Aug 30, 2020

The Good Earth

by Pearl S. Buck

I think this book may have sat longest unread on my shelves, and it's actually been there twice. I had a different copy and tried it a few times when I was in high school, didn't get far, re-shelved it. Weeded it out once, then after finding that I liked Peony, decided to give this a second chance when I came across another copy. 

This is about the Wang family, in China. When the story begins Wang Lung is a young farmer on his way to get married. It's an arranged marriage, with a woman who has been a slave in a wealthy household in the town. She's not beautiful but he's satisfied because she's a faithful wife, a hard worker, and bears him many children (promptly going straight back to work in the fields after each birth, without complaint!) The family survives through floods, drought, and locust plague. Every handful of years one or the other natural cause results in a famine and people around them starve. During one famine (so bad that people are literally eating dirt) Wang Lung takes his family south to a big city where they live in deplorable conditions, beg, and work at hard physical labor for very little pay. There's no way to get ahead, until unrest sweeps through the city. The homes of the rich are broken into, Wang is swept up with the mob and intimidates a terrified wealthy man into giving him handfuls of silver. Then they flee the chaos and return to the countryside. Wang uses the money to rebuild his house, and eventually buy more land. Soon he needs help with the harvest, eventually finds himself as a landowner instead of a farmer- with hired help and overseers, never actually working the fields himself anymore. He moves his family into the town. Being frequently idle now, he starts to explore the pleasures of the wealthy class- and dissatisfied with his wife's appearance, takes as second wife a much younger woman. He thinks that having success and money will ease all his troubles, but new problems arise instead- unpleasant relatives connive him into letting them live in his household, there's constant friction between his two wives, and his growing sons have their own interests- none of them really want to keep or work the land as he did. As the book closes, Wang is an old man and his sons are inspecting the fields, talking among themselves of selling the land that Wang had worked so hard for, and built the security of his family upon.

I can well see why The Good Earth is a classic. It's not very descriptive, the writing style is kind of plain- in the manner of he-said-this and they-did-that which usually bores me. But this was compelling nevertheless- I read it straight through in just a few days. In the end, I didn't like the main character Wang much- I felt like he sometimes made selfish or poor decisions, thinking of prestige and appearances more than I expected, when he came into wealth. In particular I felt bad for his first wife. Overall women are not treated well in this story. It's simply a fact that in the era and culture it depicts, girls were not valued and if the family was in need, they were often sold as very young children to be slaves or prostitutes. During the famine times some poor families quietly performed infanticide rather than see their babies suffer and starve. In this case I was glad of how sparse the prose is, reading about such hardships and terrible things people did to survive. 

The story really shows a broad spectrum of human character. It wasn't only what people stooped to when their survival was at stake, but also what they indulged in or did with their money when fortunes changed, that seemed to demonstrate what they were really made of. Or what they cared most about. I think that's why I liked and felt most for Wang's first wife. She was steadfast, never asked much for herself, saw and did the work required in hard times as well as good. Wang really was unkind to her in the end.

There's a sequel called Sons. I'll probably read it at some point. But I'd have to be in the right mindset, this one takes a particular kind of mood to appreciate it.

Rating: 3/5                357 pages, 1931

More opinions: 

Aug 28, 2020


or, Birds and Oranges. There's four bees in here too:
I've added few puzzles to my collection during this quarantine time. Most from people in nearby neighborhoods who are apparently clearing out their closets, but this one I bought from a local indie bookstore (free delivery!) It's a 1,000 piece puzzle manufactured by Galison (company I never heard of before). I love the colors in this one. The artist is Geninne D. Zlatkis, she paints fanciful birds. My only complaint is the material quality- lots of the pieces had layers pulling apart and knobs dinged or bent, even as brand-new. I don't know how many re-workings this puzzle would stand up to, so I probably won't buy another Galison puzzle unless I really like the picture.

Click to view larger and scroll through assembly sequence:

Aug 27, 2020


by Lucy Irvine 

Fine adventure story, if a bit odd at times. In 1981 this guy who literally wanted to live like Robinson Crusoe, advertised for a woman to accompany him for a year on an uninhabited island. Lucy Irvine answered his query and went with him to Tuin Island, which is near Thursday Island (I'd heard of that one) which is between Australia and Papua New Guinea. It sounds kind of crazy- they didn't know each other, and after a week of being together didn't even like each other (and notably had very different reasons for going to the island)- but had to officially get married or the Australian government wouldn't let them live on the island. They started out with meager supplies, knowing it was going to run out but planning to subsist on local fruit, coconuts, fish from the sea, and vegetables they would grow. It was far from easy. In fact, a lot of the time it was downright miserable. They soon suffered from heat exhaustion, tropical ulcers and malnutrition. Fresh water in the creek soon ran dangerously low. It's doubtful they would have survived the year except some people passing by in a boat spotted them on the beach and offered them some supplies. Not long after they were getting regular visits from Badu Islanders (in the Torres Strait). Eventually they visited Badu Island as Lucy's companion became known to the locals for his skill at fixing engines. His work was soon in demand, and they were able to trade the service for rice, flour and other goods- which changed the dynamics of survival mode on the island. It's interesting how their relationship also changed once he got treatment for the sores on his legs, recovered his energy (having been laid up much of the first part of the year), and made an occupation for himself repairing things. A lot of the book is Lucy writing vivid descriptions of the island's beauty and how deeply it affected her- she loved that island. It's also a lot about the friction in their relationship, and of course the survival skills they employed, how they simply adjusted and got used to doing without many things, and acted with ingenuity to overcome other hardships or lack. Pretty interesting the description of the local islander's lifestyle and personalities as well, once Lucy deigned to leave the Tuin and visit Badu- she refused for a long time, wanting to stick to her commitment to stay on the island for an entire year. I would really like to read the book her companion wrote about the same venture- The Islander by Gerald Kingsland (the whole time she only refers to him as G). Forewarning: this book has a lot of profanity, and Gerald addresses Lucy with awful words, though apparently meaning nothing ill by it (she took offense plenty of times, though).

