Month: March 2023

made by Sure-Lox ~ photographer unknown ~ 1,000 pieces

The last one! from that second box of ten. Again I expected boredom or frustration- yet it was okay as far as puzzles go. Not surprised after the last two, that this one also had issues. The image was all there, no pain to my fingers, but the pieces had a very loose fit, so easily got knocked out of place, unable to move sections around, and so many false fits! This was particularly maddening when I did the section of water, I took out and redid so many pieces to figure them all out. The second half of it was hard, too- after getting in the blurry indistinct fill of the blown-up statue in the background, the rest of it all that pale blue blending so subtly into the white clouds, hard to make any distinctions at all. (My husband tried to sneakily put in just one piece of sky to see if I’d notice- but he was unable to do it!) I was pretty much fitting them all by shape at that point- but there’s no shape variety! All two knobs, two holes (like the rest of the puzzles in this box) with just enough variation of the knob sizes, ‘arm’ angles and such that it was doable. By the time I got to the blue/white background, I was familiar enough with the piece cut to be able to sort, but there were still a lot of false fits to shuffle around.

Just like last time, I got a little kick out of laying all the puzzles out on my extended table. Except I didn’t have enough white panels and puzzle boards, so I tried sliding a sheet of white cardboard under but it was warped and the New York puzzle started falling apart. Oh well. I was ready to crumple that one down to individual pieces anyway.

Funny thing about this puzzle set. Recently I saw someone on another puzzle group I’m in online, offering a different ten-in-a-box set by the same company. Her box had some of the same puzzles as mine- the castle and the balloons I’m pretty sure were exact duplicates. But hers had a different pair of kittens, and a tiger instead of a leopard, and other different ones. I was tempted to pick up her set just for the tiger puzzle, but have changed my mind since.

I found from looking around online, they do this a lot. Here’s four other boxed multi packs (as they’re called on the puzzle cataloging site I use). First one has the same balloon and New York puzzles, but a tiger and different set of kittens for the animal interest. Second one I found has the same balloons again and the castle, but wolves and other different scenes. Third set has the same kittens I did, but different balloons (and some cute border collie puppies). The last one I found has the same balloons and castle again, but everything else different (with a chipmunk!). I just don’t get why they recycle so many images into different boxed sets- can’t they come up with more pictures? Also, I found plenty of sets that just had scenery, or castles, or city skylines, but none that just had the animals. I would happily pick up a box that had the tiger, wolves, collie puppies and chipmunk puzzles together! but don’t want a bunch more balloons and scenic views (when the quality is rather poor to start with). 

Anyway, here’s the assembly of Statue of Liberty puzzle (as I called it in my head). It felt a bit disconcerting to be putting together a picture with the Twin Towers

from neighborhood free exchange

by Andrew Bloomfield

This guy lived in southern California, sharing a house with a friend and her sister. The backyard was thickly overgrown and soon they found it harbored a feral cat colony. Not being “cat people”, they ignored the felines for a long time but often heard screaming out there at night, and found dead kittens mauled by raccoons. Coyotes also prowled, preying on the cats. Eventually seeing one more dead kitten was too many, and they decided to act. First feeding the cats, and scaring off the predators. Sometimes bringing small kittens in the house to protect them. Then started to notice that as the females were now healthier from getting better nourishment and the kittens surviving, the population was growing quickly. They found out about a spay/neuter/release program and went through the ordeal of capturing over a dozen very wild cats, transporting them to the vet, and then returning them to their outdoor territory to finish living out their lives.

Throughout the book the author veers between telling about the different cats, their personalities, and how well he got to know them (or didn’t, some were completely unapproachable and he only got glimpses), something of their relationships with each other, what it was like trying to manage their vet care, and so on- these parts I liked. Other parts of the book tell about his struggles to find regular work, to get into the film industry (he wrote screenplays), and of his past travels to Asia where he embraced the culture and some religious aspects. I really started to get lost when he was talking about doing astrology readings for famous people, and looking for signs from the universe in all kinds of random, everyday incidents in his life. He goes into a lot of depth on this stuff sometimes. There’s also chapters that diverge into telling of the history of domestic cats, but I’ve already read enough about how cats were worshipped in Egypt, persecuted in the Middle Ages and colonial New England, valued by sailors and early agriculturalists, etc etc that it just wasn’t interesting. So I started skipping the history parts, and the parts that got too ‘woo-woo’ for my taste. And sometimes the overblown writing made me uncomfortable. For example, I know he was exaggerating when he described a raccoon so large it easily stepped over a seven foot high fence. But then how do I know he wasn’t inflating the gruesome details when a mother cat birthed kittens suddenly on the concrete slab right outside their door, and then ran off with kittens still attached to her body, dragged by their umbilical cords? and other such events.

