Month: June 2019

by Sara Barnard

Steffi suffers from anxiety, often stricken by panic attacks, fear of strangers, public places, speaking on the telephone- and talking out loud. She\’s been \”selectively mute\” for so long she learned a bit of sign language (and \”selective\” doesn\’t mean she can choose when to talk or not- it seems to freeze her up without reason). Steffi has one best friend, Tem, who has known her since they were little and doesn\’t at all mind speaking up for her. Then a new boy arrives at school, Rhys. He\’s deaf. They become friends, as Steffi can commiunicate a bit in sign language, and Rhys doesn\’t at all mind her silence, or judge her for it. As her friendship with Rhys blossoms into something more, Steffi slowly starts to find her voice again- not just because of growing confidence in herself (helped, in part, by ongoing cognitive behavioral therapy) but also due to taking a new medication. Which she doesn\’t tell her friends about. So much happens. Tem and Steffi drift apart, as Steffi and Rhys grow closer. Steffi meets Rhys\’ deaf friends, and realizes how awkward her sign language use has actually been, sees a whole new side of her friend, recognizes she didn\’t really know what it was like to be deaf; their similarities are not always the same as understanding. Near the end of the story, Steffi and Rhys, giddy with their newfound love, plan a secret getaway together, but it doesn\’t go smoothly and Steffi is faced with challenges she\’s always shied away from. She has to realize a few things about herself. She has to be honest with Tem, and her parents, on her return. She has to reconsider her realationship with Rhys, even as it becomes most intimate- is her growing ability to speak and navigate normal social situations, drawing her away from Rhys?

This story had more depth than I expected. The love story aspect of it really is very sweet. Yeah, there\’s a sex scene near the end, and although I don\’t read a lot of love stories (teen or otherwise) I have to say I though it pretty darn realistic. Young, awkward, fumbling, tender love. Not what you might hope for (from the girl\’s viewpoint at least) but then moving on graciously. It was really nice to see Steffi grow as a character, to see how much Rhys cared for her, even though they had some misunderstandings and frustrations. The depiction of anxiety is different from the few accounts I\’ve read before, but I\’m sure it\’s different for everyone, so I appreciated seeing another aspect of what living with that can be like. I felt like the author wrote it with a lot of compassion and straightforwardness, as well.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5               390 pages, 2018

more opinions:
It\’s All About Books
That\’s What She Read

Wildlife Adventures with the World\’s Most Dangerous Reptiles
by Austin Stevens

I have never seen this guy\’s tv shows, but I found the book interesting regardless. In it, the author describes how his early fascination with snakes led to a job at a reptile/wildlife park, where he cared for the snakes housed there, regularly \”milked\” them of venom for medicinal use (against snakebite), gave public demonstrations, and responded to calls from businesses or home owners who needed a snake removed. Sometimes the snake was released into the wild again, sometimes brought into captivity, always admired thoroughly. Then he got into making wildlife films, seeking to find the most beautiful, or dangerous, or reclusive snakes to catch them on film, giving running commentary to make the footage as educational as possible. In spite of his familiarity with snakes- reading their behavior, knowing how far and fast various species can strike- of course being in frequent close proximity with such dangerous animals he was bound to get bitten- and does describe several near-death experiences with snakebite. This book has not done much to lessen my healthy fear of venomous snakes! but it\’s nice to see how much the guy admires them. It\’s not only snakes, he talks about a few other creatures like alligators, gila monsters, cane toads etc. And there\’s just as much about how he learned to make films, navigate the world of sudden publicity when his films were aired on a popular channel, and deal with the logistics of many trips into remote places. Entertaining read, in spite of a few typos. Lots of close calls, dangerous moments, some lively humor, and plenty of information about the reptiles.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5            233 pages, 2014

Cheating by Nature
by Nick Davies

I didn\’t know a lot about cuckoos, before. I was aware that they laid their eggs in another bird\’s nest, leaving the host parent to raise their chicks, and I\’ve seen the astonishing video footage of the naked cuckoo chick pushing the other bird\’s chicks out of the nest to commandeer the resources all for itself. I didn\’t realize how intricate the depths of relationship goes, between cuckoos and their host birds. This book goes into all the details, while describing the fieldwork and experiments done to learn exactly how it all works out. Cuckoos in different areas (and not only cuckoos- honeyguides and a few other species also parasitize other birds\’ nests) use different host nests, and individual female cuckoos each specialize in using a certain host species. They not only match the host eggs in color and marking patterns, but the chicks match the host species\’ gape colors and begging calls in order to keep the host parents feeding them sufficiently. A big question the researchers had was: why are the host parents fooled? why don\’t they get rid of the foreign egg or abandon or evict the cuckoo chick. Sometimes they do. Sometimes the risk of guessing wrong and neglecting the own young is high, so they don\’t. It\’s all very complex and I was really intrigued by all the details, especially how the author and his colleagues figured some of it out. It\’s evolution happening real time, this constant friction between cuckoo and host birds- can they trick each other, will one get pushed out or the other. In certain areas host birds seem to have become wise to all the cuckoo\’s deceptions, and cuckoo numbers have actually fallen. But then another host species will be duped a few times, cuckoos that match that host enough to get away with it will thrive, and it starts all over again.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5                 289 pages, 2015

by Jandy Nelson

Sorry can’t help it there are some spoilers.