Rating: 4/5                    288 pages, 1983

Aug 26, 2020

yet another TBR-

Evidence that I still read your book blogs! 
here's what you influenced me to put on my list the past two months: 
Strange Birds by Judith Gilliland
Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild- Shelf Love
Feral by Nicole Luiken- Thistle-Chaser
Timothy by Verlyn Klinkenborg
Barn 8 by Deb Olin Unferth
The Changeling by Victor Lavalle- Shelf Love
Being Toffee by Sarah Crossan- Rhapsody in Books
The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes- Rhapsody in Books
Dominicana by Angie Cruz- Bookfoolery
Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel- Indextrious Reader
The Tusk that Did the Damage by Tania James
The Well-Gardened Mind by Sue Stuart-Smith- Captive Reader
I Am I Am I Am by Maggie O'Farrell- Bookfoolery
The Time of Green Magic by Hilary McKay- Bookfoolery
The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue- A Bookish Type
Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey by Kathleen Rooney
Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Richardson- Last Book I Read
King a Street Story by John Berger
The Slynx by Tatyana Tolstaya- Indextrious Reader
Flush: A Biography by Virginia Woolf
The Way into Chaos by Hary Connolly- Thistle-Chaser
Rat by Andrzej Zaniewski
The Honey Farm on the Hill by Jo Thomas- Read Warbler
Garden on Holly Street by Megan Attley- Captive Reader
Winterbound by Margery Williams Bianco- Semicolon
The White Road Westwards by B.B.- Read Warbler
The Better Half by Sharon Moalem- Caroline Bookbinder
No-Till Intensive Vegetable Culture by O'Hara- Sustainable Market Farming Blog
Grow Great Vegetables in Virginia by Ira Wallace- Sustainable Market Farming 
There Once Lived a Mother Who Loved Her Children Until They Moved Back In by Petrushevskaya- Indextrious Reader

Aug 24, 2020

The Return of the Dragon

by Rebecca Rupp 

Sequel to The Dragon of Lonely Island. Title is a bit odd- the dragon didn't return from anywhere, it's still living on this island and the children come back to visit. Once again it's a summer vacation for them, parents are off on their own holiday and their great-aunt who owns the island also absent. So it's just the three kids and the two caretakers of the grand house. Of course they immediately go to visit the dragon in its cave on the hill, and find trouble- there's a stranger on the island, a rich man has a yacht tied not too far from the dragon's hill, and a team of researchers has set up camp with tents on the beach. The children are frightened and upset- it's a private island, owned by their aunt, no visitors allowed. First they spy and try to figure out what the strangers are doing, and report their presence to the caretakers and via letters to their aunt. They warn the dragon, who cautions them that these visitors may be innocent, just studying wildlife or birdwatching. But the kids suspect they aim to find the dragon. Just like the prior book, this one has four stories- the main one of the children trying to figure out what the strangers are doing, and thwart them, and separate stories that the three-headed dragon tells them, giving them lessons on not jumping to conclusions, observing the evidence at hand, making their own choices, etc.

The three stories are thus: a young boy tending is tending his family's sheep on a mountainside when other villagers cry alarm that there's a monster in the area stealing and eating sheep. When one of his own lambs goes missing the boy goes looking for it and finds the dragon who, polite as always, protests that it doesn't eat sheep. He finds the lamb stuck in a nearby shrub and warns the dragon to escape as the villagers are searching for the monster to destroy it. But after the dragon flies away he encounters the real sheep-eater: a large wolf . . .        I liked this one okay.

Second story is of a young page who longs to become a knight and fight battles. His friend is a princess in the castle who hates doing embroidery and listening to the other young ladies swoon over knights. They overhear tales of a dragon hiding in the nearby forest, and sneak out together to find it. The boy takes a sword, encouraged by the princess to attempt killing the dragon. Upon meeting the dragon, they soon realize all their preconceptions about dragons are wrong- and then one of the knights shows up and promptly attacks the dragon. They have to do something!       This was my favorite of the stories.

Third tale is set in America during time of slavery. Its main character is a young slave girl who with her family runs away from the plantation they have lived on all their lives- because of rumors that some of them will be sold. They're trying to connect with the Underground Railroad but are discovered by men with dogs just before reaching a river they need to cross to reach a free state. Earlier in the story the girl had met the dragon in the forest, now it saves them by setting fire to the trees between them and the trackers, so they have time to get across the river. This last one felt out of place to me, for some reason. 