I do really admire how much he loved and cared for these cats. How diligently he completed the spay/neuter program, even though it was difficult. How assiduously he provided them with good food and toxic-free cat litter (I didn’t know that was a concern) even though short on funds. Cleaning up diligently too, to avoid attracting rats and other pests- although nothing seemed to keep the raccoons away from the kittens they saw as prey. I didn’t know raccoons would kill young kittens so readily, but it sounds like this was a regular thing, and pretty awful to witness. When, in the end, most of the cats were healthy, all of them fixed, no more kittens coming into the picture, quite a few of the cats adjusted to living in the house, things all seemed calm and good for a while. Until their landlord dropped a bombshell: a relative was coming to live in that house, they had to go. What about the cats? The final chapters are about their scramble to find a new place to live that would accept all their indoor cats (still half-wild), and debating what to do with the outdoor colony- leave them to fend for themselves again? find a rescue group that would re-home them as barn cats? It was bittersweet to read near the end when they finally met the neighbors who’d lived behind them for over twenty years, those ladies loved the cats too (other neighbors seemed to view them as “crazy cat people” if they knew what was going on) really too bad they hadn’t had that connection earlier.

Borrowed from the public library. Note to self: never hesitate to add a book title to my TBR even if it’s not in the library system. When I put this book on my TBR list three years ago, it wasn’t available to borrow. But a few days ago browsing the shelves, I instantly recognized and snatched up this copy. You never know when your library is going to acquire the very books you want to read!

Rating: 2/5
238 pages, 2016

by Bobbie Pyron

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, hundreds of abandoned children lived on the streets in Moscow. The boy in this story was one of them- only five when his mother disappeared. He fell in with other street children at first, begging alongside them but reluctant to steal. The other kids fought, older and stronger ones took advantage of the weak, many drank vodka or sniffed glue. This boy didn’t like the fighting and abuse, and found himself often watching dogs that he saw scavenging around the city. He was delighted when one day another boy took him to grab some puppies from an empty building- as they were much more likely to get handouts if accompanied by a dog. The other children just saw the puppies as items to be used in their constant desperation for resources, but our boy felt drawn to the dogs instead. He wanted to return the puppies to their mother. He started following a stray dog around, and then lived with the pack of strays in a den under a building. He felt more secure and loved by the dogs than he ever had among people- the dogs shared their food and protected him. The story follows this boy through two difficult years as he huddled in ruined buildings, dug through trash cans, rode trains at night to stay warm in winter, dodged the violence of other homeless- both children and adults- and especially avoided the charity people who wanted to put him in an orphanage. He heard horror stories of the orphanage from other kids. Usually managed to find just enough to eat, warm clothes were more of a problem, his best times were in summer when he roamed a patch of forest with the dogs. But then a kindhearted old woman took an interest in him and tried to arrange for him to be taken off the streets and cared for. He fought off every attempt- now snarling and barking like the dogs- but eventually was coerced into the hospital. He didn’t want to be there, only to return to the family of dogs, but eventually the people won his trust and he began a slow recovery.

Based on the same incident that inspired Dog Boy. I’m not sure which one I like better- they’re both very good, in different ways. Dog Boy is darker, grittier for sure. Dogs of Winter is much more relatable, I think a better read for kids even though it is so very sad, the hardships and cruelties are not glossed over at all. It almost puts you in tears, reading about what the children suffered, so many simply starved or froze to death in the winter, the children felt they had to resort to anything for survival, that no one cared about them. This one boy found the dogs cared more for him than other people, so that’s what got him through the worst times.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5
312 pages, 2012

