Category Archives: “You’ve just got to read this book” list

More Smart Animals



No sooner had I hit the “publish” button for the post on “Smart Animals” than I began to think of other books I could have, maybe should have, included in the list.  So, this afternoon, I sat down and went through a list of books that I have access to and pulled out titles of books to share with you … Far too many for one more post.  It will probably be several posts. 

Let’s start with two series of books:

Redwall series by Brian Jacques

There are more than 20 books in this series featuring the animals of Redwall Abbey.  In the first book, Redwall, Cluny the Scourge, a rat, and his horde show up, determined to capture the abbey for themselves.  One mouse from the abbey decides to go in search of the sword of Martin the Warrior.  He encounters sparrows, cats, and an owl, among other animals in his quest.

So far, I’ve listened to five of the books of the series.  The audio versions are a Full Cast production so that each character definitely has a distinctive voice.  I’ve enjoyed each book.  Redwall and Martin The Warrior are among my favorites, so far.  :-)

There is a pile of cd cases next to my desk, though — I ordered as many of the books of the series as I could find through the local public library consortium’s online catalog (how’s that for a mouthful and a tongue twister?) … and they all showed up at once;  lots of listening to get through in a few short weeks.  But I expect lots of good listens!

Author, Brian Jacques, was interviewed by John Scieszka as part of the Thalia Kids’ Book Club series.  It is not an exceptional interview – Jacques laughs way too much.  But he does tell about growing up in Liverpool during WWII.  He told things about that time I did not know — like, I knew London had been bombed but didn’t know the Germans had also bombed other port cities.  He uses terms most kids won’t understand, and maybe many parents — and maybe this will encourage them to learn about life at that time and in Great Britain.    You can get a copy of the interview at

Mistmantle series by M.I. McAllister

Ah, I must admit, I haven’t listened to any of these books yet.  I did listen to the sample at Audible and decided to add Urchin of the Riding Stars to my library.  Then I visited the library online catalog to look for the rest of the series in audio.  There are two more in my wish list for the next time I make a book request from the consortium inter-library loan system.  Urchin is a squirrel who fell out of a tree as a baby and has grown up near the castle.  These are his adventures.  Based on the sample, I expect to enjoy these books as much as the Redwall books.

Reviewers at Amazon say they feel this series is superior to the Redwall series.  For more info about the author, check out wikipedia.

Another “Series” to Check Out

Humphrey stories by Betty Birney

Humphrey is a classroom hamster.  He gets to go home with various students from the class on weekends.  He has lots of adventures and helps a lot of people, including the school janitor. He tells the stories, too.  Delightful tales.

So far, I’ve listened to The World According to Humphrey and Friendship According to Humphrey.  There are six more books in the series.

One Last “Series” of a Fun Animal but Maybe Not So “Smart”

This is a series of picture books about Walter … um … Walter the Farting Dog, by William Kotzwinkle, Glenn Murray, Elizabeth Gundy, to be exact. He isn’t so smart as stinky.  But he always seems to save the day.  Of the three books of the five (or six depending on the list you use) of the Walter books I’ve encountered, my favorite is Walter the Farting Dog Goes on a Cruise.  His adventures are sure to make children giggle and parents smile (if ruefully — why is it that such stinky subjects can be so fun(ny)?).

For more information on the books in this series, check here, and for info on William Kotzwinkle, check here.

There are LOTS and lots of great books featuring animals.  I will, however, wait a little before I spring another list of them on you.

In the meantime, Have Great Reads!


Smart Animals


I read a blog post today about how animals might be smarter than we think.

Read these two posts from Suzanne about her doggie woes, then come back for my thoughts about the intelligence of animals …

–> Is My Writing Career Going to the Dogs?

–> News From the Dog House

The Comment I Left

I left a long comment at the “dog house” post, and copy most of it here:

“Well, I’ve decided that animals are a lot smarter than humans give them credit for.

“Lately, I’ve been really ‘irked’ by writers who put animals into their stories and then make a comment ‘it’s as if they might understand what I say.’  It’s not ‘as if’ — they do!  It’s just a matter of how willing they are to let us know they understand.  Most, I think, prefer to let us think they are dumb and stupid, so that we don’t make too many demands on them.  But … they understand.

