ARC Review: The Milkweed Lands by Eric Lee-Mader

Today’s review is about THE MILKWEED LANDS by Eric Lee-Mäder and illustrated by Beverly Duncan. This is a lovely book that many gardeners will appreciate. Lee-Mäder shares the history of the milkweed in the United States and its significance during World War II. And, of course, the reader learns about the milkweed and the creatures associated with it throughout each season.

Author: Eric Lee-Mäder, Beverly Duncan (Illustrator)
Series: None
Age Category: Adult
Publisher: Storey Publishing
Publish Date: September 26, 2023
Print Length: 120

Want to support local bookstores? Buy a copy of The Milkweed Lands on!*

*These are not affiliate links and I do not make a commission from any purchase made using these links.

Continue reading “ARC Review: The Milkweed Lands by Eric Lee-Mader”

Book Review: Down from the Mountain by Bryce Andrews

Reading format: Library hardback

Content warnings: animal death

Rating: 4/5

Want to support local bookstores? Buy a copy of Down from the Mountain: The Life and Death of a Grizzly Bear on!*

*These are not affiliate links and I do not make a commission from any purchase made using these links.

Down from the Mountain is Bryce Andrews’s ode to the North American grizzly bear. When Andrews realizes his heart is no longer in ranching he finds a new job with a conservation group that focuses on mitigating conflicts between land users and large predators. One such conflict is the allure of cornfields that draw grizzlies from their normal food sources. And there’s one field that is particularly attractive to the nearby grizzlies in the Mission Valley in Montana. Andrews eagerly takes on the challenge to find a solution that will benefit both bears and humans.

In the beginning of the book Andrews describes his profession as a rancher. As he recounts what it was like to be a rancher, he effectively narrates the pivotal moment that made him decide he couldn’t do that job for the rest of his life. In a way it humanizes and brings to focus aspects that we, as consumers, might not consciously think about when we purchase meat at the grocery store.

However, that’s not the focus of this nonfiction. It’s simply the impetus for Andrews to find a new job and segue into his work with the conservation group People and Carnivores. Andrews also takes time to acknowledge the tribes tied to the Mission and Bitterroot valley areas, particularly Flathead Reservation. Although it’s a quick summary of the past injustices endured by these tribes, it’s again another piece of U.S. history that I either was never taught or don’t remember from my schooling. For example, as a result of the 1887 Dawes Act (National Park Service; Wikipedia), tribes eventually lost more than a million acres of land from that had been guaranteed to them in perpetuity. Because of the privatization of tribal land, today most of Flathead Reservation’s residents are white (p. 32-34).

In poetic detail, Andrews also describes nature in Montana in such a way that the reader almost feels as if they’re also witness to the same beauty. He helps us visualize both what Montana looks like now and what it likely looked like thousands of years ago.

“Glaciers rasped the valley into shape, scouring out Flathead Lake […] and sharpening peaks into tricornered spearheads. […] the ice left a moonscape of eskers and moraines on the valley floor.”

I expected this book to have a similar writing style/organization as The Reign of Wolf 21 where there’s essentially a semi-dry, play-by-play account of Millie, the grizzly of interest. Instead this book is a smooth, lyrical, descriptive read, which made me feel like I wasn’t reading nonfiction. However, this is also where my biggest critique of the book lies.

Based on the title, I thought I would read more about the life of a grizzly bear. I thought this would be a biography of sorts about Millie that would describe her adult life, what she did during the day, how she trained her cubs. Basically, again, in the vein of The Reign of Wolf 21. Instead, most of this book was about how Andrews devised an electric fence to keep the grizzlies out of the corn field; nature descriptions; some anthropomorphism of Millie; and deductive imaginings of how Millie might have hunted, hibernated, and cared for her young.

I feel like the second part of this book title is somewhat misleading. So if you’re looking for a book that really follows grizzly bears and how they live, this book isn’t it. This book is more for those who prefer to read a little bit about everything. That is, discussions of human-predator interactions, tribal participation in managing the grizzlies, problem-solving, land management, and being in tune with nature.

Product Details
Publisher: HMH Books
Publish Date: April 16, 2019
Pages: 288
Type: Hardback

2021 Second Quarter Book Haul: New Books

Last week I shared which used books I picked up during the second quarter of 2021 from April through June. Now it’s time for part two of three where I share which brand new books I acquired. I hope this list inspires you to check out one or more of these books!

All book summaries are from the book publisher’s website. In other words, these summaries are not my own.

Want to support local book stores? Buy a copy these books on!*

*This is not an affiliate link and I do not make a commission from any purchase made using these links.

