Monthly Archives: April 2011

Winner – Being With Animals

Being With Animals, by Barbara J. King
228 pages
ISBN 978-0385523639
Harmony (January 2010)

Thank you to all who entered to win a copy of Being With Animals by Barbara J. King. I used to choose a winner and I am happy to announce that the winner is….

Lisa Almeda Sumner of Bibliophiliac

Congratulations, Lisa! I’ve sent you an email to request your snail mail!

For those of you who did not win, I hope you will consider purchasing this fantastic book from an Indie Bookstore, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or some other bookstore.

Weekly Geeks: An ABC Author List

This week on Weekly Geeks, Suey is challenging us to compile a list of ABC authors. She writes:

You know how when someone asks you who your favorite author is? And you feel a bit crazy coming up with just one? Now is your chance to come up with 26 (at least) favorite authors by making a list of  them ABC style.  (See my above link from the past for an example.) There are no rules, list a couple per letter if you feel the need. Skip a letter if you draw a blank. Make it be categories if you want to.  For instance, a favorite YA author list. A favorite classic author list.  A favorite “new to me” author list. A favorite mystery author list. Or simply an all time favorite author list… from A to Z!

I thought this would be a fun one to do. Here is my list of A to Z favorite authors (I have listed more than one under some letters):

A: Margaret Atwood, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
B: A.S. Byatt, Elizabeth Berg, Geraldine Brooks, Eleanor Brown
C: Katherine Center, Karen Connelly
D: Daphne DuMaurier
E: Louise Erdrich
F: Ru Freeman, Zoe Ferraris, Anne Frank
G: Amitav Ghosh, Kate Grenville, David Guterson
H: John Hart, Joyce Hinnefeld, Khaled Housseini
I: John Irving
J: Sadie Jones
K: Barbara Kingsolver, Stephen King, Mitchell James Kaplan, Beth Kephart
L: Harper Lee, Jhumpa Lahiri
M: Cormac McCarthy, Larry McMurtry, David Mitchell, Michelle Moran, Kate Morton, Elizabeth McCracken
N: Irene Nemirovsky
O: Stewart O’Nan
P: Jodi Picoult
Q: Anna Quindlen
R: Arundhati Roy, Richard Russo
S: Anita Shreve, Wallace Stegner, John Steinbeck
T: Rose Tremain, Anne Tyler
U: Thrity Umrigar. Leon Uris
V: Vendela Vida, Abraham Verghese, Simon Van Booy
W: Sarah Waters, Dianne Warren, Edith Wharton, E.B. White
X: None
Y: William Butler Yeats
Z: Marcus Zusak
Visit this week’s Weekly Geek post to get links to other blogger’s favorite A-Z authors!

The Wilder Life – Book Review

I wanted to go to Laura World: I wanted to visit the places where Laura Ingalls and her family had lived, in Wisconsin and Kansas and Minnesota and South Dakota and Missouri. All these years I hadn’t quite believed that the place in the books existed, but they did, and house foundations had been unearthed, and cabins reconstructed, and museums erected. – from The Wilder Life –

Wendy McClure spent one year of her life pursuing all things Laura Ingalls. Obsessed with the Little House series, she traveled to the Big Woods (which weren’t really so big), Plum Creek, and the many places where the Ingalls family had lived; she churned butter and visited Little House performances, even attending a musical dedicated to the story; she spent hours digging up the history behind the books and learning about the people who played important roles in the books. The Wilder Life is about that journey – but it is also about something deeper. McClure’s mother died from cancer two years before McClure’s obsession with Laura Ingalls really took hold – and immersing herself in Laura World was one way McClure struggled to come to terms with the loss of her mother and what that meant to her life. It is a convoluted journey, a tangential one that seems so tangled at first that I found myself puzzling over where McClure’s story was going. But, eventually, all the roads led back to McClure’s deep sense of loss and the comfort and meaning she sought through the life of Laura Ingalls and the Ingalls’ search for a home.

I read the Laura Ingalls’ books, and like many girls, I loved them. I was fascinated by Laura and not only wanted to be part of her family – I actually wanted to be her. McClure seems to live out this fantasy in her year of discovery. The section on butter churning (where McClure actually locates an old fashioned butter churner in order to try her hand at this old skill) had me laughing out loud.

