Month: January 2020

the Story of the Animals and Plants That Time Has Left Behind
by Richard Fortey

This book by a paleontologist (who also wrote Trilobite: Eyewitness to Evolution– a book my husband happens to love) is all about various living things- animals, plants, bacteria, etc- that still exist on earth today since prehistoric times, the \”living fossils\” so to speak. In most examples, the author travelled to view each creature in person, and described the experience (including a lot of details on locations). A few he was unable to access, and had to describe others\’ observations of them. Included are the titular horseshoe crabs and velvet worms (which I knew very little of before), the coelacanth, lampreys, Lingula brachiopods, nautilus, ginkgo trees, horsetails and liverworts, the lungfish, cycads, monkey puzzle trees and crazy welwitschia. There\’s echidnas and platypus, sea sponges and jellyfishes, crocodilians and the tuatara. Many other creatures deemed primitive or very very long-lasting, and mindboggling hosts of tiny things like bacteria that can live in extreme conditions. Oh, and stromatolites, which I never heard of before. A lot of the book is about the tiny things, as they comprise the largest mass in terms of numbers, and have lasted the longest. So sometimes I got bored, or it made my head hurt, to read what felt rather like a biology textbook. It wanders a bit but always comes back to the point. I certainly learned a lot, and much was put in perspective for me. Certainly a hefty respect for those living things that have been here doing their thing for countless centuries. Like magnolia trees. Did you know magnolia trees have been around since the Cretaceous? Wow.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/4                     332 pages, 2011

Age of Fire Book Three
by E.E. Knight

Eh again. I thought I\’d give this a try because it was the one that initially caught my interest in the series. It\’s about the third dragon, maimed by his siblings at birth and shoved out of the nest. In the first two books he\’s portrayed as a traitor, but this one shows from his perspective, how the dwarves tricked him and he crawled away in bitterness at what he\’d done. Travelled for ages underground and fell in with a lot of bats that wheedled him into letting them suck his blood, in return for which they guided him to a hidden stronghold of dragons. So the part with the bats was engaging. The mishaps and scrapes along the way, dismissive. The encounter with dragon society, so dull. I just did not want to read a lot of what came across as court intrigue and power struggles- at some point, in spite of the constant fighting and mention of draconic characteristics- greedily snarfing down meat, snapping their tails around, caring for the health of their scales- it felt like I was reading about people, not dragons. As before, I liked well enough the first part, when the dragon was travelling companion with another animal species. Almost halfway through the book, when he joined the other dragons, I lost interest. I did skim enough to see where this was going- in spite of his outcast status and multiple physical shortcomings, the copper dragon overcomes the judgement of the other dragons to obtain a position of power among them and- presumably- lead them against their enemy mankind. But the execution was just so poor I never got there. Bummer.

Abandoned                  379 pages, 2007

Age of Fire Book Two
by E.E. Knight

Eh. I thought at first this one was going to be better, even though the pace at the beginning when the dragons are hatchlings moves too quick. If I hadn\’t read the first book, I might not have picked up on everything going on. I kind of like how each book in the series tells the story from the viewpoint of a different dragon, all siblings from the same clutch. When their cave is attacked by dwarves, this green female dragon Wistala flees with her brother Auron and they part ways soon after. She makes her way back to the home cave and finds some of her family\’s bodies skinned and mutilated. The rest of the story is how Wistala seeks revenge for the dragons. At first, still being small and vulnerable, she travels the wilderness alone, pitting her wits against other animals and creatures.  Tries to fight dwarves and barely survives. Kind of accidentally falls in with an elf and lives on his estate, cannily learning more about hominids so she can fight them later. That part- well, it just got to be very boring. I liked the part when the dragon was hanging out with a vulture- amusing how the carrion birds considered themselves to be more refined than any predator- because they politely wait for prey to die on its own! I also liked the part where the dragon befriends a cat- each finds the other has some very familiar and similar traits- although their trip underground to find treasure in rat tunnels was confusing. Once again, I\’m intrigued by this author\’s portrayal of dragons, their reasons for hoarding precious metals, their mannerisms and all. Wistala encounters her father again- I won\’t say more about that, it\’s a pivotal moment in the story- and talks hotly of fighting the hominids, but her father advises her to help the dragon race by repopulating with \”lots and lots of hatchlings\” because he of course thinks fighting should be done by male dragons. So she\’s asserting herself outside the usual female dragon role- going off on her own to battle trolls that are troubling the realm, for example. (This book has the weirdest depiction of trolls ever. I could not get my head around what it was supposed to actually look like. I feel like it should have had a made-up name like the blighters, because it wasn\’t anything like your typical fantasy idea of a troll). But oh, it got tedious when the dragon was living with the elf. That part of the story dragged on and on- I skipped ahead and read a later portion where Wistala left to try and find more dragons- that section held my interest until, disillusioned by the reclusive dragons\’ attitudes, Wistala returns to the elf\’s home again- and once more I just didn\’t care. Skipped and skimmed so much I really ought to called this one Abandoned.

