Book of the Month: Frog Alphabet Book

*Featured Image: Frog Alphabet by Fruitful Designs

This month’s book of the month falls under the category of both art and book- it is one of Jerry Pallota’s Alphabet book series , illustrated by Ralph Masiello: “The Frog Alphabet Book.” This book is impressive, not only in artistic design, but in educational value. It uses specific species to represent letters of he alphabet and gives fun facts about each one. While it should be called the amphibian alphabet book (it uses newts, salamanders, and even caecilians), I like that it uses more than just frogs. As an aspiring herpetologist when I was a child, I would have LOVED this book. As an adult, and a herpetologist, I LOVE this book. Truly something all ages can enjoy.


Bottom line… “The Frog Alphabet Book” is awesome, for adults and kids  (this is coming from an adult who has no children, so take that as you will). I recommend it.





Book of the Month: The Lizard King: The True Crimes and Passions of the World’s Greatest Reptile Smugglers

I know… I am awful at keeping Caudatart up to date. I live for the salamanders, and they keep me away from the computer. I hope you can forgive me.

That being said…

During my recent travels, I was able to read a wonderful piece of non-fiction: The Lizard King: The True Crimes and Passions of the World’s Greatest Reptile Smugglers, by Bryan Christy.

I actually listened to the audiobook. The narration was excellent, I recommend it.

I actually listened to the audiobook. The narration was excellent, I recommend it.

For many people, this book may be eye-opening. It may reveal to you how easily people become involved in trafficking of reptiles, and then how easily that becomes linked to more intense crimes. It may be shocking how little protection is provided for rare and endangered animals and, frankly, just how easy it is to smuggle them around the world. If you are not aware of these things, it will be a thrilling read that is more like a riveting crime drama than a non-fiction.

For me, and probably for many of you, none of what I just mentioned above comes as a surprise. As someone in the business of protecting rare and endangered animals, I am too familiar with how animal trafficking works. It’s a matter of understanding the “other side” of things. Frankly, many people who started out in the conservation business end up in the smuggling business, due to circumstances and personal choices. The point is… it is a world that is very close to home.

Bottom line, my understanding of how these operations work did not change the entertainment value of this book, and if you are also familiar with these concepts, do not think it will be a bore. The book is not written just for the shock value, or to surprise those who had no idea how over the top reptile smuggling can be. While it will certainly appeal to that audience, it will also be a pleasure for the audience who is familiar to the subject.

The book tells the story of the rise and fall of an empire in the reptile smuggling business over a few generations. Through telling both sides of the story, it pulls you into the drama. The smugglers are ingenious, loyal to family, and frequently very likable. The USFWS agents are the driven, passionate types, working at a goal that is viewed as worthless by most others. It is easy to empathize on both accounts. It is hard to believe, at many points, this is a non-fiction, due to the excitement, intrigue, and character of the story.

As a person with a passion for reptiles, I found myself intensely  absorbed in the tale.

If you enjoy any or all of the following: crime dramas, reptiles, justice, wildlife, conservation, good books…. I recommend reading The Lizard King: The True Crimes and Passions of the World’s Greatest reptile Smugglers


This Lizard King

This Lizard King


Not this Lizard King.

Not this Lizard King.




(Belated) June Book of the Month: Salamanders and Other Wonders

Another belated book of the month for you…

For June, we have a Non-fiction: Salamanders and Other Wonders: Still More Adventures of a Romantic Naturalist, by Willy Ley.


Honestly, I will recommend any of the books by Willy Ley. As the title denotes, this is one of a sort of series of books he wrote about his knowledge and what he had seen. His books are all very much the rambling experiences of someone who knows what the heck they are talking about. Which is awesome. It reminds me of my own lecturing style. Also he writes on fascinating topics, picking animals that many people have never heard of and detailing their histories for the reader. He chooses topics that sounds made up and really bizarre.

I was given this book as a gift, not only because salamanders, but because I have a love of vintage and antique books. This very classy 1955 naturalist tome is a great addition to the ol’ library.

I had a bit of a nerdy freak out when the first species addressed in the book, in great detail and with a very accurate historical recap, is the Cave Olm. This is one of the coolest animals in the world and hardly anyone has heard of them. Reading about them in Willy Ley’s dry wit was a delight. When he describes the surprise of researchers at the reproductive anomalies of these animals, I imagine him drinking tea in a room of strange artifacts looking bored. The book did not disappoint from there.

