Month: July 2010

Free bookmark! Anyone fond of playing mancala? I know that\’s not exactly what this picture is of, but it sure reminds me of the game. This is a double-sided bookmark, the reverse image is very similar. It\’s cut from magazine scrap and laminated. All you have to do in order to win it is leave a comment here, and hope that picks your name next weekend!

More books I want to read, and the bloggers who tempted me to them!

The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon- You Can Never Have Too Many Books
No Place Left to Bury the Dead by Nicole Itano- A Striped Armchair
Here Lies the Librarian by Richard Peck- Puss Reboots
Robbing the Bees by Holley Bishop- the stay at home bookworm
The Earth Moved by Amy Stewart- the stay at home bookworm
In and Out of the Garden by Sara Midda from stay at home bookworm
His Majesty\’s Dragon
by Namoi Novik- the Lost Entwife
Saving Gracie by Carol Bradley- Ardent Reader

to see more bloggers\’ friday finds, visit the host site at Should be Reading

These two books have a lot of similarities. In both, the illustrations are all either computer-generated textured beasts (with varying degrees of quality) or photos of dig sites, skeletons or fossils. The page spreads are all of a main picture with a larger block of text, and smaller pictures around it with descriptions in smaller text. I couldn\’t help noticing that a lot of the images were the same between the two books, even if shown from a slightly different angle.

Kingfisher Knowledge: Dinosaurs by Nigel Marven

This book describes dinosaurs by the regions in which they lived. First it gives an overview of dinosaur families in general, with a basic family tree showing how the different groups are related, discusses how the original single landmass Pangaea broke up over the centuries into different smaller continents, and offers different theories on why the dinosaurs went extinct. After that the book is organized by geographical areas. In the section for Eurasia it describes where dinosaur fossils were first discovered and how paleontologists uncover them, dinosaur predators found in the Gobi desert, feathered dinosaurs discovered in China, different kinds of pterosaurs (the flying ones), and ancient marine reptiles. The section for the Americas describes Dromaeosaurus which hunted in packs, armored plant-eating dinosaurs, giant sauropods and predatory dinosaurs found in Argentina, discoveries from Hell Creek, Montana and hadrosaurs found in Wyoming. The chapter on Africa and Australia features giant ancient crocodiles, huge sauropods from Madagascar called titanosaurs, different dinosaur tracks found in Australia and dinosaurs that lived in polar regions. I like how this book featured the work of paleontologists, on almost every page you read about how someone made a discovery. At the end of each chapter there is a summary and a text box that highlights different occupations having to do with dinosaurs, museums where dinosaur remains can be seen, and websites and books that give more information. The final pages of the book have a basic timeline showing which dinosaurs or animals were dominant during that period, a glossary and a good index.

Dangerous Dinosaurs Q&A by Carey Scott

This book is organized into broad sections: an overview of the dinosaur age, a part featuring dinosaur predators and scavengers, then plant-eaters and their defensive methods, the biggest dinosaurs, and how they probably died out. It\’s all presented as questions which are then answered, like: did dinosaurs ever get sick? which dinosaur has the biggest brain? did some dinosaurs migrate? I found it very easy to read through. Some of the things I learned from this book were that most meat-eating dinosaurs had only two or three fingers on a hand, whereas plant-eaters had five digits. That some dinosaurs could have had a lifespan of almost 200 years. That some dinosaurs had skin so thick it was practically bullet-proof. That many of the plants dinosaurs ate still exist today. It was all pretty interesting. This book also has a full index.

In both books they mention the ongoing debate of whether dinosaurs were warm-blooded or cold. Perhaps some were one, others the opposite. Maybe they were something in between. On other points the books disagree. One tells me that grass didn\’t exist until after the dinosaurs were all gone, the other says that scientists have discovered grass in a dinosaur\’s fossilized droppings. But that\’s what makes reading about all this so interesting- we\’re always learning something new!

the New Economics of True Wealth
by Juliet B. Schor

I feel like I can\’t really give this book credit. I admit I didn\’t really understand everything presented in the first half of it; I don\’t usually read books about economics. So I\’m just going to plunge in and give you my general impressions and tell you about what stood out for me. If you\’re really interested in it, you should seek out some other reviews that reflect a better understanding; this is just touching the surface.