“Each day had its own proper work,” it says in Little House in the Big Woods, and according the the book, churning was done on a Thursday, which of course made it sound like you needed, you know, a whole day. So I picked a Monday when I didn’t have any plans at all. – from The Wilder Life –

I always thought the Little House series was pure fiction – but McClure unravels the history which became the basis for the books. In fact, the books were a generous mix of reality and fiction, a re-creation of Laura Ingalls’ life that was far more positive than what had actually happened. McClure explores the theory that it was Rose, Laura’s daughter, who wrote the books – a fascinating idea which does seem a bit supported by history, although I ultimately decided that Rose probably did not pen the series.

But what I enjoyed the most about The Wilder Life was not the flawless research, but rather the sociological aspects which surround obsessions like this. Because, let’s face it, we all have them. Children’s books are important in shaping our worlds, they become moral teachers, they help give life to our dreams and fantasies. Through books, many of us find meaning in our lives by seeing the world through a character’s eyes. The Little House books were brought to technicolor through the television series – a series which delighted viewers even though it veered sharply away from the actual books. I loved the television show, but I loved the books more – and so did McClure. In her year of following Laura’s life, she began to understand why viewers and readers were drawn to Laura World, could not get enough of the prairie dresses, the fantasy of simplicity despite the reality that Laura’s world was hard work.

The real story had once been about land, but there wasn’t really any land anymore, just an idea that everyone built on again and again – a movie, a TV show, a musical, a story of good Indians and even better settlers who become wiser every time their covered wagon arrives at the beginning once again. – from The Wilder Life –

While we could all certainly appreciate the pioneer ordeals, the covered wagons, and the long winters, somehow Sweet and Simple had become our own dream frontier, our Oregon that we’d like to reach someday, always just beyond the horizon. – from The Wilder Life –

McClure provides a mix of history, humor and reflection in her book. She reveals how Laura’s story has been reinvented through the decades and now, for many, represents their own search for meaning in a world which is heavy with technology. The idea of  homesteading is now less about acquiring land and building a home and more about becoming self-reliant and returning to the earth.

Then there was the word homesteading. In the course of searching online for obscure butter-making utensils and other such things, I’d come across this word enough times to understand that it no longer meant proving up on a 16-acre land claim the way Pa Ingalls had done. It now stood for the pursuit of a self-sufficient lifestyle – living off the land, so to speak. – from The Wilder Life –

In the end, McClure allows for a personal interpretation of what the Little House books mean for her. She sets aside all the history, all the theories, and gives the reader a glimpse into her loss and her search for a home without her mother – a bittersweet, and altogether satisfying conclusion to her journey. The Wilder Life is less a memoir, and more a reflection on a life lived – it is a fascinating book on many levels. McClure teaches us something about the importance of books in our lives and why they speak to us – especially when we are struggling for understanding in our own lives. Readers who have read the Little House series will undoubtedly enjoy McClure’s thorough historical research. Likewise, readers who have ever fantasized about following the life of a literary character, will see themselves in McClure’s quest.


  • Quality of Writing:
  • Information:
  • Readability and Organization: 

Overall Rating: 

FTC Disclosure: This book was sent to me by the publisher for review on my blog.

Guest Post: Author Julianna Baggott (Bridget Asher) and Giveaway

The Provence Cure for the Brokenhearted by Bridget Asher
416 pages
ISBN 978-0-385-34390-9
Bantam (March 29, 2011)

Do you love books grounded in setting? Do you dream of visiting the French countryside? Do you love novels which include luscious descriptions of food? Do you love to read about the lives of enchanting characters? If you answered yes to all of these questions, you will not want to miss Julianna Baggott’s latest novel (written under her pen name Bridget Asher). I read this book in one day…and loved it. I am really happy to invite Julianna to my blog today for a guest post – and I am thrilled to offer a copy of the book to one lucky winner.


Read my review.

Follow the links on the TLC Book Tours page for more reviews.

Purchase this book on Amazon or at an Independent Bookstore.

