Month: January 2011

by Nancy LeVine and Joseph Duemer

Here\’s a book I picked up at a library discard sale once, and never read until just yesterday. It\’s a beautiful tribute to one woman\’s two beloved dogs (Australian shepherds). Exquisite black-and-white photographs are paired with thoughtful, poetic sentiments on how dogs view and experience the world (text by Duemer).  It\’s one of those books you could read in ten minutes but spend much longer lingering over the pictures and pondering the prose. My favorite passages:

Dogs make little of our music, but scent is as obscure to us.

Dogs know the world cannot be described from any one position- that everything must be explored by many circumnavigations.

Because they do not read the future, common wisdom says dogs know nothing of death, that it takes them by surprise- but the seriousness with which they watch the night come on is rich with knowledge of the dark.

On LeVine\’s website you can view some of the photographs from the book

Rating: 4/5 …….. 96 pages, 2002

and Other Adventures from a Zoovet\’s Casebook
by David Taylor

I do so enjoy David Taylor\’s books, about working as a veterinarian for wildlife in zoos, parks and private collections. When I can get my hands on a copy I gobble it up and hold onto it to read again later. He\’s such a good storyteller, and his firsthand accounts of working with exotic animals are always interesting (and sometimes downright funny). In The Wandering Whale some of the creatures he treats include an orphaned walrus, a capuchin monkey in need of a caesarean, a stranded whale, another monkey with diabetes, falcons suffering from fungus in their lungs and an emu who can\’t lay its egg. There\’s also a self-destructive hornbill, a pair of pandas in a zoo reluctant to mate, and the heart-wrenching story of an orca suffering from a mysterious internal infection. Taylor doesn\’t have any qualms about sharing the more depressing, unpleasant aspects of vet work. It was really sad to read about the whale he struggled for months to save, not knowing exactly what was wrong but going through treatment after futile treatment (including ozone therapy, something I never heard of before). I wonder if nowadays it would be any easier to diagnose and treat such a sick whale…

The book is pretty focused on just telling stories of Taylor\’s work with the animals. He doesn\’t spend much time explaining background events. One chapter does veer into a kind of rant on how mankind exploits animals, even those we keep as beloved pets. Overall it was a really enjoyable read, with information that sometimes surprised me.

Rating: 4/5 …….. 196 pages, 1984

never stops growing! (of course). This week I just added a few to my TBR, thanks to the wonderful bloggers linked to below (and a few other sources).

Bound to Last by Sean Manning- The Indextrious Reader
Far Afield by Susanna Kaysen- Bookfoolery and Babble
Get Me Out
by Randi Hutter Epstein- The Book Lady’s Blog
Oranges by John McPhee- Caroline Bookbinder
The Hopes of Snakes by Lisa Couturier- found online
The Plant Hunters by Tyler Whittle- found listed in Wily Violets and Underground Orchids

I\’m sure this won\’t surprise you, but I love watching nature programs on TV. One I recently discovered (called Baby Planet) features the young of various wildlife species, usually in some need of help- whether orphaned and being raised by volunteers or in zoos needing medical assistance. A few days ago I saw a segment about a cougar cub that had cerebral palsy. I didn\’t know big cats could have cerebral palsy, and even though the poor cub stumbled about it was still such a beautiful animal.

With that in mind, here are two sets of bookmarks featuring cougars I made. One shows adults in different environments- a desert and a mountain cave- the other set features puma cubs, looking alternately endearing and fierce. Which do you like better? Leave a comment for a chance to win one of the sets, names will be drawn next weekend.

Bookmarks are about 2 x 7.5\”. Laminated, with an image on both sides (fronts only are shown).

the ingenuity of animal survival
by Bernd Heinrich

This was the perfect read to complement the white, snowy world outside my window. Winter World is all about what animals do to survive cold weather, based on Heinrich\’s own curiosity and observations about the natural world. Although it examines the strategies of many different creatures, from small insects to various members of the squirrel family, bats, beavers, frogs and bears, there is a common thread running through all Heinrich\’s investigations as he tries to solve the mystery of how kinglets (a bird smaller than a chickadee) manage to survive cold winter nights in northern latitudes (he lives in Maine). This book is just jam-packed with beautiful nature writing and compelling facts. Things like why some animals spend the winter scurrying around in a constant search for food, while others are comatose for months at a time in a hibernating torpor (and what, exactly hibernation is). Some animals hoard food, others lay up fat stores in their bodies, still others simply suspend all body functions, to any scientific examination dead to the world (no heartbeat, sign of breathing, etc.) Did you know that some frogs can survive having half the water in their bodies turn to solid ice? That bears go the whole winter without drinking or urinating? that turtles live the winter in frozen-over ponds because they can absorb oxygen through their skin?

It\’s the kind of book that got me so enthralled I read it in all of two days. I kept reading passages aloud to my husband: \”listen to this!\” and even though he\’s not intrigued by how animals do things like I am, he found interesting things like how the study of animal survival methods can impact human medicine. For example, unraveling the secrets of bear hibernation could help with the treatment of diabetes or patients who suffer oxygen-depletion to the brain (like stroke victims). It\’s just amazing. Learning about all the ingenious ways animals endure the cold and come out alive and well in springtime was just fascinating. Makes us humans with our need for sweaters and furnaces seem fragile beings indeed, compared to all the small creatures that simply weather the elements, each in their own way.