I kind of want this to be turned into an audiobook. I frequently download books of LibraVox (if you have never used it, it’s great: all free public domain audiobooks read by volunteers. You can volunteer to read as well if you have the will and the time). There is this one guy who read Bartleby the Scrivener who has the best charming professorial voice, and he would be perfect for this book. I need to find out if this book is public domain, and if it is I need to see if I can put in a request for that guy to read it, because that would be amazing.

Read this book. You will learn lots and be amused.

Willy Ley says you should read his books.

Willy Ley says you should read his books.



(Belated) May Book of the Month: Spike the Mixed up Monster

Well, I have some catching up to do… Summer is a busy time for me, I got behind.

I’ll start with the back-logged May book of the month: Spike the Mixed Up Monster, by Susan Hood and Melissa Sweet.


I try to stay away from too many children’s books as books of the month, because the point is to recommend a fulfilling read… but some children’s books fit that category.

I was given this book for my birthday (because salamanders). I saw the cover and thought “oh, how nice, a cute book about an axolotl.” It’s so much more. This book is a super-amazing-adorable-made-me-pout-my-lip-at-its-cuteness book. It really is a must have for any good salamander enthusiast.

The book is about Spike, a super cute Mexican axolotl (all characters must be read with the appropriate accent, as they speak some Spanish) who thinks he is a horrifying monster. He tries very hard to scare everyone, but can’t because… well… he’s super cute. A real monster visits his lake and he learns a heartwarming lesson that will make the reader fill up with the warm fuzzies.

The end of the book shows pictures of all the real animals illustrated in the books, talks about their life histories and a little about conservation. It also has translations for the Spanish terms.

I am making the story sound sickeningly cute, but trust me, it’s the other kind of cute. You know, the aggressive kind of cute that makes you want to hug something too tight. As much as I like to deny that I succumb to that kind of cuteness, an adorable salamander drawing will do it for me every time. Look at that one of Spike drooping his gills. Too cute.

It doesn’t matter what age you are, you will enjoy Spike the Mixed Up Monster. I have a feeling adults will enjoy it more than the children.





April 2015 Book of the Month: The War of the Wizards

I have been searching for this book for YEARS. I read this book as a small girl and received sooooo many rainy afternoons of pleasure from its pages.

The War of the Wizards (not to be confused with War with the Newts) by Carol Gaskin is a Forgotten Forest book. It is a classic choose your own adventure type book. I had a difficult time finding it as I had forgotten (haha, the irony…) which series it belonged to, and using War of the Wizards as a search brings back other, better selling choose your own adventures.

war of the wizards

Yep. Classic cover art.


The premise: you are the apprentice to the wisest wizard of all. You think he’s an old fart. He and his all powerful buddies (a hot sorceress and a fire wizard who lives in a volcano) are on the verge of war. What do you do???

This is my all time favorite choose your own adventure. I still remember most of the endings (I don’t remember the “good” ending, but those are always boring). In my favorite ending of all, which is why this was dubbed BOOK OF THE MONTH, you go to speak to the fire wizard.

Paraphrased (from my 9 year old self’s memory, so it is not a spoiler):

The fire wizard is, predictably, a real hot head. You sneak into his fortress by using a spell to turn you into a huge fire salamander. He finds you. I don’t remember why, I think your boss already talked to him or something, but he decides peace is a super idea on his own. However, he has been wanting a giant fire salamander for a pet for sooooo long… You are doomed forever to be his big squishy pet.

Salamander wizard pet.

Salamander wizard pet.

That made me super happy. I loved that ending.

I recall endings involving turning into toads, involving magical illnesses, involving horrible death… Even if you don’t like choose your own adventures (are you mad?) I recommend this book for the salamander ending. Also, for this type of book, it actually has pretty well developed characters. There were dozens of these in my childhood library, and I can safely say this is the only one I can solidly remember.

Take an afternoon and get lost backtracking through your poor decisions in War of the Wizards!!


March 2015 Book of the Month: Animist by Eve Forward

Sorry, I’ve been MIA. I went on a salamander breeding trip to Omaha to work with my beloved blue spotted salamanders. I just finished my travel book, and had to make it the book of the month.