“We also had a cat who watched TV.  101 Dalmatians was one of her favorite movies — she would carefully watch the parts that involved animals and often wandered off when it was basically just humans on the screen, then come back just in time to watch the animals again.  One day I put in the tape of the original Disney cartoon version.  I was sure she would ignore it. Well, I was wrong!  She did the same exact thing with that movie — watched the animals intently and ignored the human interactions.

“One day, as I was leaving the house, a hummingbird buzzed up trying to get to the feeder close by.  When I moved, it began to fly off.  I called after it, “I just wanted to take your picture.”  It came back, hovered as they do and after I had taken about half a dozen shots flew away to wait for me to get out of the way so it could get to the feeder.

“And last, one day a couple of Septembers ago, I was driving down the road, heading to the grocery store.  I saw a cat huddled on a bank along the side of the road.  I was just about a mile from home.  I did a u-turn, then another and pulled up beside the cat.  I put down the passenger side window and told her, ‘I know it is getting cold out at night and the coyotes are often in that field above you and that is a badger hole above your head.  We live down the road about a mile.  My husband just put up a shed and left an opening so cats can get in there to be out of the cold.  Be very careful when you cross the road, but you are quite welcome to stay there if you want.’  I put up the window and drove away.

“She didn’t show up and I was sort of relieved.  Then one morning, I pulled into the driveway and there were four kittens playing in front of that shed.  A little bit later, as I sat watching the kittens, I finally saw the cat I had talked to. 

“She stayed about 3 weeks, until she was sure her kittens were welcome to stay with us and she left.  Haven’t seen her since.  She was a gorgeous Himalayan and her kittens were the cat equivalent of mutts.

“They are still with us …”

Books You May Enjoy About Animals

Now, to be honest, I can’t think of titles of the books where I got irked at the writer for having a character say “It’s like they understand what I say.”  However, I do remember some books about intelligent animals that I think you might enjoy.

The Cat Who …

First, I must start with Koko from The Cat Who series of books by Lilian Jackson Braun.

The series features James Qwilleran, a newspaperman.  He gains a cat, Koko, in the first book of the series, The Cat Who Could Read Backward, that helps him solve a murder.  Yum-yum joins them in the second book of the series, The Cat Who Ate Danish Modern.

There are 29 books in the series.  The first three came out between 1966 and 1968;  new books began appearing in the series in 1986.  To be honest, when I began reading the series in the mid-1990’s, I believed that a committee of people were writing under Braun’s name.  Books contradict one another and seem unaware of events from books earlier in the series, especially the original three. 

I’m still not sure whether they are all written by Braun.  However, I enjoy them.

I also have to admit that I was among those who wrote comments about the 29th book of the series, The Cat Who Had 60 Whiskers, claiming that Qwilleran’s action were not true to his character.  Then I went back to the beginning of the series to try to finally read all of the books, and in order.  And, now I must admit, Qwill’s behavior in this book fits his original personality quite well.

For a list of all of the books in the series, and for information about Ms. Braun, check out

The later books in the series are set in Pick Ax, a place that is “400 miles from everywhere.”  I thought I had found a possible location for Pick Ax on Google Earth, near Houghton, MI in the Yooper, but wikipedia suggests that it is Bad Ax, MI.

Another Cat Who Story

Ah, this is a fun and wonderful children’s story.

The Cat Who Wanted to Go Home, by Jill Tomlinson, tells the story of a little French cat who falls asleep in the basket of a hot air balloon and finds herself in England.  Susie wants to go home!  And she has a few adventures along the way.

Amazon has this version of the book.  However, I suggest an audio version from  Susie meows French words and unless a parent wants to attempt that when reading the story to their child(ren), a good audio version is a better option and is very inexpensive too.  :-)

Audible actually has two versions of the book, read by different readers and published by different companies.  The one I got and listen to from time to time when looking for a short “pick-me-up” that makes me smile, is the one read by Maureen Lipman

I did listen to the sample provided at Audible for the other version, read by Sophie Aldred.  There are wave sound effects and music that, to me, detract from the story.  AND the text is different from the version I’ve listened to.  This version matches the book available at Amazon, though. 

But, I prefer the Maureen Lipman audiobook.  (And it is less expensive by a whole 50 cents — LOL!)