I picked this book up at my husband\’s urging. It was hard to get into at first; my mind would tend to wander after just a few pages. But I\’m glad I stuck it out. Plenitude first discusses how current economic practices and environmental disaster are intricately tied together. It really swung me around emotionally, as I kept feeling alternately horrified at projections for the future and utterly hopeless that anything will change in time to make a difference and save our planet. But then Schor talks about things people can do, and already are doing and I started to feel encouraged and even excited for the future. Her main point seems to be that we must as a whole society embrace a renewable lifestyle, that economic growth must dissipate into something small, local and sustainable. Not only will this help the environment in innumerable ways, but also raise people\’s feelings of wellbeing and purpose. She points out that countless studies have shown that after reaching a certain level of stability (ie out of poverty) more work (money) does not increase your happiness, just stress. Instead, people find satisfaction from investing time into worthwhile activities that don\’t produce monetary income but have other benefits: friendships, sharing information and knowledge, growing your own food, handcrafting items that can be used, traded or sold, etc. It\’s all about putting more back into your local community and focusing on reusing what we already have instead of further pillaging nature. There are so many things in here that had me going: wow! Fab labs. Houses built of alternative, recycled materials. \”Slow\” movements and resource sharing spreading across communities. People reclaiming dead lots and turning them into something useful or green for everyone to benefit from. It all sounds like small inconsequential things, perhaps (does turning my kitchen waste into garden compost really make an impact on the big picture?) but if you look at it all together, with people everywhere doing these things, the effects could be amazing, and just what we need.

You can read a lot more about the ideas in Plenitude at the author\’s own site. There\’s far more to it than what I\’ve shared here; I just touched on the things that inspired me personally.

Rating: 4/5 …….. 258 pages, 2010

More opinions at:
Illahee Notes
Off Grid: Free Yourself

by Bobbie Kalman and Tammy Everts

My daughter chose this cute book about cats at the library. Everyone knows of lions and tigers, but what about servals, ocelots and the jaguarundi? Little Cats is a bright, cheerful book of fun facts on the small cats, from domestic housecats to wildcats and even pumas and cheetahs, which are not classified with the big cats (because they can\’t roar, among other things). I like how the book continually compares things a child will recognize from their pet kitty with similar behaviors or traits the wild cats have. It mentions the different kinds of places cats live (both wild and domestic), what they eat, how they hide and raise their families. The second half of the book features eleven small wild cat species with a brief description highlighting their distinctive features:  lynxes and bobcats have tufted ears and short tails, ocelots pluck the feathers before they eat a bird, the fishing cat has webbed toes for swimming, etc. The final page mentions that many wild cats are endangered from poaching and habitat loss, also that pet cats have the opposite trouble: overpopulation. I thought it was kind of odd that the photo descriptions are listed at the very back; and as my daughter wanted me to read them all (I had to guess to identify some of the cats while reading) I had to flip back and forth from every page to match up the descriptions with their pictures for her. It does keep the layout looking very clean and tidy though, not having them included in the main body. If you have a young child who likes cats, this little book is very appealing!

Rating: 3/5 …….. 32 pages, 1994

Animals, animals
by Marc Tyler Nobleman

Another short, fact-packed animal book for kids. On foxes! I love foxes. They\’re so cool and clever and beautiful. I think part of what intrigues me about them is that they\’re a canine with many feline traits- the big triangle ears, super-sensitive hearing, vertical pupils. According to this book, one species, the gray fox, can even retract its claws to keep them sharp (it can also climb trees). Foxes describes how the animals live, their physical features, life cycle and distribution of six of the twenty-three different species: red fox, gray fox, arctic fox, fennec fox, kit or swift fox and bat-eared fox. The final little chapter tells how some red foxes have adapted to live in cities. The only thing I would have wished for this book is some better pictures. Most of the photos are really nice, but some of the ones highlighting a species (like the arctic fox, fennec and gray fox) only show the face. When looking at varieties among species I like to see the different body shapes and proportions (but maybe that\’s just me).

Rating: 3/5 …….. 45 pages, 2007

More opinions at:

Animal Prey
by Sandra Markle

I\’m in kind of an easy-animal-book-reading spate. I picked up a small armload of them at the library last time and find they make enjoyable quick reads when I need a break from the more tedious and brain-aching book Plenitude.