I read this book because my teen kept saying how good it was. I asked “what’s it about?” and was told: “Relationships“. It is, but so much more. Alternate narration by two teenagers- twins- very close, until something happens that splits them, perhaps irreparably. Their mother encourages them in art, they’re both vying to get into an artsy California school, but their views and abilities are quite different, also how the parents treat them. One feels supported and praised, the other not so much. There’s also the growing schism between the parents, the boy’s secret infatuation with a new kid next door- and deep fear of anyone finding out he’s gay. The daughter creates three-dimensional art and wants to make the most important piece of her life in stone- and finds a famed, reclusive sculptor who just might agree to mentor her- but there’s connections she doesn’t realize. Passion and grief and secrets. A dangerous English guy she finds herself drawn to, even though everyone tells her he’s bad news. There’s surfers and dangerous cliff dives, one kid has to deal with being harrassed, the other with rape. So much awful stuff. But also such lively, vivid language, such kindness and consideration between the characters- although they have their bitter, revengeful moments, too. One of them is really into signs, omens and voices from the dead- I\’m not keen of that kind of thing but it didn’t really put me off this time. I found it a few things in the story a bit odd, and others I had a hard time piecing together, because not only is it told in two voices, but also skips around in time, so I sometimes lost the context of things. But overall it was rather riveting, and the ending is very nice. After all that twisting and hiding and pain, there is finally acceptance, patience, tenderness and love. I found it rather unbelievable the sculptor would take on such an unpolished student, and teach her to use power tools so quickly. But a part of the novel that really resonated with me was the boy’s passion for art, and everything surrounding that. It felt much more true to my own experience than, for example, Egret.

You should look at some of the other reviews I linked to below, because everyone describes this book differently.

Rating: 3/5 
371 pages, 2014

Stories from the Roof of the World
edited by Don Hunter

Collection of firsthand accounts about tracking and studying snow leopards in the highest regions of the world. Also a few pieces by locals who lived there-  men protecting their livestock, stories of a snow leopard encounter told through generations. This book really gives a well-rounded look at what\’s involved in field work- the efforts of scientists and conservationists to find the animals and learn more about them, and the struggles of people who live near them in harsh conditions, to make a living. There\’s even a story of a misunderstanding with a poacher, who just wanted to earn money for his family, and another of how an organization set up an incentive program- locals were paid for making crafts to sell, on condition they never kill a snow leopard (sounds like it was very effective so far). The voices are very different- some describe the grueling marches and chilling cold, only to find tracks, never see the animal itself. Others describe the beauty of the landscape, the spiritual connection they feel to the secretive cat, or some personal incident in their lives that made them want to travel to remote regions in hopes of seeing one. George Schaller, Peter Matthiessen, Tom McCarthy (and his son), Rodney Jackson and many more writers are included. It was interesting to hear from two sides of some accounts- the scientist and the assistant each writing a piece. Very striking in my mind was an account of some scientists trailing a snow leopard across a glacier. Every place where the leopard (as noted by its pugmarks) had paused and leaped across an area, they took measurements and found a crevasse was hidden beneath the snow. I really enjoyed another by a photographer who observed a snow leopard on a kill interacting with other animals (magpies, fox) that came hoping to scavenge.  Oh, and I love the cover image, by one of my favorite wildlife artists, Robert Bateman.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5               188 pages, 2012

A Writer in the Garden
by Eleanor Perényi

Just the sort of garden writing I love. A collection of short essays (organized alphabetically by subject) on everything it seems: plant choices, catalogue perusing, balancing acts against pests, shunning harsh chemicals (she was an organic gardener), designing outdoor space, composting, pruning techniques, controlling weeds and disease. Also on individual plants: strawberries, tomatoes, peonies, daylilies, beans, onions, sweet peas, tulips, potatoes etc etc. The parts that waxed historical were not as interesting to me- although I did pay attention to the section about the tulip craze, and another about the development of rose varieties. The part on historical aspects of garden design, not so much. Her voice is down-to-earth, amusing, frank and informative. I even laughed out loud a few times! This book goes on the shelf right next to Thalassa Cruso and Katherine White (whom she quotes- we are among good company). I took notes (on plant species to look for, mostly) and bookmarked pages. I don\’t agree with all her opinions, but everyone\’s methods are slightly different. She avoids the work of carting seedlings in an out of the house, for example (like me, not having a greenhouse) but commiserates on how this style of \”labor-intensive\” gardening is becoming an anomaly- surrounded by neighbors who use gas-powered, noisy machines that do a crude job instead of the care and finesse could have done by hand. And this book is from the early eighties! I would be glad to tell her (she passed in 2009) that not all old-school gardeners are gone by the wayside, in fact there\’s a rising cadre of us now.

Rating: 4/5                   289 pages, 1981


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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