I'm not sure why. Maybe it's easier for me to mentally accept a story about a shepherd boy or young page in medieval times encountering a dragon, even modern kids on a remote island- but pairing dragons with a story of escaping slaves feels more along the lines of magical realism or urban fantasy, which never sits well with me. I guess why not have escaped slaves rescued by a dragon? but the historical subject matter of that feels so much more serious, it felt oddly jarring with the other material in this book. The spying and mystery aspect of the modern part of the story isn't quite my thing either, but it was lively enough and I liked the characterization of the children. It's still a well-told tale with some very good lessons but overall this wasn't as enjoyable for me as the first book.

Borrowed from the public library. 

Rating: 3/5                  150 pages, 2005

Aug 23, 2020

Ordinary People

by Judith Guest 

This was a re-read for me. A while back I decided I should read a handful of books in my permanent collection that I feel dubious about. If it turns out I don't care for them anymore, this becomes an easy way to cull. Last time I read this book I must've been in high school.

I remembered some of it, but most of the nuances and details had been forgotten- or had simply gone unnoticed by me at the time. I did remember it was about this kid struggling after the death of his older brother, how awkward family friends were about it, how unspoken most of the emotional burden he faced daily, how his parents were drifting apart under the strain. 

I'd forgotten that part of it is told from the father's viewpoint, but the mother is always described in third person. She seems cold, sometimes indifferent, accuses the dad of being overly concerned and too involved with his now-only son. The kid- Conrad- is repeating his junior year of high school while all his friends are now seniors. He became severely depressed after loosing his brother- in what sounds like a very frightening, traumatic incident (when it's finally revealed at the end of the story) made a suicide attempt, and spent time in a mental institution. Very little is described of that, but what is firmly shows how old this book is- the diagnosis is clear yet he's given no medication although several times a teacher or friend of the parents asks if he'd been put on tranqilizers. Nope, there's just mention that he received shock treatment, and when he comes home it's left up to him to take initiative to call a psychologist and go to appointments of his own accord. I found that surprising, honestly. 

What did feel very real and relevant no matter what the timeframe of this story- was how people struggled to know how to relate to Conrad now that he's home again. Things are the same- but also very different. Friends are awkward. He tries to meet and talk with a girl he knew in the hospital- there were quite good friends there- and that doesn't end well. He tries daily to beat down the anxiety in his head, to find the motivation to do normal everyday tasks, to focus in school. The therapist is odd and eccentric, but aside from that very good at his job as far as I could tell. I remembered from this part of the book the dramatic scenes when Conrad went in there upset and there was a lot of yelling- but during this read I noticed all the moments of careful guidance, of sound advice that wasn't too preachy, of how he helped Conrad figure out what he wanted to do and how to build himself up again as it were. And finally, in the end, to actually face the emotional turmoil he'd shoved down inside surrounding the incident with his brother. There's also some very nice parts about him facing down kids at school who are unkind, standing up for himself when he realizes being on a sports team isn't what he wants, finding a few new friends and even getting brave enough to ask out a girl he admires. 

It doesn't have a perfect, happy ending. It's a normal family with some heartbreaking difficulties, and they don't come through it all in one piece. Some things are better, some are not. The realism of that is what makes this book such a strong read. (I was terribly bored with all the mention of golf, though). Liked this book much better than I expected to; turns out I'm keeping it.

Rating: 3/5                                    263 pages, 1976

Aug 21, 2020

Dragon and Thief

by Timothy Zahn 

This very sci-fi story is about two unlikely companions. Jack is a boy- about twelve I think- who was raised by a conman, decided to quit that lifestyle and at the opening of the book is hiding out on a mostly uninhabited planet because someone framed him for a very serious theft. Draycos is an alien being, a highly intelligent dragonlike creature trained as a warrior, with a strong sense of honor and ethics. Draycos and his crewmates are fleeing an enemy intent on commiting genocide against his race, when they're ambushed and his ship crashes on the same planet: Draycos is the only survivor.  Some dangerous mercenaries come to inspect the crash site, to do away with any possible survivors or witnesses. The boy had approached the crash site out of curiosity but finds himself fleeing alongside Draycos for his life. They strike up a very unusual partnership. Draycos agrees to help Jack solve the mystery of the theft he was blamed for, after which they intend to do something about the aliens that killed Draycos' people- because they are now approaching humankind as well, presumably with similar intent. This quickly becomes a story with a lot of action and intrigue, which ends up centering on a high-stakes heist Jack is forced to perform by his enemies, only in the end to discover the enemy isn't quite who he thought it was. There are encounters with other aliens, chase scenes with narrow escapes, sophisticated break-ins, and other adventures. Not my usual kind of reading yet I was riveted to the page. 

