Perhaps I thought about this blogging assignment a bit less conventionally, because the pet I read about is, if you didn’t guess it from the title, a lion.   A Lion Called Christian by Anthony “Ace” Bourke and John Rendall tells the story of how the two men bought a male lion cub named Christian from a department store in London back in the ’70s (who knew they sold lions?!) and cared for him for several months.  For the bulk of this time, the guys and their lion lived above a furniture store, where Christian got to play and interact with the customers.  Ace and John learned how to train Christian, feed him, and play with him in a safe way.  As Christian got older and more restless, the two men knew that something had to change and found a way to move him to Africa after being “rehabilitated” and learning how to survive in the wild with a pride.

This book was very interesting and I learned a lot about lions from it.  Even though I’m sure Christian’s story is unusual, it was fun to hear about how lion cubs play and interact.  The end was very inspiring; it was clear that Ace and John had nothing but Christian’s best interests at heart.  Though I hate to spoil the ending of the book for you, I simply must direct you to this YouTube video.  It’s actually how I originally heard Christian’s story, and it’s really heartwarming.

This book is written by a dog.  Granted, a very special dog —  a golden retriever named Trixie.  And even though Trixie passed away in 2007, she is still, remarkably, writing books.  Of course, it probably helps that she was owned by bestselling author Dean Koontz, who may still have a little something to do with her success.   In fact, Koontz states that the Trixie  page on his website is one of the most visited features.

Trixie has inspired several books, including A Big Little Life, in which Koontz wrote about his relationship with his beloved pet.  But she’s also inspired some new children’s books, such as I Trixie, Who Is Dog , the rights to which have recently been purchased in order to create a new family comedy show.  But her speciality is definitely books such as Life is Good or Bliss to You, which are written in dog-speak, as is if Trixie is narrating the story.  Though for the most part, this is utterly charming, I’ll warn any ex-English teachers out there (myself included) that dogs apparently do not always use correct syntax.  Still, the book is warm, funny, inspirational and short –you can easily find bliss in one short sitting — making it an ideal gift for dog-lovers come Christmas time.

One other reason to support these books:  since Trixie originally served as a Canine Companions for Independence (before she went to live with Dean and Gerda) all royalties are donated to this organization.

I have found a new series to listen to as I drive around the Quad Cities and beyond.  It is the “Chet and Bernie Series”  from Spencer Quinn who introduces the world to two-legged Bernie, a down in his luck private detective and his four-legged pal Chet—a canine with a penchant for solving mysteries. In an interview with the author on how he decided on this series

Q. How did you come to write Dog on It?
A. My wife said, How about doing something with dogs? The basic building blocks came to me right there at the kitchen table: two detective pals; narration by the four-legged one; and all in the first person, which I’d never tried before in a novel. Plus the most important thing – Chet would not be a talking dog (or be undoggy in any way) but would be a narrating dog. Anything that thinks and has memory must have a narrative going on inside. I went to the office – over the garage, commuting distance fifteen feet – and wrote the first page. Then I wanted to know what happened next.

Chet is a mixed breed law academy dropout. Bernie is a retired police officer trying to be a private detective. Between Bernie’s divorce, Charlie his sone and Susie Sanchez, Bernie’s reporter girlfriend, Chet can’t catch a nap and is always on the alert. Chet has a dry sense of humor, which the reader, Jim Frangoine, does well.

These are wonderful books for those who enjoy the narrator being the four legged kind.

There are three books in teh series so far:  Dog on It, Thereby Hangs a Tail and the newest book, To Fetch a Thief.

Deceptively slim and compact, this short novel really packs a punch. Told from the viewpoint of a house cat, emotions run from poignant to laugh-out-loud funny to bittersweet and sad. Through it all, this little cat delivers some great truths about humans and life with an uncanny eye for the truth.

Foudini, the title character in The Autobiography of Foudini M. Cat, starts life as a feral stray, born in a wall. When his mother fails to return one day, his cries alert a passing human who rescues him. Adopted by a young couple, he learns to trust the woman (who he calls “Warm”) and tolerate the man (“Pest”) He also becomes fast friends with the resident dog, Sam. Now the young and foolish kitten Grace has been added to the family and Foudini attempts to fill her in on the important issues of life. Through Foudini’s wise observations, we see the world from a cat’s perspective – fulfilling the basic needs of shelter and food to the more abstract necessities of attachment, friendship and love.