Rating: 1/5                        390 pages, 2006

Age of Fire Book One
by E.E. Knight

It\’s a story from a dragon\’s perspective, and that\’s the main enjoyment I got out of it. The young dragon hatches in a secluded cave guarded by his parents and immediately pitches into a battle for survival- the male hatchlings fight for dominance and one ousts all others from the nest. The young dragon then grows with its sisters under the watchful eye of parents, learning dragon lore and practicing hunting skills on slugs and bats. Before he is old enough to venture into the outside world, their cave is attacked by a band of dwarves, and the dragon barely escapes with one of his siblings. He embarks on a long trek- at first attempting to return to the cave and discover what happened to his family, but then gets separated from his sibling and is just scrambling to survive. He falls in with some wolves, then gets caught by elves and escapes, then makes a deal to guard a caravan of traders, then goes on a search to find an ancient dragon who might tell him why their race is dying out. Eventually ends up in the company of humans- and part of a tangled confusing war- all the different hominids in this world (elves, dwarves, humans and creatures called blighters) are fighting each other, but one group seems to be overpowering the rest because it controls dragons to battle for them. Our dragon seeks them out, hoping to discover what enabled one man to command the dragons, but he finds much more than he\’d bargained for.

Well- there\’s a lot I liked about this book, and a lot I didn\’t. I found this author\’s idea of dragon physiology really intriguing- especially the main character who was different from the other dragons, being born without protective scales. While others immediately saw him as a weakling or a freak, he found his own strength and was often quite clever and bold. I was just as curious as the protagonist to find out how the other dragons were being held in thrall, and the part where he infiltrates the enemy island was pretty interesting. But all the middle of the book- what a slog. It seemed that any part where the dragon was accompanying hominids got to be very dull and boring. I just did not care about their factions and battles and different cultures. The conversations are often awkward, the characters\’ reactions to things feel flat, and the pacing is sometimes odd. I like these dragons, but the execution felt a bit poor. In spite of that, I\’m moving on to the second book in the series, there is something about the story that makes me want to find out what happens.

Oh, and if this might bother some readers- there\’s a lot of death. The dragon eats children, bites the head off foes, tears apart animal prey and so on. It\’s really quite brutal and bloody- which you\’d expect from a story about the dragon\’s viewpoint- but also very tame for all that- the descriptions never really made me feel squeamish or horrified- just oh, so that guy lost his head too? Moving on! which was part of the disconnect I felt through the whole thing . . .

Rating: 2/5                            371 pages, 2005

How Nature is Thriving in an Age of Extinction
by Chris D. Thomas

Much like Nature Wars, this book argues that life overall is doing just fine in spite of the destruction mankind has wreaked on Earth. The author examines several aspects of this problem including humans wiping out other animals and destroying habitats, the impacts of climate change and movement of species into new areas- and in each case makes the point that while a few species here and there will die out in the face of rapid changes, many new ones arise as they diverge or hybridize, which is a wave of future evolution. He states many times over in the book that species diversity is actually increasing worldwide (is this true? several other reviewers have cast doubt on that). He posits that the mixing of species into new territories shouldn\’t be seen as a threat, but instead welcomed as a way of naturally seeing which animals, plants and other creatures are most fit to survive the future. There\’s lots of examples of rapid evolution and explanations that animals live nowadays where they never did ages ago, so what we see as being the \”natural state\” of things is arbitrary. Very similar in this vein to Where Do Camels Belong?

While he does say that we should avoid excessive impacts on the environment he doesn\’t seem to mourn the extinction of any unique species as long as the group as a whole is represented- loosing the short-tailed bat on New Zealand (which walks on the ground to catch prey) wouldn\’t matter overall because so many other bats are still here. Even if I didn\’t always get the argument, I found the examples fascinating- reading about hybridized sparrows, and how they spread from one small location to literally inhabit the entire world. I\’ve heard of the finches Darwin found in the Galapagos, but didn\’t know about the mockingbirds there- also very different on each island. I never read about the apple fly before- which uses markings on its wings to mimic a spider. I thought that monarch butterflies only wintered in Mexico, but this book tells me there\’s a group that overwinters in California (so the premise of this book might not be so far-fetched!) That\’s just a small sampling. I strongly disagree with the author\’s final argument that since humans are of course, natural living creatures, anything we do to the Earth is also part of the natural process and we should just let things unfold. That really rubs me wrong. But it was an interesting read that did give me a lot to think about.