Anyhow, this one is about zebras. The focus is on them as prey animals, so although the storyline mostly follows one little zebra\’s life from birth through his first migration and into adulthood, a lot of it is about how the zebras avoid predators. It is illustrated what strategies they do (or don\’t) have against lions, cheetahs and crocodiles. Sometimes the zebras escape, others aren\’t so lucky. You might want to look at the book yourself first if you\’re considering reading it to a younger or more sensitive child. One zebra is shown with gaping, bleeding wounds on its side from a lion attack, another is shown getting killed, then eaten by scavengers. Facts of life, but maybe a bit too graphic for some. Overall the book is really informative and the photos are spectacular.

Rating: 3/5 ……..40 pages, 2007

by Peter Benchley

Here the author of Jaws shares what he knows about sharks. Facts gathered as well as personal experiences. He refutes irrational fears, and instills reasonable ones, advising how to safely swim in ocean waters and what to do in the very unlikely case you are attacked by a shark. Sharks are something I never read much on before, so most of this information was new to me. I didn\’t know, for example, that the upper teeth are held hidden horizontal to the palette, and when the shark is ready to bite, they swing down ready for action. Hinged teeth! How cool (and scary) is that? Curiously enough, many people (if they don\’t panic) survive shark attacks because the shark is just taking an experimental bite, after which it instantly realizes you\’re not palatable and goes away. But a single bite from such a fearsome beast is one too many! The experiences in Shark Trouble range from up-close personal diving episodes, including the author suspending himself in a cage while a great white shark swarms around and bites the metal bars, to him standing by observing as an enormous shark is dissected for science. Very readable, quick-paced and intriguing overall. But not much depth, if you\’re really looking for information on sharks I\’m sure there are better books out there. This one really only whetted my appetite. The main downside was that sometimes its tone was too casual for me. For example, at the beginning of the book Benchley talks about nation-wide shark panic in 2001 (of which I was entirely unaware), citing a ludicrous-sounding article from Weekly World News. I\’m not familiar with that publication, so I didn\’t know it was a tabloid until I looked through the photos: the gaping shark jaws are pictured right next to a headline that says: 3-Breasted Woman, 3-Legged Man Have 3-Legged Baby! Credibility dropped a notch right there. Well, I managed to shrug off that silliness and keep reading: most of it was pretty interesting. It\’s not only about sharks; the book also features manta rays, barracudas, moray eels, groupers, giant squid and other oft-feared creatures of the sea (either telling us how harmless they really are if left alone, or warning with graphic stories of their frightfulness). Read this book before you next visit the beach. It might make you think twice about wading in the surf!

I borrowed this book from the public library, just because it caught my eye on the shelf.

Rating: 2/5 …….. 186 pages, 2002

More opinions at:
Book Reviews
hm, anyone else?

I was curious to see if I could identify the kinds of dinosaurs I sketched once when using my daughter\’s toys as models. I was pretty sure they were all based on real dinosaur species. So I brought home a bunch of library books on dinosaurs to peruse. (Ended up finding all the dinosaurs except one). And since I had them at home, and they have such cool pictures, I figured I\’d read some and learn a little bit. Here\’s the first three (most of them are kid\’s books, as I guess it\’s usually children who are interested in learning about dinosaurs).

Dinosaurs: Herbivores by Dougal Dixon

This book describes many different groups of plant-eating dinosaurs: early sauropods (the long-necked ones), ornithopods (which ran upright on long birdlike toes), iguanodons (first discovered in 1822), duckbilled dinosaurs, stegosaurus and his relatives, nodosaurids with spikes, ankylosaurids with club tails, the pachycephalosaurids which had bony heads (probably used for butting each other like goats) and the parrot-beaked dinosaurs (including triceratops). It has many hand-drawn illustrations as well as pictures of the bones. I really liked all the little side facts which showed things scientists know about their body structures: how the dinosaurs carried their weight, what the shape of their teeth tells us, how speculation continues about the arrangement of stegosaurus\’ plates (they were attached to muscle, not bone: were they moveable?) There was even a sauropod with long spikes on its neck, which I never heard of before! One small confusing thing about this book was its arrangement; each spread has a main block of text with smaller illustrations and descriptions surrounding it. On some spreads the main text block was on the right-hand page which threw me off for a second because I\’m used to reading beginning on the left side. This arrangement alternated rather inconsistently, too.

