for adding to bread or making potpourri. Herb gardens for medicinal use, to attract bees or selections to repel pests. There's a list of plants to include in a collection of just basil, thyme or sage (so many varieties!) and I'm most intrigued by the scented geraniums. Aside from some general suggestions for culinary uses, this book doesn't tell much about the different plants' characteristics, but the names of ones I'm unfamiliar with intrigue me to look up more: sweet woodruff, bergamot, costmary, tansy, comfry, dittany, santolina etc. So many I don't know. Although many have suggested uses I wouldn't need- for dying cloth, for cure-alls or love potions haha! I do find it interesting the wide variety of herbs out there and their properties. Also, the cover of this book is hideous. There's another with very similar title by the same author, Herb Gardening From the Ground Up, which looks like it might be an updated version of this edition, I'm not sure.

Rating: 3/5        245 pages, 1978