Month: December 2022

A Journey Through the Passion, Profit, and Peril of Our Most Coveted Prehistoric Creatures

by Peter Laufer

Like the hummingbird one, this book is also by an author who traveled the world to see many different species- of turtles. In this case, it wasn’t just to view rare and endangered species, but also to meet and interview people involved in protecting or caring for turtles, and conversely, those who profit from catching or selling them. There’s turtle farms, turtle sanctuaries, turtles in zoos- and those languishing in bins under the counter of meat markets. He meets with conservationists, tour guides, volunteers who dig up and relocate turtle eggs from beaches, and those who are releasing the hatchlings again. He meets people in small street stalls who peddle elixirs from turtle bones (said to give people longevity) and interviews a man convicted of turtle smuggling, in a prison. He finds the fascination people have with acquiring rare turtles compelling, and gets his own pet turtle. Descriptions of his quiet moments spent observing “Fred” and wondering what his turtle is pondering are interspersed through the chapters. While I liked reading about the turtles, I found it sad how much of the book’s focus was about the negative impact humans have had on turtles worldwide. Habitat loss, demand for traditional medicine in Asia, collectors buying turtles just to say they own them, and ordinary folks in our southern states who catch turtles to eat them, all are reducing their numbers. Most of this book I found kept me on the page, the humor worked for me, the details were just right- but I did start to loose interest when it got more into the lives of criminals involved in turtle smuggling. That aside, I’m probably going to look for other books by this author.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5
290 pages, 2018

made by AAGood ~ artist unknown ~ 143 pieces

How I love the wooden puzzles! Received this one new on my birthday (in October) and finished it a few days ago. My daughter wanted to do it with me, so our sittings were rather far apart, but productive with two heads and four hands working at once. It’s the second wooden puzzle I’ve ever done, and I’m still enthralled with the intricately shaped pieces and nice tactile experience. This one has really bright colors, too. We did notice that there are burn marks on the edges of some pieces- I wasn’t bothered by this on the front, you have to look really close to see it in the image. However once I flipped it over to view the back, it was really obvious. My daughter said she likes this artifact of the manufactuer’s process (not quite in those words).

Of course the most fun is all the “whimsey” pieces. There are pigs, dogs and cats (these two touching paws!)

a kangaroo and a rhino,

several parrots and butterflies,

rabbit, chicken, squirrel and many others-


even one shaped like the fox itself:

Here’s the assembly. Not always at the same angle, and the light did bounce off the tabletop annoyingly. For the last photo I slid it onto a piece of colored paper to admire.

it was a Gift

I hope you are all warm and surrounded by loved ones on this very cold day!

I’m not reading a holiday-themed book at the moment, but I am in the middle of a holiday puzzle- quite fun!  Cheers

by Scott O'Dell

Bright Dawn is a young Inuit woman (called Eskimo in the book). Her family has recently moved from their native village by the ocean to a town further inland. Her father while out hunting had become stranded on the sea ice, almost lost his life and was traumatized by the incident. He couldn’t face the sea again, so the family uprooted. Bright Dawn is troubled by all this, but in town she finds an unexpected opportunity: to participate in the Iditarod with her sled dog team. The leader, Black Star, is part wolf. Her father never liked Black Star as well as the other dogs due to his willfullness and independent nature, but Bright Dawn finds that an asset in the grueling race. At the start she becomes off-and-on-again companion to another racer, an older man named Oteg. This man wants to camp with her, give her advice, tell her stories. She appreciates some of this, isn’t sure if she believes all the old stories, and then starts to feel like he’s holding her back. In the end, she has to follow her own decisions and trust in her lead dog. They face many dangerous obstacles (including encounters with a wolf pack, angry bull moose, terrifyingly bad weather, and treacherous ice). Bright Dawn really wants to win the race, but she doesn’t hesitate to stop and help others who need it on the way and to care for her dogs properly. I wouldn’t say she finds herself on the race, more that she grows into who she’s been all along. It’s nice to read details that mesh with others from stories I’ve read of Inuit in the past, or of sled-dog mushing. A lot of the traditional Inuit customs, and beliefs recounted by Oteg were ones I hadn’t heard of before. I also liked that at the very end of the story, Bright Dawn’s father has the opportunity to face his fears in order to help his daughter. That felt a little contrived, but not terribly. To me this story felt rather calm, probably due to the understated writing style, but I bet younger readers would find it exciting.

