Feb 28, 2021


Dogear Diary has moved to Wordpress! 

If you are not automatically redirected, please visit me at dogeardiary.com 

Update your feed to follow my blog at https://dogeardiary.com/feed

Feb 23, 2021

Backyard Giants

The Passionate, Heartbreaking and Glorious Quest to Grow the Biggest Pumpkin Ever

by Susan Warren

I should have guessed that in the world of competitive vegetable growing, there's people whose goal is to produce the biggest pumpkin ever. When this book was written, men aimed to break the record with a pumpkin that weighed over 1,500 pounds (now the world record is 2,624 pounds). This story focuses on a group of giant pumpkin growers in a Rhode Island club, telling the ups and downs that several of them face through one season. The opening and closing chapters, which are mostly about the individuals and their competitiveness, the history of record-breaking giant pumpkins, and the weigh-in that closes the 2006 season, were not that great for me. The writing style tries a little too hard to be enthusiastic and felt awkward in some parts. Nearly stopped reading after chapter three. However the bulk of the book, about how the pumpkins are actually grown and tended, was more to my interest- I can relate as a gardener. Careful selection of seed, testing and prepping the soil, germinating and tending the young plants, setting them out then protecting them anxiously from rough spring weather, pruning and feeding and spraying against pests all summer, fretting over disease and disaster (hungry wildlife, cracked skins, even in one case a suspected fellow grower who jealously poisoned someone's plants!) I'm not a competitive person myself so I don't really understand the fire that makes them work for huge fruit with so much effort- forcing the plants to strain to the max without cracking, rotting or collapsing. I'd rather have something beautiful, useful, or good to eat, than just a right to brag about "mine's the biggest"! But if I ever go to an agricultural fair I'll be sure to stare at prize-winning pumpkins with different eyes now, knowing all that went into getting them that huge size. They do look rather obscene, though.

Rating: 3/5                256 pages, 2007

Feb 20, 2021

Living with Bugs

Least-toxic Solutions to Everyday Bug Problems 
by Jack DeAngelis 

     This book is very straightforward: an entomologist who worked for the Oregon State University Extension Service for some twenty years, wrote it to inform the general public about bugs. The book identifies the creepy crawlies that are commonly found in homes in the States and tells a little about their life cycles noting which ones are problems to be concerned about, and which you can just ignore because they don't really harm anything. Also noting how they all have a useful role in natural ecosystems and so we shouldn't just wipe them out en masse because we don't like them. When insect infestations are a problem, there's information on how to control numbers or eliminate them from the home, with non-toxic methods recommended first and insecticides or poisons used as last resort. In most cases, the advice was simply to keep things clean! Moths in the pantry? throw out the infested flour, clean up spills and seal the food properly. Bedbugs making you itch at night? wash your sheets every week. Holes in the favorite sweaters you only wear in the coldest month of the year? make sure they're laundered before going back into storage, and kept in a tight plastic container. And so on. I actually found the little details about the small creatures pretty interesting, although seeing closeup photos of cockroaches and lice and engorged ticks is really unpleasant. I learned some interesting things, such as that silverfish can jump (by flipping their bodies), boxelder bugs feed on maple tree leaves (which is why I have lots in my yard every summer), and the wasps that make a paper nest with open cells are predators useful in the garden that rarely sting people, while the yellowjackets that make large roundish paper nests without visible cells, are the ones that might attack people who disturb it, and should be removed.

In all, I found this book useful and informative- but there is one little aggravation which I must remedy someday. My copy is missing pages 33-64! Not torn or cut out, the book was bound very neatly without them. So I didn't get to read about lice, ticks, mosquitoes, carpenter ants, termites, powderpost beetles, horntail wood wasps or carpenter bees. Some of which I have personally encountered so it would have been nice to have this author's take on them. Curious how many other copies of this book out there are missing several signatures, I looked for other reviews online. Found just a few- none of them mention absent pages, and one says that the section I'm missing is the best part of the book! That's a bit disappointing. I did acquire my copy used- now I know why someone else discarded it. Maybe I'll find another someday, and this time scan the pages thoroughly before bringing it home.

Rating: 3/5                 176 pages, 2009

Feb 18, 2021

The Exotic Garden

Designing with Tropical Plants in Almost Any Climate 
by Richard R. Iversen

     This book is about growing tropical plants in a temperate climate. It has information on design- including how to artfully combine the varied textures, colors and growth habits of different plants to best effect. It tells how to cultivate them, including keeping in pots or setting out into beds, and overwintering- which consists of either bringing plants inside, keeping seed, rhizomes or tubers to grow from next year, or taking cuttings. Some plants sounds like it's easier or more economical to just buy new plants in the spring- as once it is warm enough outside, if properly fed and watered, tropical plants can grow very fast. While much of the information in here is repetitive to me, the specifics on tropicals in my kind of climate was very useful. The author is really enthusiastic about tropical plants and his delight in them is infectious. I thought at first well, my choices are limited- I don't have a lot of space indoors to overwinter plants with bright light- nor can i afford to buy tons of basically disposable plants every spring (though I do try to add some perennials to my yard every year). Then I realized hey wait a minute- I already do some of this: I grow and take coleus cuttings every year. I bring my bay laurel, potted figs and geraniums indoors for the winter, set them out again in spring. The book taught me that I could do a few things differently- such as saving the tubers of my decorative sweet potato vine dried and stored in a small box, instead of keeping cuttings growing in pots. This would save space, giving me room for a different plant, and also maybe curtail my problem with whitefly and/or tiny leaf hoppers every winter, which tend to come in on my plants especially the sweet potato vine, even though I take measures against them. So! the book encouraged me. I started taking notes- jotting down names of all the plants that caught my eye in photos as being particularly striking or pretty, and then writing down species I liked the sound of from the some hundred plants in the detailed glossary. Sticking to only those I think I could handle their overwintering needs and mature size, I still ended up with a list of forty plants. It's like my never-ending TBR, the lists I make of plants I'd like to try and grow- after learning more about them and hoping I can actually find a specimen to bring home someday. Now more eager for spring and a new growing season to try my hand at a few new things!

