Tag Archives: animals

The Miraculous Cat

a catA Cat by Leonard Michaels (Tin House Books, $18.95, 128 pages); illustrated by Francis Lerner, introduction by Sigrid Nunez

“A cat is content to be a cat.”

A Cat is a nicely illustrated re-release of a book originally published in 1999.  The book was written by the late Leonard Michaels, who taught as a Professor of English at the University of California, Berkeley.  The line drawings for the original and this edition were by Francis Lerner, and they well represent the relaxed yet athletic nature of cats.

A Cat is both an examination of and a tribute to felines.  Each page contains a parable-like statement about the nature of cats, although Michaels noted that we can never truly capture the essence of these creatures: “A cat reminds us that much in this world remains unknown.”

Michaels certainly loved cats: “Looking at a cat, like looking at clouds or stars or the ocean, makes it difficult to believe there is nothing miraculous in the world.”  Cats remain in the present moment, making the most of life.  In Michaels’s words, “For a cat just to live is splendid.”  And cats show us that sometimes it is best to get out of one’s mind: “To be quick as a cat you must not think.”

Cats live on their well developed instincts, “However a cat looks or behaves, it is what it is, a small and intensely serious being, a cat.”

Well recommended for anyone who is willingly owned by a cat.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was received from the publisher.  This new edition of A Cat was released on November 13, 2018.  (Sasha the cat decided this was a great book to sit on top of.)

 

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38 Species x 9 Lives

Wild cats

Wild Cats of the World by Luke Hunter, Illustrated by Priscilla Barrett (Bloomsbury, $40.00, 240 pages)

Wild Cats of the World is a coffee table sized book that at first glance looks like it would be the perfect gift for any feline lover. The book examines 38 species of small and big cats, augmented with beautiful photos and sketches. It also imparts interesting information, like the fact that female cats are actually more efficient hunters than males – since they don’t stalk things they can’t kill, and that wildcats can live a full 19 years in captivity. It’s also repeatedly stated that wildcats can and do interbreed with domestic cats.

Wildcat 2

wildcat-076

Unfortunately, this book has several weaknesses. Hunter is far too concerned with what each type of cat kills and eats; there are too many photos of cats with their prey – which deems it unsuitable to be kept around children; and the book over-emphasizes the issue of extinction of species. What could have been a joyful celebration of the world’s most successful mammal – one that exists in both large and small forms – becomes a depressing, dragged-out, textbook-like read.

There’s not enough attention paid to the 43 breeds of domestic cats, which are far from extinct with 500 million of them serving as beloved pets, and an additional 500 million living as feral creatures. (500 million feral versions of Felis catus/Felis silvestris definitely equals a very successful type of wild cat!) And the high-priced book is poorly edited (“[a] survey must… continue for a long enough to sample…”).

Overall, a miss instead of a hit.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book was released on October 13, 2015.

Note: There’s another book titled Wild Cats of the World, authored by Mel Sunquist and Fiona Sunquist (Chicago University Press).

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Old King

Old Faithful dogs

Old Faithful: Dogs of a Certain Age by Pete Thorne (Harper Design, $19.99, 144 pages)

Missy isn’t good with math and has no idea of what “senior” means, so she still often behaves like a puppy, running and playing, which makes us and her, happy, and even though playtime isn’t as long as it once was, she’s still up for it every day.

mini poodle

The picture that accompanies this text shows a sweet fifteen and a half-year-old miniature poodle with large bright eyes and a gray muzzle. What’s not to love? Puppies are cute and wiggly but if you want a real buddy, go for one with wisdom and character written across its face. Missy loves everyone, even cats.

Pete Thorne, a professional photographer, became fascinated with older doggies. His online post featuring one at his grandma’s birthday party touched many folks. Seventy-five of the many biographies sent to Thorne have been gathered into an elegant, coffee table-style book. His full-page headshots taken while meeting with the owners and small versions placed next to the biographies fill the book.

Old Faithful dog 2

old faithful dog

old faithful dogs 3

I doubt you will leave Old Faithful sitting on a table or shelf. The furry face on the cover seems to be ready to bark. “Open the book and see what we’re all about.” Unlike many elegant books featuring photos accompanied by small blurbs of explanation, this one is filled with heartfelt joy and wonder. I dare you to resist running to the nearest shelter to adopt a dog of a certain age! (And let’s hope that Thorne proceeds to put together a similar book about cats of a certain age. Meow.)

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

Pete Thorne

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Coming Up Next…

Masters of Their Universe

A review of Masters of Their Universe: Business (and Life) Secrets Taught by Four-Legged Professors by Robert B. Haas.