Hall of Smoke by H.M. Long

Hessa is an Eangi: a warrior priestess of the Goddess of War, with the power to turn an enemy’s bones to dust with a scream. Banished for disobeying her goddess’s command to murder a traveller, she prays for forgiveness alone on a mountainside.

While she is gone, raiders raze her village and obliterate the Eangi priesthood. Grieving and alone, Hessa – the last Eangi – must find the traveller and atone for her weakness and secure her place with her loved ones in the High Halls. As clans from the north and legionaries from the south tear through her homeland, slaughtering everyone in their path Hessa strives to win back her goddess’ favour.

Beset by zealot soldiers, deceitful gods, and newly-awakened demons at every turn, Hessa burns her path towards redemption and revenge. But her journey reveals a harrowing truth: the gods are dying and the High Halls of the afterlife are fading. Soon Hessa’s trust in her goddess weakens with every unheeded prayer.

Thrust into a battle between the gods of the Old World and the New, Hessa realizes there is far more on the line than securing a life beyond her own death. Bigger, older powers slumber beneath the surface of her world. And they’re about to wake up.

The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker

Here is the story of the Iliad as we’ve never heard it before: in the words of Briseis, Trojan queen and captive of Achilles. Given only a few words in Homer’s epic and largely erased by history, she is nonetheless a pivotal figure in the Trojan War. In these pages she comes fully to life: wry, watchful, forging connections among her fellow female prisoners even as she is caught between Greece’s two most powerful warriors. Her story pulls back the veil on the thousands of women who lived behind the scenes of the Greek army camp—concubines, nurses, prostitutes, the women who lay out the dead—as gods and mortals spar, and as a legendary war hurtles toward its inevitable conclusion. Brilliantly written, filled with moments of terror and beauty, The Silence of the Girls gives voice to an extraordinary woman—and makes an ancient story new again.

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell

England, 1580: The Black Death creeps across the land, an ever-present threat, infecting the healthy, the sick, the old and the young alike. The end of days is near, but life always goes on. A young Latin tutor—penniless and bullied by a violent father—falls in love with an extraordinary, eccentric young woman. Agnes is a wild creature who walks her family’s land with a falcon on her glove and is known throughout the countryside for her unusual gifts as a healer, understanding plants and potions better than she does people. Once she settles with her husband on Henley Street in Stratford-upon-Avon, she becomes a fiercely protective mother and a steadfast, centrifugal force in the life of her young husband, whose career on the London stage is just taking off when his beloved young son succumbs to sudden fever.

Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds & Shape Our Futures by Merlin Sheldrake

When we think of fungi, we likely think of mushrooms. But mushrooms are only fruiting bodies, analogous to apples on a tree. Most fungi live out of sight, yet make up a massively diverse kingdom of organisms that supports and sustains nearly all living systems. Fungi provide a key to understanding the planet on which we live, and the ways we think, feel, and behave.

In Entangled Life, the brilliant young biologist Merlin Sheldrake shows us the world from a fungal point of view, providing an exhilarating change of perspective. Sheldrake’s vivid exploration takes us from yeast to psychedelics, to the fungi that range for miles underground and are the largest organisms on the planet, to those that link plants together in complex networks known as the “Wood Wide Web,” to those that infiltrate and manipulate insect bodies with devastating precision.

Fungi throw our concepts of individuality and even intelligence into question. They are metabolic masters, earth makers, and key players in most of life’s processes. They can change our minds, heal our bodies, and even help us remediate environmental disaster. By examining fungi on their own terms, Sheldrake reveals how these extraordinary organisms—and our relationships with them—are changing our understanding of how life works.

Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

With the Nebula Award–winning Uprooted, Naomi Novik opened a brilliant new chapter in an already acclaimed career, delving into the magic of fairy tales to craft a love story that was both timeless and utterly of the now. Spinning Silver draws readers deeper into this glittering realm of fantasy, where the boundary between wonder and terror is thinner than a breath, and safety can be stolen as quickly as a kiss.

Miryem is the daughter and granddaughter of moneylenders, but her father’s inability to collect his debts has left his family on the edge of poverty—until Miryem takes matters into her own hands. Hardening her heart, the young woman sets out to claim what is owed and soon gains a reputation for being able to turn silver into gold. When an ill-advised boast draws the attention of the king of the Staryk—grim fey creatures who seem more ice than flesh—Miryem’s fate, and that of two kingdoms, will be forever altered. She will face an impossible challenge and, along with two unlikely allies, uncover a secret that threatens to consume the lands of humans and Staryk alike.

The Blacktongue Thief by Christopher Buehlman*

*I won this book in a giveaway hosted by Polish and Paperbacks.