Rating: 4/5           170 pages, 1999

Feb 16, 2021

new shelves!

A while ago I said to my husband, why don't we put shelves behind the bed? where there's empty space between the headboard that leans back, and the air duct that juts out. I looked for a long time and couldn't find any ready-made bookcase that would fit at just 9" deep. So he finally built some for me:
I held things up, moved cords for the drill around, painted. Took us about two days. Then spent a few hours rearranging my library to make use of it! Which was the fun part. These are all TBR books. First row in:
and the rest:
(And it's only half-I have eight other shelves of TBR). Happily this got them all off the floor, and allowed me to rearrange the permanent books so none are double-stacked or horizontally wedged in. As you can see in before and after pics below, of another wall in my bedroom. The stack on the floor in the corner is mostly books I read since the pandemic started. I had no place left to shelve them into the permanent collection.
Now there's space and then some! It's so nice they all have a bit of breathing room too.

Feb 13, 2021

You Grow Girl

by Gayla Trail

     When I started reading this book, I thought it wouldn't teach me much new. I could not have been more wrong. Yes, it covers the basics of gardening, keeping things simple and small-scale whether you just have a balcony space or a patch of backyard. Includes explanations on things like mixing potting soil, making compost, cleaning tools, reading plant labels, thwarting pests, mulching, starting seed, saving the harvest and so much more. There's also lots of crafts such as making a planter box, sewing a gardener's apron with pockets, creating plant labels and seed packets, building a trellis, and custom stepping stones. There's directions for many things I've never tried before such as candied flower petals, floral-infused vinagers and homemade hand salve. I already have ideas to try a few new things, or grow several plants I never considered before, due to her enthusiastic recommendation. Sunchokes and calendula are now on my list. It's all presented in a very cheerful, friendly style, telling you up front what to be concerned about and what to shrug off. This book really made me feel interested in picking things up for the garden again- I had been feeling quite blah about the cold weather lately but it is halfway through february after all, so before turning the last page I went and started seventeen trays of seed for my spring garden. Oh, and I finally found the name of the 'scat plant' I grew one year! This book tells me it's coleus canina, also known as 'scaredy cat plant' (which info I had before but somehow missed the correct ID looking that up). Kinda odd because it's not in the coleus family? so I'm still a bit confused about this one but now I know how to find it again. Very happy to have that little mystery in my head solved.

Rating: 4/5                    208 pages, 2005

Feb 12, 2021

Saving Dove

by C.S. Adler

     I read this book in a hot bath, just under two hours. It's a horse story where the whole narrative arc is about how to procure treatment for an injured horse. It has a lot of difficult things going on: Jan's father has recently died in an accident, she and her mother are still grieving. They had to give up their large ranch house to live in the small "casita" that used to be for hired hands. Her mother still makes a living boarding and caring for other's horses, and taking guests on trail rides, while their original house has been converted into an assisted living home for the elderly. When Jan's horse goes lame it turns out to be more serious than just a bruise or sprain- he needs an operation. Jan's mother takes a second job but it still isn't enough for the cost. The girl is desperate to find a way to save her horse but can't think of anything. She's more distracted than usual from school, and can't relate to the other kids who don't seem to have any of the same worries (though one girl is nice to her and that might turn into a friendship). One day she's outside with her horse and meets two old ladies from the assisted living home, out for a walk. Mattie commiserates with Jan over the horse's condition, says she used to have a horse when she was young, and invites Jan to the house to see photos. Reluctantly Jan complies and to her surprise finds she rather likes the older woman. She visits her now and then, while still trying to figure out what to do: can she get a job herself? could she lease a "share" of her horse to someone who wants to ride and doesn't own one? It turns out that Mattie might have an answer to her problem, but then she worries about the morality of accepting the offer. This story surprised me with its depth, for such a short book it sure hits some serious issues. And I didn't even mention all of them! Have to leave the reader something to find out. There was only one conversation near the end of the book that struck me as awkward, the rest felt very real and easy to read.

Rating: 3/5

Feb 11, 2021

missing migrants

Pomegranate Artpiece puzzle- 1,000 pieces. Nice sturdy jigsaw, though a bit difficult- there's all that blue and the variations between pieces are definite but also very subtle. Honestly I thought at first I wouldn't really like doing this one- it's very abstract with a lot of similar, flat colors. I had to do a lot more looking back and forth between closely at the provided image to figure out where pieces went, than I'm used to. Running my eye over the image so continually, this had an odd visual effect of making it seem like the bird wings were actually flickering, in my mind's eye. Then I read more about the piece online, and suddenly realized its significance. 

In Charley Harper's own words about the artwork, the forty-five birds depicted are among the neotropical migrants that have "shuttled between winter homes in the tropical rainforest and nesting sites in our woodlands. Now their populations are plummeting. Why? Habitat destruction . . . Is your favorite songster in this flock? . . . Are silent springs forthcoming?" It's sobering. I look at them and try to recognize the species (without reading their names and numbers- there's a key on the back of the box to their identities) and think if I know that bird, and did I see it last year, and will I see it the next. . . 

Feb 10, 2021

The Rapture of Canaan

by Sheri Reynolds

     I was skeptical about reading this book because I thought it would have a strong religious bent, but found that once I started it, I simply couldn't put it down. It is about religion, but not the way I had guessed. It reminded me a lot of Witch Child- by the tone, and how it's about a young girl who doesn't quite fit into a secluded community.

