Tag Archives: animals

Hang On Sloopy

Woof: A Love Story by Sarah Weeks; Illustrated by Holly Berry (HarperCollins, $16.99, 32 pages).   Age range: 4 to 8.

A dog is a dog/ and a cat is a cat/ And most of the time/ it’s as simple as that/ Or is it?

Young children’s literature is alive and well!   The dynamic duo of author Sarah Weeks and illustrator Holly Berry have teamed up to create a colorful, delightful and endearing picture book.   Woof is the story of a dog who, at first glance, becomes smitten with a lovely white kitty.   His tale is set forth in rhyming verses guaranteed to delight both the listener and the reader.   The illustrations are created using an imaginative combination of original woodcuts and photographic images.   The effect is just eye-catching enough to enliven the story without being jarring.

Woof is big enough for the reader to hold it while allowing the listener to easily turn the pages.   Although the story line is a bit improbable (it involves a buried trombone ), it sets the stage for a dialogue about ways of communicating that can take place between the person reading the book and his or her young listener.   Clearly, woof and meow are not the only way for the two characters to share their feelings.   Music is the key to their understanding of each other.  

Delightful – 5 Woofs (or Meows).   Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ruta Arellano.   Reprinted courtesy of Sacramento Book Review.   “This humorous and heartfelt story is about the power of love and the power of music, told through the eyes of a lovelorn dog and the cat he adores.”   HarperCollins

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Disco Duck

Little Duck Says Quack by Judy Dunn, Author and Phoebe Dunn, Photographer (Random House Books for Young Readers [Board Book]; $8.99; 14 pages)

“The little duck stood up on his big orange feet.”

This is a very special children’s book, written by Judy Dunn and illustrated with pictures by world-renowned photographer Phoebe Dunn.   In addition, there is a button that, when pressed, sounds out a very realistic greeting, “Quack, quack, quack.”   The book has sturdy pages that will withstand many readings, first by adults to a child or children, and later as a book to be read by the child.

The story chronicles the life of Henry, a handsome duck, from before he hatches until his ultimate transition to adult life in a pond.   Along the way, Henry grows up and makes the acquaintance of many creatures, including a dog, a hen, a bunny, and a goat.   While he enjoys playing with the boy who found him, he wishes for more from life.   A nearby pond contains the answer to his wish.

Please note:  This reviewer’s kitty was somewhat taken aback by the notion of a duck in the house!   After a few repeats of “Quack, quack, quack” the novelty wore off.   Little children likely will not tire of pressing the magic button.

Highly Recommended for children and their caretakers.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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After the Goldrush

The Language of Trees by Ilie Ruby (Avon; $14.99; 339 pages)

“I was thinking about what a friend had said, I was hoping it was a lie…”   Neil Young

“I could always heal the birds,” he admits…  Echo takes his hand, “Joseph says that birds are the only creatures that have blind faith.   This is why they are able to fly.”

Ilie Ruby has crafted a magically moving novel composed of disparate elements: a tragic childhood death, a kidnapped woman, American Indian (Seneca) ghosts and spirits, wolves that interact with humans, unrequited love, and a parent’s illness.   The book is also replete with dysfunctional families who, sadly, may represent normality in American life.   Dysfunctional families are fueled by shame and secrets, and the secrets are kept until they must be divulged in order to save lives.

Two of the key characters in The Language of Trees are Grant Shongo and Echo O’Connell.   Grant is a half-blooded Seneca with the power to cure sick and wounded birds and animals.   He is also a person who cannot cure himself.   Then there’s Echo, who feels that she is lost in her life in spite of the fact that she’s true to herself.   Echo is the one person in the story who is free, except that she’s not aware of it.   And, except for Echo, the book is populated with characters that are haunted by the past – literally and figuratively – as they search for peace and redemption.

“Happiness is just as hard to get used to as anything else.”

The Language of Trees is written in a cinematic style.   It begins slowly and it takes the reader some time to absorb all of the many characters and to understand the personal issues affecting them all.   There’s also more than a touch of mysticism and magic to the story.   There are unique and spiritual events that will seem almost commonplace to those with even a touch of Native American blood.   (The author demonstrates a great deal of respect for Indian folklore and beliefs.)