“An enchantment of a book, woven out of Bridget Asher’s tenderness toward her characters, her love of the French countryside, and a gentle faith in possibilities. It held me spellbound from the first word to the last, when I put it aside with a sigh of both regret and deepest satisfaction….I madly, madly, madly loved this book!
—BARBARA O’NEAL, author of How to Bake a Perfect Life

“Unabashedly romantic and unafraid of melancholy, Asher’s book is a real charmer about a Provencal house that casts spells over the lovelorn.”
Kirkus Reviews


Critically acclaimed, bestselling author Julianna Baggott also writes under the pen names Bridget Asher and N.E. Bode. She has published sixteen books over the last ten years. In 2006, Baggott and her husband co-founded the nonprofit organization Kids in Need – Books in Deed, that focuses on literacy and getting free books to underprivileged children in the state of Florida. She lives in Florida with her husband writer David G.W. Scott and their four kids, and is an associate professor at Florida State University’s Creative Writing Program. Learn more about Baggott and her work by visiting the author’s website. Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and on her blog.

GUEST POST, by Julianna Baggott

This is one of my dirty little secrets – I had a happy childhood. Now, sure, I had an older sister who chased me with a knife, another older sister who pretended to be an exact robotic replica of herself by sometimes stuttering words and motions — “Do you want – do you want some orange juice?” she’d say jerking the carton back and forth. — and a brother who babysat me by balling me up in one of his sweatshirts and tying the sleeves behind my back and sometimes playing catch, using me as a ball.

And, yes, my mother once threw a fork into the kitchen because it was the wrong one and a dinner roll at my father because he wouldn’t split one with her.

And, yes, my father did yoga in his underwear in front of the bay windows.

And, yes, my grandfather was a double amputee who lived three blocks away in a house with handguns shoved under the sofa cushions and a grandmother with a penchant for toy poodles and not wearing any underclothing beneath her muu muus.

But, all in all, we weren’t hungry, destitute, hostile. My parents rarely argued with any real intent. It was a loud house, but not an unhappy one.

And, luckily, my mother’s side is made up of storytellers while my father’s side is comprised of secret keepers. It was the best of both worlds. On the one hand, I was handed down a goldmine of family stories and, on the other hand, I learned how potent secrets are within families. I believe that all families have wild stories to tell – some spill ‘em and some don’t.

Naturally, I write inter-generational novels. In THE PROVENCE CURE FOR THE BROKENHEARTED, the house in Provence that’s been in the family for generation is famous for its love stories. And Heidi’s mother passes these stories down to her two daughters, now grown. Heidi is grieving the loss of her husband and her mother finds a way to get her back to the house in Provence. Once there, Heidi – with her son and niece in tow — comes back to herself through senses, chief among them the sense of taste.

But, too, she is compelled to find out more about her mother’s secret summer in Provence. The past always haunts my novels. It haunts me. One of the crucial lines in the novel is that “Every good love story has another love hiding within it.” Sometimes these love stories are plotlines that run from one generation to the next. That’s my own reality and the one that I can’t help but bring to light in my work.

There is Heidi’s love story at the heart THE PROVENCE CURE FOR THE BROKENHEARTED, but it’s not the only one.


  • Contest open to U.S. addresses only please.
  • To enter, leave a comment on this post before 5:00 pm PST on May 2nd telling me you would like to be entered. If you’d like to, I would love to hear any story YOU have about visiting France!
  • I will draw ONE winner by May 3rd and announce it on my blog. I will also send the winner an email which they must respond to within 5 days with their snail mail.
  • The book will be sent to the winner from the publisher.

Good luck!!

The Provence Cure for the Brokenhearted – Book Review

Why were we here? The three of us suddenly seemed like an unlikely trio. This was a time for Charlotte to broaden her horizons, a chance for Abbott to overcome his fears, and me? I was on a pilgrimage for the brokenhearted and was supposed to learn to live again – to be alive. – from The Provence Cure for the Brokenhearted, page 134 –

Heidi is still grieving her husband Henry nearly two years after his tragic death. She has closed herself off from her business as a pastry chef, and from her family and friends. Her focus is on her troubled and fearful eight year old son, Abbott. She tells him stories about his father to keep Henry’s memory alive. When Heidi’s mother proposes that Heidi travel to Provence to renovate a house which has been in their family for decades, Heidi decides to make the trip and brings Abbott and her sixteen year old niece Charlotte with her. All three characters arrive in France with emotional baggage – Abbott carries his fears of death, Charlotte is seeking acceptance after being caught between her divorced parents, and Heidi hopes only to reconcile her grief and learn how to live her life again without Henry. Beneath the warm Provence sun, surrounded by the heady aromas of French cooking, and immersed in the secrets of the past, all three will find that healing is possible.

