Roland found octopuses can open the childproof caps, an achievement that eludes many PhDs.


So, okay, I read this book because it kept popping up on social media as a fabulous read, and yes, I liked it. Octopuses (because now I know the plural isn’t octopi) are intelligent

A staffer put food inside the ball but later was surprised to find that no ony had the octopus opened the ball, it had screwed it back together when it was done.


Six of us were watching her, and three of us had arms in the tank, before anyone noticed what had happened: She had managed to steal the bucket of fish right out from under us.


Roland found octopuses can open the childproof caps, an achievement that eludes many PhDs.

not to mention this MFA.

But there is a great deal of anthropomorphism contained herein, beginning with the title of the book. An octopus with a soul? An animal who, just for example, often kills and eats their mate? Intelligent, yes, curious, adventurous, yes, but you could ascribe those characteristics as well to a gorilla, a raven, a grizzly, a humpback. Do these animals have souls as well?

And if you’re going to attribute human behavior to an octopus who kills itself by escaping its tank and go into literal mourning at the loss of what you now consider to be your friend, why ignore the one motivation that would cement your theory? Maybe it wasn’t mischief or curiosity or loneliness or claustrophobia or in this case agoraphobia (she was transferred from a barrel to a much larger tank). Maybe she just wanted to get back to the ocean, where she didn’t have to put up with all these weird bipeds staring at and fondling her. Remember Inky, who didn’t even leave a note.

This book is well written and clearly well researched with some very funny scenes (love when they all go to eat sushi after a visit to the aquarium), but I’m a child of Alaska and I was raised eating wild catch. If we didn’t get our moose we didn’t eat meat that winter. Maybe I’m just predisposed to regard anthropomorphism with skepticism because I don’t want to think I’m a cannibal. There is no denying the intelligence of the octopus and I’m not trying to, but I dig in at a soul.

Sandford is always good but this book? Is even better.


Any book that begins with Virgil Flowers naked in a swimming hole works for me. Add in two catnapped Amur tigers, immigrant workers being exploited in a pickle factory, a homicidal animal rights activist, Frankie the farmer girlfriend who is, reluctantly I say it, worthy of Virgil’s undivided attention, Sparkle her idiot sister, Bill the sort-of priest, and a hilarious group of vengeful Armenian (or was it Iranian?) brothers who all talk like Damon Runyon characters anyway, and you’ve got a book that will keep your butt firmly in your chair from page 1 to page end. It sure did mine.

Sandford is always good but this book? Is even better. Recommended, and it publishes tomorrow.

All my Goodreads reviews here.

“Hurry, Mike Mulligan! Hurry! Hurry!”


This book wound up in my to-read pile by way of one of those Internet rabbit holes that began with this article on Atlas Obscura (a very dangerous site you should stay the hell away from, except not), which informed me

To children worldwide, Virginia Lee Burton is the beloved hand behind half a dozen classics, including Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, Katy and the Big Snow, and The Little House—intricately illustrated tales of close-knit communities.

Not this child. When you click through the Atlas Obscura post you arrive at the Cape Ann Museum website, there is more–

The Folly Cove Designers was composed almost entirely of women, most being residents of Cape Ann and a majority having no artistic training prior to becoming involved in the group. They worked under the leadership of Virginia Lee Burton Demetrios, who devised a design course which she offered to her friends and neighbors in the Folly Cove neighborhood. Participants were urged by Demetrios to look to their surroundings for inspiration, to draw “what they knew” and to sketch their subjects over and over again until they made them their own.

Who can resist a love story about a guy and his steam engine? Not me, so I ordered a copy of the 75th anniversary edition and I’m not ashamed to say I read it out loud to my inner child and we both thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. Good writing, great illustrations and serious suspense

Never had Mike Mulligan and Mary Anne

had so many people to watch them;

never had they dug so fast and so well;

and never had the sun seemed

to go down so fast.

“Hurry, Mike Mulligan!

Hurry! Hurry!

but all ends well, if not quite how you would expect. This is one of those books you buy not for the kids in your life but for the parents who will have to read it over and over and over again and won’t be mad at you.

Read more of my Goodreads reviews here.

She’s got this.


What happens when nine-year old Lunella has the Inhuman gene and desperately doesn’t want to be an Inhuman?