Rating: 3/5
134 pages, 1988

by Jean Craighead George

I was hoping to like this book better than its prequels and I did, but just barely. While it’s mostly from the viewpoint of the bird, there’s still plenty of storyline about people and conservation efforts in here. It would have been nice if the narrative had just focused on the peregrine falcon. Upon being released on the mountain, she struggles to feed herself, used to having a human partner to scare up game. Eventually she strikes up a loose hunting relationship with a half-feral dog (I really liked that part). She meets other wild birds- some attack her, others solicit her company. I never realized before that a wild falcon will take a new mate to help raise the chicks, if the parent of his brood suddenly dies! Frightful takes on this role as an adopted mother, but she doesn’t know how to feed and care for the chicks at first- instinct only nudges her so far. The way that was all written, without making the animals talk or appear too human, was pretty well done, I thought. But then there’s all the stuff about people. Frightful feels the urge to migrate, but is too attached to the area where Sam raised her, and the pull of his company. She roosts on a bridge that is to undergo construction, some local kids see her and start up protests to try and stop the bridge work. Sam himself gets involved in other ways, keeping hidden from everybody because he doesn’t want to get into trouble for “harboring an endangered species” again. So the kids get involved in environmental activism, Sam works hard to save the peregrine nest without being noticed, the bad guys who were illegally catching and selling birds of prey in the second book show up again, and the dog inadvertently helps out when conservation officers and police are tracking them down.The dog’s part made me laugh. But sadly, the book didn’t really engage me the way I’d like. Too much of it felt like a lecture stuffed into the characters’ conversations. Even the facts about the bird’s physiology and habits which interested me, felt a bit forced how they were presented. I don’t know if the younger readers this book is aimed at, would pick up on all that. Probably what feels like flat, somewhat uninteresting writing to me, would be just right for their reading level.

Rating: 3/5
255 pages, 1999

Growing Healthy Kids with Food Straight from the Soil

by Maya Shetreat-Klein

It took me much longer than normal to get through this book, because I kept getting overwhelmed by all the information, and tired of the alarmist attitude, so I’d shut it off and come back to the next day. Or the day after that. Funny, the subtitle has changed with a reprint- other covers I see online say Healthy Food, Healthy Gut, Happy Child. I thought it was going to be mostly about gardening, or sourcing organic food. There is some of that, but mostly it came across to me as a huge long list of things to avoid. Pesticides, GMOs, additives, airborne toxins, plastics, pasteurized milk, non-organic produce, processed anything and so on. It also feels repetitive, for all the length it should have gone into far more detail on certain things. For example, she talks about how wheat is not the same as it used to be, with no mention of how the protein structure has changed through genetic breeding, just how roundup is in the soil and pesticides on the plants. (I don’t think that’s what gluten-intolerant people are reacting to?) I felt like a lot of stuff was just mentioned and just skipped right over, leaving the reader with questions.

She makes it sound like you should only eat things you grew with your own two hands, drink milk straight from the cow, and have eggs from your own backyard-ranging chickens. But obviously most people can’t. What about the rest of us. I have a garden and I don’t even grow half of the fresh food we eat, not even in the middle of the harvest season. I have no way to keep chickens, meat rabbits, goats or a cow. For a while my husband and I bought our meat from a local farm that did its own butchering- it was an hour’s drive away and closed when the pandemic started. We haven’t been able to go back since.

The book feels entirely written from the standpoint of being a parent and helping your child have better overall health. At the end there’s chapters about encouraging your kids to try new foods when you switch to healthier options, how important togetherness at the dinner table is, and how to get kids involved in choosing healthy food and preparing it. Personally I could relate to that, though most of the ideas were not new to me: getting outside is good for you, exposure to some dirt is beneficial, buy the freshest produce possible, etc. On the other hand, quite a few of the food items the author praised for health benefits were new to me. Never heard of salmon candy before!

But the main issue I have with this book is the things I find alarming, or outright disagree with. The book says more than once, that childhood exposure to diseases like mumps and measles helps train your immune system so it doesn’t overreact to other things later on. Also makes vague negative remarks about vaccines, which made me uncomfortable (I strongly feel that children should be vaccinated). While I agree that drinking certain teas can boost your immune system and walking through the woods lift your mood, I am personally skeptical about the benefits of burning sage in your house or “earthing” (also called “grounding”) which just means coming into physical contact with the ground- because apparently your body can absorb electrical charges from the Earth. Really? Never heard of this before. I’m open to learning new things, but a bit too much about this book struck me as a bit out there. Plus the author seems to think that autism, attention deficit disorders and other neurological issues can be remedied by changing diet alone. Another concept I’m skeptical about.

I find it really hard to think critically about this book, because I shouldn’t judge it on the fact that I disagree with the author on some points. And I’m so overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of things it tells me are bad (bottle water, sunscreen, vaccines, cereal bars, tuna fish etc etc) I can’t objectively view the way it’s written at all. Except to note: a lot of alarmist tone, and not much solid information that makes me feel sure I’m reading real facts.

