Wesley the Owl

Wesley the Owl: The Remarkable Love Story of an Owl and His GirlWesley the Owl: The Remarkable Love Story of an Owl and His Girl by Stacey O’Brien

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved this very touching story of a woman’s experience raising a barn owl and living with it for nineteen years. Their bond was something very special. The book apparently has “wonderful photos” which I will have to seek out. The audiobook was narrated by Renee Raudman and I have to say she did a great job with Wesley’s vocalizations! I laughed out loud at some of her tales. Not for the faint of heart – there are mouse guts galore – and I will never forget her description of testicle soup – how scientists do research on human fertility. I read this because I love animal stories, but also because I consider the owl to be my own personal inner totem. I think her philosophical comments about “The Way of the Owl” could equally apply to “owl” people like me.

Book description: On Valentine’s Day 1985, biologist Stacey O’Brien adopted Wesley, a baby barn owl with an injured wing who could not have survived in the wild. Over the next nineteen years, O’Brien studied Wesley’s strange habits with both a tender heart and a scientist’s eye—and provided a mice-only diet that required her to buy the rodents in bulk (28,000 over the owl’s lifetime). She watched him turn from a helpless fluff ball into an avid com­municator with whom she developed a language all their own. Eventually he became a gorgeous, gold-and-white macho adult with a heart-shaped face who preened in the mir­ror and objected to visits by any other males to “his” house. O’Brien also brings us inside Caltech’s prestigious research community, a kind of scientific Hogwarts where resident owls sometimes flew freely from office to office and eccentric, brilliant scientists were extraordinarily committed to studying and helping animals; all of them were changed by the animals they loved. As O’Brien gets close to Wesley, she makes astonishing discoveries about owl behavior, intelligence, and communication, coining the term “The Way of the Owl” to describe his noble behavior. When O’Brien develops her own life-threatening ill­ness, the biologist who saved the life of a helpless baby bird is herself rescued from death by the insistent love and courage of this wild animal.

Furiously Happy

Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible ThingsFuriously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things by Jenny Lawson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Not sure I should even offer a review, since I decided not to finish this book. Made it 126 pages. It was hilariously funny for about 30 pages, and after that it just seemed sad. Her zany, random train of thought – at times brilliant and at other times just silly – reminded me of Robin Williams. Is it the mental illness that drives this kind of manic humor? Or is it the other way around?

This was a book club read that I didn’t get in time to read for the meeting. Now it has a hold waiting for it and I can’t renew, so back to the library it goes. I could re-request it, but I don’t think I want to. Sooooooo many other books waiting to be read.

This would be a great book to dabble in now and then for 30 minutes. But to sit and read cover to cover requires too much energy. It’s like trying to keep up with a dog that is constantly saying “Squirrel!”

Home: A Memoir

Home: A Memoir of My Early YearsHome: A Memoir of My Early Years by Julie Andrews Edwards

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve been a fan of Julie Andrews since childhood. And I could listen to her voice all day long. Full of lots of family details, and the grueling day to day routine of a performer, along with anecdotes about her contemporaries: Rex Harrison, Robert Goulet, Richard Burton, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Moss Hart, Roddy McDowell, and T.H. White. I hope she will continue her memoirs – this ends before Mary Poppins, The Sound of Music, and Victor/Victoria.

Book description: Audiobook read by the author. Julie takes us on a warm, moving, and often humorous journey from a difficult upbringing in war-torn Britain to the brink of international stardom in America. Her memoir begins in 1935, when Julie was born to an aspiring vaudevillian mother and a teacher father, and takes readers to 1962, when Walt Disney cast her as the world’s most famous nanny. Along the way, she weathered the London Blitz of World War II; her parents’ painful divorce; her mother’s turbulent second marriage to Canadian tenor Ted Andrews and a childhood spent on radio, in music halls, and giving concert performances all over England. Julie’s professional career began at the age of twelve, and when only eighteen, she left home for the United States to make her Broadway debut.