Ninah belongs to the Church of Fire and Brimstone and God's Almighty Baptizing Wind- invented by her grandfather who gathered his family members, their spouses, offspring and cousins as his followers. There's about eighty people in the congregation and they live together on a communal farm. (They raise tobacco as a cash crop and the leader divides the profits among the members, but seems to keep most for himself). In this group, strict obedience is required, it seems like any kind of pleasure is forbidden, and harsh punishments are meted out. Infractions such as talking back to elders, drinking alcohol, or women cutting their hair are met with punishments like wearing barbed wire under your shirt, sleeping on nettles and thorns in the bed, having to lie in a freshly-dug open grave all night, or being locked in the cellar for weeks. The followers are taught that they must be pious, constantly pray and wait for the rapture when the righteous will be lifted up to heaven. They speak in tongues during some wild-sounding church meetings, really unlike anything I've read about before. It was something to see- how the author wrote this character made me finally comprehend (a little bit) how a person could get caught up in that kind of belief system.

Ninah isn't sure she believes, though. She's afraid of the punishments and wants to feel close to God but also questions some things and finds herself growing attracted to James, her prayer partner. She's allowed to have private prayer sessions with James because the older folks see them as making a good match someday, and counsel the young people to seek out their hearts in prayer together. This goes in another direction, when Ninah and James convince themselves that their growing feelings for each other are a manifestation of God's love, so thus it can't be a sin when they express those feelings. Ninah ends up pregnant. The community does not react positively, to say the least. What follows is not at all what I expected, and I was gripped to the last page to find out what would happen to Ninah and the baby. Some parts of this story made me scratch my head, or roll my eyes- it's really weird in a few parts- and I wasn't too taken by the weaving metaphor- but the voice is lively, and the story compelling, of this young girl trying to find her way and lift her voice above all the strictures she lives with. (Especially as she sees how other kids are different, because she attends public school). The ending felt rather abrupt, but not enough to make me actively dislike the book. I would have liked to know more about how things worked out, but at least the community was starting to turn in a different direction by then.

Rating: 3/5                        320 pages, 1995

Feb 8, 2021

All My Patients Have Tales

Favorite Stories from a Vet's Practice 
by Jeff Wells, DVM

     A nice read from a veterinarian who worked in mixed animal practice, first in South Dakota, then in Colorado. Part memoir, mostly stories about the animals he treated, with a broad dash of humor. He tells about going through vet school, first days on the job, attempts to prove his knowledge and skills to the clients, and most of all about the animals in need. Funny or interesting case studies and the outcomes. Similar to James Herriot, if not quite the same quality (sometimes the humor got a tad tedious in my opinion). Most of the stories are about pet dogs and cats, though there are also cattle, potbellied pigs, and even a yak. Note: he doesn't shy away from telling how unpleasant some aspects of the job can be- in particular how much feces and other bodily fluids can get all over the place (quite literally). And while most of the stories have positive outcomes, not all the animals make it. Just a sampling of the stories: a supposed tomcat that surprised its family by having kittens, a puppy that ate too many grasshoppers, horses with injuries on their legs or faces, cows that need help birthing, dogs that repeatedly tackled porcupines, a cat that swallowed a fishhook, a hound that ate rat poison, an elderly cat that became diabetic. There's also an errant bison that escaped its field and needed to be sedated for re-capture before it bred all the neighbor's prized cows. I found that Wells wrote a second book titled All My Patients Kick and Bite, which I think I'd also enjoy. 

Rating: 3/5                    226 pages, 2006

Feb 6, 2021

The Rhino with Glue-On Shoes

and other surprising true stories of zoo vets and their patients 
edited by Lucy Spelman and Ted Mashima

     I like reading about veterinary work. This collection about wildlife vet care is light reading (ie: not the highest writing quality) with brief, intriguing chapters. The twenty-eight stories are each related by a different veterinarian, with a preface by the editor team to each of the five sections they're arranged into. Most, but not all, of the stories have happy endings. In a few the medical mystery presented by an ill animal was never solved. Among them are the titular rhioncerous with chronically sore feet who got a custom set of aluminum shoes, a panda with digestive issues, dung beetles infested with red mites, stranded dolphins, a hippo with an infected tooth, polar bear with a hernia, tiny poison dart frog with an injured eye, a young giraffe that needs a leg brace, elephant injured by a poacher's snare, a malnourished bear cub with weak bones, a goldfish with a tumor and weedy sea dragons that suffered "the bends" after an airline flight from Australia to Florida. I think my favorite though, was the story about a moray eel donated by a bartender to a public aquarium when it outgrew its home tank. The eel hid in the rocks of its new home and refused to eat for weeks on end. The aquarium staff finally called the original owner to ask what might tempt the eel to eat. He came to visit the aquarium and when the eel saw him, it came out of hiding and swam up and down the tank glass in front of the man, finally taking food when he offered it. That story warmed my heart. 

Rating: 3/5                310 pages, 2008

Feb 3, 2021

The Flight of the Horse

by Larry Niven

     I think I got this book at a library discard sale or thrift shop- where I recall snatching it up immediately. I recognized it was book I'd read decades ago as a teenager. It's a collection of short stories by sci-fi writer Niven, in which he diverges more into fantasy (I've never read any of his sci-fi). The first part of the book was very familiar on this re-read, the second half not. (I don't know whether that means this was originally a DNF for me).