I am going to break from tradition here… Next month I promise to get back to the book of the month being about something slimy and scaly and lovable, but this month, sorry to say, is about something fuzzy and lovable. At least, I think so. It’s about rats.

I come with plague.

I come with plague.

HOWEVER- the book does feature the best animal on the planet, the axolotl, which kind of takes the place of koi fish as ornamental pond creatures.

If I look pretty, does you feed me????

If I look pretty, does you feed me????

AND it features an awesome reptilian militant character with feathers, which I imagined to look a lot like this:



Anyway. Rats. To be fair, many people have come to accept rats as smart, highly sociable, highly affectionate little critters that are not very different than humans. They express emotions much like us:

However, there are still many people who are a bit freaked out by rats. The book Animist, by Eve Forward, will definitely help people get over those feelings. I know after reading it, I want to run out and buy a bunch of gerbils like I had growing up. I miss those little cuties.


Hi! Rodents are fun!

The plot of this novel is a basic fantasy plot (boy goes on quest, boy overcomes odds, boy finds self along way) with a twisted thread of the pied piper legend tied in there, with the heavy overtones of racism (and/or animal welfare). While I loved the plot (especially the pied piper bit), it could have been a lot tighter. There were lots of gaps and questions left unanswered.

However, the strength of the main characters and the detail with which the author clearly knows animal behavior and physiology made this book great. I love seeing fiction that knows what it is talking about, and this is just that.

Through all of it, though, Animist is a story of a boy and his rat, which anyone who has bonded to an animal can appreciate. His relationship with his Anim (bonded familiar-like critter) is incredibly touching. It brought me to tears at one point, I am not going to lie. There is a race of rat people who refer to his Anim as the “mookchee,” which means something mystical but just sounds adorable. The main character (our animist) spiritually bonds with his rat by accident, and I appreciate the way he goes through some stages of disappointment and denial until he comes around to the fact that he loves his rat.

I decided to read this book because the author, Eve Forward, wrote my favorite book of all time: Villans by Necessity. That book is still the best read EVER. I checked to see if she had written anything else, and found Animist. She apparently wrote Animist first. I have to say, the cover put me off a little (which is in contrast to Villans by Necessity which has a GLORIOUS cover). I am glad I followed the old adage and did not judge a book by its cover.

This is one of those instances where clearly  the artist knew nothing about the book. Not only does the main character look NOTHING like the guy on the cover, I have no idea what is up with the monkeys and the wolves. There is one monkey somewhere in the book for maybe 2 pages. And I think someone says something about wanting to have a fox that looks like a wolf as their Anim at some point.

Anyway, my best friend recommended Villains by Necessity back in the day, which is still  my favorite book. She (at about that time) had a slew of pet rats (she had 2 “females” and ended up with like 12 rats, but her mom was kind hearted and just divided them up by sex and kept them all). I remember how super sweet they were and she would always call “reeeeaaat” to them in a high pitched voice.

So, my point? FULL CIRCLE.


Rat snuggles.






Holiday (Valentine’s Day) Book Selection: The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove

For Valentine’s Day of 2015, curl up with a good book. A good quick read, I suggest The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove by Christopher Moore.



If you have read any of Christopher Moore’s books, you know they can be a little… whimsical? Off color? Fanciful? They usually have some link to science and what seems like a straight forward plot, and then go off on some outlandish, fantastical story line. They are great.

The Lust Lizard begins with the local psychiatrist of a small town, after a tragedy with one of her patients, fearing she hasn’t been giving her clients enough attention. She decides to change all her patients’ medications to placebos and spend more time listening to them.

Then the dragon comes to town.

The dragon (lizard? reptilian predator of some sort) comes ashore, both looking for a mate and hunting his old nemesis, a blues singer passing through town (I’m serious). The dragon is a unique predator that calms its prey by sending pheromones into the air. LOTS and LOTS of pheromones.

The town gets frisky.

People get eaten.

The Psychiatrist gets confused.

This doesn’t even touch on the fullness of the plot. The main character is the sheriff, there is a washed up actress who played a sexy barbarian in a bunch of old cult films, and just a slew of awesomeness. And the dragon is quite a character in himself.

So if you enjoy sex, drugs, dragons, and blues…. read The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove this Valentine’s Day!