Month: January 2014

by Mary E. Sweeny

A very nice field guide to a wide selection of hardy, beautiful aquarium plants. I like reading about plants, even those that I can\’t possible grow, so I breezed through this one in a day. It has a nice introduction to aquatic plants and their needs, the technicalities of lighting, importance of water quality and the benefits of plants in your tank. There\’s a lot about how to set up a tank specifically for showcasing plants, in which fish are an accent if present at all (called Dutch aquariums). Some very pretty pictures throughout that really appealed to me. The individual profile pages tell a little bit about each plant species, where it comes from, its growth habit and size, needs in terms of water quality, temperature, nutrients, light intensity and how to propagate it. Very useful. I learned in particular that my Rotala, although the less demanding species in its family, is probably still not getting enough light.

My tank is low-light, low tech so most of the plants in the book would probably not grow well for me, but I did note down a short list of some I now consider to add to my tank someday. Aponogeton crispus /ruffled sword plant, Cryptocoryne pygmaea, Wendtii tropica, red melon sword/ Echinodorus x barthii, Fissidens/ phoenix moss, water clover /Marsilea hirsuta, pillea /Monosolenium tenerum (a liverwort), perhaps Elodea canadensis/anacharis although I\’d need stronger light.

Rating: 4/5    192 pages, 2008

by David E. Boruchowitz

This is the most excellent book on starting up an aquarium, and I wish I\’d read it first. It addresses very particularly the needs of someone just beginning in the hobby, focusing on what is necessary and leaving out all the complicated discussions of equipment and other technicalities that are better left for more experienced levels. It points out which fish are best for beginners, and suggests stocking schemes based only on those. Has an easily-understood and thorough explanation of the nitrogen cycle, and how to prepare you tank for the first fish. In every aspect of fishkeeping- maintenance, feeding, disease control, stocking levels, etc. the book points out the simplest, foolproof way to do things, alerts the reader to common mistakes and things to be aware of, how to recognize when something is wrong and what to do about it. It has a straightforward, friendly writing style that made it easy to read through. A must have book for the shelf of any beginning aquarist, in my opinion. I want a copy of my own.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 5/5    255 pages, 2009

by Ernest Thompson Seton

Focus once again on \”woodcraft\” but this time within a story so I enjoyed it more. Rolf is a young man who through confusing circumstances (the beginning of the book was pretty awkward) is left without family and appointed as ward to a cruel man. He runs away and finds refuge with a Native American who lives on the edge of someone\’s land. The locals soon discover where he is and the community religious leader comes calling, insisting that Rolf live with another family, one known to be very strict. But Rolf has discovered how content he is living rough in the woods. Afraid of being apprehended and forced into civility, he and Quonab pack up and strike out into the wilderness to make their own home.

 I found it quite interesting that the minister was horrified at the idea that Rolf would be raised by \”a heathen savage\” when throughout the story it was shown that on the contrary, the native man was far more attentive to his own spirituality than most other characters in the story.

So most of the story is about Rolf and Quonab building their cabin in the woods and establishing a trap line. Quonab teaches Rolf survival skills, how to track wildlife and many other things. They explore a lot and have various adventures along with their small, half-trained dog whose activities constantly amused me. There is an enthralling description of huge flocks of wild pigeons, which neatly dated the story for me. They have continual altercations with an unpleasant man who is stealing from their trapline. This culminates with a heightened incident when the man is caught in a bear trap and Rolf in an act of mercy rescues him. He thinks the man will treat them fairly afterwards in gratitude, but this isn\’t the case. The man turns out to be deceitful and cunning as well, but he has a reputation and other men in the wilderness community step in to administer local justice.

This was one aspect of the book I found disturbing. When the man was caught in the trap his agony was highlighted, and the other men rush in alarm to rescue him, nurse him back to health even though he is their enemy. Yet they continually use these instruments to catch wild animals, often describing the animals\’ struggles and torn bodies without any sympathy for their suffering at all.