What is initially calm builds to a highly dramatic and satisfying conclusion.   Coming to the final pages, I was reminded of the style of Pat Conroy in The Prince of Tides, which found this reader both excited and sad that the journey was about to end.   As with Conroy’s novels, Ruby leaves us with a life’s lesson, which is that one must let go of the demons of the past in order to “not (be) afraid of the future anymore.”   Once the nightmares of the past have been left behind, we are free to soar like birds.

At its conclusion, this novel has the power to transport the reader to a better place.

“Well, I dreamed I saw the silver space ships flying in the yellow haze of the sun.”   (N. Young)

The Language of Trees is nothing less than masterful and transformational.   Let’s hope that we will not have to wait too long for Ms. Ruby’s next novel.   Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was received from the publisher.

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A Small Furry Prayer

A Small Furry Prayer: Dog Rescue and the Meaning of Life by Steven Kotler (Bloomsbury; $25.00; 320 pages)

Animal lovers of each and every type will love A Small Furry Prayer.   I’m a cat person and yet this story got me to thinking about the joys of living with a dog.   Note that I deliberately did not use the phrase “owning a dog,” as Kotler makes clear that every canine retains a measure of independence.

“My home was now an environment where some level of danger and unpredictability – two of the defining characteristics of wildness – were part of the basic package.”

This tale of a dog rescuing fortyish couple starts in Los Angeles before moving to the comparative wilds of New Mexico.   They begin by serving as emergency foster parents to one dog, then two before winding up living in a dilapidated farm-house in Chimayo, New Mexico – with 20 dogs!   (They later lose count of the total when it exceeds 20.)  

Steven Kotler and his wife Joy (known to the locals as el angel de los perros) wind up being less foster parents than the providers of a wooly home for abandoned dogs.   Because six or so of the dogs are Chihuahuas their abode comes to be known as Rancho de Chihuahua.

The Kotlers don’t have a lot of money in 2008 but nevertheless they must purchase $500 worth of good quality dog food each week (sickly dogs require good nutrition) and spend their savings on expensive life-saving operations for their wards.   Kotler is sceptical that he’s going to get much payback from this situation other than having kept his commitment to following Joy’s number one rule in life:  “Love me, love my dogs.”

Eventually, of course, Kotler gets his reciprocation in the form of love and acceptance from the rescued dogs, some of whom had been feral and mistrusting of humans.   And there’s the instance in which one of the dogs saves the author’s life when a mountain climbing expedition goes bad.   The dogs, in a sense, demonstrate that love and affection is always paid back in full.

As a former newspaper and magazine writer, Kotler is used to doing extensive research and in this book he includes many fascinating summaries of research performed with animals.   Much of the research verifies the benefits – mental and physical – that dogs and other animals bring to our existence.   Kotler also makes a convincing case for the notion that the modern dog is just as smart as (but perhaps shrewder than) his wolf ancestors.

At the end of Prayer, the reader will likely come to accept the positive message that our lives on this planet are meant to be shared with furry creatures; creatures that are never owned but which reward us with their unique and special presence.   Part of the truth about what it really means to be human can be expressed in the phrase, “Love me, love my animals.”

Well recommended.

This review was written by Joseph Arellano.   A review copy was received from the publisher.   A Small Furry Prayer will be released by Bloomsbury USA on Tuesday, September 28, 2010.

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Catting Around

Frankie Works the Night Shift by Lisa Westberg Peters (Greenwillow Books, 32 pages, $16.99)

People sometimes wonder what it is we cats do all night long.   Well, this neat-o book by Lisa Westberg Peters (illustrated by Jennifer Taylor) shows that we keep the household going, doing lots of essential stuff while the lazy humans are asleep.   We chase mice, clean counters, empty trash cans, water the yard and call meetings of the Neighborhood Watch Patrol.

Yes, we work while you sleep and if not for cats like Frankie, who knows what a mess you’d wake up to in the morning!   This is just a great 32-page book that introduces the young kids to us felines and helps them to learn how to count.   OK, so the adults in the household may not appreciate the so-called “ruckus” they claim we make when it’s dark but – as my favorite band the Eagles sing – get over it!