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The Teddy Bears Picnic

Hero: The Paintings of Robert Bissell (Pomegranate, $65.00, 140 pages)

Hero-book-3D-layer

Hero bear

“Mystical” and “engaging” and “riveting” are words that only begin to describe the spectacular bear painting gracing the cover of Hero. This is obviously a lush coffee table book. More than that, it is a journey into the world of painter Robert Bissell. Bissell is a master at photorealism with a marvelous twist. Rather than slavishly reproducing the likenesses of creatures in the wild, he grants his subjects an intimate aura.

Hero bears and rabbits

The bears and rabbits (his favorites) have startling anthropomorphic qualities in their eyes, gestures and positioning. These creatures are caught in Zen-like moments. Bissell has provided disarmingly open statements about his works and their inspiration in the paragraphs that accompany most of the paintings reproduced on the pages of this big impressive, high-quality book.

Unlike many of the books of this genre that include explanatory historic notes, the text in Hero serves to draw the reader in and add depth to the paintings. The reading experience is captivating, so much so that the many pages are clearly not meant to be flipped through; rather, they must be savored and revisited to grasp the full meaning of Bissell’s work.

Mr. Bissell, who currently lives in Oregon, was born in the United Kingdom. He was a professional photographer prior to committing to being a painter. The composition of his paintings is impeccable and his photographer’s eye flawlessly translates a mix of fantasy and reality into pictures that hold the viewer’s attention.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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If You Could Read My Mind

Cat Telling Tales: A Joe Grey Mystery by Shirley Rousseau Murphy (William Morrow, $19.99, 384 pages)

Just in time for the holidays, this Joe Grey mystery dishes up a warm serving of human kindness.   Of course there’s plenty of evil and mayhem for the team of kitties and their humans to get their teeth into.   There are human victims in the mix, old and young, dead and alive.   (Please see the prior review of Cat Coming Home on this site for background on the story line.   The review, “Dead Man’s Curve”, was posted on November 17, 2010.)

As with prior books in this series, Cat Telling Tales provides an opportunity to champion the victims of crime.   Rather than a specific victim, in this tale the focus is on the pets that have been dumped by folks made homeless by the economic meltdown in recent years.   Author Murphy provides ample evidence of how pets are abandoned and what can be done to put their lives back together.   She champions the townsfolk who take the time and make the effort to gather the resources to give the abandoned pets a fresh start.   Readers who love cats, and dogs for that matter, can use the ideas presented for fundraisers in their own communities or join their local organizations that are the counterparts to ones referenced in the book.   (Please see the links and contact information below for the organizations supported by this site.)

Not all the victims in this tale were guiltless; however, in the hierarchy of crime murder takes the top spot.   The body count adds up to three this time around.   Joe Grey, Dulcie and Kit are joined by Misto who was introduced in the aforementioned book as the older yellow tom cat.   As is her style, Ms. Murphy enriches her cast with yet another newcomer.   Yes, he’s fascinating and he does catch Kit’s attention.   Some things don’t change.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   Cat Telling Tales was released on November 22, 2011.

Happy Tails Pet Sanctuary – Sacramento, CA

http://www.happytails.org/   E-mail: purrball@happytails.org   Telephone: (916) 556-1155

Sacramento SPCA – Sacramento County

http://www.sspca.org/   Telephone: (916) 383-7387

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Coming Up Next…

A review of Cat Telling Tales: A Joe Grey Mystery by Shirley Rousseau Murphy.

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Win a copy of Huck!

We recently posted a review of Huck: The Remarkable True Story of How One Lost Puppy Taught a Family – and a Whole Town – About Hope and Happy Endings by Janet Elder.   I gave Huck our highest rating as a read, Highly Recommended.   This one is so good that David Letterman said, “You’ll feel better about everything after you read this.”

Now, thanks to the publisher (Broadway Books), we have three (3) copies of Huck to give away to our readers.   This trade paperback is 301 pages long – with a new Afterward – and has a retail value of $15.00.   We’re also adding two additional copies of Huck that we picked up, and a hard-to-find pre-publication galley (Advance Review Copy) that we located; the latter version runs 295 pages in length.   So, if Sasha the kitten is right – she’s counting on her paws – we’ll have not 1, 2, 3 or even 5 winners, but six (6) winners in this contest!

To enter this giveaway, tell us why you would like to win a copy of this particular story.   This is open-book, so feel free to read or re-read the review (“The Pick of the Litter”) that I posted on this site on October 30, 2011; and/or any other reviews or information that you can locate on the internet.   Post your response as a comment below including an e-mail address where you can be contacted, or send your reply as an e-mail to: Josephsreviews@gmail.com .   This will count as a first entry.