This is one of the funniest books I’ve ever read – Foudini’s disgust at Warm trying to “talk cat” or Grace’s complete disregard of his lessons are hilarious – yet Foudini remains thoroughly cat-like in his thoughts and reactions. Foudini also faces tragedy and loss and must learn to cope and move on – keep the tissues handy for this section. Beautifully written, this lovely story will stay with you long after you put the book away.

If you’re very lucky, you might run across the audio version of this book. However, it’s only available on cassette, is out-of-print and difficult to find. If you do find it, grab it. It’s narrated by David Hyde Pierce (most famous for playing Niles on the tv show “Frasier”) and is a gem of fine storytelling.

Working on your bucket list? Here’s a great book that will get you out into some of the most beautiful places in the world for a once in a lifetime experience.

Fifty Place to Hike Before You Die explores the world’s greatest walking adventures. Some, such as the Lunana Snowman Trek in Bhutan  or the Kangshung Valley Trek in Tibet, are difficult, multiweek backpacking adventures. Others, such as Japan’s Nakesando Trail, are more leisurely, traveling from village to village or try Italy’s Amalfi Coast, visiting bistros along the way. There are hikes from all parts of the world and include the expected – the Matterhorn in Switzerland and the Grand Canyon in Arizona – and the surprising – Snow Lake in Pakistan and Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda. All of them have one thing in common though – extraordinary experiences in extraordinary places.

The major shortcoming of this book is the brevity of each entry – while basics of each trail are included, the serious traveler will need to investigate more complete information in other sources. Treat Fifty Hikes as an appetizer, an introduction to possibility and inspiration. Then choose a destination, get out your hiking boots and mark another item off that list!

Maybe its the element of risk or the fear of commitment, but I’m still skittish about buying shoes online.

There is definitely a larger selection and you can sometimes save a few dollars — especially now as they blow out old stock in the fall to make way for new styles.  As far as getting a gander at them, all the online merchants seem to have them mandatorily photographed from a half dozen angles.   But what if the dang things make you feel like one of Cinderella’s ugly sisters when they arrive by mail?

Major player Zappos tries to assuage that fear by offering free and unlimited returns.  You’re not supposed to notice that they build about 5 bucks back into the item cost.

Take this one for example. Looks like something I could abuse, cover in winter rock salt and be too lazy to polish for the next 4-5 years.   But what’s a Stonefly Milano?

After straw polling my peers, I’ve been told an excellent way is to know how a certain brand fits and count on that manufacturer’s internal controls to be consistent.    In other words, once a size 11 New Balance, always a size 11 New Balance.  In that event, it might not be a bad idea to go to a shoe store with a notepad and number two pencil to build an extensive brand dossier for your feet.

Comment with your shoe tips and favorite merchants, as well as any woeful tales of goofing on a size and getting stuck with $6.95 return shipping each way.  Hey, sometimes you roll the dice and lose.  That’s life.

The World Series returns next week when baseball plays the final games of the season to crown it’s champion. Baseball continues to be part of the fabric of being an American, whether you’re a rabid fan or a casual observer (being a Cubs fan, I tend to be forced into the second category) There is no shortage of books about the game, from biographies to histories to analysis. Here’s a sampling of some of the newest titles.

The Baseball Codes: Beanballs, Sign Stealing and Bench-Clearing Brawls: the Unwritten Rules of America’s Pastime by Jason Turbow. This is an entertaining look into the varied,  unwritten rules that govern baseball as played by the pros. Most people are familiar with a pitcher purposely hitting a batter as retaliation, but did you know the ins and outs of how to slide, whether or not to talk during a no-hitter, how to give way to a relief pitcher? These examples and many more are explored, often hilariously, with multiple references both historic and recent. For every baseball fan.

The Last Hero: A Life of Henry Aaron by Howard Bryant. Before the age of steriods made us all skeptical of the records and feats of baseball players, there was Henry Aaron. Playing during the era of civil strife and lingering racism, he brought dignity and grace to the game, breaking multiple records (including the famous home run mark), cementing his place in history. This is a serious biography not just of the man but of that historical time in America, written with depth and scholarship.

Perfect: Don Larsen’s Miraculous World Series Game and the Men Who Made it Happen by Lew Paper. 2010 is being called the “Year of the Pitcher” and we’ve already been treated to phenomenal pitching in the playoffs, including Ron Halladay’s no-no – the first playoff no-hitter since Don Larsen’s perfect game in 1956. Relive that historic game (still the only post-season perfect game) and the men who participated. Each chapter covers one of the 19 players, superstars and journeymen alike, all on their way to becoming part of baseball legend.