The illustrations are beautiful and do justice to us handsome cats and even the stupid dogs.   The end of the story finds Frankie sleeping after taking care of business all night.   Let sleeping cats lie is what I say.   Oh, and give them plenty of Purina Party Mix Treats.   You’d better add this one to the family library.

Highly recommended.

This review was written by Munchy Arellano, the brown tabby cat.   A review copy was received from the publisher.   Munchy has received no compensation for his endorsement of Purina Party Mix Cat Treats.  

Frankie Works the Night Shift is recommended for children between the ages of 3 and 8.

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A New Audio-book Giveaway!

Thanks to Anna at Hachette Audio, we will be giving away three audio book copies of The Art of Choosing by Sheena Iyengar.   This is an unabridged 9-CD set that has a value of $34.98.   You can see a video trailer-preview for this book at the Twelve Books website (Google it).   The following are some comments about this unique non-fiction book.

Sheena Iyengar’s work on choice and how our minds deal with it has been groundbreaking, repeatedly surprising, and enormously important.   She is someone we need to listen to.   Dr. Atul Gawande, author of Better and Complications

No one asks better questions, or comes up with more intriguing answers.   Malcolm Gladwell, author of Outliers

As you take exciting steps into this wide-ranging exploration of the choices we make, you will traverse the worlds of psychology, biology, philosophy, economics, business, public policy and medicine.   Malcolm Gladwell popularized some of Professor Iyengar’s research in Blink, but that is just a glimmer of what readers will discover in The Art of Choosing.

The author’s objective in these pages is a great one:  to help us become better choosers, with greater self-awareness of our biases and values.   She is tackling nothing less than the subtext of our lives – what we are thinking when we make choices; how our environment influences us; and how choice drives, frustrates, sustains and satisfies us.

You will learn why we need choice in our lives to feel control and contentment… (yet) we can sometimes be paralyzed by too many choices.   Unquestionably, it is one of the best books I’ve had the privilege of publishing.   Jonathan Karp, Publisher and Editor-in-Chief, TWELVE

It’s easy to enter this book giveaway.   All you need to do is post a comment here or send an e-mail (using the subject line The Art of Choosing) to Josephsreviews@gmail.com .   This will count as a first entry.   For a second contest entry, tell us what the hardest choice was that you had to make in your life, and why it seemed so difficult at the time.   That’s it.

This contest will run until Midnight PST on Friday, May 7, 2010.   In order to enter, you must be a resident of the United States or Canada, with a residential address.   Audio books cannot be mailed to P.O. boxes.  

Good luck and good listening!

 

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Guardians of Being

Guardians of Being combines the words of Eckhart Tolle, author of The Power of Now and A New Earth, with the whimsical illustrations of Patrick McDonnell, the creator of the Mutts cartoons, in a heartwarming inspirational and joyful package.   The Oprah Magazine has called the book “an inspired collaboration between spiritual teacher Tolle and comic strip artist McDonnell.   A book to make you wiggle with joy.”

From the publisher:  “More than a collection of witty and charming drawings, the marriage of Patrick McConnell’s art and Eckhart Tolle’s words conveys a profound love of animals, of humans, of all life-forms.   Guardians of Being celebrates and reminds us of not only the oneness of all life but also the wonder and joy to be found in the present moment, amid the beauty we sometimes forget to notice all around us.”

This is a book to be treasured.   The wisdom of the words, combined with the charming illustrations, make this a book to be savored, not just read.   Browsing through this book is an almost meditative experience, and it will most definitely remind the reader about what really matters in life.

Two of my favorite quotes from the book are:

Everything natural – every flower, tree and animal – has important lessons to teach us if we would only stop, look, and listen.

Just watching an animal closely can take you out of your mind and bring you into the present moment, which is where the animal lives all the time – surrendered to life.

I have always believed that animals are amazing teachers.   It’s nice to see that I’m in good company.   Treat yourself to this book – and while you’re at it, pick one up for your closest friend.

This review was written by Ingrid King, author of Buckley’s Story: Lessons From a Feline Master Teacher.   Buckley’s Story will be reviewed on this site in the near future.   Thank you to Ingrid for allowing us to reprint her review.   You can read more of her writings about very fine felines at http://consciouscat.net .