It has seven short stories. The first five are about a time-traveller named Svetz who goes from the distant future into the past to collect animals for his employer, at the capricious whims of an all-powerful idiotic ruler. By some odd shift, the time machine keeps sending him into alternate versions of the past, where fantastical beasts exist. In Svetz' time, animals of any kind have long been extinct and he only has a few old illustrations to base his search on. In the first story he brings back a unicorn, thinking it's a horse. This tale also had a fun quirk of suggesting that Svetz' appearance to some locals he ran into might have caused them to think he was an angel, from the light bouncing off the 'balloon' that holds breathable air around his head (because the future has such a polluted environment humanity evolved to, that now he can't breathe the cleaner air of the past) or that a girl he met would start the idea of witches on broomsticks when he left his 'flight stick' behind and mused if she would try to use it. Also, he attempts to retrieve a gila monster in another trip, and brings back a fire-breathing dragon for the menagerie

In the second story he is looking for a whale, finds and struggles with a vast sea serpent, and in the end retrieves Moby Dick, sporting injuries and broken spears. In the third story (my least favorite because its premise was so absurd I couldn't suspend disbelief at all), Svetz gets an ostrich from the past. A scientist presumes the ostrich is a neonatal form of a different, much larger bird- and does something to this individual ostrich to make its genetics change so that it literally grows into a giant roc. The fourth story has Svetz collecting an arctic wolf that turns out to be a werewolf. In that journey he also meets men who evolved from wolves, who keep primitive humanoids as pets and guard animals (they're very good at throwing rocks). In the fifth he encounters the character of Death, as a ghostly skeletal figure that grapples with him in the time machine and argues about things. He has to regain control to return safely. (This was my least favorite of the time travel stories).

In all of these I rather enjoyed the humor, how inept Svetz seems when at the same time he usually manages to survive these wild creatures attacking him and actually bring them back to his future time intact. He grumbles about his employer's unreasonable demands and has difficulty with changing technology which isn't explained to him (as the time machine gets updates and new features). The feel of it reminded me of 1960's Star Trek episodes, and all the time-travel jargon brought to mind Doomsday Book.

At the end of the book are two novellas, Flash Crowd and What Good Is a Glass Dagger? I am pretty sure that when I was a teen Flash Crowd was completely over my head- but as an adult I found it an interesting premise, if a bit dull as a storyline. It posits a future where vehicles are obsolete (except for small airplanes and motorbikes used for fun) because teleportation has been developed. All over the world people can literally go anywhere instantly by stepping into a glass booth and dialing a number. It's narrated by a news reporter who comments on not only how cityscapes have changed (he remembers when cars still existed in his childhood) but how the instantaneous travel has affected human society as a whole. It all revolves around a riot he witnesses at a mall- and is blamed for instigating with his hasty reporting. Refusing to accept that, he claims the 'displacement booths' are the main problem- because they enable people to instantly converge on a scene in huge numbers. Another part of the story demonstrates how this also affects the environment when it draws people in sudden hordes to see a natural phenomenon, or to swarm exotic retreats that once were difficult to access. Mostly though it's the reporter investigating what's behind the manufacturing of 'displacement booths' and how they actually work. A lot of those details I didn't really follow, but since I couldn't judge if the science behind teleportation would be plausible as described, I was able to go along with it and just enjoy the story.

The final novella, What Good Is a Glass Dagger? is a setup for a world the author details in other novels, which I'm not familiar with. It has a werewolf pitched into a thirty-year struggle with a wizard who placed a glass dagger in his heart when he was caught attempting thievery. The werewolf guy then spends years travelling trying to find someone who can remove the dagger, but he's hampered by having to avoid areas where magic won't work- and the wizard has a device that can drain magic out of the world- imperiling all the magical creatures. I don't know if it was my mood or what by the time I reached this story, but although many readers state this was their favorite piece in the collection, it didn't really hold my interest. I skimmed a lot of it. I might read it again at a later date; keeping this one on my shelf.

Rating: 3/5              212 pages, 1973

Feb 2, 2021

The Heart of the Continent

A Novel of Australia 
by Nancy Cato 

Story of two women, mother and daughter, who worked as nurses in the far Outback during the late 1800's and early 1900's. The first woman, Alix MacFarlane, was eager to study nursing even though her well-to-do parents frowned on it- nursing wasn't considered a proper occupation for a lady then. She worked where she was needed in a few different remote areas, until fell in love and married. Then went to live with her husband's family on the father-in-law's cattle station. Where the livestock did poorly because of harsh conditions but the old man never wanted to give up. Still very much invested in nursing even though she didn't have a post, Alix started holding a clinic for the Aborignal people who lived or worked around the station- especially the children- which her mother-in-law really disapproved of. The second half of the book is mostly about Alix's daughter Caro (short for Caroline) who grows up on the cattle station then goes away to school and also becomes a nurse. And a pilot, when planes were new, relatively fragile things and women weren't expected to do such dangerous jobs. She becomes part of the Flying Doctor service, travelling back and forth across Australia to get medical care to injured and sick people living remotely. Reading about all that, and the medical cases (although they were very briefly detailed) was interesting. I also learned quite a bit about Australia and its landscape, how badly Aboriginal peoples were treated, and the country's involvement in wartime. The story overlaps both World Wars- affecting the characters very personally. This novel has a lot- medical crises, wartime, some romance, plane crashes, adventures, and just plain living. I was surprised at how common it seemed in this book for married couples to live apart- doctors living away from their wives for years on end, or how Alix traveled from the cattle station to a proper town when it was time for Caro to be born (so the father first saw his baby when it was several months old). I liked this book- and yet I just didn't care much about the characters. Some were nice decent people, others quirky or interesting, but the writing was just rather plain- lots of tell instead of show- so even when on occasion someone in the book died, I felt very little reaction. I'm glad I read it but don't think it will merit a repeat.

