Month: January 2018

A Calvin and Hobbes Treasury

by Bill Watterson

This thicker volume of comic strips contains all the material from previously published collections Yukon Ho! and Weirdos from Another Planet, the small print on the cover tells me. What it doesn’t mention is that it also seems to have all the color strips from Lazy Sunday Book, which I just read. I know because I instantly recognized them all and my eyes started just automatically skipping over the sunday panels in here.

Nevertheless, it was an awesome read. I enjoyed every moment- the chuckles, the dipping into philosophy and introspective thoughts on social norms- seen from a six-year-old’s viewpoint of course- the few touching moments. The struggles of parenting such a wild kid is more obvious to me, reading this as an adult. I really like the tiger’s character. I noticed this collection had a few elements missing from the earlier, simpler strips- which seemed to be all about conflicts and curiosities Calvin would encounter at home, at school, on walks in the woods. Here we have a few run-ins with a bully at school. Calvin’s torments of the neighborhood girl Susie now include showing off what he claims are gross elements in his packed lunch. His family goes camping in the rain- Calvin and his mom hate it, his dad remains optimistic and cheerful (until his glasses get broken). There’s run-ins with a babysitter (how I’d hate to be in her shoes) and Calvin starts to spout political-sounding rhetoric (polls on his dad’s popularity- as if he could vote him out of the role) and point out things like global warming and pollution. Makes it feel a bit more grown up, but still with a mischievous kid’s take on everything.

Rating: 4/5 
256 pages, 1990

More opinions: the Book Bunnies 
anyone else?

Calvin and Hobbes
by Bill Watterson

I had almost forgotten how much I like this cartoon. It was one of my favorites back in the days I used to read newspaper strips every week. I was almost afraid to try Calvin and Hobbes again after my disappointment with recent Phoebe and Her Unicorn– maybe this one would also have lost its charm for me. Happily, nope!

For those of you who don\’t know (my kids didn\’t- they kept asking me why I was chuckling over \”that dinosaur book\” as my six-year-old referred to it, seeing the back cover) Calvin is six and his constant companion is a stuffed tiger, who in his imagination is larger-than-life and very real. Calvin is constantly getting into all kinds of trouble for his high energy level, creative imagination, sarcastic and matter-of-fact arguments with adults, refusal to follow rules he thinks are nonsensical, resistance to things like baths, cleaning his room, doing homework, etc. I think my favorite aspect about the comic strips is not just Calvin\’s spunky, vibrant character but the way his daydreams are depicted- drawn in a more realistic, dramatic style you can always tell when you\’re inside his head. Of course, he\’s not at all a nice kid- he teases a neighborhood girl mercilessly, criticizes his parents, depicts his teacher as a hideous monster, always wants to pummel people or dunk them with water balloons, etc. But- he\’s just a kid. Glorious, riotous kid. How quickly any game with his tiger devolves into an all-out fight- hilarious. He makes me laugh.

The only disappointment I had, is that I probably won\’t keep this book. I noticed right away when I started reading the next Watterson collection on my nightstand, The Authoritative Calvin and Hobbes, that all the sunday panels in this volume are reprinted in the next. So I don\’t know what\’s the point. (Except that wiki tells me the Spaceman Spiff storyline is unique to this book). Seems like if I acquire all the Treasuries, I won\’t need as many volumes on my shelf to have a full collection.

Rating: 4/5             128 pages, 1989

more opinions:
Bonnie\’s Books

fishes of taiwan and adjacent waters
by Warren Burgess and Herbert R. Axelrod

This book which ambitiously attempted to depict every marine fish species of a particular area, was once again more enjoyable in terms of looking at the pictures, than actually reading the text. Although it seemed not as dry as the last volume, and a bit more info bits on behavior of the fishes. I was a bit disappointed that several sections of photographs (or illustrations, when photos were lacking) in the book appeared to have no description- the parrotfishes, for example, were shown but not described in text. Perhaps they have details in one of the other volumes. I looked up some fifteen species, because although the details are very clear in the book\’s photos, the colors are usually duller than life. The christmas wrasse is particularly stunning, the lionfish and turkeyfishes are as always, fairly spectacular-looking, and the ribbon eel- blue or black- is mesmerizing if you find a video showing its swimming motion. Wow. Also lots of squirrelfishes, toadfishes, goatfishes, frogfishes, stonefishes, flounders or soles, chromis, clownfishes, gobies, rays, sharks and lots of open-water fishes -both predator and prey- are depicted. Such a wide variety of life in the seas.