Borrowed from the public library, as an audiobook. Read aloud by Marguerite Gavin, 11.5 hours

 

Rating: 3/5
384 pages, 2016

made by Springbok ~ photographer unknown ~ 500 pieces

A while back I did a puzzle swap through the mail- which is really only worth the cost if you send/receive two or more puzzles. This was my second pick out of the other puzzler’s stash, I thought it would be one I’d do once, then swap on again. But now I want to hold onto it.

It’s one of the vintage Springboks- a puzzle company that was my favorite as a teen. Nowadays I see people complain about Springbok quality on the swapping sites, but it seems that’s just for the newer puzzles. This one, in spite of having been through several hands before- the box and a few pieces are a bit scuffed- was excellently made and I really enjoy all the odd shapes. There’s plenty ordinary ones too (bottom left of pic) but most are unusual. Putting it together was fairly steady going at first. I completed the fish and reddish parts without much trouble. But when I got to all the blue-green of the anemone tentacles, it really slowed me down. I love that kind of challenge.

from online swap - Puzzle Exchange Group

made by Milton Bradley ~ artist Marian Hirsch ~ 550 pieces

Who am I kidding. I’ve been getting more and more into puzzling, and completing more puzzles than books lately. I kept holding off on posting about the puzzles, wanting to space it out because this is a book blog! No reason the puzzles can’t be an integrated part of that, though. So I’m catching up yet again, with several posts in a row of puzzles done in the past month,  and then it will be back to actual completion dates.

This one was quite a challenge, in spite of being a relatively low piece count. It took me a full week to do! I love the bright colors and painterly texture, but that made it so abstract when looking at individual pieces, it was tough to figure out where to place them. Plus the fit is different- with some odd shapes and random cut. Turned out to be far more enjoyable than I expected. 

Assembly:

a thrift store find

by James Thurber

I’ve had this little book (a novella really) on my TBR for ages, don’t even recall why I first put it there. Today I read it in the bath. It was funny and quirky and tongue-in-cheek but also thoughtful between the lines (if that makes sense). It’s like a fairy tale turned halfway inside out, if you will. There’s a king with three sons, two love to hunt and the third is a bit quieter (he always lets the hunted animals escape). One day they’re chasing a mystical white deer through the forest, but when they bring the quarry to bay, instead there’s a lovely maiden standing there. Convinced she is a princess, they take her back to the castle. She’s supposed to set a series of near-impossible tasks for the brother princes to complete, whoever brings her the requested trophy first, will win her hand. But does she even want that? She has a quiet, gentle shy manner, and cannot recall her name. She starts to wonder if she’s just a commoner and won’t be allowed to stay with the prince who marries her, but worst yet is rumor of a story, that she might just be a common deer turned into a woman by a magic trick. Her character reminded me in many ways of Amalthea in The Last Unicorn, and the odd conversations that go in circles with senseless (but delightful) wordplay made me think of Alice in Wonderland. But this story has a character all its own. It gets a little silly and repetitive in places, but I didn’t mind. I liked the ending.

Rating: 3/5
115 pages, 1945

In Search of Hummingbirds

by Jon Dunn

Tiny, amazing, brilliantly colored hummingbirds. Birder Jon Dunn takes the reader along as he travels the Americas to see as many species as possible. From the northernmost range of rufous hummingbirds in Alaska, to the southern tip of Argentina to find the endangered firecrown. He’s especially keen on finding rare ones. The book is a seamless blend of travel narrative with vivid depictions of his bird sightings, and a little bit of everything about their physiology and history. I was fascinated by the description of how a hummingbird’s tongue works (it’s not like a straw). Intrigued by how many ancient cultures placed hummingbirds high in mythology and even numbered them among deities. In other places they were considered good-luck charms or curatives- so sadly there are many accounts in this book of how thousands and thousands of hummingbirds became tiny corpses for people to use as love charms. Or to decorate their hats, in the past. So dismaying. There’s also interesting stories about how scientists tried to sabotage each other’s work, to appear to be the first to discover an unknown species, or even made up new species that didn’t really exist (sewing together various parts of different birds to create fakes). In the present, it’s stories of wanton habitat destruction. But lovely, lovely to read about living birds the author saw in person. His writing in their praise is aptly full of wonder and beautiful words. And it’s encouraging to read of local and indigenous people in far-off lands who once took their local hummingbirds for granted, but now protect them, feed them and guide travelers to see them. He goes to Arizona, Mexico City, Cuba, Costa Rica, Colombia, Ecuador, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile and Argentina.

Overall I liked this book. Though sometimes it seemed to veer too far into details on the sidelines (I didn’t really need the life history of half the people the author met). So many beautiful birds are shown in photographs in the center spread, but there were many more described vividly in the text I just to go look them up. Like the golden-tailed sapphire. Or any of the spatulae-tails. Just wow.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5
332 pages, 2021

DISCLAIMER:

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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