New books discuss animal care, childhood memories, and a Gilded Age scandal
In 2003, teacher Kathy Stevens turned down an offer to head up a Boston charter school, bought a farm in Saugerties, and founded the Catskill Animal Sanctuary. In the eight years since, she has given a permanent home to nearly 2,000 farm animals — horses, pigs, chickens, turkeys — which were abandoned, abused, or neglected. In her recently published second book, Animal Camp (Skyhorse Publishing, $24.95), Stevens chronicles the lives of Barbie (a hen found hiding under a car in Brooklyn), Franklin (a runt pig who now weighs in at 700 pounds), and many of the other creatures which inhabit her farm. Each of them seems to have its own eccentric personality — which Stevens conveys in charming (and sometimes heart-wrenching) detail. A must-read for animal lovers.
For 35 years, Pete Dubacher has owned the Berkshire Bird Paradise, a Rensselaer County site which houses, cares for, and feeds more than 1,000 eagles, pigeons, owls, emus, and other birds that are incapable of living in the wild. For her book Feathers of Hope (Excelsior/State University of New York Press, $19.95), author Barbara Chepaitis shadowed Dubacher during a typical day at the sanctuary (which includes, among other things, feeding the birds roadkill delivered by the truckload from the DEC). Why — and how — Dubacher manages to maintain this avian outpost is a heartwarming story which underlines the necessity of mankind’s continued stewardship of the natural world.
Valley resident Genie Abrams’ first novel, Louey Levy’s Greatest Catch (The Troy Book Makers, $15.95) is a coming-of-age story set in the author’s hometown of Newburgh. It’s 1959, and 11-year-old Louisa (Louey) Levy’s small-town life comes crashing down all at once: Her mother dies, her father has a stroke, and — perhaps worst of all — she finds her best friend’s sister bleeding in an alleyway. With plot elements reminiscent of To Kill a Mockingbird and Dirty Dancing, this work is based on actual events; the city setting is one that Newburgh denizens — both past and present — will easily recognize. Convincingly told from a preteen’s viewpoint, the book’s often tragic events are seamlessly offset by comic moments (usually provided by Louey’s wisecracking relatives).
Fifty years ago — when he was a 12-year-old boy — Philip Ratzer spent the summer with his family in a bungalow colony known as Pesekow’s in Loch Sheldrake, Sullivan County. In Bungalow Kid (Excelsior/State University of New York Press, $14.95), Ratzer lovingly describes life in “the mountains” as experienced by a Bronx kid in the 1950s: playing pinball in the local casino, exercising the horses at a nearby dude ranch, eating his mom’s fresh blueberry jam on Wonder Bread after holding hands with his first summer crush. The western Catskills were a popular destination for city-dwellers during that time; many readers will no doubt identify with this author’s whimsical recollection of a lost era.
In 1896, Mary Alice Livingston Fleming — a member of the famously wealthy Livingston clan of New York — was arrested on charges that she poisoned her own mother, Evelina Bliss, by sending her a bucket of clam chowder laced with arsenic. James D. Livingston’s Arsenic and Clam Chowder (State University of New York Press, $19.95) recounts the saga of Fleming’s Gilded Age murder trial (the sensational details of which touched off a circulation war between New York’s biggest newspapers). In the process of telling this scandal-ridden story, Livingston (who is distantly related to Mary Alice) explores the social and moral issues that surrounded the trial (if convicted, Fleming could become the first woman to face execution via the newly developed electric chair), and includes cameo appearances by some of the era’s most notable characters — from Thomas Edison to Diamond Jim Brady.
Mystery-loving Valleyites looking to pass a long wintry evening would do well to pick up To the Manor Dead (Midnight Ink, $14.95) by Sebastian Stuart. The plot revolves around Janet Petrocelli, a former psychotherapist who escapes Brooklyn by moving to the Hudson River town of Sawyerville and opening a “junque” antiques shop. Before long, Janet befriends members of an old-money family (named Livingston), and finds herself trying to solve the riddle of a mysterious death. But the Valley itself is also a character in this fast-paced thriller. Stuart has a home in Saugerties, and his description of small-town Valley life — as seen through the eyes of an acerbic but sympathetic heroine — is dead-on (no pun intended).
Tony Polito is out to change the way America eats. A fitness trainer/life coach and chef, the Poughkeepsie native’s new cookbook, Fresh (Aurora Foods Publishing, $19.95) outlines more than 75 recipes that can be whipped up in 10 minutes or less. Relying on easy-to-prepare fresh ingredients paired with healthful staple items (salsa, fresh pasta, and whole wheat breads and wraps), Polito offers a variety of tasty options, from breakfast omelets and shakes to meat and fish entrées, side dishes, and — yes — even desserts. Simple and straightforward, Polito’s recipes are a snap to follow (even for those who struggle to boil water); color photos of each dish (taken by professional lensman Michael Polito, Tony’s brother and a frequent contributor to HV) are included.