Tag Archives: true stories

The Big Cat Book

Leo the Snow Leopard: The True Story of an Amazing Rescue, told by Juliana Hatkoff, Isabella Hatkoff, and Craig Hatkoff (Scholastic Press; $17.99; 40 pages)

“Snow leopards by nature are survivors.   They withstand almost impossible conditions – frigid snow, harsh winds, unsteady ground.”

As a very young cat (my humans call me a kitten), I was anxious to read this book about one of my big cat distant cousins.   I look like a small gray-blue-black leopard, and this book’s about Leo, a cool spotted snow leopard.   Like me, Leo was found wandering around without his mother, an orphan.   But unlike me, Leo was located mewing and hungry in the snowy Karakoram mountains of northern Pakistan.   That’s a lot higher place than I’ve ever been!

Leo happened to be found by a goat herder, a nice man who gave Leo a new, safe home with lots of goat’s milk to drink.   (I don’t know if goat’s milk is tasty or not.)   Sadly, Leo wound up getting sick when he was just a baby cub – all of seven weeks old – so he was turned over to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) offices in Pakistan.

The WWF veterinarians (ooh, those white-coated doctors scare me) fixed him up, then got the idea of sending Leo to a zoo in the U. S. that was the first to exhibit a snow leopard.   And that was?   Yes, you guessed it, the Bronx Zoo!

Finally, Leo got lucky ’cause he was put in a big natural forest setting at the zoo where he, naturally, chose to stay high up on a man-made cliff.   That is, until he got an enclosure mate – the gorgeous female snow leopard named Shelby.   Leo and Shelby have a  lot of fun together, and they might be thinking about producing some snow leopard cubs.   (I have no idea what the process is for this…)

Anyway, this is a neat-o book for anyone who likes cats, especially the small humans in your household.   A  librarian told me that this book is recommended for young humanoids between the ages of four and eight and/or for those in Kindergarten through grade five.   What does grade five mean?

This book’s filled with four extra pages of information on endangered animals and zoos for the older kids and adults to read.   I read them and found out that I’m not endangered – whew!; but, snow leopards are.   There are only a few thousand of them left on this planet.   Anyone reading this book, human or animal, will realize that we need to save the snow leopards, especially the loveable big ones like Leo.

I’ll see you at the Bronx Zoo sometime, my furry cousin!

I loved this book as much as a bowl of Tillamook cheddar cheese.

Highly recommended.

Sasha the kitten

This children’s book was purchased by Sasha’s dad of the human persuasion.   One of the books in this series, Winter’s Tale: How One Little Dolphin Learned to Swim Again, has been made into a motion picture (Dolphin Tale).   Another, Owen & Mzee, was a #1 New York Times bestselling book.

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Dead to the World

Dead End Gene Pool: A Memoir by Wendy Burden

It’s not just the folks with the famous names who live outrageous lives.   Their relatives, in this case the children and grandchildren, also feel the effects of super wealth and status.   Wendy Burden falls into this category.   She is the great, great, great, great-granddaughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt.   There was still plenty of money and status associated with the family when she was born.   Unfortunately, her father William A. M. Burden III, a direct descendent of Cornelius Vanderbilt, could  not take the pressure of life and committed suicide when Wendy was six years of age.

This sad event precipitated the handing off of Wendy and her younger brother Will to Grandpa and Grandma Burden for intermittent visits while mom escaped life and responsibilities overseas in the company of a variety of men.   This memoir is an over-the-top expose with all the dirty little stuff prominently featured.   The self-indulgence, disregard for others and general insular behavior exhibited by the Grandparents Burden is easy fodder for Wendy’s 21-gun salute to the grosser aspects of wealth.   Oh, did I happen to mention that the guns are loaded with bizarre details?

Who among us cares to know that Wendy collected dead birds and observed their decomposition a la the scientific method used at the body farm at the University of Tennessee?   If you’d rather eavesdrop on cocktails and dinner with the grandparents, you would learn that grandma was a champion at farting whenever she felt the urge.   According to Wendy, this urge was never ignored regardless of the folks in her vicinity.   The walls in their home may have been covered with museum quality paintings and sculpture; however, grandma and grandpa were usually too sloshed to notice.

The crisp details and well-crafted accounts of life with the super-rich begin to seem a bit suspicious once the reader gets past the shock and wit.   Yes, Wendy Burden is an excellent story teller.   Just how much is fact and how much is convenient recall – or perhaps fiction disguised as the truth – is anyone’s guess.   This reviewer finished the book with a sense of gratitude for a seemingly ordinary life.  

Recommended for snoopy readers who follow OMG! on the internet.

This review was written by Ruta Arellano.   The book was purchased by the reviewer..

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Homer and Langely

Home & Langely: A Novel by E. L. Doctorow

“I am telling you what I know – words have music and if you are a musician you will write to hear them.”

I believe it was John Updike who said, “Review the book, not the reputation.”   E.L. Doctorow, author of Ragtime, has a great reputation as a writer and it is well deserved.   In Homer & Langely, he writes beautifully – in a style that often calls to mind Audrey Niffenegger – but there’s simply so little story to be told that the words are wasted.   It’s as if a musician were given a score to play that hid all of his strengths and talents.

This is a 208-page novella that runs on too long; the basic tale could well have been told as a 30- to 40-page short story.   Two brothers, wealthy by birth, become hermits while they’re living in a mansion across the street from New York City’s Central Park.   One brother is blind and the other is either bizarre or mentally ill.   This is not only a summary of the plot, but of almost everything that happens in H&L.   The most interesting scenes come when the brothers are visited by a tribe of hippies.

Doctorow’s latest was, for this reader, a novella that was far too easy to put down.

Random House, $26.00, 208 pages

Reprinted courtesy of Sacramento Book Review.

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Love in the 21st Century

Love Is a Four Letter Word: True Stories of Breakups, Bad Relationships and Broken Hearts

Let me be perfectly clear about this.   I’m generally not a fan of collections of stories, either true or non-fiction.   Why?   Because the quality level of the writing tends to vary so much in most anthologies to the point where it feels like volunteering to take a ride down a long and bumpy road.   But my instincts told me that this collection of 23 “true stories of seduction, heartbreak and regret” would be the exception.   For me, it was.

Credit must go to editor Michael Taeckens for finding some very talented American writers, of which he is one.   Perhaps I should say equally talented, because it’s almost as if editor Taeckens has applied the writing equivalent of a sound limiter…   Everything here comes off in an ear-and-mind-pleasing mid-range tone.

As for the stories themselves, they separate into two general categories:  the extremely humorous ones in which the writers have accepted the follies and embarrassments of their youth, and the sad and regretful ones in which the writers are still not quite sure who was at fault in their doomed love affairs and relationships.   (The latter, when looking back, are not even sure why they fought so hard with their ex-partners.)

Such is, in the words of Glenn Frey, love in the 21st Century.   As it is, this reader raced so quickly through the 290 pages in Love… that just one question remains.   When is Michael Taeckens editing his next compilation of stories and when, exactly, can I pre-order it?

Joseph Arellano

Thanks to Alexandra at Plume for the review copy!

Note:   There is some adult content in this collection, but nothing that one hasn’t either seen or heard about before.Love is a Four Letter Word (lg.)

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Coming Up Next…

A review of Love Is A Four Letter Word, 23 true stories of love and loss edited by Michael Taeckens.   Introduction by Neal Pollack.Love is a Four Letter Word 3

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