Sneaky Pie Brown — Co-Author

Sneaky Pie Brown supposedly helps her person, Rita Mae Brown, write the Mrs. Murphy Mystery series.  I don’t know, though.  Seems to me, if Sneaky Pie was really helping, Mrs. Murphy would have featured a bit more in the one book in this series that I listened to:  Wish You Were Here

It was a good book, but I was disappointed, initially, because the description of the story seemed to indicate that the cat and her friend (a dog!) were “one step ahead” of their human, Mary Minor “Harry” Haristeen, the town post mistress who has a bad habit of reading the back of postcards before she puts them in their correct boxes.

There are 20 books in this series.  Ms. Brown has written many other books.  A listing can be found at

Four More Books for Children

Yep, I love children’s books.  :-)

Here are four I’ve enjoyed:

Whittington, by Alan Armstrong, is one of my favorites.  It is the story of two children, their grandfather who has a “farm” of acquired animals, and a tom cat that wanders in and asks to be allowed to stay.  He has a ragged ear from fighting and an engaging story of the history of his name.  He tells a tale about Dick Whittington, a historical London mayor, and his adventures. 

Check out wikipedia and not much is really known about the real Dick Whittington.  This is a tale with a twist — how a cat made his fortune.  :-)

Hobart, by Anita T. Briggs, is about a litter of piglets.  Hobart wants to dance!  He and his littermates perfect their performances and show off to the farmer.  Wonderful results.

Now for the series of books about The Bed and Biscuit, by Joan Carris.

Starting with Welcome to the Bed and Biscuit, we meet Grampa Bender who runs an animal boardinghouse with the help of Ernest the pig, Gabby the mynah bird and Milly the cat.  He comes home one day with a mysterious bundle and these three loyal friends begin to worry.

In Wild Times at the Bed and Biscuit, the three friends are trying to train Sir Walter, a Scottish Terrier puppy who has joined them, while dealing with some interesting boarders, including a cranky muskrat, at the animal boardinghouse run by Grampa Bender.

And, I just found out that there is a new book in the series, Magic at the Bed and Biscuit.  Apparently, an ornery chicken, Malicia, is now staying at the animal boardinghouse.  The four friends are having a hard time dealing with this newcomer!  This book is on my “read soon” list, for sure.  :-)

Tell me —

1)  Are animals smarter than humans say they are?  (I’ve got more stories I could tell about that — mostly ones my husband has told me …)

2)  Have you read any good books that feature some intelligent animals?

Have Great Reads!

[Once again I am forced to say that WordPress is funky and adding extra lines between paragraphs in ways that I can’t seem to control!  ARGH!  Sorry about that … and on my screen, when I preview the final post, there is a combination of fonts on screen.  One font shows here in the “write the post” box and another usually shows up on the final post page, but today, both fonts are taking turns showing up on the post page.  **shrugs shoulders and plans to go off to blogger to begin working on setting up the blog there instead of here …**]

It’s Random Acts of Publicity Week and …


Can I come in and listen to a book with you?

I read two posts about two books of history for children.

The first, by Suzanne Lieurance, is a review of Nancy Sanders’ book Frederick Douglass – His Life and Times with 21 Activities.  The second, a review of The Golden Pathway by Donna McDine, is written by Carol Fraser Hagen.  Check out their reviews (I haven’t had an opportunity to read either book yet.)

When I was a kid in school, history was the most boring and awful subject.  It was even worse than word problems in math class.  **shudder** 

Now, though, as an adult, I am discovering the world of history is fascinating.  Probably because the books for the reading public do more than cover an event in one paragraph, but go into lots of interesting and fascinating details.  And it turns out that most of the text in those school textbooks is a perpetuation of historical myth.  The truth is far more fascinating.

So, it was with a bit of reluctance that I listened to a book I had borrowed from the public library’s OverDrive Media digital library. When I downloaded the kids’ book, I did not realize it was going to be an educational book in disguise.  Since I had downloaded four short kids books that day, I saved this one for last.  I’m glad I did eventually listen to it.  I may even try to add a copy of it to my personal library so I can listen to it again whenever I want to.

What educational novel might actually get so high praise from me?  The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg by Rodman Philbrick gets this praise.  I must admit that I was not ready to give the book quite so high praise at first.  Only after telling my husband about the book did I realize how good it is.