Following her memoir, An Italian Affair, travel writer Laura Fraser shares an intimate peek into her private life, which includes traveling to exotic places and interviewing eccentric personalities in All Over the Map.

On one hand, I was at once envious, wishing I had the means to travel, seemingly at whim, to such intriguing locals (Italy, Provence, Peru, Samoa, etc.) but on the other hand, sympathetic to what dangers she may have faced (Rwanda) and to what her career and lifestyle choices have forced her to forego — a lasting marriage and children of her own.

She is open about her love affairs, poignantly honest about an assault in the South Pacific, and appreciative of her large network of friends.  In all, the book achieves the desired result and illustrates why she is successful in her field — readers may have seen her work featured in O, the Oprah Magazine, Gourmet, and many other publications.  Those who enjoyed Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love will also enjoy this; plus it’s also an excellent example of how a non-fiction work can read like fiction.

I’ve always struggled with trying to lose weight while still eating the delicious (and often fattening) foods that I love.  It got a little easier when I discovered the Hungry Girl cookbooks, written by “Hungry Girl” Lisa Lillien.  Her books Hungry Girl:  Recipes and Survival Strategies for Guilt-Free Eating in the Real World and Hungry Girl 200 Under 200:  200 Recipes Under 200 Calories contain recipes for the foods we already love, but made in a more healthy way.  They’re also pretty easy to make; Hungry Girl’s recipes don’t contain a ton of ingredients or steps, so they’re not too difficult for someone like me whose preferred cooking steps are 1) Preheat oven 2) Insert frozen pizza.  I’ve tried out a few of her recipes so far, including the Krispymallow Treats and the Cheesy Chicken Quesadilla, and they were great!  I even made her recipe for a cupcake baked inside an ice cream cone for my family and they didn’t realize it was a “diet recipe”.

The Hungry Girl books contain more than just recipes.  Lilien has also made lists of products to use to make your cooking lighter and a series of “Survival Guides” for how to eat out at restaurants without gaining 10 pounds per meal.  Now that I’ve tried a few recipes and trust Hungry Girl’s directions, I might even try some of her more ambitious recipes, like the Kickin’ Chicken Tortilla Soup and Fiber-ific Fried Chicken Strips.  If you want to lose weight but don’t want to give up your favorite foods, I suggest checking out the Hungry Girl books to see if she has a solution.  I’ll bet she does!

Ever wonder how other readers find great books? What sources do they search, what fount of wisdom to they consult? Contrary to popular myth, librarians do not get to sit around all day and read (if only!!) We’re looking for our next great read, just like you. So we’re introducing a new series of blog posts that will help you find the books you want to read – books, magazines, blogs (other than our very own Info Cafe, of course) that will point you in the right direction. First up: a sure fire winner from everyone’s favorite famous librarian.

The third title in Nancy Pearl’s growing series of what to read (after Book Lust and More Book Lust) is the newly published Book Lust to Go: Recommended Reading for Travelers, Vagabonds and Dreamers. Whether you’re a globe-trotting enthusiast or prefer to dream about other lands, Book Lust to Go will satisfy your wanderlust (Nancy owns up to being a determined non-traveler herself) Using the same format as her earlier books, topics are arranged in short, pithy chapters, with brief descriptions of recommended titles plus a few choice quotes to entice you into picking up a title. Subjects range from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, Texas to Tibet and include modes of transportation (hiking, walking, trains) and even a chapter cautioning on the hazards of travel (“It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time”) Coverage is idiosyncratic, covering countries, cities (Berlin, LasVegas), regions (Chesapeake Bay, Appalachia, Cornwall) and states (Ohio, Nebraska, Wyoming but sadly, no Iowa) There are some curious omissions but Nancy points out that many travel subjects and titles may have already been covered in her earlier books. You certainly won’t lack for interesting and exciting travel reading with just this book whether you’re planning your next adventure, or planning to sit comfortably by the fire and read about the adventures of others.

Nancy is a regular contributor NPR Morning Edition (usually airing on Fridays) where she always has interesting book recommendations. You can also follow her via her blog at NancyPearl.com where she has in-depth descriptions of her recommended titles, links to her NPR segments and access to the Book Lust Shop where you can buy her titles or a librarian action figure – and who doesn’t need one of those?

Watch for more Book Watch entries in the weeks to come!