Tag Archives: birds

Elusive Hummingbird

Fastest Things Amazon

Fastest Things on Wings: Rescuing Hummingbirds in Hollywood by Terry Masear (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $25.00, 306 pages)

When Frank and I first moved into West Hollywood, twenty years ago, it took me three months to attract one hummingbird to my feeder. Now, with the explosion in the local population that has resulted from over five hundred releases and their progeny, new sugar feeders immediately draw dozens of interested birds.

Hummingbirds, the zippy little colorful creatures that fascinate the young and old alike – humans and felines, are well documented in Fastest Things on Wings. Educator-writer Terry Masear has dedicated her “free time” to rescue and rehabilitate hummingbirds that have dropped from nests, been caught by cats, or fallen down while perched on tree branches trimmed by city maintenance workers. You name it, and Ms. Masear has heard of a way that these little birds have been put in peril. She takes calls from people who have found them in dire straights.

As there are two sugar feeders hanging from a gazebo just outside our kitchen door and a large bougainvillea climbing nearby, the daily visitors are often the subjects of excited viewing. Other than the recipe for their food (one-half cup of white granulated sugar dissolved in two cups of boiling water that is then left to cool) there’s not much this reviewer knew about our little buddies.

During the months that I don’t have to teach classes in the morning, I gather fresh flowers for the fledglings in large flight cages and young adults in the aviary.

Ms. Masear, like her subjects, flits between narratives of her own experiences fueled by an undeniable dedication to rescuing and rehabilitating the tiny birds and a somewhat repetitive discourse on the growth and development of hummingbirds in general. This back and forth between the styles is interspersed with in depth segments chronicling the challenges presented by one or two standout birds in particular. Ms. Masear’s writing style tends toward very long sentences. This book could have benefited from more editing.

The book includes color photos toward the last half of the text. These photos provide the reader with the opportunity to get up really close to the little buzzing wonders.

Well recommended to hummingbird and nature lovers.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher. “This is a book that is actually a book about love.” Los Angeles Times

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A Furry and Feathered Giveaway

Thanks to Diane S., Munchy has two copies of a new book to give away!   This is Being with Animals: Why We Are Obsessed with the Furry, Scaly, Feathered Creatures Who Populate Our World by Barbara J. King.   This hardbound release from Doubleday has a value of $24.99 ($29.99 in Canada).

Here is a synopsis of the book:

We surround ourselves with animals, and yet rarely do we truly stop to think about the pull they have on us.   Animals have dominated our lives for tens of thousands of years and continue to rule our existence, but why?   Why do people the world over respond to a cartoon mouse named Mickey?   Why do sports teams name themselves the Bears and the Eagles?   Why does the pet industry thrive even in difficult economic times?   Why are we compelled to share our lives with cats, dogs, fish, snakes, turtles, or any other kind of domesticated creature?

In Being with Animals, King offers answers to these questions and more.   She looks at this phenomenon, from the most obvious animal connections in daily life and culture and over the whole of human history, to show the various roles animals have played in all civilizations.   She digs deeply into the importance of the human-animal bond as key to our evolution, as a signficant aspect of understanding what truly makes us human, and looks ahead to explore how our further technological development may affect these important ties.

King’s fresh look at the human-animal relationship will resonate deeply with animal lovers, the environmentally minded, and the armchair scientist.

Barbara J. King is a biological anthropologist and Chancellor Professor of Anthropology at the College of William and Mary.   She has studied monkeys in Kenya and great apes in various captive settings.   Together with her husband, she cares for and arranges to spay and neuter homeless cats in Virginia.  (To this, Munchy says Yeowk!)

To enter our giveaway contest to win one of two copies of Being with Animals, you can either post a comment here or send an e-mail with your name and e-mail address to Josephsreviews@gmail.com .   This will count as a first entry.   For a second entry, answer this question, “How is it that an animal has added value to your life and/or to the lives of your loved ones?”  

Munchy will pick the 2 winners at random.   In order to be eligible for this giveaway, you must live in the United States or Canada and have a residential mailing address.   Books will not be shipped to a P. O. box or to a business-related address.   You have until Monday, February 28, 2011 at Midnight PST to submit your entry or entries.

This is it for the “complex” contest rules.   Good luck and good reading!

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A furry, scaly, feathered book giveaway!

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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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Wait, There’s More…

Fever Dream by Preston & Child (Hachette Audio Unabridged)

The writing team of Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child (Preston & Child) have a winning franchise that stars Aloysius Pendergast, a Federal Bureau of Investigation agent with a distinctive southern drawl.   Fever Dream, their tenth in the series, is a mesmerizing story with an international twist.   Actor Rene’ Auberjonois’ narration heightens the atmospheric tension with a nimble voice that shifts easily from character to character.