Alien Kree experimented on my DNA thousands of years ago. The Inhumans exploded a Terrigen Bomb of mist that triggers genetic transformation. No way. I’m the boss of my own body. Nobody gets to tell anybody who or what they can and can’t be.

Damn straight, and this in spite of that red T-Rex and those ape dudes that crash in from another time and place and wreak havoc all over Lunella’s neighborhood, and well-meant but inept interference from that big green guy and, oh yeah, her parents. It’s okay, she’s got this. Recommended.

More of my Goodreads reviews here.


The cowboying way of life

Monte WalshMonte Walsh by Jack Schaefer

I simply disappeared between the covers of this book. Hilarious, heart-breaking and oh so real, this isn’t just a story about a cowboy and the cowboying way of life, it’s about a strict code and living up to it especially when it ain’t easy, it’s about the settling of the American West, and it’s about the progress of civilization and what gets left behind.

People like Monte exist anywhere there is a frontier, they are the loners who go out ahead of the rest of us, and when they’re done, there is no place left for them. If you don’t cry at the end of this book, you aren’t human.

There is also a pretty good film adaptation starring Tom Selleck.

View all my reviews

How Geography is Destiny



Brisk, well written, continent by continent (excluding Australia) survey of how geography is destiny, beginning with Putin going down on his knees every night to ask God why He didn’t put mountains in Ukraine. I really liked the way Marshall organized it, too. The first chapter is Russia and how so much of their actions are dictated by the eternal quest for a warm-water port, the second is China’s equally eternal quest of finding water routes unobstructed by the island archipelago likes of the Philippines and Japan, Russia and South Korea, all except Russia firm American allies, although Russia has as much interest in keeping China within bounds as the US does.

The third chapter is about good old US, and it had not previously occurred to me that geography is why we are who we are. I mean, yeah, I understand about the insulating effect of being between two oceans, but Marshall says that if someone had sat down and drawn the perfect base for world domination, they would have come up with, you guessed it, US. Partly this is because of all that wonderful farmland but it’s also partly because we’re home to the world’s longest navigable rivers, so we can get all that grain to market.

He lays out why the entire continent of Africa is becoming a Chinese colony, and the chapter on India and Pakistan is a pocket history of the region and it will not cheer you to learn that, again, geography dictates that nothing is resolved there anytime soon, or ever. One Indian politician is even on record as saying they ought to just nuke Pakistan and deal with the literal and figurative fallout so India can move on without the Pakistani thorn in their sides. Jesus. Marshall is also amusingly shirty about the Arab Spring, which he pretty conclusively demonstrates was romanticized by Western writers into a transformative event that was no such thing on the ground.

Marshall is a BBC journalist who knows how to get to the meat of the story in efficient, competent prose that still makes for enthralling read. Not a needless word anywhere. Highly recommended.

My other Goodreads reviews here.

Novik figured out a way to tether Napoleon that Metternich himself would have envied



I’m slightly annoyed that Novik left the introduction of one of her greatest characters to the last book in the series–I’m talking about Temeraire and Izkierka’s egg, Ning, who has some, I must say, very sensible ideas about war.

“Certainly the war must be halted,” Temeraire said. “That is precisely why we mean to defeat Napoleon.”

“That would stop this war,” the dragonet said. “But I am quite certain that it would not end all war. I dare say you and your allies would all quarrel among yourselves straightaway, and start a new one.”…

“I would be very happy to see war come to an end, myself, although a neat little skirmish now and then, with a prize after, no-one could really object to, I think,” Temeraire said. “But I should like to know a great deal how you suppose anyone should accomplish that.”

“Well, I don’t know, yet,” the dragonet said, “but I mean to find a way: just because the business will be difficult is no excuse for not making the attempt.”

Certainly not. And Novik figured out a way to tether Napoleon that Metternich himself would have envied–the restoration of the Bourbons was never going to end well–although Novik makes you fully understand Laurence’s mixed emotions for that solution.

And then what? The war is over, and Laurence and Temeraire’s partnership was entirely predicated on war. Ah, but Novik’s got an answer for that, too.

A satisfying albeit slightly melancholy ending to a truly wonderfully written series about the Napoleonic War, with dragons. I can’t recommend it enough, and l’ll be first in line for Novik’s next book, whatever it is about.