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by Julia Zurcher


Feathers: The Evolution of a Natural Miracle by Thor Hanson


If you’ve ever paused to admire the iridescence of a crow feather or the aerial dexterities of a common robin,


then Thor Hanson’s Feathers: The Evolution of a Natural Miracle should be at the top of your reading list. The book is divided into five distinct sections: Evolution, Fluff, Flight, Fancy and Function. In Evolution,


Hanson deftly tackles the surprisingly heated debate on how and why feathers evolved. He explores feather’s unparalleled insulative qualities in Fluff and how their utterly unique construct makes bird soaring acrobatics possible in Flight. In Fancy, Hanson details how humans from Montezuma to Marie Antoinette have adorned themselves with colorful bird attire. Finally, Function describes how feathers are continuing to evolve and they have influenced human accomplishments. As he tells his stories, Hanson introduces his readers to a cast of experts nearly as diverse as the bird’s he is


examining. From milliners to showgirls, fly fisherman and modern-day scribes, paleontologists and mechani- cal engineers, Hanson skillfully relays the expertise of people to whom feathers have become much more than adornment and tools. Feathers soars on the wings of Hanson’s excellent storytelling; complex scientific theories and explanations


are woven into engaging narratives and hilarious anecdotes. While he describes himself as a scientist and a bit of a skeptic, Hanson’s genuine wonder and respect for the ingenuity of birds and their plumage is evident in every word he writes. For the beginning bird-watcher or the devoted ornithologist, Feathers is an engaging and informative story


that will have you looking more closely the next time you see a sparrow at your feeder. Published by Basic Books, paperback, $25.99.


Thor Hanson is a conservation biologist, Switzer Environmental Fellow, and member of the Human Ecosystems Study Group. He is the author of The Impenetrable Forest: My Gorilla Years in Uganda, which received the 2008 USA Books News Award for nature writing. He currently lives with his wife and son on an island in Washington State.


Rusty Springs: A Contemporary Western by Jo Ann Bender


When Kitty Klepacki loses her family in a freak sailing accident just after ending her engagement with the


temperamental but wealthy Roger, she decides her best course of action is to run away from the world she knows and dive headlong into the wild west in Winnemuca, Nevada. For a short time she works as a dealer at the Lucky Star Casino. The description of Kitty’s—now called


Leigh—time behind the table dealing out wins and loses in Black Jack is probably the most engaging part of the story. Author Jo Ann Bender has a knack for bringing the motley assortment of gamblers, from young bucks to grizzled cowboys, to life in colors mixed from equal parts prairie dust and cheap domestic beer. Unfortunately, not long after Leigh arrives in Winnemucca, a “stalker” targets her. Kitty immediately decides


to leave and rent a remote cabin in the mountains of Montana, “I was a woman alone. I had no one to help me make a decision. If I didn’t go now, I feared I might never have the courage. So I did exactly what any nomad – for I was about to do the same thing that an Inuit Eskimo would do – I left the area and my problems behind. Or, so it seemed at the time.” From the moment Kitty leaves Winnemucca, the plot is strung together by a series of bizarre coincidences


and characters. Take, for example the Wiodonski family. Within the same evening that Leigh checks into their bed and breakfast, she tells the family her life story and intention to settle in rural Montana after changing her identity. Molly, the mother, immediately suggests that her daughter the art student forge a birth certificate using one left behind by a previous guest. And, of course, they insist that Kitty use Wiodonski as her new last name. Kitty is a frustrating hero, the continual damsel in distress, lacking common sense and perpetually relying on


others. Most of the cast falls into stereotypes: the villainous hillbilly family, the tough mountain woman with a heart of gold and the infallible small-town sheriff love interest. The larger-than-life plot in Rusty Springs is engaging, but the number of inexplicable events it takes move


the story along will leave many readers as lost as Kitty in the woods of Montana. Published by Bender & Assoc., paperback, $14.99.


Jo Ann Bender is the author of the WWII novel Lebensborn and the cookbook Favorites from the Lazy Bee: Featuring Americana Basics from the Northwest Mountains. She lives in a cabin in the mountains with her author/engineer husband and Alfie, an affectionate cat.


164 SPOKANE CDA • March • 2013


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