Julianna Baggott (writing under the pseudonym Bridget Asher) captures the beauty of the French countryside and made my mouth water with her gorgeous descriptions of food which is such a huge part of French culture.

I could see the pale gold chicken resting in its deep sauce of tomatoes, garlic, peppers. I could smell the garlic, wine and fennel. Veronique served and the juices ran sparkling to the edges of my plate, carrying a hint of citrus. And the smell bloomed. – from The Provence Cure for the Brokenhearted, page 242 –

The characters in this novel ring true. Baggott reveals their strengths and weaknesses, and creates characters who begin to feel like old friends. In addition to Heidi, Charlotte and Abbott, there is Henry – who lives on the page through Heidi’s memories – and Heidi’s mother, a “proper” French woman who harbors a secret from her “lost summer” in Provence when Heidi was just a young girl. Julien, the Frenchman who Heidi remembers from long ago, is equal parts charm and vulnerability as he reveals that his heart is wounded after a divorce. I found myself absorbed in these characters’ lives, believing their stories, and wanting to see them find happiness.

It would be remiss of me not to mention the house in Provence which becomes a character in its own right. Throbbing with the stories of love and miracles that have unfolded within its walls, the house holds its own secrets.

The house’s mythology was not just my mother’s. It was passed down through generations – how else could it have survived and thrived? – mostly down the line of women. – from The Provence Cure for the Brokenhearted, page 75 –

Grief and loss and the idea of moving forward and healing are strong themes in the novel. Baggott also explores the connections between mothers and daughters and between sisters. But it is the idea of opening one’s heart to another and the liberating exhilaration of finding love which is perhaps what turns this novel of loss into one of joy and redemption.

When you’ve felt shut down and then begin to open back up, what comes alive first? You think of all the usual suspects: the senses, the heart, the mind, the soul. But then maybe all of these things are so interconnected that you can’t differentiate a stirring of the heart from a scent, the rustling of the soul from a breeze across your skin, a thought from a feeling, a feeling from a prayer. – from The Provence Cure for the Brokenhearted, page 241 –

I found myself racing through this novel, gulping it down and immersing myself in its comforting words. Julianna Baggott writes from the heart. Her prose is deeply felt and honest. I loved her descriptions of the French countryside, her understanding of her characters, and the way she was able to merge the stories of multiple characters into a cohesive and compelling novel.

Readers who love novels that are grounded in setting and those who are drawn to women’s fiction, will love this novel.

  • Quality of Writing:
  • Characters:
  • Plot:

Overall Rating:

Want a chance to win this book? Visit the author’s guest post and learn how to enter to win a brand new copy of the book!

FTC Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher for a book tour through TLC Book Tours.

Read other reviews of the book by following the links from the TLC Book Tours page.

Mailbox Monday – April 25, 2011

This month’s Mailbox Monday is hosted by Amy at Passages to the Past. Make sure you visit Amy’s blog today and add your link … you’ll also find links to other readers’ mailboxes there.

To see the schedule of this meme’s host, please visit the dedicated blog.

I am currently in New Hampshire, but my wonderful husband has been keeping me updated as to the books which have arrived at my house this week…they are:

The Long Song by Andrea Levy which arrived from Picador and due for release this week as a paperback original. I am very excited about this book which was a finalist for the 2010 Man Booker Prize, long-listed for the 2010 Orange Broadband Prize, and a 2010 New York Times Most Notable Book. The novel is narrated by Miss July, the child of a field slave on the Amity sugar plantation in Jamaica. July moves into the great house and is renamed Marguerite by Mrs. Caroline Mortimer, a recently transplanted English widow. They live through the bloody Baptist War and the violent and chaotic end of slavery. Critics have described this novel described as inspired, profoundly imagined and unique.

Watch this wonderful video where Andrea Levy talks about writing The Long Song:

Andrea Levy was born in England to Jamaican parents. Her fourth novel, Small Island, won both the Whitbread Book of the Year Award and the Orange Prize for Fiction: Best of the Best. She lives in London. Read more about Levy and her work by visiting the author’s website.

Harper Collins sent me a review copy of Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda – a book that has been on my wish list for an eternity (it seems!). Harper Collins released the trade paperback of this novel earlier this month. The book is about two women – Somer, newly married and starting her career as a physician in San Francisco, and Kavita, a poor woman living in India. These women from opposite sides of the world are connected through another young woman named Asha, who was adopted out of a Mumbai orphanage. Described as “compulsively readable and deeply touching,” this is a novel which has received rave reviews from book bloggers.