For a second entry, tell us about the most important or unique animal you’ve encountered in your life.   This can be an animal that you or your family owned, or one that was owned by a neighbor, or even one that you visited in a zoo.   What did you learn from this animal?   Again, you can post your response below or submit it as an e-mail message. In order to be eligible to enter and win this contest, you must live in the continental United States or Canada and be able to supply a residential (street) address if contacted.   Books will not be shipped to a P. O. box or business-related address.   You have until 12:00 p.m./midnight on Tuesday, December 20, 2011 to submit your entry or entries.   However, the winners may be selected and notified before then depending on the quality of the entries received – so don’t delay!  

This is it for the “complex” contest rules.   Let’s hope that you’re one of the readers that will soon be adding a copy of Huck: The Remarkable Story of… One Lost Puppy to your library!

Joseph Arellano

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All I Have to Do is Dream

The Sniffles for Bear: A Bear and Mouse Children’s Book by Bonny Becker; illustrated by Karly MacDonald Denton (Candlewick Press; $16.99; 32 pages)

“Bear was sick, very, very sick…  Bear was sure no one had ever been as sick as he.”

This terrific book in the Bear and Mouse children’s book series is perfect for teaching a sensitive child that a transitory illness can have a bark that’s worse than its bite.   In this finely illustrated tale, Bear (and he’s a big one!) is down with a winter flu and he’s sure that he’s dying – so sure that he decides to draw up a will to give away his worldly possessions.   Mouse (the far smaller of the two friendly animals) helps Bear to keep his grip on this mortal coil by nursing him through his illness with the benefit of some hand-holding and Nettle soup.   A congested Bear says of the soup, “Dat was just the thing.”

Eventually, Bear comes to feel better and – wouldn’t you know it? – Mouse winds up catching the flu and all he wants to do is rest.   So the tables are turned, and its Bear’s turn to take care of Mouse; some Nettle soup and Mouse goes happily, snuggly to sleep.

The colors in this book are subtly relaxing, and the story is told with such humor and irony that your child will likely plead with you to read it before catching 40 winks.   Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   The Sniffles for Bear is recommended for children ages 3 and up.   The first book in the series, A Visitor for Bear, was a New York Times Bestseller and an E. B. White Read Aloud Award Winner.

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The Pick of the Litter

Huck: The Remarkable True Story of How One Lost Puppy Taught a Family – and a Whole Town – About Hope and Happy Endings by Janet Elder (Broadway; $15.00; 301 pages)

“…our little dog, our Huck, had from the very beginning made all of us forget about cancer and its debilitating emotional and physical effects…   From the moment he arrived, Huck brought a lot of love into all our lives.”

I happened to pick up this true tale while encountering a bit of rough sledding and it was the perfect choice.   This is a book that will restore your faith in both humanity and the Universe, with a capital “U.”   I’m not the only person who feels this way – comedian David Letterman said about Huck, “You’ll feel better about everything after you read this.”

Janet Elder and her husband Rich, who live in New York City, finally give in to their son’s pleas to have a dog; pleas which began when Michael was just four.   Years later – after Janet has survived a battle with cancer – they get Michael a red-haired toy poodle named Huck.   Huck appears to be the answer to many prayers until he’s left at a relative’s home while the Elders vacation in Florida.   A neighborhood car accident creates a situation in which Huck gets loose and runs away from the house in Ramsey, New York.   Ramsey is a bucolic rural community with woods populated with coyotes, raccoons and other dangerous predators (possibly even including bears).   It also has high-speed roads that cut through the area, making the odds of survival for a lost animal even slimmer.   Since Huck had never been to Ramsey before, the odds of him returning “home” are extremely unlikely.

Twenty-four hours into their much-needed vacation trip, the Elders learn that Huck has gone missing.   They speed back to Ramsey to look for the lost dog.   The details of the long hunt for Huck are best left for the reader to discover; however, what’s amazing about this true story is the way in which an entire community elected to help the Elders by attempting to find a very small dog lost in a large and dangerous, lightly populated wilderness area.   Each of the volunteers involved brought different skills to the search, with one in particular deciding that they needed to think like an animal (e.g., animals generally re-cross their earlier paths) in order to locate Huck.

“Huck…  is a constant reminder of the simple virtues that matter most in life – loyalty, humor, patience, companionship, and unconditional love.”

Anyone who has ever had a dog or cat or other animal go missing will definitely identify with the Elders, although you need not currently own a pet to relate to this wonderful, highly life-affirming, amazingly true story.   Need your spirits lifted?   If so, Huck may well do the job!

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   The trade paperback version of the New York Times Bestseller contains an Afterward updating the story’s events since its original publication.

“Elder shows us humanity in its best light and we are uplifted.”   The New York Times

“Your faith in humanity – and dogs – will be restored.”   Lincoln Star Journal

“This dog book actually makes you feel better about people.”   O, The Oprah Magazine

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