Monday, December 22, 2014

Lost Animals

The title: Lost Animals: Extinction and the Photographic Record
The authors: Errol Fuller
Publication: Bloomsbury, 2013
Got it from: The library

Lost Animals charts the story of a handful of recently extinct species through photos and eyewitness histories.  Most of the species went extinct at the beginning of the 20th century, so photographs are inevitably black and white (with a few exceptions).  Like a detective, the author had to go to great lengths to track down some of these rare pictures.  The stories of the efforts made to obtain photos of these vanishing creatures are almost as fascinating as the animals themselves.

Some of the animals in this book may be familiar, such as the passenger pigeon and the quagga, but others are more obscure.  Species range from New Zealand's laughing owl to the Yangtze River dolphin (whose last member was the adorably name Qi Qi). Their stories all end the same way: humans.  More specifically, hunting and habitat destruction.  It's enough to make you think that Voluntary Human Extinction group may have the right idea.

This isn't exactly cheerful Christmas fare, but this is one of those rare books that feels like essential reading for anyone who cares about animals.  Which is not to say it was a chore to read - far from it.  This book made me feel a variety of emotions: fascination, anger at the thoughtlessness and cruelty of humans, despair, and a new appreciation for the precious animals still remaining on this planet.  Thankfully it's not all doom and gloom.  For every group of destructive humans, there seems to be an euqally passionate group of  conservationist who speak up for the animals.  Still, with global overcrowding becoming inevitable, one wonders how we will be able to maintain future diversity. 

Monday, December 15, 2014

The Master of Heathcrest Hall

The title: The Master of Heathcrest Hall
The authors: Galen Beckett
Publication: Spectra, 2012
Got it from: Amazon 2012

I finally got around to reading the 700+ page conclusion to the Magicians and Mrs. Quent trilogy.  I like to read books by the season.  The first one I read in the dead of winter, the second in the middle of summer, and I planned to save the third for the long fall evenings.  I started it in October, a perfect time for reading about eerie primeval sentient forests.  But then work compilations, back-to-back illness and a busy holiday season threw my reading schedule way off track.  This book proved the perfect antidote to all the stresses in my life.

The story opens with an extended flashback to a Neolithic Britain and the origins of many of the series' central elements: the arrival of the planet Cerephus and the Ashen, the first magicians, the true nature of the Wyrdwood and the first women who spoke to the trees.  Naturally, the significance of the events don't become clear until the end, but it still made for gripping Stone Age action.  

Thus far in the series, I've been of the opinion that the story and characters are great but nothing actually happens.  Well, The Master of Heathcrest Hall totally did a 180 on the action front.  Tons of things went down in a dramatic fashion, and in some parts I couldn't turn the pages fast enough.  There were mornings when I had to (reluctantly) wrench the book away so I could finish getting ready for work.  

It's difficult for me to say what actually happens without potentially spoiling the plot.  Suffice to say that some of my predictions came true and some didn't.  There were a lot of plot threads going on that had to be wrapped up, and most of them satisfactorily did.  Much to my pleasure, the one I deemed most important to the overall series was saved for the very last few pages.  Yes, that's right.  I spent the book swooning over Mr. Rafferdy.  He had big-time character growth over the series but in The Master of Heathcrest Hall he pulls a Mr. Darcy and becomes wiser and more selfless, while still being awesomely snarky.  Jane Austen fans will note that the primary romance bears a striking resemblance to Pride and Prejudice, albeit with feminism and gay rights and evil ancient aliens.  Really, what more could you ask for?  This is a trilogy well worth the huge time investment - a pleasure from start to finish.