Kinch Na Shannack owes the Takers Guild a small fortune for his education as a thief, which includes (but is not limited to) lock-picking, knife-fighting, wall-scaling, fall-breaking, lie-weaving, trap-making, plus a few small magics. His debt has driven him to lie in wait by the old forest road, planning to rob the next traveler that crosses his path.

But today, Kinch Na Shannack has picked the wrong mark.

Galva is a knight, a survivor of the brutal goblin wars, and handmaiden of the goddess of death. She is searching for her queen, missing since a distant northern city fell to giants.

Unsuccessful in his robbery and lucky to escape with his life, Kinch now finds his fate entangled with Galva’s. Common enemies and uncommon dangers force thief and knight on an epic journey where goblins hunger for human flesh, krakens hunt in dark waters, and honor is a luxury few can afford.

Book Review: The Reign of Wolf 21 by Rick McIntyre

Reading format: Library hardback

Content warnings: blood

Rating: 3.75/5

Want to support local bookstores? Buy a copy of The Reign of Wolf 21 on!*

*These are not affiliate links and I do not make a commission from any purchase made using these links.

Rick McIntyre, a former National Park Service employee, shares the tale of one of Yellowstone National Park’s most esteemed alpha males, Wolf 21. After the re-introduction of wolves to Yellowstone in 1995, Wolf 21 quickly became famous among wolf observers. As leader of the Druid Peak Pack, he was known for his fairness, altruism, ferocity, and loyalty to his mate, Wolf 42.

McIntyre’s narrative of the lives of the Yellowstone wolves begins with Wolf 21’s courtship of Wolf 42. Wolf 42’s jealous sister, then alpha female of the pack, repeatedly interfered with their relationship. She was also known for her domineering and violent leadership style to keep her subordinates in check. These factors ultimately lead to a coup within the pack. At last, Wolf 21 and Wolf 42 were able to be together as the new leaders. The keen personalities and strong leadership of Wolf 21 and Wolf 42 lead to the rise of the Druid Peak Pack as the dominant pack within the park for years.

Though Wolf 21 is clearly a favorite, McIntyre writes about the lives of the Druids with scientific objectivity. Some presumptions are made based on familiarity with the pack. For the most part, though, McIntyre avoids attributing human emotions and characteristics to the wolves. The sequential account of events may seem monotonous at times; they are based on years of field notes, after all. But frequently interspersed throughout the chronology are nuggets of text that exemplify the strong leadership of Wolf 21 and Wolf 42.

McIntyre tells us of Wolf 21’s affinity for his pups, how he doted on injured pack members, and how he frequently let pregnant and nursing females first access to a meal. Wolf 21 was not doubt a fiersome opponent to his rivals. But he also had a more affectionate side that he expressed with his mate. The equal of Wolf 21 in every way, McIntyre writes about Wolf 42’s patience and intelligence. One fine example that stands out was her never-tiring perserverance to persuade some pups to cross a river by baiting them with sticks.

The biggest takeaway of this book, in my mind, is how extraordinarily intelligent wolves are. Even though the prologue of this book tells you how it will end, I still shed tears when the inevitable deaths of Wolf 21 and Wolf 42 occurred. McIntyre doesn’t delve too much into the positive environmental impacts of wolves on Yellowstone. Those impacts are equally important, though, to break down the negative narrative of wolves that we grew up with for decades. It’s fascinating how re-introducing an apex predator reshaped Yellowstone’s ecosystem for the better.

Because wolves had been absent from Yellowstone for so long, the elk population exploded. Hunters loved this because it not only meant more hunting opportunity, but it was also important for the local economy; outfitting expeditions for non-locals were a good source of income for residents. However, too many elk caused over-grazing, particularly regarding trees around streams. This over-grazing reduced the food source for beavers, bison, and moose and the habitat for birds.

Reintroduction of the wolves (along with continued hunting and predation by cougars and grizzlies) lead to fewer elk in Yellowstone, reversing the effects overgrazing had on the environment. The wolf population grew relatively large at one point, but eventually balanced itself out once the elk population decreased. (For what it’s worth, this book also cites research that, contrary to belief, grizzlies kill more elk than wolves.) I am just amazed how much effect the wolves have had in Yellowstone.

Anyway, I’ll get off my soap box of wolf admiration. But I highly recommend this book, along with Nake Blakelee’s American Wolf: A True Story of Survival and Obsession in the West.

