“What It’s Like to Be a Bird: From Flying to Nesting, Eating to Singing —What Birds are Doing and Why”
By David Allen Sibley

David Sibley began watching birds early in childhood under the guidance of his father, a Yale University ornithologist. He noticed that the standard bird guides of the time only presented one illustration and did not image juvenile birds or the seasonal plumages of some birds. So, he began to teach himself illustration, studying the works of other wildlife artists. He is the author of the “Sibley Guide to Birds,” which has become one of the more popular field guides today.

In this large format coffee-table book there are over 300 illustrations designed to be life-sized, so that the larger birds are often shown in a close-up of the head. The details of the eyes, beak and feathers are quite accurate, and the pose of the bird is correct and precise. But not only are these birds beautifully illustrated, there is an accompanying page of facts unique to each bird. What makes one species different from the other? It’s not just their coloring or the song, but also its habitat and how it finds food and then consumes it.

An example of the obscure facts explains how a pelican catches a fish, but also describes how the bird keeps from drowning after it swallowed all the water with its prey. There was also information about how pelicans are the victims of kleptoparasitism, when laughing gulls stand on the head of the pelican and snatch a few of the fish for themselves.

Did you know that mourning doves can sleep with one eye open, literally putting half their brain to sleep, while the open eye can be aware of danger. When you notice a row of pigeons sitting on an electric line next to each other, the pigeons at each end of the row have the duty of keeping one eye open on guard while the others get to sleep.

Our state bird, the cardinal, is very sensitive to the length of daylight, and is often heard singing on the first sunny days after winter solstice, even if there is snow on the ground. And his song is described as the phrase “cheerily, cheerily, cheer, cheer, cheer,” might be his way of spreading optimism for the beginning of spring.

Sibley also covers topics that backyard bird watchers could find useful, such as window collisions, found baby birds, or the occasional live bird in your house. I brought a fern inside for the winter to discover the next morning a wren flying through the living room. I used Sibley’s suggestion of opening the door, and slowly herding the bird toward the light.

I would recommend this book for any birder from age 8 to 88. “Bird brain” has now taken on a new meaning after being enlightened by David Sibley.

— Review by Lizz Taylor, Poor Richard’s Books

“The Talented Miss Farwell”
By Emily Gray Tedrowe

What could go wrong if your passion is acquiring art and your everyday job allows you to control the city’s purse strings? Becky Farwell had saved her dad’s failed farm equipment business, and now the small town of Pierson, Illinois, thinks she would be a great treasurer and comptroller. Becky knows math and how to crunch numbers and spreadsheets. She also remembers her first trip to the Chicago Institute of Art and the works exhibited there. When she finds a painting by one of those exhibited in the museum for a mere $545, she imagines the possibility of owning it, if only she had the money.   

And so it begins. Becky in Pierson with plain dress and comfortable shoes can become Reba in Chicago and New York drinking champagne, wearing couture and buying art. She can sell off pieces as she needs to replenish the city’s coffers. And, she can help the city acquire the funds they need for infrastructure improvements. Thus, she justifies the theft.

But for those with obsessions, the appetite is rarely satisfied. Becky becomes aware of a group of paintings from a Hopper protege. They are all owned by different collectors, but she is determined to own the set. When she only needs one more to complete the set, the few hundred dollars “borrowed” in the beginning becomes a few million.

Of course, the story becomes complicated about who is the ” real” Becky Farwell. Is she the quiet single woman in Pierson, or is she Reba, the ruthless art collector? Even though you know this can’t end well, the reader keeps hoping she can rectify everything before it’s too late.

There are few novels with a female con artist, but Tedrowe has created such a convincing, complicated, compelling character that I couldn’t help but cheer her on.

— Review by Lizz Taylor, Poor Richard’s Books

Cook with Me: 150 Recipes for the Home Cook”
By Alex Guarnaschelli

This new cookbook by Food Network favorite Alex Guarnaschelli includes tasty recipes that will appeal to many. The dishes are not overly complicated, and most who cook will already have the ingredients in their pantries. The recipes encompass breakfast items, seafood and meat, pasta, salads and soups, desserts and drinks. There are also special sections on one-pan dinners, using a slow cooker, and vegetarian dishes, which she titled “The New Meats.” The section on cooking tools and equipment is most appreciated by this reviewer. The photos of the dishes are great, and the introductions and notes are helpful.

I enjoyed making a couple of dishes from this cookbook, especially the stuffed shells. I will be making more! There is no special theme, but this cookbook is full of comfort foods to share with family and friends.

“Cook with Me” was named one of the best cookbooks of the year by NPR and Food Network.

— Review by Paul Sawyier Public Library staff

“5-Ingredient Cooking For Two: 101+ Recipes Portioned for Pairs”
By Robin Donovan

Just in time for Valentine’s Day comes a great cookbook for a party of two! If you love the idea of minimal ingredients that may be in your kitchen cabinet anyway, then this is the cookbook for you. Donovan shares everyday recipes that offer plenty of ideas for new meals.

A bonus in the book is that it lists supplies needed, cooking tips, variations of the recipe, and whether it can be frozen for later use. Prep and cook times are included, which comes in handy if you are tight on time and want to get a meal on the table without a lot of fuss.

Sadly, there are very few photographs of the finished dishes. If you are a visual person, you may miss those, especially if you like to compare your finished dish to the photograph in the cookbook.  

Great cookbook for both the novice and experienced cook.

— Review by Paul Sawyier Public Library staff