Rating: 5/5 …….. 357 pages, 2003

Revelations of a Botanist
by Peter Bernhardt

One of the few instances where I bought a book I\’d never even heard of before at a shop, just because the title was so intriguing. Wily Violets and Underground Orchids is a curious book describing all sorts of interesting things about plants. Mostly it\’s about the intricate relationship flowers have with their pollinators, be it birds, insects or small mammals. A lot of the focus is on Australian plants, which was interesting because I know next to nothing about them. There\’s also a chapter on tallgrass prairie, and several about orchids. It even has something of a literary bent: one chapter is all about how an Australian author/illustrator made native flora such an intricate part of her children\’s fairytales (Snugglepot and Cuddlepie, ever heard of them? I hadn\’t) that generations of Australian children grew up being familiar with the names and habits of their native plants, without even being conscious of it (I still struggle to identify common trees in my neighborhood!). Another chapter describes the Victorian orchid craze, when people had such trouble keeping the plants alive they were rare and expensive- and then goes on to describe a myriad of sci-fi stories that describe orchids turning into ominous, vampire-like monsters!

I think what fascinated me most was reading about the mistletoes that grow in Australia. There are so many but they are so well-camouflaged that most people don\’t even notice them. They grow as parasites on other trees, and usually their leaves mimic the shape of the host leaves. What\’s so interesting is the debate about why the mistletoes look like their hosts. One theory is simply that they have evolved to blend in and thus avoid browsing animals that would eat them. Another is that trees make hormones in their roots that determine leaf shape, then send the hormones up to the leaves through their xylem. Since mistletoes don\’t have their own roots, and absorb whatever is in flowing through their host\’s xylem, they also take in the hormones; thus their leaves look the same. Isn\’t that interesting?

I was also really intrigued to read about the giant water lilies (that can support the weight of a person) and how difficult it was for botanists to learn to propagate and grow them in greenhouses. One botanist, after studying how the thin leaf structure could support so much weight, applied the same physics to architecture, and amazed everyone with his glass palace!

If you\’re interesting in plants- especially orchids and mistletoes, I\’d say this book is a pretty good one.

Rating: 3/5 …….. 255 pages, 1989

more opinions at:

by Burdetta Johnson

This is a book I really enjoyed as a kid. I think I read it in third or fourth grade- my teacher had a bookshelf in the back of the room and during free reading time I picked out this book again and again. It\’s about a brother and sister who spend a summer visiting their grandparents\’ ranch in the desert. I remember the opening scene very well, when the children first arrive and their grandmother serves biscuits dyed bright colors with food coloring. I guess I thought that was pretty cool when I was a kid! But the story is all about the coyote; the boy and girl find a coyote pup whose mother was killed by a bounty hunter. They try to raise and tame it, which isn\’t easy- first because coyotes are wild animals (even when little) and secondly because lots of neighboring ranchers just want coyotes dead. I really don\’t remember how the story ended- did they keep the pup? find a safe place to release it back into the wild? It seems to be a pretty obscure book- I can\’t even find an image of the cover to show you- but I remember liking it so much.

Rating: 3/5 …….. 160 pages, 1965

by Robert Miller

I remember this one as a fun, entertaining read that also can tug at your heart. And you know me, how much I like stories of veterinarian work. Miller writes about his work both with household pets, livestock (mostly cows and horses) and also exotic animals- chimpanzees, elephants, lions, even a hummingbird. It\’s actually been a long time since I read Most of My Patients are Animals and now thinking about it I kind of wish I could come across a copy to read again- my library doesn\’t have this book. I can\’t recall any of the stories in particular, but I do know I liked reading them, enough to keep my eyes out to find this book again someday. Anyone else read it?

I found an article here that explains why Miller\’s book was titled Most of my Patients are Animals (as opposed to all).

Rating: 3/5 ……. ? pages, 1996

RD Home Handbooks
by Harry Tomlinson

When I have an itchy green thumb but it\’s too cold outside to garden, the next-best thing is reading gardening books! Harry Tomlinson\’s Bonsai handbook is just the sort of plant book I like: informative, easy to understand, sprinkled with a bit of humor to make the reading pleasant, and full of excellent photographs. It has a brief introduction to the art of growing bonsai, a beautiful gallery of species suitable to bonsai with specifics on their care, propagation and styling, and several sections at the back detailing how to create a bonsai (whether grown from seed or formed from an already-established plant), routine bonsai care and pest management. There are also details on tools and their use, soil mixtures, design basics, choosing pots that compliment your tree, etc. At the end there\’s a more complete dictionary of plants suitable for bonsai that makes it a total of 250 that this book tells you how to grow and care for. While I appreciated all the informative instructions, what I enjoyed most about Bonsai right now was looking at all the wonderful pictures and imagining what my little crassula and geranium could look like someday (I\’m aiming for something like this). It\’s books like this one that make me get excited about doing stuff with plants.

Interestingly, I found that this book is actually an abridged version of Tomlinson\’s
The Complete Book of Bonsai which I\’m now also eager to get my hands on. And it\’s nothing like the ridiculous brevity that was his Bonsai: 101 Essential Tips. I really wonder why the guy had to publish three books about bonsai, when two just contain info found in the complete one…

Rating: 4/5 …….. 216 pages, 1990


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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