The audio book was this reviewer’s first experience with the series and it will not be the last.   The story opens with the hideous death suffered by Pendergast’s wife, Helen, in the jaws of a lion during an African visit.   Fast forward 12 years to when Pendergast comes across evidence that leads him to the unavoidable conclusion that his soul mate was murdered and was not the victim of a natural occurrence.   The story shifts back to the United States and thus begins the obsessive hunt for Helen’s killer or killers.

The languid, lush atmosphere of the southern U.S. replete with wily characters and roadside diners makes it as much a character as is Pendergast, his brother-in-law Judson Esterhazy or sidekick, Vincent D’Agosta of the New York City police department.   This is a story of the obsession that is part of every character’s makeup.   There are meticulous details, vivid descriptions and a rather sweet ‘n salty taste to the language used by the characters.   Along the way, the listener is treated to fascinating historical information about John James Audubon who painted some of the most beautiful bird and animal pictures ever created.

This novel reminds this reviewer of the short story, “The Most Dangerous Game.”   Both are highly entertaining attention grabbers.

Recommended.

This review was written by Ruta Arellano.   A review copy was provided by Hachette Audio.

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Lift

Lift by Rebecca K. O’Connor

Lift is the charming and encouraging true story of a woman’s acquisition of a baby peregrine falcon, something that she’s been fascinated with since being a child.   But it is not just the story of a girl and the bird she loves, it’s also about how the falcon helps author Rebecca O’Connor to understand and accept the past and current events in her life.   Most falconers are hunters but a scarred O’Connor is aware that she’s “more prey than predator.”   This is true because she was abandoned by her parents while very young, lost the grandparents who raised her, and is surprised to discover that her boyfriend has different values.

In the life of the soaring falcon, O’Connor observes a creature that is focused on survival, no matter what it takes.   It is, at first, a massive struggle to tame the bird, but then she sees and accepts that this feathered hunter will always maintain his independence.   O’Connor, in a sense, gets to experience freedom and strength vicariously through her peregrine, and it transforms her into a stronger person.

If you liked Alex and Me or Wesley the Owl, there is an extremely good chance that you will love Lift.

Red Hen Press, $18.95, 206 pages

Well recommended.

Joseph Arellano

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Birds

Imperfect Birds by Anne Lamott

I try to write the books I would love to come upon…   Anne Lamott

I love the way Anne Lamott writes.   She writes like Anne Tyler (Noah’s Compass, Breathing Lessons, The Accidental Tourist, Digging to America) with a professor’s seriousness about life, but a child’s smile.   Life scares Lamott but she keeps the bogey men away by writing about people who are like her, except that maybe they have just a bit more courage.   Or maybe they don’t.

Imperfect Birds is a novel about a family, about mother Elizabeth Ferguson, her second husband James and her daughter Rosie, a senior in high school in Marin County.   Elizabeth and James worship Rosie as they simultaneously count the days until she’ll leave for college so that they can stop worrying about her.   “…life with most teenagers was like having a low-grade bladder infection.   It hurt but you had to tough it out.”

Rosie’s been a straight-A student until, as a 17-year-old senior, she begins getting Bs in even her best subjects.   That would not be much of a disappointment for other students, but there’s a reason she’s coming undone.   She’s using drugs, of almost every variety, to the point where even her extremely forgiving mother can no longer ignore what’s happening.   “…(Elizabeth) had a conviction now that when she thought something was going on, it was.”   This also means that a mother’s worst fears are coming true:  “I was afraid of how doomed you would be as a parent.”

The title, of course, refers to imperfect people – people who have lost the ability to fly straight.   Elizabeth is too forgiving of her daughter’s faults for too long.   James is too judgmental and too quick to prescribe a harsh remedy for his stepdaughter’s problems.   Rosie, who lost her father to cancer years before, is young and wants to enjoy life until…   Until she finds that her drug abuse has left her dreamless and with a heart “like a little dead animal.”

Rosie also wants to be loved by someone other than her mother and step-father, which is why she creates fantasies about one of her male instructors and later becomes involved with someone older.   Eventually a decision has to be made…   Will Rosie’s parents save Rosie from herself or will they step aside and let her self-destruct before her life even really begins?

If this was the work of a less-talented writer, the reader might be tempted to take a guess at the ending and put the book down prematurely.   But Lamott is one of the best writers we have – about this there can be little doubt.   So this story feels like a gift – one to be savored and treasured – and will be appreciated by any reader who does not make a claim to perfection in his or her own life.Highly recommended.   An advance review copy was provided by Riverview Books.   Imperfect Birds will be released on April 6, 2010.

“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field.   I’ll meet you there.”   Rumi    

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