There is another main storyline about a young, relatively wealthy man who takes to outdoor life for improvement to his health, with Rolf and Quonab as his guide. Rolf and this man find fault with the other at first, for each lacks knowledge in the others\’ area of expertise (woodcraft and book-learning respectively) but soon they learn to like, respect and learn from each other.

The best part of the book is the overall arc of Rolf\’s growth, as his character develops from an overeager boy rather full of himself, into a young man full of skill and integrity. But unfortunately I lost interest at the end of the book, just when Rolf came into his glory. As one circumstance builds upon another, Rolf and Quonab are enlisted as scouts assisting in the American struggle for independence. So there is a lot of historical battles, names and places suddenly taking over what was an individual story. I\’m sure some readers would find this thrilling, but for me Rolf got lost in the bigger events and I ended up just skimming the last quarter of the book, to know what happened in the end.

Abandoned    373 pages, 1911

by Ernest Thompson Seton

The book is not quite as I had imagined it, and does not really live up to my admiration of this author. It is a collection of short fables and tales about how many animals and plants got their particular traits, relative to the northeast region of the United States. Origin tales, if you will. Some appear to be created by Seton himself, many are based on Native American folklore, although I could never discern what tribe they might have originated from. I was interested in the details of plant characteristics because I live near the area the stories focus on, but unfortunately did not recognize many. It would have helped to have illustrations, but while the text referred to many, none were included in my e-reader edition. (A double disappointment, there were points where tunes or old songs were referenced, and with a link provided to listen, but they didn\’t work).

Nevertheless, the stories unfolded a richness in the plant and animal life around me that I was unaware of before. It sent me many times to the computer to look things up, especially plants which the stories claim are edible or good for other uses. Besides origin stories there are also some folk tales, which I enjoyed to a limited extent. It is obvious that Seton viewed Native American skills and lore as a perfection to aspire to, but the way he conveyed it in the stories often used language that could be found offensive to modern readers. Even when he was admiring \”the red man\” his phrasing was frequently condescending or overly simplistic.

There are also lots of activities described, by which you can teach children about nature, or test your skills in finding constellations, recognizing species in the woods or creating small crafts using various plant items and things found in the woods. It was this last group that interested me, particularly the description on how to make a fish figure from a young pinecone and brown paper. But although this bit of \”woodcraft\” was interesting, I know I will probably only try a few and ultimately found it tiresome.

I did appreciate that at the end a listing was provided of all Seton\’s published works, along with brief descriptions of each. So now I know which books of his are more about \”woodcrafting\” and also which titles are simplified \”junior\” versions of the originals I have so enjoyed. I intend to keep searching for Seton\’s works, but know to avoid these two types as they won\’t hold my interest.

Rating: 2/5    212 pages, 1921

by Walter Farley

Just like Little Black, A Pony, this story is about friendship, jealousy and finding new skills- although this time it is the horse who briefly leaves the boy for some exciting new friends! Little Black is out for a ride with his boy when they see posters about a circus coming to town. They go to watch the circus being set up, and see a circus horse doing tricks. Little Black wants to try the tricks, too, but he fails and the circus people laugh at him. He is ashamed and sad, so the boy helps him learn a trick of walking across a plank. Then the excited pony runs back to the circus to show what he can do. The ringmaster tests his skill and everyone applauds; they now want to make Little Black a circus pony. Now the boy is sad- will his pony want to stay with the circus?

Once again, the pictures are well done- especially the horses- and it is a good story. Sure to be a favorite with young kids, especially those who are crazy about horses!

Rating: 4/5    62 pages, 1963

Longing for milder weather? I know I am. So I looked through my pile of handmade bookmarks for a spring theme and found these interesting plant ones. I think they\’re some kind of carnivorous plants- pretty red and orange patterns. If you like them, simply leave a comment here to win the pair! I\’ll be choosing a name at random next weekend.

by Petra Kölle

I am learning that when you want to research something, don\’t just go to the library and browse the shelves. The really good books are all in the hands of other readers, not sitting on the shelf waiting for me! Search the catalog. So now I have the final fish books of my selection available to read, been waiting for them to come to me from library holds.