by Alan W. Eckert

From the same author of Incident at Hawk’s Hill (a book loved as a kid and read many times over- surprised I haven’t written about that one yet!) Story of a wild cat, born from a domestic cat mating with a bobcat. Have to say right off the bat, there’s a lot of brutality, starting with a man trying to drown the mother housecat and her kittens- she narrowly avoids that fate and flees into the forest, where she later mates with the bobcat. The protagonist of the story, the crossbreed himself, is the sole survivor when the log his mother denned in gets swept down a river in a flood. He’s exhausted, half frozen and near starved when rescued by a kid who’s out fishing. The boy knows his father hates cats (especially wild ones) so he hides the kitten in a shed on their property. Raises the crossbreed, names it Yowler, and even successfully teaches it to hunt. Eventually the boy’s father discovers the cat and things go badly. The boy runs away with Yowler but they get separated, once again in bad weather on the river. Yowler is on his own in the wild, where he’d do okay really- there’s pages and pages describing his successful hunting forays- but he runs into trouble when is chased by hounds, caught by disreputable men who put him in staged fights with dogs, and after escaping, gets caught by a steel trap. This kind of puzzled me actually because there’s a picturing showing him missing two toes, before the incident with the trap happens in the story. I looked at that picture for a long time, trying to figure out if there was something in front of the cat’s foot, or what was wrong with it! Through his misadventures Yowler ends up far south of his normal territory, encountering animals he’s never seen before- armadillos, freshwater crocodiles, a wolf . . . Also has run-ins with lynx and bobcats- mates with several females but since he’s a hybrid himself, there are never any young. And in one improbable but very sweet encounter, he temporarily adopts an orphaned bobcat kitten. He travels north whenever he gets the chance, eventually finding his way back to his birthplace and even the site where the boy had raised him in the shed.

I liked this story, even if some parts of it were particularly gruesome (the fights with dogs in the ring) or a bit unlikely (adopting the wild kitten). I even jotted down a few questions I had to look up later: would a bobcat actually ever mate with a housecat in the first place? do male bobcats fight with the females as part of their courtship? do armadillos really eat enough mice they’re competition for prey with bobcats? Um, the answer to all is no. There’s been may reports of bobcats and domestic cats mating, but no proof that any were ever true accounts. Although on the other hand lynx and bobcats can breed, and their offspring are not sterile. While bobcats scream a lot at each other during mating encounters, they don’t roll into balls of clawing spitting fury causing each other injury like depicted in this story- they go from screaming, snarling and bluffing to playful behavior. As for the last, armadillos eat insects and small amphibians and reptiles, I couldn’t find anything about them regularly eating mice. All that said, this is just my quick internet research, not sure if the answers I came up with are accurate!

And I did enjoy the book regardless.

Rating: 3/5
295 pages, 1968

by Kenneth Oppel

Sequel to Silverwing. This story dove into darker material, which I wasn’t really expecting. It also got more mystical, with almost magical things happening (or at least, they really stretched my suspension of belief). But I was so hooked by the story and interested in the characters, I just went with it. So- trying not to give away too much of the storyline but maybe there will be spoilers. Shade the bat has found his colony and reached the hibernation site. It’s no longer a safe haven, though. Owls attack, they have to flee south, they find a human building that pulls them in with enticing bat sounds. Inside is a fantastic artificial forest. Most of the bats think they’ve finally reached a paradise promised by the ancient legends. But Shade is suspicious and alarmed that they can’t exit the building again. He’s determined to find out more- and to his great dismay, he makes some horrific discoveries. The bats’ assumptions about human kindness is all wrong- quite the opposite- they are putting bats (and owls) to their own use, in warfare (even more awful is that this is based on some actual history). By dint of some clever thinking, bravery, help from a friend and a new owl ally, Shade escapes and makes his way to a city that hosts a huge roost of bats under a bridge. They are expecting the beginning of a new war with the owls, mustering forces.

Shade knows they have a much bigger threat to face- because his old enemy the jungle bat has a plan to wake the evil bat god and bring eternal darkness on everyone. It seems hopeless but Shade has to try and stop him (even if the evil god won’t really appear, the carnivorous bats’ machinations will kill a hundred innocent creatures). This ends up with the bats facing more and more horrors- trust me, it gets very bloody and disturbing- this was shelved in juvenile fiction but I would say it should be for YA and up, unless your kid likes reading fairly graphic stuff- like cannibalism, hearts getting ripped out, fighting in piles of dead bodies, and so on. The author isn’t shy about letting some of the characters get killed, either (though more than once someone presumed dead turns out to be alive after all, surprise!) In the end though, it seems they have reached the outcome predicted long ago by the northern bats’ goddess Nocturna- a peace truce made with both the owls and rats, as together they face down the greater enemy.