I mentioned animals mostly in this post, but the book also talks about plant species a lot. While the copy I borrowed from the public library looks like the first cover shown here, I like this second one- because I\’m partial to ferns and its lushness conveys the main idea the author had- that life is thriving and will continue regardless of what we do (not sure if agree with that and I\’m simplifying here, but it\’s the main impression I came away with from reading this book).

Rating: 3/5                 300 pages, 2017

Transgender Men and the Remaking of Identity
by Arelene Stein

A sociologist examines the choices made by several individuals who had elective surgery to remove their breasts. Most- but not all- identified as male and had the procedure to address gender dysphoria. I thought this was going to be a volume of personal stories- their personalities, struggles, reasons for choosing the surgery, how their lives were changed by it, and so on. It is, but it\’s also a lot more. The book is just as much about social norms and how they are changing in regards to gender identities, how perceptions are shifting and how they might continue to evolve. It\’s got quite a lot on the history of LGBTQ rights. It\’s about the importance of people feeling comfortable with who they are, and making the choice to do something often considered drastic- altering body parts- so that other people will see them as they see themselves. Those who agreed to share their stories here- the author meets them in the surgical clinic, visits them in recovery, and follows up with a few several months later to see how they are doing- are very different in circumstance. They don\’t all have the same reasons or needs- one doesn\’t even identify as trans. Some have family support and others don\’t. Some felt dysphoric and others didn\’t. I\’m glad the author shows people beyond the stereotypes. Sounds like they were all happy with the results. It was really interesting to read the more detailed examination of how their lives were different afterwards- not only how it affected their families, their employment, the reactions (or rather, easy acceptance) of strangers to their changed appearance, and their own individual self-perception. I did think it a little strange when the author compared trans men to lesbians, going into some tangents on how the feminist movement has changed over recent years as gender is being understood in new ways. This book is a lot more dense with more information than I expected it to contain, so I\’ve actually been reading it in pieces over the past six weeks. Sometimes it was just difficult to get through a single chapter. While I didn\’t always agree with the author\’s viewpoint and some of her statements made me feel uncomfortable, I do feel like I have a better understanding now. Or at least, I would hope that I do.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5                   339 pages, 2018

by R.D. Lawrence

The author and his wife lived in a remote area of Canada on a farm (I don\’t know if they grew any crops but there is a description of them working to tap maple trees). One day he encountered a Native American on the river- drunk and about to capsize his boat. Lawrence saved the man, discovered he had recently killed a female wolf for the bounty on her pelt and was carrying two surviving cubs to Mattawa intending to sell them. Lawrence made an instant decision and bought the cubs on the spot, took them home to raise with his wife. He already had experiencing raising wild \”foundlings\” to release into the wild again- mentions a beaver and a deer fawn. And he had observed wolves in the wild a lot, understanding some of their behavior. I think he was just as eager to have the chance to study how the wolves grew up, as well as to save them and release into their natural home- he frequently mentions taking meticulous notes on their growth rate, emerging personalities, development of skills and so on. With the help of his malamute dog Tundra- who kept the cubs clean and warm, and disciplined them as they grew- Lawrence successfully raise the two wolves. He did as much as he could to mimic actual wolf parenting- feeding them raw meat as if he was regurgitating it, shaking them by the scruff when they misbehaved, taking them on long rambling walks in the woods and joining them on a kill when they finally pulled down deer on their own (he was inspecting the deer to find out if it was weak, ill or injured in some way that had given the wolves an advantage, but pretended to the wolves as if he was eating alongside them). This book reminded me a lot of Joy Adamson\’s work with Elsa the lioness- the work Lawrence did was during a time when wolves were still mainly feared and reviled- in fact Lawrence and his wife had to keep their project secret from any neighbors or visitors, shutting the wolves up when they were young if people came by, and when they were older successfully teaching them to be wary of strangers. Especially intriguing to see the difference in behavior between the malamute dog and the young wolves, how the dog adjusted his behavior with the wolves, and how the human couple likewise tried to act in ways that would keep them safe from the wolves\’ natural strength and sharp teeth, but hone their skills to live in the wild. Personally I can\’t judge how well they did at that (a few times in the narrative it seemed to me they made some risky decisions), but there\’s a very good review on Goodreads that explains why wolves should not be raised with the methods Lawrence used. But it\’s a fascinating account and very engaging to read, a well-told story. There\’s also a lot of wonderful description of the natural environment and seasons, and some contemplative passages where the author talks about the natural world, our impact on it, and his qualms about things like seeing the wolves kill their prey. His wife was particularly attached to the wolves and I didn\’t care for how condescending Lawrence sometimes sounded towards her- but he is also honest and points out when she was right in some regard he judged differently.

