Wednesday, December 28, 2022

Unusual Creatures, by Michael Hearst

Subtitle:  A Mostly Accurate Account of Some of Earth's Strangest Animals.

Illustrator:  Jelmer Noordeman 

I really enjoyed this.  Of course, I love interesting tidbits about animals, so I'm bound to enjoy a book like this, with its collection of strange and interesting creatures.

It's physically big, so the illustrations are big too, with each two-page spread artfully using only 1-2 colors.  Very nice.  I also appreciated the distribution maps. 

The info is interesting, with each animal having a very short (VERY short) sum-up and then strange facts, true/false questions, or even little poems.  The writing style is breezy.  The selection of animals is good—though most are familiar from other similar books.

I did wish there were a little more detail on each animal, but if you go in expecting just a quick survey, you'll really like it.  

More accurate rating:  4.5 stars

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Watson Lake Loop

This is Watson Lake, in Prescott, Arizona.  Beautiful and surreal.  I hiked the trail around the lake (and a detour into the Flume Canyon area).  It was fantastic.  I started at the lookout and went toward the dam.


The trail soon veers away from the lake into a rocky wonderland that looks like some strange Star Trek planet:

Fun trail sign:

Here's where you can detour into the Flume Canyon trail system.

It's worth it because:

These pictures were taken at the end of October, by the way.  It was a perfect time to go.  A little warm hiking in the middle of the day, but overall very pleasant temperatures.  And some autumn leaves!

Here the trail reminded me a little of the "rock towns" of the Czech Republic:

Secret Cove (worth the detour):  

Beautiful heron:

It was a great trail.  If you just take the loop with no detours, it's just under 5 miles.  I would class it as moderately difficult.  There are some places you need to really pay attention to the trailfinding.  Some of the trail sections are just white dots on rocks that you need to scramble up.  It's super fun.  Speaking of rocks--there are lots of them.  Not always so easy on the knees.  The total elevation gain isn't a lot, but there are a lot of tiny ups and downs that add up over the course of the trail.  If you include a lot of detours, like I did, expect more like 6-7 miles.

This just might be one of my favorite trails.  The only downside is the last bit is rather long and straight and not as interesting.  But there are lots of water birds to watch as you make the long slog.   

Saturday, December 10, 2022

Remarkably Bright Creatures, by Shelby Van Pelt

This is one of those strange books that's mostly realistic and believable and set in our world…but there's one fantastical element.  Usually I find these types of books a little hard to orient myself in.  It's harder to suspense my disbelief than if I were reading high fantasy with dragons or space opera with faster-than-light travel.  But I enjoyed this book enough that I just kind of went with it.

So, for the fantastical element: [SEMI SPOILERS]  Marcelllus the giant Pacific octopus.  Don't get me wrong:  I LOVED him.  I loved his role in the plot.  He was probably my favorite character.  But he was so fantastical that you're going to have to make a decision as a reader:  just sort of roll with it…or beat your head against the wall because how on earth could an octopus learn to READ ENGLISH???  I believe octopuses are highly intelligent, in a way we might not fully comprehend, considering their vastly different "brain" structure.  I could even maybe swallow his very sophisticated narrative if I thought of it as octopus language, not English.  But for him to learn to READ English, where the only possible instruction he's had is listening to people read his placard and other aquarium signs out loud?  And for him to have a vast vocabulary (in English, because he talks about English idioms) that he had to have learned entirely from the aquarium-goers?  It's the most glaringly unrealistic thing about him, but there are others.  However, if you can just roll with it, you'll love Marcellus and feel so sad for him being stuck in that little aquarium and love his relationship with Tova and look forward to his chapters.  So, my advice:   just roll with it.  I obviously did, never getting stuck on the fact that he could READ ENGLISH.

There were some other pretty fantastical coincidences, but I won't spoil them. 

I liked the human characters, even the highly flawed ones.

The writing was good.  Some might consider the pacing a tad slow, but for me it was slow in that pleasant, spending-time-with-people-I-love way.  I enjoyed the plot, though at one point, [SEMI SPOILERS!] when an important something was obvious to us and to the octopus, I didn't quite understand how it didn't occur to other intelligent characters as even a possibility.  They had enough evidence and were obviously thinking about the situation a lot.   

Again, I LOVED the relationship between Tova and Marcellus.  And though I would have liked their ending to be different, I thought it was beautiful.  SPOILER!!!  SPOILER!!!  I only wished she had acted sooner, when she realized how intelligent he was.  END SPOILERS.

Overall, a really enjoyable book.  I spent a lot of time in this review stuck on the unrealistic parts, but they really didn't affect my enjoyment as much as you might think.  And if you can just go with it, you'll really enjoy it too. 

And the cover...lovely.  

Rating:  4 stars.  

Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Witches of Brooklyn, by Sophie Escabasse

I always say in these graphic novel reviews that I'm not the biggest fan of graphic novels, so you should take my review with a grain of salt, but then I keep liking the graphic novels I read.  So…maybe I'm somewhat of a fan.

Witches of Brooklyn was a charming read.  The concept and characters were interesting.  The relationships were fun to watch grow.  The plot was unusual.  The pacing was good.  The drawings were great.  Some of the dialogue was quite witty.

When I got to the end, I actually put the next book on hold at the library. 

I would definitely recommend this, even to people like me who aren't huge fans (just tiny fans) of graphic novels. 

More accurate rating:  4.5