This one is laid out as a series of questions regarding fish, their care, aquarium setup, all the usual stuff. Fairly well-organized, layout makes it easy to find what you want to look up, and the pictures are good quality. It\’s concise and very informative. I wish I had read it in the beginning of my foray into fishkeeping, as it addressed some of the problems I initially had and could have saved me a bit of trouble!

The book sent me to the computer to look up a few things- what\’s a tiger teddy fish, what kinds of algae are actually a sign of a healthy fish tank, does calcium deficiency really cause a crooked spine (danios are prone to this deformity from genetics as well), what does a gill fluke infection look like (I now suspect Bluet had this), and are plakat bettas more aggressive than betta splendens (yes, but they still have individual varying temperaments).

Rating: 4/5   256 pages, 2005

by Walter Farley

I remember this book from my childhood- my grandmother had a copy at her house. It\’s out of print now so I was thrilled to find one for my own kids (I can\’t remember exactly where- a used sale someplace). Written by the author of The Black Stallion, this is a wonderful story about a boy and his pony.

The nameless boy who narrates the story loves his pony, Little Black. Then one day he decides to ride a larger horse, Big Red. The bigger horse can run faster and do more things, so the little pony gets left behind and starts feeling very sad. The boy frequently chastises his pony for trying to do things the bigger horse does, that could be unsafe. Finally the little pony runs away in the snow, and the boy follows him on Big Red. The pony has run across a frozen river and Big Red is too heavy, he breaks through the ice and the boy falls into the cold water. Only Little Black can save him. After the rescue Little Black is proud of his accomplishment and the boy promises to only ride him from then on.

It\’s a very sweet story about friendship and loyalty. I think children can well relate to the prevailing themes- feeling rejected when your best friend plays with someone else, the frustration of being told you\’re too little to do something, and the satisfaction of finally finding something you\’re good at. And of course any kid who loves horses is bound to fall in love with this book, as well. The sentences are short and simple, making it appropriate for beginning readers, but the story is a lot more complex and satisfying than most easy-reader books I see at the library nowadays.

One of the biggest things that makes a good children\’s book for me, is the quality of the pictures. The illustrations here by James Schucker are just excellent. It\’s only printed in three colors- black, red and green- but the varying shades of gray and how the green can be almost a yellow, the red approaching orange- actually provides a wide variety of color. Even though it feels dated and quaint I think it still looks very classic. The draftsmanship of the drawings- especially the horses- is excellent and since I like drawing animals myself I enjoy looking at these pictures and studying how the artist did them. He obviously knew horses very well.

Rating: 5/5    64 pages, 1961

A Visual Reference to the Most Popular Species
edited by Greg Jennings

Similar to What Fish? this book just shows them all. Well, as many as it could fit into five-hundred-some pages. Lots and lots of fish. It has a brief introduction to what a fish is, and a glossary of fish-related terminology, but the rest is just tons of profile pages. Each has a nice, large photograph of the particular fish, a description with any interesting points on the species\’ taxonomy, behavior, rarity, difficulty or ease of care, color/finnage variants and the like. On the side are the requisite details: common names, size, diet, recommended aquarium conditions, breeding info etc. So for the most part I browsed through the book. I did look at every photo and read every description, but for the rest I glanced at the mature size and aquarium requirements, and only read details on fish I might possibly keep someday.

The book divides all the fishes into family groups: cichlids, catfish, cyprinids (barbs, danios and \”sharks\”), characoids, loaches and suckers, gouramis and relatives, rainbowfishes, killifish, livebearers and then a group of miscellaneous oddballs. While compared to a more focused book (such as the catfish atlas) this can only feature a few of the many many species, it still introduced me to a lot of fish I had never \”met\” before; in particular some lovely varieties of danio (five are shown), six kinds of betta and many killifish (I like those). It was a book to enjoy looking at, which sent me to the computer at various times to look up more information on the fish that were new to me.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 4/5      528 pages, 2006


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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