The dynamic between Jack and Draycos is a good one- Jack is not really pleased at having to use his thievery skills just when he was trying to start living a reformed life, but at the same time he is often irritated by Draycos' insistence on honorable actions which he perceives as being pointless or getting in the way of their goal. Draycos is literally bound to the boy in order to live (more on that in a moment) but finds Jack's everyone-for-himself attitude troublesome and at one point serious thinks of abandoning him, even though it might mean his own undoing. His often superior attitude reminded me a lot of Ax from the Animorphs books. And there is an even stronger connection:

SPOILERS in this paragraph. I didn't know this aspect going into the book, it took me by as much surprise as it did the main character, and I was instantly intrigued and delighted by the unique idea. The dragonlike alien shifts between dimensions. He can be three-dimensional for a six-hour limit, then must rest or he will die. And he rests by flattening himself into two-dimensional form that lays over the skin of an appropriate host- in this case the boy Jack. He's like a living tattoo that can slide around into any position on the body, and pop out into real space at any point. I've read plenty of books featuring dragons that have some sort of bond with a human partner- mental telepathy or sharing emotions, etc. This idea! It was so fascinating to imagine, and of course gives Jack an edge when facing his enemies who don't know Draycos even exists, much less is travelling along with him at every moment, communicating, planning, and able to snap out into attack mode when the moment is right. The dragon can also bend himself somehow to move through walls, and says that when he is in two-dimensional form "most of my body is now projected along a fourth dimension, outside the bounds of this universe." Does that sound like Z-space to anyone? Ha. But in this case it's handled so well- the alien's attempts to explain a complicated phenomenon of his life-form to an unbelieving boy is totally believable to this reader. 

And my fascination with this concept- that Draycos with all his speed, agility, intelligence, claws that can pierce metal and ability to go through walls- yet had a serious vulnerability in depending on this young boy for his continual existence (also he couldn't read written language, a crucial flaw in a few points of the story that he struggled to overcome)- kept me reading with a lot of interest, even though the main premise is outside my usual interest. It's a well-written story too, which also kept me very engaged. There's even some funny moments. Like when they are running from enemies, crash an alien celebration ceremony and avoid being outright killed for the intrusion by pretending to be hired performers. Draycos stepped up to the role very adroitly!

Well, I picked this one up on a whim at a library sale once. Glad now that I did! I recognized the author's name, probably because he has written a lot of Star Wars books (even though I've never read any of those). I liked this so much I looked for the rest of the series before I was even halfway done with this one. Someone else has #2 and 3 on hold ahead of me at the library, so I'll have to wait a bit, but I already have #4-6 in hand now. My only complaint- and this is a silly one- is that the cover image doesn't really match the description of Draycos. He has shiny gold scales with red edges, that color change to black when angered or excited. So I guess that's why the cover image dragon has dark skin, but it looks more leathery than scaly, hm.

Rating: 4/5                             248 pages, 2003

More opinions: Thistle-Chaser

Aug 19, 2020


My blog is thirteen years old today. I made cake! then ate it with my kids. It was good.

Aug 18, 2020


My kindle e-reader is finally dying. A few days ago it started sticking- I couldn't swipe to go to the next page, or sometimes, even swipe to get into the main screen. Then it started randomly telling me that my book files are corrupt or protected and I had to re-download them from Amzn (not where I originally got them from, btw). Then it began telling me the battery was nearly dead and refusing to turn on, when I'd just completely charged it less than twenty minutes prior. Sometimes it won't boot at all. I've tried shutting down and letting it sit for a while, doing a hard reset, or having it plugged in while I read. Day before yesterday after twice rebooting it responded normally again, so I finished reading The Ultimate in one sitting while the pages would scroll. 

Now nothing I do makes it work. It's not a big deal- I've backed up all my book files and docs onto my desktop harddrive, can transfer them to a new device at some point. And I have plenty of physical paper-in-hand books to read. But I was nearly at the end of this long middle-grade series, which just got good again and only four books to go. Now I don't know when I can finish. I'm far beyond what the library has available, and I really didn't want to buy hardcopies of just these four, when I already have them in e-book format. 

The point where technology fails me.

The Dragon of Lonely Island

by Rebecca Rupp 

Three children have to spend the summer at their great-aunt's house on an island. The aunt is not there, the parents and staff are usually busy, so the children explore. They find a hidden cave on a hill- and inside is a three-headed dragon. Each time the children visit, one of the dragon heads is awake, and tells them a story.

So it's really four stories in one. The children, their explorations and interactions and each of the dragon's stories, which are nicely interwoven. The children have a relatively quiet vacation- they explore the old grand house, go swimming and have picnics, bake cookies and play board games etc. but really they are always waiting for the day when they can visit the dragon again. Each has a difficulty or personality trait that the dragon addresses in its stories, giving them life lessons as it were. The oldest feels put-upon by having to be in charge, the middle child is something of a hoarder and doesn't like to share, the youngest lacks self-confidence and is easily frightened.