A lot of other reviews have compared this book to Watership Down. While I saw the similarities, I was reminded more strongly of Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH or Tailchaser’s Song (especially the underworld parts). One thing I forgot to note in my post about the first book- because the bats are color-blind, the author doesn’t use any words for colors in the entire book. I thought this was very well done. I didn’t even notice the first time around (until it was pointed out to me in the author’s note at the end). The descriptions of how the bats use sound to perceive their world, stretching their senses beyond normal abilities even, was also very well done and intriguing to see the world described from such a different viewpoint. At the same time, the bat characters have such ordinary hopes and plans- just to be safe, to find family members again, to impress a girl- it’s very relatable in those ways too. Good story!

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5
312 pages, 2000

made by Sure-Lox ~ photographer unknown ~ 750 pieces

The Faces in the Mountain! That’s what my kid called this national monument when we visited it once- many years ago. I thought I would find this puzzle tedious, but like the Boston one, was pleasantly surprised at enjoying it. I’d assumed it would be boring or difficult, with just sky and rock- but there’s actually a lot of variation in hues and texture of the stone. Funny, this one came with fourteen “freebies”- twenty-eight pieces stuck together in pairs because the jigsaw cut wasn’t complete. I didn’t bother to separate them. They’re the ones already assembled in the first picture.

The previous puzzle made my fingers feel a bit grimy, just enough that I’d want to wash my hands afterwards. This one actually caused irritation- I thought perhaps I was imaginging it but then during one session deliberately handled the puzzle with just one hand- and that one my fingers hurt. So I wore disposable gloves, and yes again the fingertips of them were all discolored afterwards.

from neighborhood free exchange

at my public library:

How Far the Light Reaches by Sabrina Imbler
Unraveling by Peggy Orenstein
Hope Beneath Our Feet edited by Martin Keogh
The Girl with No Name by Marina Chapman
Birds Art Life by Kyo Maclear
The Talk-Funny Girl by Roland Merullo
Lifesaving Lessons by Linda Greenlaw
Common Ground by Rob Cowen

not at my library:

Squirrels by Brian Wildsmith
Mississippi Possum by Miska Miles
The Porpoise Watcher by Kennth S. Norris
On Becoming a Biologist by John Janovy
Taking Animals Seriously by David Degrazia
Here Be Dragons by Dennis McCarthy
Time of the Turtle by Jack Rudloe
Mysteries of Animal Intelligence by Brad Steiger
More Cunning Than Man by Robert Hendrickson
The Leafcutter Ants by Holldobler and Wilson
Carnivores by David W. MacDonald
Victims of Science by Richard Ryder
Regarding Animals by Arnold Arluke
Deep Country by Neil Ansell
A Hive of Bees by John Crompton
Extraordinary Pheasants by Stephen Green-Armytage
In Search of the Golden Frog by Marty Crump
Alive in the Wild edited by Victor Cahalane
On Rare Birds by Anita Albus
Cretaceous Sea by Will Hubbell
A Story Like the Wind by Laurens van der Post
Kings of Colorado by David E. Hilton
The Queen of Spells by Dahlov Ipcar
Beast of Never, Cat of God by Bob Butz
Wildlife Artists at Work by Patricia van Gelder
Nature I Loved by Bill Geagan
The Carnivores by R.F. Ewer
The Abstract Wild by Jack Turner
A Wild Life by Dick Pitman
Polar Bears by Ian Stirling
Back in Keith County by John Janovy
A Tale of Two Families by Dodie Smith
Castle Merlin by Ursula Moray Williams