Rating: 3/5              478 pages, 1989

Jan 31, 2021

new year TBR

I used to think of myself as well-read but have long since been humbled by all you wonderful book bloggers who keep reminding me of how many books out there in the world I've never even heard of, much less had a chance to read yet. Hence, another TBR. Thank you, for continuing to add to the piles of titles in my hopeful head.

found at my library
Because Internet by Gretchen McCulloch- Shelf Love
Invisible Girl by Lisa Jewell- Melody's Reading Corner
The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah- C Bookbinder
Nightlights by Lorena Alvarez- Musings of a Bookish Kitty
Leave the World Behind by Alam Rumaan- Curiosity Killed Bookworm
Gobbolino the Witch's Cat by Ursula Moray Williams- Bookfoolery
Across the Green Grass Fields by Seanan McGuire- A Bookish Type
The Great Pretender by Susannah Cahalan- Caroline Bookbinder
My Dark Vanessa by Kate Russell- Shelf Love
Skunk and Badger by Amy Timberlake- Bookfoolery
Fun Home by Alison Bechdel- Work in Progress
Native by Kaitlin Curtice- Opinions of a Wolf
Into the Planet by Jill Heinerth- Read Warbler
The Okay Witch by Emma Steinkeller- Musings of a Bookish Kitty
The Wild Girl by Jim Fergus
The Queen's Gambit by Walter Tevis- Book Chase
The Tenth Muse by Catherine Chung- Lark Writes
The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See- Musings Bookish Kitty
In Other Lands by Sarah Brennan- A Bookish Type
Gone to the Woods by Gary Paulsen- Caroline Bookbinder
Book Love by Debbie Tung- Musings of a Bookish Kitty
The Vengeance of Mothers by Jim Fergus
Snapdragon by Kat Leyh- The Last Book I Read
Flatshare by Beth O-Leary- C Bookbinder
the Broken Spine by Dorothy St. James- Musings of a Bookish Kitty
The Changeling by Victor LaValle- Shelf Love
The Cat Who Came In Off the Roof by Annie M.G. Schmidt- Indextrious Reader
How the King of Elfhame Learned to Hate Stories by Holly Black- Curiosity Killed Bookworm

(not found): future used venue hopes
Dr Franklin's Island
by Ann Halaam 
Watery Ways by Valerie Poore- Read Warbler
The Raven and the Reindeer by T. Kingfisher- Thistle-Chaser
A Mind Spread Out on the Ground by Alicia Elliott - Book Chase
Dinoverse by Scott Ciencin
Strongheart by Jim Fergus- Book Chase
Plot 29 by Allan Jenkins- the Captive Reader
the Dog with Seven Names by Diane Wolfer- Thistle-Chaser
Whitetail Country by Daniel J. Cox
Make Prayers to the Raven by Richard Nelson
Songs of My Hunter Heart by Robert Franklin Gish
Shadow of the Hunter by Richard Nelson
the King of Deer by Rodney G Marburger
Deep Enough for Ivorybills by James Kilgo
Hunters of the Northern Forest by Richard Nelson
Hunters of the Northern Ice by Richard Nelson
Deer Camp by John Miller
A Hunter's Heart ed by David Petersen

Jan 25, 2021

Ella Minnow Pea

A Novel in Letters 
by Mark Dunn

     I've had this book on my shelf for some two years, but hesitated reading it because well, from some reviews it just sounded too gimicky. It was- and it wasn't. Very clever the wordplay, plenty of charm and humor throughout and yet how sobering the underlying message. The premise starts out with something rather ridiculous- there's a small self-governing island where everybody loves language and letter-writing. It was founded by the man who created the famous pangram (a sentence using all the letters of the alphabet) the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog. He's so revered there's a statue to him with the sentence below in tiles. One day a tile falls off: the letter Z.

The ruling Council declares that this must be a sign from their dead founder, who now wishes them to all quit using the letter Z, whether speaking or writing. The citizens don't see that as much hardship and go along. But then more letters start to fall, and one after another is banned from use. The Council puts in place serious punishments for those who don't comply. As the story is told in letters written between some of the island inhabitants, you can see how the restrictions of language starts to make things fall apart. At first people just choose different words to avoid problematic ones- making for sentences full of interesting word choices- I had to look so many up! Then their sentences get less prosaic and descriptive, more brief and to the point. Eventually so many letters are banned they have to substitute numerals, or use creative phonetic spelling (which was a bit tricky to puzzle out in the final pages). Some people outright give up and quit writing at all. Also as the governing Council tightens its control on people you see how they all respond- some quickly report each other for infractions, others band together and help those in need. The library is shut down, schools soon close, people deliberately leave the island, or are forced out- and so other business start to fail as there are fewer customers. Suspicions abound. 

However there's a possible solution- as the original revered pangram was presumed divine simply because it was so unique, if someone can come up with a new sentence using all the letters (without anything superfluous), it will prove the founder wasn't godlike. (Because at this point, most of the Council were treating it like a religion and getting fanatical about things).

I thought the solution just so clever as the rest of the book- especially how it was discovered (made me laugh though, because the detail it came from was something I'd wondered earlier why it was in the book at all). I didn't really get a sense of any characters in this story told through letters though- my focus first being what they were saying (especially when I had to figure out the meanings of invented or oddly phonetic words), and the second being what the letters told me about what was happening to the society at large. The individuals, I kind of just glossed over them. 