Dragon stories: first of a young girl in China during a time when girls were not valued. She finds the dragon injured in the forest, but nobody believes her when she tries to get help. Second story is about an orphan boy who goes to sea as cabin boy. Once he gets to the ship he realizes it isn't at all how the recruiting sailor portrayed things, but it's too late to turn back. He is mistreated on board and soon finds out the crew are actually pirates. He warns a ship they're about to attack and for that, gets dumped on an island, wondering how he's going to escape danger and get back home. Then he finds a cave full of treasure . . . Third story is about two children and their father, who are in a small airplane (back when planes were a very new thing) travelling across the world. They crash on an island, the father is injured and the children have to figure out how to survive. They find the dragon living in the forest, and ask it for help but it refuses annoyed being disturbed. 

Of course each story is teaching the children something: how to be brave and face down the status quo, the value of sharing, resourcefulness and attempting things even if you don't know how it might turn out. For how short the book is, I really liked how well the characters and the stories they heard were depicted. And yes, the dragon talking to the children is the same dragon featured in each story. There's no high-stakes exciting adventures, especially with the three main children; this book has a very different appeal. The dragon itself is polite and mild-mannered, although it does at times get annoyed with the children. Sometimes its abashed reply to some lack of manners or compassion being pointed out was a bit- odd, for a dragon, but I think it's just driving the point home: this isn't a wild, angry, fierce beast. And the dragon likes to point out how wrong all the stereotypes about dragons eating princesses are!

Rating: 4/5                    160 pages, 1998 

More opinions: 

Aug 16, 2020

The Ultimate

Animorphs #50 
by K.A. Applegate 

This book faces a lot of the real issues. For once the conflicts seem more realistic than usual. SPOILERS if you haven't read this far in the series! 

The Animorphs along with most of their parents, are making preparations in the Hork-bajir valley for all-out warfare with the aliens. Things are awkward with the adults who don't always go along with the plan or -very understandably- resent following orders from kids. Oddly, Marco's parents seem to be getting along great, and Tobias and his mother have a touching connection- no serious look at how uncomfortable those newly re-formed relationships might be. Jake is seriously falling apart under pressure, the Animorphs are arguing heatedly about strategy, Cassie is stepping up and doing some things on her own initiative- sometimes rather rashly.

Jake decides they have to recruit more Animorphs, or they have no chance. He figures kids are a better bet, they'll more readily accept the bizarre situation, reality of aliens and morphing technology than adults. They decide to find teenagers the Yeerks would never dream of infesting because their bodies are considered "inferior"- from a rehab center for physically disabled children, and a school for the blind. (Sneaking in and out of these places seemed way too easy). Not all the Animorphs agree with this plan, but they're starting to feel desperate. The new kids are thrown into things very suddenly, most of them accepting because of the tempting restoration morphing will give them- healthy bodies, legs to walk on, eyes that see, etc. For some, morphing back to human makes them healed. Others, it doesn't. In the end, there's a battle with the enemy involving the new recruits that pitches the stakes higher- Tom gets hold of the morphing cube, and Jake has to face him- would he kill his own controller brother to prevent the morphing ability falling into enemy hands. Tense.

Rating: 3/5                       139 pages, 2001 

More opinions: 

winter songbirds

Companion to the other panoramic bird puzzle I have. Artwork by Hautman Brothers, 750 pieces, made by Buffalo Games. It's a nice puzzle which I assembled over several days. Click image to view larger.
Funny thing is that the sparrow is in the exact same pose as the other puzzle image, and sitting flat-footed although on a branch. Also there's an odd patch of color behind the goldfinch's tail, that doesn't match the rest of the background. Oh well I like it anyways.

Aug 15, 2020

The Diversion

Animorphs #49 
by K.A. Applegate 

Much better. Nice balance between action-packed and heart-tugging. Some parts still made me roll my eyes, and there were quite a few typos in my e-reader version, but oh well. Warning for MAJOR SPOILERS

The Yeerks have finally figured out that the Animorph team are really humans. They're testing mass numbers of human blood to search for animal DNA in it. Animorphs use some computer hacking to find out where the data is being stored, and break in using Hork-bajir morphs, to look in the computers, see if their identity has been discovered, and delete the information. While there they find data on someone they assumed was long dead- Tobias' mother. Of course their cover gets blown, and they fight to they break out without having managed to delete anything from the database. Knowing their families might now be at risk, one at a time they approach family members, tell all (or as much as they can), morph in front of parents/siblings to prove it, and escape to hide out with everyone in the Hork-bajir valley. Parents meet this revelation with varying degrees of shock and disbelief, but they actually get everyone out. 

Almost. Jake doesn't make it in time- his parents finally got taken by the aliens. But Tobias goes back to find his mother. Who it turns out is blind, from having suffered a terrible accident years and years ago. One that left her so debilitated she couldn't raise her own child. There's a very strangely awkward scene where Tobias, Marco and Ax approach her in a convenience store in order to lay hands on her guide dog so Tobias can impersonate the dog and get into her house. To snoop out if she's really an alien controller. The bits about Ax trying to act like a troublemaking teenager in the store are rather hilarious. Tobias finally reveals his identity to his mother, gives her the power to morph so they can bust out in hawk mode when the aliens show up, there's a frantic confusing battle and they barely escape. Tobias' mother nearly dies when she's terribly injured as a hawk, but when she re-morphs as human, her sight is restored. 