by Kenneth Oppel

Shade is one of the smallest in his bat colony- a runt. He’s always feeling ignored and pushed around by the other young bats. Wanting to satisfy his curiosity and do something no one else would dare to, Shade stays up through the dawn to catch a glimpse of the sun- which is strictly forbidden. He’s roundly chastised for that and still smarting under the punishment when a new challenge arises- travelling on his first migration. Shade gets separated from the others in a storm and blown off course. Finding his way and reuniting with the colony becomes a nightmare of obstacles as Shade has to cross large bodies of water, figure out navigation by the stars (using memories his mother had shared with him), avoid the dangerous owls (that have a centuries-long grudge against bats) and more. He finds an unlikely companion from another bat species- she’s been ousted by her colony, for wearing a silver band bestowed by humans. Her colony sees this as a curse and a threat. Which confuses Shade, because in his colony, the few bats that got banded were viewed as special, wearing a symbol of peace to come and bats being allowed into daylight in the future (and humans were supposed to help this legend come true). This is part of the book that I found really intriguing, that the different bat groups had their own ideas about what the bands meant- they had to attach meaning to it somehow (kind of like the elephants did in The White Bone). Later in the story Shade and his companion encounter some large predatory bats from the jungle- and they have an entirely different take on things, with a different belief system. Shade is awed by the larger bats’ physical prowess and hopes to enlist their help but something sinister is going on . . . and things get worse when they find themselves in a city and end up underground confronting rats. I won’t relate more, but let’s just say it all ends well, even though there’s tension up to almost the very last page.

This story just blasted along. I liked the characters and found their struggles interesting, even though some things were a bit far-fetched (the owls possess fire, for example). Yes the bats talk to each other and some mystical things happened in the story, but it didn’t feel too out there like some books, just part of a good story. I’m glad I finally read this one, and wish I’d picked it up years sooner!

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5
216 pages, 1997

by Charles Dickens

Sometimes classics are great, and I surprise myself by getting through what looks at first like a tiresome slog- other times they’re just difficult. Like this one. I became interested in reading David Copperfield after enjoying Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver. I was plenty curious to see where she’d drawn her inspiration from. I think perhaps I should have left more time between the two, though. It made me feel a bit- discomfited- to recognize the characters Kingsolver copied. I know the original is old enough that this is not considered plagiarism, but still- some of the situations and people were so exactly duplicated it really jumped out at me, and it felt odd. I kind of wondered why the modern author didn’t come up with her own characters.

I was enjoying this at first. It is, of course, well-written and a lot of the narrative flows in an easy, lively fashion. It starts with David recounting some incidents surrounding his birth, and much of what follows is so familiar (from my reading of the other novel): the superstition about the caul, the mother re-marrying an unkind man who pretty much kicks David out after she later dies, the shiftless foster family that’s always planning to make it big (which never happens) and pawning all their belongings, the older spinster aunt who supports young women and is surprised when David shows up on her doorstep, the slightly not-quite-all-there but still very intelligent in his own way brother of hers, who writes his life story on kites and then flies them . . . what was missing for me was some actual connection to the main character. I felt as if I was reading David narrating everything that happened around him, without sharing much of his own reactions to or feelings for things. It seemed far more detailed about telling all the goings on of people around him, and the very interesting and quirky character traits. I did laugh out loud when I read of the aunt’s repeated protests when people rode donkeys across a bit of lawn in front her house. I think I feel much the same way about people letting their dogs crap on the hellstrip in front of my yard (because some of them don’t pick it up). Nearly two centuries later, and some things never change!

But I lost steam. I started this book right after The Great White Bear, and had to take a few breaks, interspersing some lighter reads. I was intrigued at first by the depictions of all the different people, amused at some of the turns of events and conversations, interested in the additional notes and explanations in the appendix (needing two bookmarks for this one) and even read most of the introduction which explains how much of this book is supposedly based on Dicken’s own life experiences. It’s fairly autobiographical. But after having another break to read Dancing with Bees, I just couldn’t get back into David Copperfield. I forgot what was going on and who the people surrounding the main character now were. I backtracked a bit to remind myself but then found my mind unfocused and wandering for pages. I tried again the next day, skimmed ahead a bit, perused all the illustrations, and sighed. It’s just not resonating with me now. I quit on page 266, which I make note of in case I decide to pick this one up again someday (even though I’ll probably start over from the beginning again).

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: Abandoned
974 pages, 1850

More opinions: Attack of the Books!
anyone else?

made by Sure-Lox ~ photographer unknown ~ 750 pieces

I thought this one would be easy, with the bright solid colors. But there was some confusion making the edges first, which cleared up when I realized that a full half of the image was cropped out- the puzzle itself being a lot smaller than the image shown on the picture insert! Just like with the Garden Wagon (which annoyed me, because I liked that one otherwise). I drew lines on this picture guide.

I didn’t mind not having all that wooden decking to put together, but it probably would have been easier than the jumble of leaf litter, twigs and foliage in the background. That was the hardest part.

from neighborhood free exchange


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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