Holiday gift suggestions for bookish animal lovers

Siamese kitten lying in front of a very small holiday tree with ornaments on a red mat
Book reviews of ‘The Wonderful World of James Herriot,’ ‘Christmas at Corgi Cove,’ ‘Dog Lessons,’ ‘George: A Magpie Memoir,’ and ‘The Goodbye Cat’
By Sally Rosenthal

Whatever winter holiday you celebrate, you’ll find the perfect book — or books — for the animal lovers on your holiday shopping list from these suggestions.

The Wonderful World of James Herriot by James Herriot with an introduction by Rosie Page and Jim Wight. St. Martin’s Press, 2023. Hardcover, 400 pages.

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OK, I admit it: I find it impossible to be anything other than exuberant about the writings of beloved Yorkshire veterinarian James Herriot. So it is no surprise that The Wonderful World of James Herriot tops my list of holiday gift suggestions this year. From the time his tales about being a veterinarian in the Yorkshire Dales in the mid-20th century were first published in the 1970s, I was hooked. And I was not alone; such books as All Creatures Great and Small captured the attention of animal lovers throughout the world. Two television series — one currently being shown on PBS — followed, garnering even more fans for the unassuming practicing vet who wrote his books in the evenings after his veterinary work was finished.

This new book — with an introduction by his children, Rosie Page and Jim Wight, and with illustrations and family photographs — gathers many of James’ best-known stories and presents them in a manner that shows his deep love of his profession, his family, and of course the rural countryside in which he lived and practiced. Readers already familiar with James’ books will find this compilation a loving tribute while readers new to his works will find themselves immersed in these tales of life and veterinary practice in a changing world.

Christmas at Corgi Cove: A Novel by Annie England Noblin. Avon, 2023. Softcover, 352 pages.

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What would the holiday season be without an animal-centric seasonal story by novelist and animal rescue activist Annie England Noblin? Fortunately, we don’t have to answer that question since Annie has served up another literary treat in Christmas at Corgi Cove.

As in all her novels, this new one features a cast of often quirky and always lovable human and canine characters living in a close-knit community who pool their energy to forestall a looming disaster. Having arrived at Corgi Cove as a rebellious teenager, Rosie Reynolds has grown to love the inn run by her aunt and uncle and life in the small Texas lakeside town. However, when competition from a glitzy resort forces her relatives to consider selling their languishing Corgi Cove inn, Rosie and the townspeople band together to save the inn.

Reading a novel by this author is like entering into her characters’ world; they are reliably warm and well-written — and the good guys win. Christmas at Corgi Cove is no exception, so curl up with a dog by your side and get lost in Annie’s novel.

Dog Lessons: Learning the Important Stuff from Our Best Friends by Hersch Wilson. New World Library, 2023. Hardcover, 288 pages.

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Let’s face it: Dogs are smarter than humans. Don’t believe me? Just ask Hersch Wilson, the author of the highly enjoyable book Dog Lessons: Learning the Important Stuff from Our Best Friends.

Having shared his life with canines for over 60 years, Hersch has been a willing pupil and now shares the things dogs have taught him about what truly matters in life and how to live one’s life well. From a rural Minnesota childhood to his later days in New Mexico, Hersch always looked to his dogs for company on wilderness runs and as joyful partners in everyday escapades. The preteen whose family’s German shepherd was an integral member grew up to become a man whose dogs taught him about love, the need for rest and reflection, and the importance of play.

Part memoir and part education, Dog Lessons is a deceptively simple read. Hersch’s essays, warm and humorous as they are, are also packed with canine history and lore. Dog Lessons is a book meant to be shared with all the dog lovers on your shopping list this holiday season.

George: A Magpie Memoir by Frieda Hughes. Avid Reader Press/Simon & Schuster, 2023. Hardcover, 272 pages.

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When artist and poet Frieda Hughes bought a fixer-upper house in a remote area of Wales, she hoped the move might save her marriage. But, as readers learn in the beginning of this memoir, such was not the case.

Throwing herself into creating a garden while pursuing her painting and writing, Frieda, the daughter of poets Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath, found her life sidetracked one day when she came across a baby magpie near death in her garden. The sole survivor of a family of magpies killed in a storm, the tiny bird tugged at the author’s heart. George, as he came to be known, beat all the odds and thrived in Frieda’s care until she released him — after a struggle with her emotions — into the wild.

George: A Magpie Memoir is a curious book — one that details the months George shared her home and helped her focus on saving a magpie in need rather than her deteriorating marriage. The last part of the book touches briefly on the author’s later work rehabilitating owls in an aviary on her grounds. While this book could be viewed, on the surface, as the story of a woman rescuing a bird, George: A Magpie Memoir has a deeper message: Sometimes, when the stars align, two very different creatures save each other. Having been entranced and moved by this memoir, I hope the author might follow it up with another about her owl rescue efforts.

The Goodbye Cat by Hiro Arikawa. Penguin Random House, 2023. Hardcover, 288 pages.

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Calling all cat lovers! Hiro Arikawa, noted Japanese author of the bestseller The Travelling Cat, has once again written a pitch-perfect collection of stories about cats and their humans. The Goodbye Cat, comprised of the title story and six others, is filled with cats and people whose lives are entwined by circumstance or serendipity and cemented by love.

Hiro has a way of showing just how important the felines in these tales are in their guardians’ lives. Wise and sometimes funny, the stories are also poignantly on the mark. One rescued kitten helps ease a new father’s fears about parenthood while the main character in the titular tale practices making his perfect pawprint to begin the process of becoming a truly forever friend to his family. All of us fortunate to have a cat or two in our homes and hearts will quickly fall under Hiro’s spell.

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Book Reviews