All kinds of angst in this book on Tobias' part. Desperate to know more about his mother, to have her remember him, to save her from the aliens even though it puts all of them at risk. Finally the adults in the Hork-bajir valley start playing a role- Marco's mother is relating all the things she knows from her time as Visser to the Hork-bajir leader, for example while Rachel's lawyer mom is helping them draft their own constitution. Seems like small things they are doing, though, when the kids are out fighting actual aliens for the sake of the world.

Rating: 3/5                 164 pages, 2000 

 More opinions: 

The Return

Animorphs #48 
by K.A. Applegate 

     I didn't like this one. SPOILERS! 

It starts with Rachel, Jake and the rest on a field trip tour of the White House- when the aliens bust in, chaos ensues, the President is in a helicopter trying to take off while aliens attack it, Jake tells Rachel they're leaving but she keeps fighting, gets mad and starts fighting Jake as tiger, in her grizzly bear morph, on the White House lawn. Snap- it's all a dream! but things aren't quite right- Rachel goes about her day feeling that everything's off, arguing with her friends, hearing rats in the walls, seeing red lights flash- turns out she's having another nightmare. Or is she? After being attacked by hordes of rats and nearly drowning in a pond she wakes up in a dungeon, locked in a small plastic cube. David-the-rat returns and threatens to force her into becoming a rat forever, just like him. Cassie appears nearby, also locked in a cube. Rachel has to choose between following David's demands, or loosing Cassie. Except- how does a kid trapped in a rat body acquire or build perfect locking plastic-box cages? It was really too far-fetched. There's other plot holes, too. Which turns out to be explained because most of it isn't real-

Meanwhile Rachel is reliving all her bad moments, agonizing over how much she enjoys fighting, facing the maniacal violent side of herself. Crayak shows up- the evil all-powerful counterpart to the Ellimist- and it turns out he's playing mind games with Rachel. He morphs her into a superhero version of herself, then back into the cage as a rat, back and forth, until she's going crazy. He pits her against Visser One in an arena, where they battle it out, using their morphing powers. This was kinda interesting, and kinda eye-rolling. Aliens and mind games and shape-shifting abilities in this series, and now we have superhero powers too? I just wasn't on board with that. Why did it have to introduce another fantastical element that hasn't been a part of the worldbuilding in this series at all to date? Like when they gained dinosaur morphs but then couldn't use them after travelling back through time. Pointless. Unless there's going to be super-Rachel in one of the last few books too? I have my suspicions though. It was an interesting look at Rachel's deepest inner fears, facing the part of her that is eager to use violence and her conflicting feelings about group leadership, how she feels used by the others sometimes, etc- but I got tired pretty quick of the repeated angst and the ridiculous fight scenes. In the end, Rachel is left in an alley facing David-the-rat, who is begging her to just kill him, he'd rather die than go back to the island. Rachel is agonizing over what to do, and the book ends without disclosing her decision. That really irritated me too.

 Rating: 2/5                148 pages, 2000 

More opinions: 

Aug 14, 2020

The Ellimist Chronicles

by K.A. Applegate 

    This one stands outside the series. It tells the history of that all-powerful being the Ellimist, who came from a peaceful species that lived on crystals in the air on a foreign planet. The description of this alien race (and many others throughout the book) were very different, very creative I thought. At the start of the story Ellimist is a young being, interested only in playing games with his friends- games in an interactive simulation where the goal is to use minimal influences to cause the most effective or positive changes in the evolution of species. Then another alien species shows up near his homeworld, threatening everything he knows. Chain of disastrous events end up with Ellimist adrift, the last of his kind, searching for a new planet to inhabit, and eventually pitched up against the Crayak in a battle of wits- with other sentient species on all the planets scattered across space and time subject to their whims. It shows how Ellimist became so powerful and all-knowing, but also that he has flaws and his struggle has been one to evolve, adapt and survive while doing the least harm, the most good- while Crayak's goal is to destroy everything he can. A huge good/evil pitch. I kind of don't like how this is hinting that everything the Animorphs are involved in is just a huge game to a meddling higher power, but oh well. This far in I'm still going to finish it up. It was interesting to see suggestions of how the Andalites evolved as well, how Ellimist also influenced them in the past. Very sci-fi, this one. 

Rating: 3/5                         208 pages, 2000 

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Aug 13, 2020

The Resistance

Animorphs #47 
by K.A. Applegate 
    Two plotlines in this one. The valley of free Hork-bajir is discovered by the enemy, and the Animorphs scramble to deal with that. They want to relocate the colony but the Hork-bajir refuse, insist on standing their ground and fighting even though they are hugely outnumbered. Marco's parents are oddly uninvolved in the planning- I got the impression they were just standing around in the background looking stoic. They never said anything! Anyway, at least there's a new interesting morph in this book- beaver. Part of the plan is to expand a beaver dam they found upstream, so it will hold back enough water that when they break the dam it will flood the valley and wipe out the enemy. Although the amount of time they had between completing the dam work and releasing the flood, didn't seem enough to me, to build up the volume of water they needed. I don't know. 