Earth Day Book Recommendations

Happy Earth Day, everyone! To celebrate, I put together a list of books I’ve read recently that pertain to life on our planet. I read these before I started my book review blog, so I don’t have any of my own reviews to share. But these are books that taught me new things and that I hope the greater book community may enjoy as well. The descriptions accompanying each book are from their

Please note that any links in this post are not affiliate links and I do not make a commission from any purchase made using these links.

American Wolf: A True Story of Survival and Obsession in the West by Nate Blakeslee

The enthralling true story of the rise and reign of O-Six, the celebrated Yellowstone wolf, and the people who loved or feared her.

Before men ruled the earth, there were wolves. Once abundant in North America, these majestic creatures were hunted to near extinction in the lower 48 states by the 1920s. But in recent decades, conservationists have brought wolves back to the Rockies, igniting a battle over the very soul of the West.

With novelistic detail, Nate Blakeslee tells the gripping story of one of these wolves, O-Six, a charismatic alpha female named for the year of her birth. Uncommonly powerful, with gray fur and faint black ovals around each eye, O-Six is a kind and merciful leader, a fiercely intelligent fighter, and a doting mother. She is beloved by wolf watchers, particularly renowned naturalist Rick McIntyre, and becomes something of a social media star, with followers around the world.

But as she raises her pups and protects her pack, O-Six is challenged on all fronts: by hunters, who compete with wolves for the elk they both prize; by cattle ranchers who are losing livestock and have the ear of politicians; and by other Yellowstone wolves who are vying for control of the park’s stunningly beautiful Lamar Valley.

These forces collide in American Wolf, a riveting multigenerational saga of hardship and triumph that tells a larger story about the ongoing cultural clash in the West–between those fighting for a vanishing way of life and those committed to restoring one of the country’s most iconic landscapes.

Troubled Water: What’s Wrong with What We Drink by Seth M. Siegel

New York Times bestselling author Seth M. Siegel shows how our drinking water got contaminated, what it may be doing to us, and what we must do to make it safe.

If you thought America’s drinking water problems started and ended in Flint, Michigan, think again. From big cities and suburbs to the rural heartland, chemicals linked to cancer, heart disease, obesity, birth defects, and lowered IQ routinely spill from our taps.

Many are to blame: the EPA, Congress, a bipartisan coalition of powerful governors and mayors, chemical companies, and drinking water utilities–even NASA and the Pentagon. Meanwhile, the bottled water industry has been fanning our fears about tap water, but bottled water is often no safer.

The tragedy is that existing technologies could launch a new age of clean, healthy, and safe tap water for only a few dollars a week per person.

Scrupulously researched, Troubled Water is full of shocking stories about contaminated water found throughout the country and about the everyday heroes who have successfully forced changes in the quality and safety of our drinking water. And it concludes with what America must do to reverse decades of neglect and play-it-safe inaction by government at all levels in order to keep our most precious resource safe.

Blowout: Corrupted Democracy, Rogue State Russia, and the Richest, Most Destructive Industry on Earth by Rachel Maddow

In 2010, the words “earthquake swarm” entered the lexicon in Oklahoma. That same year, a trove of Michael Jackson memorabilia–including his iconic crystal-encrusted white glove–was sold at auction for over $1 million to a guy who was, officially, just the lowly forestry minister of the tiny nation of Equatorial Guinea. And in 2014, Ukrainian revolutionaries raided the palace of their ousted president and found a zoo of peacocks, gilded toilets, and a floating restaurant modeled after a Spanish galleon. Unlikely as it might seem, there is a thread connecting these events, and Rachel Maddow follows it to its crooked source: the unimaginably lucrative and equally corrupting oil and gas industry.

With her trademark black humor, Maddow takes us on a switchback journey around the globe, revealing the greed and incompetence of Big Oil and Gas along the way, and drawing a surprising conclusion about why the Russian government hacked the 2016 U.S. election. She deftly shows how Russia’s rich reserves of crude have, paradoxically, stunted its growth, forcing Putin to maintain his power by spreading Russia’s rot into its rivals, its neighbors, the West’s most important alliances, and the United States. Chevron, BP, and a host of other industry players get their star turn, most notably ExxonMobil and the deceptively well-behaved Rex Tillerson. The oil and gas industry has weakened democracies in developed and developing countries, fouled oceans and rivers, and propped up authoritarian thieves and killers. But being outraged at it is, according to Maddow, “like being indignant when a lion takes down and eats a gazelle. You can’t really blame the lion. It’s in her nature.”

Blowout is a call to contain the lion: to stop subsidizing the wealthiest businesses on earth, to fight for transparency, and to check the influence of the world’s most destructive industry and its enablers. The stakes have never been higher. As Maddow writes, “Democracy either wins this one or disappears.”