Rating: 3/5             270 pages, 1974

by Anna Journey

I had a few unfinished reads this past week. I think my mood was off. An Arrangement of Skin– borrowed from the library- is a collection of essays on various subjects. The one I liked – \”Birds 101\”- was about the author\’s enrollment in a weekend class on basic taxidermy: how she cleaned, stuffed and posed a starling. Curious the reasons other students in the class wanted to attempt taxidermy. Made me interested in reading another book on my list, also about taxidermy. Other stories, I just couldn\’t click with. There\’s one about her mother\’s penchant for telling macabre stories at the dinner table. Another about her experience getting some chicken pox scars treated. I thought I would like the story that included her musings on horseback riding, but I was starting to loose touch with the author\’s voice. I didn\’t make it to the story about a tattoo artist.

The other two I abandoned this week were also library loans. In the Hall of Small Mammals by Tomas Pierce looked interesting- but I only read the first two short stories. I wanted to like the one about a dwarf woolly mammoth brought to life for a tv show stunt. When it turns out they accidentally cloned two mammoths and weren\’t supposed to keep the second one alive, it was hidden in the narrator\’s mother\’s house. She doesn\’t want it there, is rather indifferent to its presence. So what could have been interesting- well, the mammoth was just in the background. Unfortunately, the writing style didn\’t quite work for me, and even though I usually enjoy this type of material, I was just bored. (304 pages, 2016)

Unicorn Crossing by Dana Simpson was another dud for me. At the library I suddenly thought, hey, is there another Poebe and Her Unicorn book out? There was (it’s #5), and I was happy, but when I started to read it, I slowly started loosing steam. The characters felt flat. The storylines didn’t interest me. It just wasn’t as funny as I recall the previous four books being. I found I didn’t want to pick it up off the bedside table to finish. Maybe I’ll try it again another time. (160 pages, 2017)

Abandoned           225 pages, 2017

Majestic Creatures of the Wild
edited by John Seidensticker and Susan Lumpkin

Since the last post on here I have picked up and discarded after a few dozen pages, three other books. Just not holding my interest. This one is a bit older, but still rich in material with good photographs. It is very factual, not many anecdotes, so the reading got a bit dry near the end, but still – I learned a lot. Explains the evolutionary history of cats; It was new to me that cheetahs are most closely related to pumas, and I was intrigued by the details on how saber-toothed cats\’ social structure and hunting methods were deduced by the wear and damage of their skeleton remains. There is a series of illustrated plates showing all six big cats, the medium-sized clouded leopard and snow leopard, and then some thirty smaller wild cats- including bobcats, lynxes, servals, ocelots and quite a few others I hadn\’t heard of before- oncilla, kodkod, Iriomote cat. Following chapters are dedicated individually to the lion, tiger, leopard, jaguar, cheetah, snow leopard and pumas. Bobcats and lynxes are discussed in one same chapter, ocelots and servals together in the next. The rest of the wildcats are grouped in another chapter, mostly because little was known about them when this was published. Other parts of the book go into depth on wild feline communication, hunting methods and reproduction; conflicts with man and conservation efforts, and how big cats have featured in art and been revered in various cultures through history. All in all an impressive book. The contributing authors include thirty-eight biologists and scientists. I found this volume at The Book Thing, and it\’s one I\’m holding on to.

Rating: 4/5         240 pages, 1991

by Sara Davidson

I read this book. Not my usual type. I\’d tried it months ago and it\’s been sitting on my swap shelf and kept catching my eye from there so I thought to give it another try.

It\’s a pseudo memoir/fiction piece by an screenwriter for the tv show Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman. Talks about difficulties with her ex, her spoiled kids, and her co-workers on the set. I did find parts about how the show was produced interesting. Kind of on a whim she goes to a cowboy poetry event in Elko, Nevada and meets a cowboy who makes things with braided rawhide- belts, horse bridles. They start dating. Long-distance. She pays to fly him from Arizona to visit her in Los Angeles. All the time. They are very different- in economic and social standing, background and everything else- but have a great time in bed so… what she thought would be temporary and fun turned into something long-term. He teaches her kids to behave, she gets him a job on the film set and helps him rent an apartment. The kids resent him, the co-workers look down on him, and she gets frustrated at always paying his bills. But he\’s so great at taking care of her emotional needs that it all works out. But it felt like there was a big part missing from the story. I couldn\’t put my finger on what. And through the whole thing it bugged me that she referred to her relationship as an affair. But she was divorced. I don\’t get it. Call it a \”fling\” but it\’s not an affair if you\’re not currently already in a relationship with someone, right?

Um. I could have done with less details from the bedroom and more about the troubles with her teen children (she says those parts were all made up, btw), or about her boyfriend\’s work with cattle and horses. That was more interesting to me, but usually sidelined for the steamy stuff. Oh well. It was a light read. One I probably won\’t repeat.

Rating: 2/5              270 pages, 1999

My Life in the Kitchen
by Lucy Knisley

I picked this book up on a whim at the library, knowing I\’d seen it mentioned on a few blogs. The first few pages are kind of an info dump on how involved her family is with fine food- her mother was a caterer and a chef, her father a proclaimed gourmand- and I thought how dull is this going to be? But then it starts to tell a personal story, and ended up being rather delightful.