Rating: 4/5                       232 pages, 1980

thanks to my fellow readers, additions to the (joyously) overwhelming TBR:

at my public library:
Kid Gloves by Lucy Knisley from Bermudaonion and Melody
Birds of Pandemonium by Michele Raffin
The Elephant’s Secret Sense by Caitlin O’Connell
The Library Book by Susan Orlean- Book Chase
Book Girl by Sarah Clarkson- Semicolon
You’re Not Listening by Kate Murphy- Caroline Bookbinder
Wild Things, Wild Places by Jane Alexander
The Great Pretender by Susanna Cahalan – Bermudaonion
Stargazing by Jen Wang from Caroline Bookbinder
Paris by the Book by Liam Callanan- Book Chase
Saving Jemimah by Julie Zickefoose
Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri – Bookfool
The Year of Living Danishly by Helen Russell- Read Warbler
Silverwing by Kenneth Oppel
Pippa by Design by Claudia Logan- Caroline Bookbinder
Autopsy of a Boring Wife by Marie-Renee Lavoie – Indextrious Reader
Normal People by Sally Rooney- Bookfool
Five Feet Apart by Rachel Lippincott
Enchanted Hour by Meghan Cox Gurdon – Captive Reader
The Golden Spruce by John Vaillant
American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins – Bermudaonion
Maybe He Just Likes You by Barbara Dee- ditto
The Summer Book by Tove Jansson- Indextrious Reader
The Grammarians by Cathleen Schine – Caroline Bookbinder
Orbiting Jupiter by Gary Schmidt
Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson – Bermudaonion
How to Catch a Mole by Marc Hamer
Beyond the Last Village by Alan Rabinowitz
An Indomitable Beast by Alan Rabinowitz
Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang- Shelf Love
A Wolf Called Wander by Rosanne Parry
What It’s Like to Be a Dog by Gregory Burns
Not if I Can Help It by Carolyn Mackler- the Last Book I Read
A Door in the Earth by Amy Waldman – A Bookish Type
Rosie Colored Glasses by Brianna Wolfson- Bookfool
Rough Beauty by Karen Auvinen
The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill
Father of Lions by Louise Callaghan- A Bookish Type
Oligarchy by Scarlett Thomas- Curiosity Killed the Bookworm
The Way Home by Mark Boyle from Stefanie
We’re Not From Here by Geoff Rodkey- Semicolon
Dry by Neal Shusterman-  It’s All About Books
Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore by Matthew Sullivan- Book Chase

not at my library:
Jagannath by Karin Tidbeck- Indextrious Reader
Dolphins Under My Bed by Sandra Clayton
Turtles in My Wake by Sandra Clayton
Confessions of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell- A Bookish Type
The Otter’s Tale by Simon Cooper
The Home-Maker by – Dorothy C Fisher- Ardent Reader
Earth by Bill Mack
Wink by Rob Harrell – Bermudaonion
The Borrowed House by Hilda van Stockum- Semicolon
Chasing the Dragon’s Tail by Alan Rabinowitz
Life in the Valley of Death by Alan Rabinowitz
Earth to Charlie by Justin Olson – Bookfool
When the Ground is Hard by Malla Nunn- Reading the End
What Is a Dog? by Raymond and Lorna Coppinger
Crown of Flowers by Joel Kurtzman- Neglected Books Page
Sweet Bobby by Joel Kurtzman- Neglected Books Page
One Hundred and Four Horses by Mandy Retzlaff
The Roots of My Obsession edited by Thomas Cooper
Call of the Cats by Andrew Bloomfield
Rinda Daughter of Rin Tin Tin by Marguerite Lofthus
Seegoo Dog of Alaska by Sara Machetanz
Plants are Terrible People by Ruggenberg
Goat Song by Brad Kessler
Foxes Unearthed by Lucy Jones
Lions, Tigers and Hamsters by Mark Goldstein
1491: New Revelations of the Americans Before Columbus by Charles Mann

(those at the bottom of this second list, that aren’t linked to anyone’s review I had found at Powell’s but left on the shelf. So you can see I had some restraint!)