The book is about a boy whose older brother is illegally sold to the Union Army by their mean and drunkard uncle during the American Civil War.  Homer runs away and embarks on a journey to find and rescue his brother.  The journey takes him, ultimately, to the battlefield at Gettysburg, meeting some real historical figures along the way.  The description of this scene, the Gettysburg battlefield, I felt was too vivid for the intended young audience (ages 9 and up).  My husband’s response, though, was “GOOD!”  Yep.  He’s right.  And so, I give the book a firm and sure 2 Thumbs Up. 

So, I told you I had downloaded other kids books that day.    Might as well tell you about them, too.   :-)

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, by Grace Lin, started out a little slowly but got more and more interesting as the book progressed.  It was a thoroughly enjoyable book about a little girl living in a depressed and gray village where her parents labor long hours in the rice paddy.  She heads out to find the Man In The Moon and this is the story of her journey.

The Death-Defying Pepper Roux,by Geraldine McCaughrean, tells the story of a boy who is supposed to die on his thirteenth birthday, but he runs away to avoid this destiny.  He has many adventures that are totally unbelievable — but that is sort of what makes the book so fun to read.  The level of hyperbole is great but not campy.  The story end is even better.

13 Gifts, by Wendy Mass, is part of a series of books, I think.  What makes them a series is the location, and characters who populate the location.  This book, though, focuses on a new girl to the town and a journey of self-discovery that she takes.  She has been a loner for so long that when she arrives at her aunt’s home for the summer, she is not prepared to meet and make friends with a group of other kids in town. 

There is a hole in the backyard at her aunt’s house.  They are planning to have an in-ground pool installed but have not decided what shape the pool should be.  My favorite part of the book was her relationship with one particular boy in town who is preparing for his bar mitzvah and practices in that hole.

Which brings me to Holes, by Louis Sachar.  I haven’t seen the movie and couldn’t bring myself to listen to the book during the week I had it.  I’ve downloaded it before and didn’t listen to it then, either.  I’m not even sure why not.  I’ve been told numerous times that the movie was good and even that the book is good, but …

Anyhow, children’s books are fun to read or listen to.  History can be lots of fun too.

Have Great Reads!

C is For …


C is for Cute Cat

C is for …


–> Cod by Mark Kurlansky, is an interesting look at a world I’ve taken for granted. Along with Salt, Kurlansky introduces history, facts, and recipes on topics that, at first glance, don’t seem to warrant an entire book. Kurlansky makes both topics so fascinating and interesting, you won’t want the book to end.

I listened to both books. Scott Brick reads Salt. Scott is one of my favorite readers and he can make even a phonebook sound like an interesting read. Richard M. Davidson reads Cod and brings the subject to life.


–> Confessions of an Economic Hitman by John Perkins. I admit, you will probably hate this book along with its sequel, The Secret History of the American Empire. The writing is not that good. And you may not even like what Perkins has to say. However, the information in these two books is a behind-the-scenes look at wheeling and dealing around the world. The information contained in the books is important enough to find a way to get through them to the end.

My solution? Audiobooks. I would never have read these books. I prefer audiobooks most of the time, anyhow. In this case, the audiobook was the only way I would get through these two books. I shouldn’t really say “I’m glad” I got through them, because the info in them shouldn’t make anyone happy … but I am glad I finished these two books.

When you have gotten through these two books, please come back and tell me your ideas about the SAMA project …


–> Curtain by Agatha Christie was a total surprise. It is the last Hercule Poirot novel. DO NOT read it until you have read the entire Poirot canon first, though. As Christie mysteries go, I think this is the best (though not my favorite). When you read it, you’ll figure out why it isn’t my favorite but it is on my “You’ve just got to read this book” list that I give out to friends (whether they really want my reading suggestions or not).


–> Hmmm … I have a couple other ideas on my list, but I don’t want to overload you here. So for a change of pace, away from books to a website I think you may find interesting:

While here at the “live” section of his site, check out the current webcast in the box at the top of the page. Most recent webcast (as of 4/10/12) is with Adrian Grenier (I’ll be going back to watch the episode as soon as I get this posted). Recent episodes include an interview with a band called The Lumineers (the webcast will soon be available in the Recent Episodes portion of the page and well worth checking back to catch when it is made available) and a must-see episode for all web bloggers with Guy Kawasaki (available in the Previous Episodes section of the page).

While you are at the site, check out Chase’s photography and then “wander” the rest of the site.

** So, when faced with something you’d rather not deal with, do you find another way to approach it, or do you drop it and go find something else to do? **