It\’s basically a memoir centered around food. Knisley tells what it was like growing up with parents who were devout foodies, and how startled she was to discover junk food much later than other kids. How on family trips she and a friend explored a Mexican town pretty much unsupervised and delighted in the street food, and later how disconcerting it was to encounter a totally foreign cuisine in Japan. How family meals shaped her family, and continued to connect them even after her parents split up. Days spent helping her mother in farmer\’s markets, working behind a cheese counter, getting to tour behind-the-scenes in the restaurant of a fancy kitchen. Describing different cities she lived in via their restaurants and growth in foodie movements. All around ode to our deep connections with what we eat- secret pleasures, handed-down skills, visceral memories. Her struggles to master certain dishes, her efforts to impress or comfort friends with food she made. She shares recipes in a picture format, and gives tips to use in the kitchen. It\’s not only about how certain culinary traditions lived through her family, but also a story of growing-up, with plenty of funny moments.

Fair warning: in the section where the kids are roaming unsupervised in Mexico, the author indulged in fast food and her friend bought porn magazines. Covers are shown in the pictures. They\’re not detailed, and not very large, but it\’s very obvious what they are. (Oddly enough, the parents seemed to know about this and ignored the boy\’s growing collection of magazines until in the airport on the way home they obliquely shamed him into dumped them in the trash). So be advised, not a book for younger readers in spite of the cartoony nature of the artwork.

Must try a few of the recipes!

Rating: 3/5           173  pages, 2013

more opinions:
Beth Fish Reads
Reading Rants
Estella\’s Revenge

by Scott McCloud

One of the heftiest graphic novels I\’ve ever read, but the story moves quickly. It\’s about a struggling young artist in New York City- a sculptor named David who is seriously down on his luck. Desperate to make his name, he trades his life in – making a deal with Death (personified as his dead great-uncle Harry) in which he can create anything effortlessly with his hands, but within a limited time frame. At first it is thrilling, then frustrating. Suddenly David realizes he doesn\’t know what to say with his art, and if he does, can it make any difference if no one sees it? The ins and outs of the art scene of New York sound like a massive headache- as I\’ve always imagined. David finally discovers a clever way to subvert the system, and plunges all his energies into creating pieces that will definitely be remembered. But then he falls in love with a theater girl. And finds out that his girlfriend struggles with mental illness. And is suddenly terrified of dying. This book has some heavy subject matter in it- but I didn\’t always get it.The characters often seemed really full of themselves, too angsty- well, at least the main character was. The girlfriend was nice, but rather shallow- there just wasn\’t enough of her in the story. Aside from her obvious role as a recipient of David\’s affections. I don\’t really share the main character\’s views about art. And I don\’t know if I like the way this story ended, at all. Nevertheless, it was a gripping read.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5                      496 pages, 2015

more opinions:
Stuff As Dreams Are Made On
Truth, Beauty, Freedom and Books
Reading Rants
Ex Libris

Poems on self-life and spiritual blackmail, vol. 4
by Angie Outis

This slim volume of very personal poetry reveals the big question I had from volume 2– what was in the letter from her husband\’s employer? Yeah, it\’s frightening. Makes your stomach drop. No wonder she decided to leave her husband. These pages detail her fear and desperation under the thumb of a controlling spouse. Trying to speak out to her therapist, her parents, her friends- little help from any side. Various plans she made, the long struggle for a final break. It\’s hard. Hard to read it and must have been even harder to live it. I had my own troubles with an ex, but they weren\’t like this. If there\’s a fifth or sixth volume upcoming, I do hope it shows light on the other side- getting through the dark times to find something better.

I received a copy of this book from the author.

Rating: 3/5                  30 pages, 2017

by Victor G. Ambrus

Ambrus is one of my favorite illustrators. I really admire his linear style especially the tiny hatching done to show the direction of hair or form. This book of his is just one to drool over (or practice by copying the drawings), it\’s not a step-by-step instruction book. Instead it\’s a showcase of Ambrus\’ drawings of animals. Most of them done on location at zoos or wildlife parks, some are of pets, horses from a friend\’s stable or cattle in the fields. Little notes on the pages describe a bit about his working conditions, his preferred drawing media (graphite and charcoal- he\’s not afraid to smudge!), and something about the techniques he uses to capture likeness of living animals that are moving around. Basically his advice is: start with large basic shapes, work in the details later. There are also brief paragraphs telling some facts about the wild animals, which I read with interest. He enjoys sketching at the zoo, which is also a favorite activity of mine (one I wish I could indulge in more often). So I could really relate to his comments about dealing with crowds and curious children. It\’s a book I return to again and again to admire someone else\’s skill and hope to emulate.

This alternate cover shows a few more of the drawings:

a few more samples:

Rating: 4/5             120 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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