Bizarre Dinosaurs by Christopher Sloan

This book is just plain fun and fascinating. It highlights eleven specific dinosaurs that have features scientists are still puzzling over. We don\’t know their function, but they sure are strange and cool to look at! There\’s a stegosaurid with long spikes jutting out of its shoulders, a little tree-climbing dinosaur with one extra-long finger like an aye-aye, and a sauropod with a funny wide mouth full of tiny, comb-like teeth. I thought it was really cool to read about how scientists made a model of the bony structure atop parasaurolophus\’ head and blew air through it, discovering that it makes noise like a horn! And did you know there\’s a dinosaur called Dracorex hogwartsia? That\’s right, a dinosaur (discovered in 2006) named after Harry Potter\’s school! It has such a fierce-looking bumpy and spiky skull someone thought it looked like a dragon. This book is illustrated with computer-generated models which I love looking at because of the minute details and realistic textures.

Triceratops and Other Horned Plant-Eaters by Virginia Schomp

Unlike the other two books, which just state plain facts, this one is told in a kind of storylike fashion, imagining to the reader how ceratopsian species of dinosaurs might have lived. Did they live in herds for protection? did they use their horns for sparring with each other, or just fighting off predators? What I liked most about this book were all the illustrations showing different kinds of ceratops, the family group that includes triceratops. Some of these dinosaurs had huge, tall neck shields with studs all around the edge. Some had forward-pointing horns, others long spikes on the back of the shield. One had a curious nose horn that curved forward and down. And there was a little primitive ceratops with no horns and a small neck shield, whose face looks rather like a parrot (at least in this picture). I\’m fascinated by all the different forms and shapes they took.

One of the things I enjoy most about all these books is, of course, the pictures. We don\’t know what color dinosaurs were, so the artists are left to create that aspect of the dinosaurs. Some give them dull colors but focus on the textured hide. Others give them wild bright stripes and spots, speckles and fancy bold patterns. It\’s fun to see how different they can look just by being dressed up in colors and stripes. There is one dinosaur we now know the color of, and I wonder if in the future every dinosaur\’s colors will be as well-known as triceratops\’ three-horned profile, making future generations look back with amusement on our fantastical creations when we painted their hides.

Anyhow, if you have a kid who\’s interested in dinosaurs, look for some of these books at the library! They\’re lots of fun and very interesting. I know I learned a lot!

and Other Unintended Destinations
by Eric Dinerstein

Dinerstein tells us readers that he wasn\’t one who had \”an idyllic childhood spent in the company of bugs and salamanders.\” Instead, he fell in love with nature quite suddenly during his college years, and switched his studies from film to biology. His first experiences in the field were as a Peace Corps volunteer in Nepal, where he helped track tiger populations and determine the needs of prey that support the big striped cats. From there he fell in love with bats in the tropics, hiked through mountainous ranges looking for snow leopards, and traveled to all sorts of exotic and far-flung places in the misson to save wildlife (including the amazing Galapagos Islands!) Tigerland and Other Unintended Destinations chronicles a lifetime\’s work. Like The Lion\’s Eye it shows what the nitty gritty of a field biologist\’s work really is, but here we have the broad spectrum: attending lectures, collaborating with colleagues, searching for funding, working with local villagers toward solutions, etc etc. More than any other this book has given me a sense of what a complicated, team effort wildlife conservation is; not a chapter goes by where Dinerstein doesn\’t mention his fellow biologists (with all their credentials) and how they work together to encourage leaders of nations as well as the ordinary public to get involved in the fight to save wild places. The book didn\’t flow easy for me as other reads have; I get distracted reading about the travels and politicking; I\’d much rather hear the anecdotal tales of animal behavior. Most times here hours of tracking are described with just a mere (thrilling) glimpse of the animal after all that effort. Honestly, my interest was starting to flag a bit until I got near the end where the work with American bison and black-footed ferrets was discussed. It warmed my heart to read of progress there, also the amazing success in restoring areas for tigers and other wildlife, which he witnessed upon returning to Nepal almost thirty years after being there with the Peace Corps. I described some of those results to my five-year-old, who was still worried about tigers\’ habitat loss from that kid\’s book we read, and she was so thrilled to hear of tiger populations recovering that she leaped up and gave me a hug.

Thanks to this book I now want to read anything by David Attenborough I can find (luckily my library has many!) and Marvels of Animal Behavior by Thomas Allen.

Rating: 3/5 …….. 279 pages, 2005

More opinions at: Orient Black Swan and Tahrcountry anyone else?


All books reviewed on this site are owned by me, or borrowed from the public library. Exceptions are a very occasional review copy sent to me by a publisher or author, as noted. Receiving a book does not influence my opinion or evaluation of it


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