Ella Minnow Pea has been reviewed all over the book blogs. Below is just a sampling:

Rating: 4/5                            208 pages, 2001

Jan 24, 2021

Afternoon of the Elves

by Janet Taylor Lisle

     Hillary is intrigued when the girl who lives in the house behind her shows her tiny little cottages built of leaves and twigs. Sara-Kate tells her in whispers they were built by elves, and soon has Hillary wrapped into the imaginary world of the elf village. The other kids at school scorn the idea, and talk unkindly about Sara-Kate- her worn clothes, thin appearance and wild temper. Hillary listens uneasily to their warnings to stay away from Sara-Kate, but she wants to go back and see the elf village again, so slowly the two become friends. She's never invited inside Sara-Kate's house though, and never sees any lights on either, not even after dark. When Sara-Kate stops coming to school, Hillary worries something has happened and screws up her courage to knock on the door of the silent house. She's shocked to find that some of her friend's stories had a scrap of truth- Sara-Kate is in a rather desperate situation, but Hillary doesn't want to betray her friend by seeking help. She tries to offer some assistance herself, even though this means doing things she knows is wrong- stealing and lying to her parents. Soon an adult steps into the situation though, and then everything changes very quickly.

This story was compelling and in the end, rather sad. It's another that I read in one sitting, quite unable to put it down. While the exact nature of illness in Sara-Kate's household was never revealed, the hints are clear enough. More interesting is how completely Sara-Kate invented the details of the elf world for Hillary, drawing her back day after day with the curiosity and hope the magic would actually be real- all the while hiding her real difficulties. She left a mark on Hillary, too- who always looked more closely at things afterwards, who noticed tiny details others might skip over. Though it was just secondary material, I also liked the bits about her father's garden, the work he did there and how he missed it during the cold winter months. It was nice that Hillary found a way in the end, to conserve the elf village the two girls had worked so painstakingly on. And that she recognized the greatest lesson she learned from their strange friendship- that other people's reality might not be the same as yours, that you have to work hard and put aside your assumptions to truly see things from another's point of view. 

Rating: 4/5                       122 pages, 1989

More opinions: Becky's Book Reviews
anybody else?

The Listening Silence

by Phyllis Root

     This is a short J fiction book I picked up on a whim secondhand. It's about a young girl in a Native American tribe. At five years old, she's been living alone with her parents for some time. Her father leaves on a hunting trip and when he doesn't return, the mother goes out to find him. The girl Kiri waits and waits but nobody returns. A couple from another tribe comes across her tent and takes her in. She is at first shy in her new surroundings, not used to being around so many people in the new tribe. Kiri has a special ability to "put herself into the eyes of others"- I guess you would say she's an empath, able to deeply feel what others around her experience, and also to see the world through the eyes of animals. This can be useful- she can put herself into the eyes of a bird overhead and see something far off, for example. It's also hard to deal with in close quarters with other people, as when she can't avoid feeling the anger and resentment of a boy in the tribe named Garen. Seeing how disconcerted she is among others and recognizing her gift, the tribe's healer adopts her so she can live in relative seclusion in his tent, and learn his skills. But when she's asked to help him heal a sick person, she flinches away from the strong feelings of loneliness and pain that overwhelm her at the bedside. When Kiris turns thirteen, she has to go on a solitary journey to seek a spirit vision that will let her know what her purpose in life is, and her role in the tribe. She expects that it will be as a singer and healer. But she's afraid, doesn't feel ready for this responsibility. On the journey she runs into a storm and her boat is wrecked, leaving her stranded on a riverbank in unknown territory. So it turns into a survival story- how she finds food, builds a shelter, and so on. She finds an injured wolf, and tries to heal it. Then Garen shows up- he's been out on a spirit journey too, and he's hunting the wolf that she befriended. He's also half-starved and needs help. Kiri is torn between protecting her wolf companion or helping this disgruntled young man she's never really liked. Of course she does the right thing, even though it's hard- and when she finally reaches out to Garen with her healing skills, she finds to her surprise that they have something in common- a deep loneliness each has been carrying around for years.

In the end Kiri finally resolves having felt abandoned by her parents so long ago, and returns to her adopted tribe with confidence and peace. It's really a nice story with some complexity and depth of feeling I didn't expect for how short it is. I read it in one sitting. I really wished it had been twice as long- I wanted more of every aspect! There's also throughout the entire book, words like korlu and skirre which kind of threw me out of the narrative because I spent way too much time trying to figure out what they were. Every single animal in the story has a foreign word instead of English (and I have no idea if this is a real tribe depicted, or a made-up one). While there's a glossary, it doesn't say wolken- a wolf but instead wolken- an animal with slender legs, bushy tail, pointed nose, and keen eyesight and hearing. Is it a wolf? or did she befriend a fox? I just want to know and I wonder if kids would puzzle as much over this as I did, or just gloss over it and be absorbed in the story. The illustrations by Dennis McDermott are beautiful, rich with texture and detail that add a lot to the book.

Rating: 3/5            106 pages, 1992

Jan 23, 2021

Garden Open Today

by Beverley Nichols

     Delightful book written by an avid gardener who was famous in Britian. He wrote lots of books about his gardens- this is one of the later ones and frequently makes references to past events or plants he used to grow or things he mentioned in other volumes, but never in a way that left me feeling in the dark. This book seems to have a focus on flowers, in particular ones that he considered rare or at least less-well-known. There were of course lots of plants mentioned I have never grown or even heard of, but also plenty that I'm familiar with, so I enjoyed learning new things all around. As even the familiar ones had interesting bits of info.

In particular, Nichols writes effusively about lilies, old style roses, clematis and various other climbers, dwarf sweet peas and nicotiana, flowers that are blue and many that are white, plants that have beautiful delicate scents and how they bring memories back so strongly, why he considers a water feature essential in a garden and what to do with it, irises, lamb's ears, rhododendrons, tulips and many many more. There are growing tips and little stories and many times I laughed aloud. I didn't really relate to the chapter on flower arrangements and the appendix at the back is a list of recommended nurseries and growers- all in Europe so not of much use to me. I did look some of them up out of curiosity and quite a few are still operating today. Would be nice to have an index but I took notes (it's been a long while since a gardening book prompted me to do that) on some things I want to remember. 