Listen to Shilpi Somaya Gowda talk about her novel:

Shilpi Somaya Gowda was born and raised in Toronto to parents who migrated there from Mumbai. She holds an MBA from Stanford University, and a Bachelor’s Degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She has also lived in New York, North Carolina, and California. She now lives in Dallas with her husband and children. Secret Daughter is her first novel. Read more about Gowda and her work by visiting the author’s website.

Also from Harper Collins is The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives by Lola Shoeyin – yet another book which I have been dying to read ever since it was long-listed for the 2011 Orange Broadband Prize. This debut novel  is “a perceptive, entertaining, and eye-opening novel of polygamy in modern-day Nigeria.” Set against the background of contemporary Africa, the book explores the comedies, tragedies and secrets of Baba Segi’s life with five wives and seven children.

Lola Shoneyin was born in Ibadan, Nigeria, but spent most of her childhood at boarding school in Edinburgh, Scotland. She studied English at Ogun State University and lives in Abuja, Nigeria, where she teaches English and drama at an international school. She is married to Olaokun Soyinka, the son of Nobel Prize winner Wole Soyinka. They have four children and four dogs. The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives is her first published novel.

Graywolf Press sent me a review copy of The Convert: A Tale of Exile and Extremism by Deborah Baker. This nonfiction book is a BOOK CLUB pick for May and I think it looks very interesting. The Convert tells the story of how Margaret Marcus of Larchmont became Maryam Jameelah of Lahore, one of the “most trenchant and celebrated voices of Islam’s argument with the West. Like many compelling and true tales, The Convert is stranger than fiction. It is a gripping account of a life lived on the radical edge and a profound meditation on the cultural conflicts that frustrate mutual understanding. Join the discussion on Nicole’s blog on the last Tuesday of May.

Deborah Baker was born in Charlottesville and grew up in Virginia, Puerto Rico and New England.  She attended the University of Virginia and Cambridge University. After working a number of years as a book editor and publisher, she moved to Calcutta in 1990 where she wrote her second book, In Extremis; The Life of Laura Riding, which was shortlisted for the Pulitzer Prize in Biography in 1994. She has two children and is married to the writer Amitav Ghosh. They divide their time between Brooklyn and Goa. Read more about Baker and her work by visiting the author’s website.

What wonderful books arrived at YOUR house this week?

Sunday Salon – April 24, 2011

April 24, 2011

Good morning and welcome to the Sunday Salon – a weekly meme which encourages bloggers to sit down…

…at their separate desks, in their own particular time zones–and read. And blog about their reading. And comment on one another’s blogs.

I’ve missed the last couple of Sundays this month – two weeks ago due to Dewey’s 24 Hour Read-A-Thon, and then this past Sunday because I had to make an unexpected trip back to New Hampshire to say good-bye to my wonderful Nana who would have turned 98 years old in September. So things have been busy and bit melancholy for me as we prepare for the celebration of Nana’s life at the end of this week – I have been flooded with memories, especially today on Easter, remembering all those past Easters with Nana.

Today I thought I would try to catch up a little and talk about my reading since I last posted a Salon post on April 3rd.

I read Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman (read my review) for A Year of Feminist Classics. There is a great discussion happening over on their blog about this book if you are interested. I found the novella interesting, but wasn’t blown away by it. Gilman’s imaginary world of women explores multiple themes and would make a good discussion book for a book club. My edition of this book also includes several of Gilman’s short stories which I may read at some point. But right after I finished reading Herland, I decided to pick up something fast paced.

The Raising by Laura Kasischke is a book which I started prior to the Read-A-Thon and completed very quickly (read my review). This book is getting some mixed reviews, but I really liked it. Although the plot was a bit convoluted (and not altogether believable), I found it intriguing. And the characters were wonderfully developed. This book had me guessing until the very end. The last 100 pages blew by. For me, this quick and enthralling read was perfect for the Read-A-Thon.

For Sale by Owner by Kelcey Parker is a terrific collection of short stories (read my review). Smart and provocative, these stories made me think. Parker’s style of writing is engaging. The women characters in most of the stories are searching for their own identities within a society which tends to compartmentalize them. I found Parker’s observations both modern and insightful. It has been a long time since I read a short story collection, and this is one I can definitely recommend.