Another key point in this story is that Tobias discovers a bunch of campers nearby, who are right in the enemy's path. Jake and Tobias approach the campers and advise them to leave because there's bad weather coming. The campers don't buy it. They think the Animorphs just want to steal their campsite! So Jake suddenly decides to just morph in front of them, and tell them that aliens are invading. Happens that these campers are huge Star Trek fans, instantly thrilled at the idea of an alien invasion, and eager to play along (turns out in the end, at least one of them thought it was an elaborate LARP). Most of the campers go back to the valley with them to join the fight. Unfortunately, the battle is very real and one of the newcomers gets killed.

Parallel storyline, which I don't really get: at the start of the book, Jake's mom makes him clean up a room in the basement. He finds a box with a uniform and journal from an ancestor who fought in the Civil War. Not clear how much Jake reads of the journal, but the alternating chapters relate this young lieutenant's experiences from the past. It has a lot of obvious similarities to the Animorphs storyline- young leader, small group fighting off the enemy in a rather desperate situation, more people come in to join the fight who are inexperience- in this case it was freed slaves, and a lot of the Union soldiers and townspeople did not welcome their presence. But I didn't see what the point was? I kept thinking there'd be a time-travel thing happen, or that Jake would learn something from the journal to use in the Hork-bajir fight. Nope. Also there's a particular scene in the Civil War storyline that I swear I've seen exactly the same in a movie. 

Rating: 3/5                      160 pages, 2000 

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Aug 12, 2020

The Deception

Animorphs #46 
by K.A. Applegate 

     Things are moving quickly now. Politics have shifted among the alien Yeerks, the new Visser running the show blatantly attacks. No more subtletry. Luckily the Animorphs have this device Ax built (with a nod to Marco's father assisting) that can intercept the alien communication signals. They find out something big is going to happen out in the ocean. They steal a fighter jet to get there on time, deliberately crash it when they're close to the location- because of course they're being persued and about to be shot down. Find a very large, very busy aircraft carrier which they board as seagulls but before long are using their animal battle forms and even morphing other people (except Cassie who objects), without bothering to hide much. It doesn't matter anymore. They discover that the Yeerks are on the verge of instigating World War III, for their own ends. (Why the enemy just tells them his plans when they ask, I just don't know). There's fighting everywhere. Ax- the narrator in this book- who for all this time in the series has been subordinate to Jake, never much taking his own initiative- suddenly makes a decisive move to force the enemy's hand. But it could also endanger thousands of human lives. Driving another rift between the Animorphs, perhaps. Cassie doesn't say much in this book, and I'm with her. When all the others are talking over details of the fighter jets and the aircraft carrier (Jake knows a lot about its layout, helpfully) she just doesn't relate. Same here. So that was kinda a blur. Interesting to see that when the fight gets serious- Hork-bajir troops showing up to fight for the Yeerks- some of the sailors and Marines decide they're on the side of these animal-shifting kids. They must be in the know about the aliens and wanted to see resistance all along? Curious to see how that pans out in the next few books, maybe finally the Animorphs will have numbers on their side, instead of being a small secretive team.

 Rating: 3/5                        118 pages, 2000 

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Aug 10, 2020

The Revelation

Animorphs #45 
by K.A. Applegate 
   If you're reading this series, there's MAJOR SPOILERS in this post, it's unavoidable. This one is really a game-changer. Finally something moves ahead and it looks like the Animorphs might actually make progress in their battle against the alien Yeerks. Marco's dad- an engineer- is on the verge of a discovery that might enable intergalactic communication. So the Yeerks are of course going to take him over. Marco can't stand loosing another parent to the enemy. He breaks all the Animorph rules and reveals his morphing identity to his father. Tells all. The reaction is shock and disbelief, then finally some degree of acceptance and things move forward pretty quickly. A lot of this story was a blur to me because fight scenes, meh. But- with an adult in the know, Marco and the team attempt to actually make the communication work- to call for aid. They find out that Marco's mother- whose Controller is Visser One- is about to be executed in the Yeerk pool as as a traitor (starved out, really). They blast in to save her using a stolen enemy fighter ship, and it is a royal mess. I did like the part where a squirming Yeerk got stomped on at the pier. Let's just say that in the end they all scrape out of it alive, though not without injuries, and some division among the Animorphs- they're all angry at Marco for having leaked their secret, at first. Marco's father is notably upset at his son giving him orders. The father is also torn between seeing the wife he thought dead actually alive again (though very changed after her bitter experience) and his new love, Marco's step-mother, now captured and enslaved herself. They have dealings with the Chee again, and the free Hork-bajir valley, and Marco's family have to fake their deaths and live in secret. But finally, there's more people in the know and even though I get tired of reading crazy fight scenes, I'm eager to see where this goes next. 

Read this in one sitting. Oh, and despite what you might think from the cover, Marco doesn't spend time as an ant. He mostly uses gorilla morph. Does the ant briefly as a demonstration for his father.