I would now someday like to have a pink-berried rowan tree, if it's feasible in my part of the world. Also Euphorbia lathyrus, or the 'mole plant'. Not that I have moles, but because maybe it would keep the chipmunks from tunneling in certain areas. I've been wanting to read Beverley Nichols for a while, very glad to have this book at last and now wish for all the others.

Rating: 4/5                            252 pages, 1963

Jan 22, 2021

Onions in the Stew

by Betty Macdonald
     You know a book is going to be good when you're already laughing aloud on page four. Very lively and funny, this. It's about when Betty Macdonald lived on Vashon Island (across the sound from Seattle) with two daughters and her second husband. Time period is the late forties. Some things like doing the cooking and housework for a family with reluctant pre-teenagers, are awfully familiar and relatable. There are awkward houseguests and kids' friends coming and going, changing fashions you can't make sense of, hectic rushes to get out the door for school or work on time (in this case compounding by the narrow margin of trying to catch the ferryboat) and lazy weekend mornings. Babysitting for the neighbors, kids navigating their first jobs, fibbing about trouble in school . . . I'd feel like I was reading about a family I might have known growing up, or my own. Then there's details about using a phone line shared with fourteen other households, frequent power outages, using a washing machine that's a huge tub with a wringer (filled by hand), war shortages and news from overseas, Japanese neighbors that are never mentioned again after being "sent to internment camp", and an incredibly casual attitude towards smoking that soundly reminded me this wasn't of my time. And of course the styles. It mentions several times plans in the making for a floating bridge from Vashon to Seattle, which apparently this family looked forward to, as the ferry could be unreliable. Turns out it never happened as enough Vashon residents protested the bridge plans, not wanting their island to become built up and "commercialized".

This book charmed me as The Egg and I did, because it's set in a locale I know well, having grown up in the Seattle area. It's a lot more like Macdonald's other book Anybody Can Do Anything in tone. I kept alternately picturing the beach cabin near Copalis that my family spent holidays in when I was a kid, and my great-aunt's place on the shores of Lake Washington, while reading this book. The rain and slippery trails on bluffs thick with huckleberries and oregon grape. The rocky shoreline and beaches where they dug clams  (a few recipes are included, which sound scrumptious). Beachcombing forays and attempts to garden on the hillside around their house. The antics of their dog, the constant quarrels of their children, and yet how calmly things fall together in the end. It was familiar and curiously unique at the same time. Fun.

I also have her book The Plauge and I, which fits between Anybody Can Do Anything and this one chronologically, but I skipped and read them out of order. Because when my nine-year-old year old saw The Plauge and I on the shelf she asked me, sounding quite appalled, if it was about corona, or maybe the black plague? (which we've discussed a few times). No, it's about when the author had tuberculosis. Somehow that put me off reading it right now though.
Rating: 3/5               242 pages, 1954

More opinions: Blue-Hearted Bookworm
anybody else?

Jan 19, 2021

The Gift of the Deer

by Helen Hoover

     This is a nice little book about whitetail deer in northern Minnesota. The author and her husband lived in a remote cabin in the woods. They habitually put out food for the birds and squirrels in winter and one particularly hard year, a starving deer showed up. They helped the buck survive- cutting cedar branches for it to eat (recognizing that corn would be too rich and a shock on its system). They named the deer Peter and he became very accustomed to hanging around their cabin, even stamping on the porch to demand food if it wasn't set out yet. Before long other deer joined Peter in their yard, and then the Hoovers watched fawns appear with the doe they named Mama and grow up, several years in a row. The narrative describes the woods and other widlife- birds, squirrels, a bobcat and lynx that seemed to be companions, a moose that trampled their garden, a groundhog that ate cookies from their hands. A young bear that they were troubled to see tourists feeding (yet they had no qualms about feeding the deer and other wildlife themselves). Mostly though it's about the deer, and the social interactions they observed which was really interesting- especially as I was able to connect some details with information I'd learned in Heart and Blood just prior. Sadly and not surprisingly, it turns out that the deer, now being partially tame, were more vulnerable to hunters who showed up even though it was private land with posted signs. In the end I think they regretting having fed the deer so regularly, and were relieved to see the animals grow more wary of people following the hunting season. The author has published several books with titles including A Place in the Woods and The Years of the Forest, which I'll probably pick up if I come across them someday.

Rating: 3/5                        210 pages, 1965

Jan 16, 2021

e-reader book case

Well, I made a new cover out of a book for my kindle paperwhite. Same method as last time, gluing the pages together into a solid block, tracing around the device and cutting the shape out with an xacto blade. Pressing and gluing again, making a notch for the on/off switch, and smoothing the inside edges with sandpaper. The first twenty pages or so came out neatly enough that I'm saving them to use for grocery lists and notes.
The aftermath.
The result!
This time I did not sacrifice an actual published book, as you might notice. I happened to find this blank cashbook in the recess of my filing cabinet- no idea why I originally bought it (must have been over two decades ago) and certainly don't have any other use for it now. So I figured why not see if it will work for this. The outer edge of the page block did end up very narrow- I was worried it wouldn't be strong enough, but glued and pressed it twice and so far it seems sturdy.

For a while I was looking online for a suitable blank book to purchase and hollow out- maybe a journal with a particular kind of cover- but never could decide on one. Also I found listed on various sites many journals or sketchbooks made with the covers of books removed and restitched or glued to hold blank pages. I was dismayed to see the covers of books I've read and loved myself- The Heart of a Dog by Albert Payson Terhune, Brighty of the Grand Canyon by Marguerite Henry, The Jungle Books by Rudyard Kipling, The Wizard of Oz, the Velveteen Rabbit, Anne of Green Gables, The Little Prince! Black Beauty! Charlotte's Web! Not kidding I saw all these rebound and more. I guess the people taking these books apart and reselling them as journals think nobody wants to actually read the originals- but it makes me upset. There's even sites where you can buy the covers of books already parted from their text content- as empty shells. In huge lots. 