View all my reviews

I Am Malala

I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the TalibanI Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was fascinated to learn more about the young girl, Malala, who gained the attention of the world when her fight for girls’ education made her a target of the Taliban. She tells of her family, her school friends, her drive to be at the top of her class, her father’s dream to build a school, her love of her homeland (the Swat Valley of Pakistan), her faith in God/Allah, and enough history and politics to understand her story. I was fascinated by her description of the Buddhist statues left by earlier settlers before the Muslim country was created, I laughed at her telling how she and her friends would play “Twilight” – from the books (and DVDs) about vampires, I got angry about the senselessness and violence of the Taliban agenda, I cheered at her courage and resilience, and I am sad that she and her family had to find a new home in Britain. One child, one teacher, one book, one pen – yes, it can change the world.

Book Description: When the Taliban took control of the Swat Valley in Pakistan, one girl spoke out. Malala Yousafzai refused to be silenced and fought for her right to an education. On Tuesday, October 9, 2012, when she was fifteen, she almost paid the ultimate price. She was shot in the head at point-blank range while riding the bus home from school, and few expected her to survive. Instead, Malala’s miraculous recovery has taken her on an extraordinary journey from a remote valley in northern Pakistan to the halls of the United Nations in New York. At sixteen, she became a global symbol of peaceful protest and the youngest nominee ever for the Nobel Peace Prize.

The audiobook contains a PDF file of the photos in the book.

Spinster

Spinster: Making a Life of One's OwnSpinster: Making a Life of One’s Own by Kate Bolick

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A fascinating look at the lives of single women over the last 150 years or so, through the eyes of a young journalist coming to terms with the by now outdated expectation that women must be married to lead happy and fulfilling lives. She also writes about the lives of 5 other women writers who served as her role models. I think there is much more that could be said about this topic, since she looks mostly at women who did not want to marry and have families (some of them did anyway) and made choices that fostered their independence. To me, a spinster is someone not independent by choice, and who has not come to terms with their unmarried and unloved state. A spinster, to me, has neither husband nor boyfriend nor female partner. She throws all single women, divorced, widowed, and otherwise into the spinster category. So I was kind of expecting something else from this book, but judged on what it is, she writes well and it did make me think from time to time.

Book description: “Whom to marry, and when will it happen—these two questions define every woman’s existence.” So begins Spinster, a revelatory and slyly erudite look at the pleasures and possibilities of remaining single. Using her own experiences as a starting point, journalist and cultural critic Kate Bolick invites us into her carefully considered, passionately lived life, weaving together the past and present to examine why­ she—along with over 100 million American women, whose ranks keep growing—remains unmarried.

H is for Hawk

H is for HawkH is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A wonderful intimate look at the world of falconry, a memoir of loss and grief, and an examination of the life and world of T.H. White. A fan of White ever since the Disney version of A Sword in the Stone, I quickly realized how little I knew of this apparently tortured man. Any rereading of The Once and Future King will undoubtedly be enriched by this. Helen gives us a moving portrait of her father, as she examines the rawness of her own grief accompanied by the rawness of living close to a wild, untameable creature. Life with a goshawk confronts us with death — but death as a part of the whole cycle of life and being alive. Her lyrical meditations cover the gamut of human experience — history, philosophy, psychology, the natural world, hopes, fears, depression, madness, cruelty, love and healing — told with heart-wrenching honesty.

Book Description: When Helen Macdonald’s father died suddenly on a London street, she was devastated. An experienced falconer—Helen had been captivated by hawks since childhood—she’d never before been tempted to train one of the most vicious predators, the goshawk. But in her grief, she saw that the goshawk’s fierce and feral temperament mirrored her own. Resolving to purchase and raise the deadly creature as a means to cope with her loss, she adopted Mabel, and turned to the guidance of The Once and Future King author T.H. White’s chronicle The Goshawk to begin her challenging endeavor. Projecting herself “in the hawk’s wild mind to tame her” tested the limits of Macdonald’s humanity and changed her life.

Heart-wrenching and humorous, this book is an unflinching account of bereavement and a unique look at the magnetism of an extraordinary beast, with a parallel examination of a legendary writer’s eccentric falconry. Obsession, madness, memory, myth, and history combine to achieve a distinctive blend of nature writing and memoir from an outstanding literary innovator.