 Rating: 3/5                        144 pages, 2000

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Aug 9, 2020

The Unexpected

Animorphs #44 
by K.A. Applegate
Opening scene has the Animorphs involved in a shoot-out between a few Marines and a bunch of enemy Yeerk controllers at the airport, because a piece of wreckage from a alien fighter ship was found and who's going to have it. Cassie gets caught in the middle, nearly killed, escapes by morphing a fly and hiding in some luggage, winds up on a plane headed to Australia. The Yeerks attack and there's a crash and she's lost in the desert. She morphs again to escape safely, but is witnessed by an Aboriginal boy nearby. He's not at all surprised, because his traditional beliefs lead him to readily accept people having powers to change into animals. Really? This made me a bit uncomfortable. So. Cassie gets sheltered by the Aboriginal family, and makes a plan to get back home. The outstation radio was destroyed by Yeerks, so Cassie is going to travel as kangaroo overnight (too hot during the day, even as a native animal) to the nearest place where she can use a phone. But the boy's grandfather gets a leg injury that develops into a terrible infection alarmingly fast, and Cassie and the boy perform an amputation. Even for a sci-fi book in a series that really stretches reality, this was too much for me. There's other adults in the community, even one who is a healer- and it's two relatively inexperienced kids who perform an emergency operation? Um, no. Description of that was very unsettling, too. 

At the end, Cassie has another confrontation with the enemy, who discovered her location and are going to wipe out all the innocent people there, unless she surrenders. She runs off in kangaroo form, hoping to lead them away. Finds a wild kangaroo mob and hides among them, the wild kangaroos and Cassie-kangaroo end up fighting Taxxons and Hork-bajir soldiers. A lot of this was just ridiculous scenarios. Why am I not surprised, ha. I found the beginning escapade uninteresting (fight scenes bore me, having high-profile men in black suits and impressive weapons and chase scenes across the tarmac dodging airplanes doesn't really make it exciting for me. I'm just skimming through waiting for it to be over). The story got far more interesting when Cassie landed in Australia, but then disappointing. I don't know very much about Aboriginal people, but the depiction of them in this book felt shallow. I did like reading about the kangaroos, their incredible stamina and defense abilities against predators (they will lead dingoes into water and then drown them). 

The other good parts of this book were seeing Cassie on her own- having to quickly solve problems, escape the enemies, and finding it in her to actually kill a bunch of enemies when she had to. She was fairly resourceful once she figured out where she'd landed. And upon returning back home, there's some very nice moments between her and Jake, demonstrating how much they care for each other, how worried Jake was about her disappearance. The usual humor among the group when they're hanging out at a food court re-grouping now that Cassie's back with them.

This one's on my e-reader. All the rest of the Animorphs series are.

Rating: 3/5                160 pages, 2000

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Aug 7, 2020

The Test

 Animorphs #43 
by K.A. Applegate

Tobias finds a kid lost in the forest and he leads the rescue team to the spot where the kid is trapped- by speaking to the father- as a hawk! Of course this exposes him, and before he realizes what's happening, he's been attacked by a bald eagle then put in a cage in a wildlife veterinary clinic, and accosted by the enemy alien soldiers on all sides when they break into the place at night. His friends try to save him but then -strangely- a Yeerk controller named Taylor steps in- she's the one who tormented Tobias in the past. She claims to have a plan to destroy Visser Three and hundreds of Yeerks in one fell swoop- says she's part of a Yeerk rebellion against what they see as failing leadership, as an explanation. 

The Animorphs decide rather rashly to take this opportunity, even though they're suspicious of Taylor's willingness to work with them, and her plan seems to put them at a disadvantage- morphing into Taxxons to tunnel from a natural gas power station to the roof of the Yeerk pool cavern, where they will break in and cause an explosion. Cassie is against this plan because she realizes a lot of innocents- humans who are of course unwilling hosts of those Yeerks- will die. Some of the others have dobuts- especially Tobias- but they go along with it regardless. It's surreal. And gross. And nonsensical: the part where -because of course she wasn't really on their side- Taylor turns on them in the tunnel baffled me. How did they get out of that alive? I could not picture it as physically possible, surely they would have just all collapsed and been overwhelmed. Well, it was definitely dramatic. There's a lot of internal angst- Tobias facing his tormentor again and questioning many things he's done in the past, Jake struggling with leadership decisions, Cassie against the murder of innocents in the war, Ax and Tobias have to figure out how to manage the Taxxon morph without eating their friends who are there to keep them on task- because the alien Taxxons have an overwhelming urge to just consume everything in sight. Yet in the end, they do escape disaster happening, and the series goes on. 

  Rating: 3/5             144 pages, 2000 

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songbirds panoramic

Did this 750-piece Hautman Brothers puzzle (produced by Buffalo Games). I really like the artwork and the colors are fantastic. Pieces are a little small and very standard cuts in a straight grid pattern, but there are a few odd ones with hook or zigzag-like shapes:
This puzzle is three feet long, nearly the length of my table (puzzle board is now white)
Detail of my favorite bird on it- the wren:
I've done this jigsaw once before, so made myself work the background first and the birds last, opposite of how I usually do a new puzzle. Had trouble filling in the blue/green background until I had the outlines of the birds done. Surprising how few pieces actually make the inside of the birds- the focal point of it all- 
Assembly sequence (click to view larger and scroll through- it's fun!)
I have another Hautman Brothers panoramic puzzle, of birds sitting in a row in winter scenery. Maybe I'll do that one next.