My next book in the queue was Being With Animals by Barbara J. King. I don’t read a lot of non fiction, but I found this one too good to turn down. This is a fantastic look at the history of the relationship between humans and animals, but what I loved the most was King’s examination of the spiritual connection we have to our furry, scaly and winged friends. I’m also happy to be hosting a giveaway of this book – go to the review of the book to enter the giveaway before 5:00 pm PST on April 28th.

It seemed appropriate to follow King’s fabulous book with Rose in a Storm by Jon Katz. By now, most readers of my blog know about my special relationship with my search and rescue dog, Caribou. In Katz’s engaging novel, a working ranch dog named Rose takes center stage. I loved seeing the world through Rose’s eyes, and Katz (who is known for his books on dogs) gets Rose’s “voice” and attitude perfectly. Readers who love dogs won’t be disappointed with this one (read my review).

I read The Provence Cure for the Brokenhearted by Bridget Asher in one day on my way across the country from California to New Hampshire. I loved this book – Asher has a real gift for creating memorable characters. But, you’ll have to wait until tomorrow to read my review as I am touring this book for TLC Book Tours. In the meantime, if you want to see what other readers thought about the novel, check out the TLC Book Tour page for the book to get links to reviews. I am also hosting a giveaway of the book – so be sure to come back tomorrow if you want to throw your name in the hat (limited to US mailing addresses only).

I just finished reading The Wilder Life by Wendy McClure. This is a memoir of sorts which allows readers to travel with McClure as she feeds her obsession with all things Laura Ingalls Wilder. I found the book interesting, and occasionally very funny. It also is a tad bittersweet. I remember my young years curled up on the couch or snuggled under my blankets reading the Wilder books and imagining my life as a prairie girl. I remember shedding tears when Jack, Laura’s faithful dog, dies too. All these memories came crashing in on me as I read McClure’s book. I’ll be posting my review on Wednesday, but for now suffice it to say, this was a good read.

My current read is Galore by Michael Crummey. I am racing to finish this one in time for the BOOK CLUB discussion of it on Jen’s blog this Tuesday (I should have the review up by then too). This is a really unique book full of whacky characters which spans two decades and is set in Newfoundland. So far I am really enjoying this novel which has been getting rave reviews all over the place. It is also picking up a slew of nominations for various literary prizes too. Have you read Galore? If so, what did you think of it (no spoilers, please!!!).

I’ll wrap this post up with two old photos that I found at my mom’s house of me with my dog, Cindy. These were taken in Vermont and so I was probably around 3, maybe 4 years old (and yes, that is the bathroom floor in photo number 2!) – click on photos to enjoy a larger view:


Being With Animals – Book Review and Giveaway

To feel that mutual kinship with another creature is a special experience, one that brings us into attunement with the whole world. It’s a feeling deep in the chest, resonant in the heart: I share with all creatures a way of being in this world. All animals, in their own ways, struggle to live, and feel their lives in different ways. I belong here in this world, with them. – from Being with Animals, page 4 –

From dogs that dream, to reindeer that choose to die for their human companions, to shamans’ animal guides, animals ignite the spirits at large in the world or inside the human heart, in locally variable but equally intense ways. – from Being with Animals, page 134 –

Anyone who has ever worked with animals, or shared their life with a beloved pet knows the specialness of being with animals. Science tells us that stroking a dog for half an hour can lower a person’s blood pressure by ten percent (for the dog, the result is immediate). We have all read about dogs who can detect cancer or those that warn a person that a seizure is imminent. But, in Barbara King’s fascinating book Being with Animals, we learn even more about the history of our relationship with the creatures with whom we share our world. The first chapters of the book take us back thousands of years ago. King invites the reader into the Chauvet Cave where the oldest known paintings in the world can be found. Located in a region of France called Ardeche, the cave contains visible traces of bears, including more than 2,500 bones, over 170 skulls, along with their claw marks and prints…and on the walls are incredible paintings of animals along with ocher-colored palm prints from the people who inhabited the cave at least 32,000 years ago. Dating of the bones found in Chauvet  indicates that people and bears visited the cave during the same time period.

The incredible art images that grace the cave walls blazed to life in a space inhabited by both humans and bears. – from Being with Animals, page 19 –

King next takes a look at the history of domestication, and picks apart the two theories of how this process was initiated, asking the question: Did humans tame the animals, or did the animals choose to become domesticated? The book moves naturally forward examining animals as symbols and spiritual or sacred beings.