Animorphs #36
by K.A. Applegate

Terrible. Ridiculous plot, which I could go along with, except the writing was so poor I just couldn\’t. In a nutshell- the enemy aliens built a submarine ship called the Sea Blade in order to access a hidden underground resource they shouldn\’t have, and then experimented on making Hork-Bajir amphibious in order to use them to get there. The Hork-Bajir the Animorphs find are so tortured that they vow revenge, and also have to keep the enemy from their goal, of course. So they morph orcas (also whales and sharks at different points) and dive in the ocean at first to just physically try and damage the Sea Blade. Then they find an underwater civilization that has taken sunken ships captive for thousands of years, making a sort of display gallery out of all their preserved crew members. They get trapped by the undersea people and have to cleverly escape, which also means, in the end, making a deal with Visser Three so they can all get out alive together. Because he\’s down there trapped in the Sea Blade.

It\’s pretty bad when the first scene is so poorly written I didn\’t understand at all why the Animorphs were feeling vengeful. Even with the way they could change morphs to avoid death while battling the aliens underwater against the Sea Blade, the injuries they took were so horrific I just don\’t see how any of them made it. The premise of how the aquatic civilization had come to exist, and how the Animorphs figured it all out made no sense. Many scenes in the book were so badly described I had no idea what was actually happening, or how the Animorphs reached the conclusions they did. The part where they collaborate with their worst enemy to escape together was so eye-rolling I was skimming at that point and didn\’t care any more how nonsensical it was.

I\’m deleting this one from my e-reader. It seems to have no relation to the rest of the series, so doesn\’t matter and I definitely don\’t want to waste time reading it again.

Rating: 1/5      160 pages, 1999

more opinions:
the Library Ladies
Snips and Snails and Puppy Dog Tales

That’s me. Not a flattering picture, but I was so delighted to finally visit the City of Books! It was – well, overwhelming. I did not even have time to browse all the sections I normally would; just the size of the store and the large number of other shoppers wore me out. But it was nice to see so many people there for books! and I enjoyed things like overhearing an elderly couple argue about should they buy the newest installation of the mystery series they love now, or wait until it comes out in paperback at a lower price, but then they’ll be behind. (Sounds like their favorite author is prolific).

So. These are books I picked up because I knew I wanted them. Top to bottom: the dragon books. I already had number three in the series, found at a thrift shop one day and it looks good but I wanted to start at the beginning and my library doesn’t have any. So I got one and two. Secret Go the Wolves and Worms Eat My Garbage (on the very bottom) I’ve read before- really glad to add them to my collection. I have the sequel to Flame Trees of Thika (not yet read) and enjoyed the film, so I hope the book is good too. Archie Carr is a naturalist I’ve heard praise of, John Hay is an author I already like (I have his Undiscovered Country), and likewise with A Thousand Miles of Mustangin’– this is by the same author as Horse Tradin’. How to Catch a Mole is one that recently caught my eye on others’ reviews, and You Grow Girl is a gardening blog I follow- so I bet I’ll love her book!

The second stack there’s less to say about- I bought a handful of gardening memoirs that looked good, and a collection of stories from a veterinarian. I hope Grow More with Less teaches me to be a better frugal gardener, and Being a Beast was something I couldn’t pass up- reading the flyleaf was seriously reminiscent of the crazy book that is GoatMan.

These five are not from Powell’s. I stayed with my parents over the holidays and visited my great-aunt one day. A lifelong educator, she is elderly and frail now and can no longer see well enough to read. I remember as a child visiting there and being awed by the bookcases that spanned an entire wall in one large room downstairs, and several shelves always full of books around the fireplace upstairs. Most of her library is gone now- there were only four shelves with books remaining. I gratefully brought these home: Five Little Peppers and How They Grew is one I recall my mother reading to me. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks and Being Mortal are both on my TBR. Star looks like a nice horse story, and Sinclair Lewis is a famous author I’m not sure if I ever read any of his works yet but this is supposed to be one of his best. I hope my aunt knows how much I appreciate having a few of her books.

And I brought this all home on the plane, plus a box of old journals from my childhood and teen years. It was a lot more than I expected to haul! Happy New Year everybody. Hope there are many good things in store, books being just one of them.


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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