Maybe I shouldn't let it bother me- I once did it myself. But now I can't bring myself to do it again. So I used this blank lined book that was a bit too small, and then put some vinyl lettering and pattern on the front,
and the spine. Not quite straight, but at a glance on my shelf it fits right in with all the other TBR books, you wouldn't necessarily notice it unless I pointed out the one that says So Many Books.
I've run out of laminate sheeting which I was going to use over the cover, so the lettering doesn't peel off. Used packing tape instead. Some of it ended up with creases. And the spine got a little crushed under the stack I used to press it with. So it's not perfect. Still, it feels just like a book in my hand, though I haven't really tested it out by reading another e-book with it yet. Soon!

Jan 14, 2021

Heart and Blood

Living with Deer in America 
by Richard Nelson

     Marvelous book. It looks at all sides of the relationships deer and people have in this country. The author is a hunter himself but holds great respect for the animals and their environment, which you can palpably feel in his personal descriptions. The opening and closing chapters detail time he spent in the woods with his border collie dog- whom he depends on for alerting him to the proximity of wildlife with her keen senses. He follows deer but also has a close encounter with a marten (riveting scene) and is tailed by a brown bear, and in the final pages tells of witnessing a doe actually giving birth. It's incredible. All the other chapters tell about deer, both from his research and personal experiences as he crosses the country witnessing how people live alongside or utilize the cervids. There is a chapter that tells of the evolutionary history of deer (more in brief than Whitetail Tracks) another that explains the difference between North America's three deer species, their physiology and way of life. Most of the book is about deer / human interactions, with far greater depth and understanding than I once gleaned from Nature Wars.

Nelson visits many areas in turn: first an island in Alaska where deer are being studied, and discusses the impacts of various types of studies in general- including whether or not their means are considered humane. (Some studies have deliberately allowed deer to starve, others subject wild deer to a lot of stress). He visits an island off the California coast, and another near New York, where deer populations have far outgrown the space, looking at the various methods used to attempt controlling population numbers and why they don't work. He goes to an area of Texas that has a very healthy deer population, where the wildlife live alongside cattle on ranches (they eat different plant types) and then are thinned each year by hunters who pay for access- and it's very specifically managed.. He accompanies several Wisconsin hunters on public lands, where the control is slightly different, and contrariwise, also goes along with a group of animal rights activists in a different part of Wisconsin, whose aim is to interrupt the hunters (very civilly done, I might add). The varied hunts include stalking deer through the forest on foot, sitting in tree platforms near open areas where deer might visit, and walking with a group of men on a drive across fields and hillsides. Finally, he visits farmland in southern Wisconsin, where deer are also hunted- in this case mostly to protect the crops. Which is a very serious thing- it sounds like not a single crop grown could be brought to reasonable harvest if deer are not fenced out (which is often impractical) or shot. 

Overall I felt like this was a really well-rounded look at the deer situation, one approached with admiration for the animal, honest friendliness towards various types of people the author visited and interviewed, willingness to try and understand other points of view, interpretation of the science for laypeople like myself, and finally, a love for the beauty of the land and wildlife. I was struck by how time and time again, occasions were reported where deer that were troublesome in suburban areas were relocated in attempts to control their numbers- and what a failure that is. Some die of shock during handling, and most or all of the rest die within the first year of being moved. And it's expensive. Birth control for deer doesn't work, which is explained. Natural predators are for the most part missing, so it leaves human hunters to keep the population in check. Otherwise the deer destroy habitat leaving it unfit for other animals as well. Oh, and there's a chapter about forest growth, and how monocultures of trees replanted after logging usually don't support deer or other wildlife and why. The author himself personally witnessed the state of deer starving in winter in an overpopulated area; it sounds like the misery and suffering of the emaciated animals deeply affected him. He not-so-subtly hints that he disagrees with the animal rights people who assert that starvation is nature's way of handling the problem, opining that a hunter's precise mark which ends their lives quickly and gives them purpose as someone's dinner (for a family, it can supply a year's worth of protein) is a far more humane option.

I found that many of his sentiments closely harmonized what I read recently in Braiding Sweetgrass. In particular I marked a few quotes:
Organisms we buy in stores and array on the table are our makers, the creators and nurturers of our bodies, until eventually we die and nourish other organisms in turn. As a society, we could benefit enormously by finding ways to remember, acknowledge, and celebrate this process, to accept with gratitude and respect the plants and animals who keep us alive, who weave us into the living tapestry of earth.

A true ecological wisdom, it seemed to me, is one that keeps people and land together in the business of producing food while they develop a more balanced and sustainable relationship with the natural environment.
This is one of those books I lingered over, then read through the pages of references in the back, to add more to my never-ending, always-growing TBR. Including now several other titles by the author which look just as good.

Rating: 4/5              390 pages, 1997

Jan 13, 2021


1,000 piece puzzle by Peter Pauper Press. Illustration by Stephanie Law. I really like the picture- it has a very soft, dreamy quality compared to most of my puzzles. Also a non-glare surface which is so nice to work with. Just one odd thing- the bottom edge of the picture looks like it was copied in pieces and added on to make the image larger (probably to fit the puzzle size). It looks hastily done, and I'm not the only person who noticed- other reviews online mention this. Regardless, still a lovely puzzle that I enjoyed time with. 

Assembly sequence (click to view larger and skip through)