Animals give life to humans through milk, meat, and wool, enhance human life through labor and companionship, ward off the unknowability and danger of the wild by bringing it closer or under human influences. Yet animals die, of course, just like we do. They take on sacred resonance when they pair with nonmortal beings (gods) that defy death, or when they pave the way for an afterlife. – from Being with Animals, page 72 –

It is this idea of spirituality that rings loudest through King’s text. Barbara King the scientist is uncomfortable with theories embodying spirit in order to explain animal behavior, yet she cannot deny that much of what happens in the space between humans and animals is on a spiritual plane.

Does being-with-animals today bring people closer not only to the earthly world but also to the supernatural one? Are animals “God’s messengers,” as the title of one books says? That is, does God (or, in other cultures, gods or spirits) speak to us and send us messages of love or comfort through animals, a message that can guide us toward greater compassion for each other? – from Being with Animals, page 94 –

King reflects on animals as religious symbols, the mystical history of ravens, animals as moral teachers, and the Native American connection to the bison.

For the most part, we don’t explain our cultures’ origins by mythic reference to animals. We don’t accord to bears and buffalo sanctified roles for teaching our children about our lifeways. Yet threaded through our cultures nonetheless is a bedrock acceptance of animals as moral teachers. – from Being with Animals, page 128 –

King does not confine her book to just that of the relationship between humans and animals, but she also spends some time looking at unique animal to animal relationships, specifically focusing on apes and elephants and their shared lives.

In the wild, the females and youngsters live in close-knit groups. The females rule, and their extended family members cluster around them; together they express their joys and sorrows. Just as chimpanzees and bonobos come together and separate in fission-fusion patterns, the subunits of elephant society part and reunite. – from Being with Animals, page 161 –

Being with Animals is a fascinating and important book about our history and experience with animals. As humans, we share our homes with animals, but we also relate to them on religious and spiritual levels as well. Animals not only help us in our work, they provide companionship and unconditional love. Barbara King knowledgeably provides the reader with a plethora of well-researched information that helps define not only why animals are so important to humans, but how that relationship has evolved across time and cultures. Being with Animals narrows the gap between humans and animals, and reminds us of what we share vs. what separates us.

We see ourselves in other animals – in their everyday expected behaviors and their are unexpected behaviors. Being with animals brings forth the deep knowledge that we once were animals, and are animals still. – from Being with Animals, page 216 –

Anyone who has ever been fascinated with or loved an animal, will delight in Barbara King’s amazing book. Highly recommended.

  • Quality of Writing:
  • Information:
  • Readability and Organization:

Overall Rating:

FTC Disclosure: This book was sent to me  for review on my blog.


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. She writes essays on anthropology-related themes for and the Times Literary Supplement (London). Together with her husband, she cares for and arranges to spay and neuter homeless cats in Virginia. Her previous books include Evolving God and The Dynamic Dance. Learn more about King and her work by visiting the author’s website.

Check out this cool show about animals on CBS Sunday Morning…Barbara J. King weighs in on cross-species “friendships”:


I am happy to be able to offer a copy of this wonderful book (via the publisher) to one lucky reader here on my blog.

  • Entries are limited to U.S. and Canada addresses only.
  • To enter for a chance to win, please leave a comment on this post indicating you would like to be entered in the giveaway.
  • Contest closes at 5:00 pm PST on April 28th. I will draw a winner on April 29th via and announce their name on my blog. I will also send them an email.



In Memory of my Nana

Pauline Bartlett Stevens

September 7, 1913 – April 19, 2011

Today I said good-bye to my Nana. She was 97 years young – a woman who consistently beat me at the many Scrabble games we played, never gave up an opportunity to do something new, made us laugh with her amazing sense of humor, and spent the last few years enjoying her many friends, volunteering, and spending time with her family.

There were times it was easy to forget her age, she was so young at heart.

She delighted her great-grandchildren, offered support and wisdom to her grandchildren, and companionship to my mother (her daughter). It is hard for me to imagine my life without her laughter.

There is so much I could tell you about Nana – I could fill a book with our memories…the “fashion shows” she put on for us when we were kids, washing our hair in rain water at her cottage, Christmases and Easters, birthday celebrations…I could go on and on. I will miss her so much.

I love you, Nana. xo