I love my cats because I love my home and after a while they become its visible soul.   Jean Cocteau

 

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The Wolf in the Parlor

The Wolf in the Parlor: The Eternal Connection Between Humans and Dogs by Jon Franklin

Pulitzer-Prize winning science writer Jon Franklin delivers a thoughtful account of his search for the nexus of human and dog.   His exploration begins with two events.   First, Franklin sees a photograph depicting an ancient grave at an archaeological dig.   A man’s skeleton reaches out to the skeleton of a small creature, perhaps a puppy.   Secondly, Franklin proposes to his girlfriend, Lynn, who upon hearing it asks, “Does this mean I can get a puppy?”

Lynn accepts Franklin’s proposal after he accepts her counter-proposal.   Charlie, a black standard poodle, becomes the third member of their new family.   Soon, Charlie works his way into Franklin’s life.   Their relationship triggers a decades-long academic and emotional search for how and when wolves became dogs – man/woman’s best friend.

Over many years Charlie and Franklin go for long daily walks in the Oregon woods exploring nature via Charlie’s nose, eyes and ears.   All the while the image of the ancient man and his small companion lurks in the back of Franklin’s mind.   As a science writer he has access to the best and the brightest, and makes very good use of this access through interviews with top-notch academics.   He learns that, “While humans may be unique in some respects, we can’t afford to set ourselves apart from other animals.   If we do, we’ll never understand ourselves, or what happened to make us what we are.”   This lesson and others add texture and meaning to our otherwise everyday lives.

Rating:  Four paws and a wagging tail!

Henry Holt, $25.00, 272 pages

Reviewed by Ruta Arellano.   Reprinted courtesy of Sacramento Book Review.

  

 

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An Open and Shut Case

There is nothing like a golden retriever.   I know, I know, it’s a big planet with a lot of wonderful things, but golden retrievers are the absolute best.  

This is the first book in the Andy Carpenter defense attorney series by author David Rosenfelt.   If you began reading these books in the middle of the series as this reader did, you will be rewarded by going back to the beginning and reading this one.   Rosenfelt serves up an engaging tale with plenty of mysterious layers and plot twists that are sure to hold the reader’s attention from the beginning to the end of this 292 page book.

The plot takes off after the untimely death of Andy Carpenter’s father.   Andy becomes a very wealthy man with $22 million and not a clue as to how his father came by this staggering amount.   He must go back in time to when his father, a former New Jersey district attorney, began his legendary career.   The book is a wonderful study in character and personal values.   Andy realizes that just because someone is a lifelong acquaintance and a powerful business man or politician does not preclude them from committing evil and destructive acts.

As with the other books in this series, Andy’s faithful companion, Tara, a golden retriever, rounds out the cast of characters.   A fun read – Woof!

Highly recommended.

Review by Ruta Arellano.   This book was purchased by the reviewer.

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New Tricks

You’re in for a doggy treat (although not the Milk Bone type, of course).   Author David Rosenfelt is a master of timing, understatement, and spoofing.   His most recent novel, New Tricks, is an all around good book; a mystery complete with a Patterson, New Jersey based attorney who has a reputation for defending dogs (of the canine variety), a temperamental and outspoken judge named Hatchet, and a lady police chief from Wisconsin who just happens to be the attorney’s long-distance girlfriend.   The cast of characters is enhanced by a friend who communicates with the attorney by singing the lyrics of popular songs.   The center of attraction is Waggy, an eager and energetic Bernese puppy whose ownership is in dispute.

The mystery immediately grabs the reader’s attention as a mansion explodes, leaving nothing but massive collateral damage and a dead owner.   The plot twists, turns and then doubles back on itself.   There are plenty of red herrings, hidden motives, puns and double entendres that give an appreciative reader cause to laugh out loud.   The plot twists and turns are worthy of The Rockford Files and 77 Sunset Strip, and reminiscent of the style of author Ellen Raskin (The Westing Game).

Highly recommended.   A charming tale that’s also a tail wagger!

Grand Central Publishing, $24.99, 309 pages

Reprinted courtesy of Sacramento Book Review

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