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Reviews of what you should be reading next.

Category: BookCon 2015

From The Mouths of Dogs by BJ Hollars

 

from the mouths of dogs

What is it that dogs have done to earn the title of “man’s best friend”? And more broadly, how have all of our furry, feathered, and four-legged brethren managed to enrich our lives? Why do we love them? What can we learn from them? And why is it so difficult to say good-bye? Join B.J. Hollars as he attempts to find out—beginning with an ancient dog cemetery in Ashkelon, Israel, and moving to the present day.

Hollars’s firsthand reports recount a range of stories: the arduous existence of a shelter officer, a woman’s relentless attempt to found a senior-dog adoption facility, a family’s struggle to create a one-of-a-kind orthotic for its bulldog, and the particular bond between a blind woman and her Seeing Eye dog. The book culminates with Hollars’s own cross-country journey to Hartsdale Pet Cemetery—the country’s largest and oldest pet cemetery—to begin the long-overdue process of laying his own childhood dog to rest.

Through these stories, Hollars reveals much about our pets but even more about the humans who share their lives, providing a much-needed reminder that the world would be a better place if we took a few cues from man’s best friends.

 

Thanks to the University of Nebraska Press for providing this ARC!

Author BJ Hollars has a unique writing style, at times wonderfully evocative,  and at others somewhat cloying. He is great at describing the scene, whether it’s a dreary shelter or a well furnished blind woman’s home (he realizes that the decorations are for the sighted visitors, in an “aha” moment that pulled me up short, as did him).

He is also unashamed to describe his deepest and most secret emotions as well–he is very moved by the euthanasia of a shelter dog and shares with the reader his reticence to witness the event. Towards the end of the book, when he is recounting his road trip to scatter the ashes of his family pet that died many years ago, he lays bare his grief in a way that encompasses his family, his journey through life, and the love for his dog, even though she has been gone for years, her ashes gathering dust on a shelf in his parent’s home.

There are also times when he seems too glib for his own good, as he belabors the point of a bulldog’s gas, or saying a desceased dog was “found deflated” in a bedroom. These moments are few and far between, thankfully. Most of the book is filled with touching moments and “lessons” learned from his interactions, such as live your life with hope and don’t judge a book by its cover.

Dogs and people share space equally in this book; as we see how canines enrich the human lives and vice versa. Not all told here is sweetness and light, however. Hollars manages to take some of the darkest things we know: death, disability, and aging; then spin them into a story that will leave you with respect for the bond between a dog and his person.  He is not afraid to cover touchy subjects, such as a dog sentenced to death for killing a cat (and how the shelter subsequently handles that situation).

I’m thinking that the readers of this book will come away with new knowledge and respect for both dogs and the humans that love and care for them. The stories are easy reading and can be read one chapter at a time without losing your place. Definitely a winner.

Want your own copy? You can pick it up [easyazon_link identifier=”0803277296″ locale=”US” nw=”y” tag=”gimmethatbook-20″]here[/easyazon_link].

Need by Joelle Charbonneau (plus book GIVEAWAY!)

NEED

 

“No one gets something for nothing. We all should know better.”

Teenagers at Wisconsin’s Nottawa High School are drawn deeper into a social networking site that promises to grant their every need . . . regardless of the consequences. Soon the site turns sinister, with simple pranks escalating to malicious crimes. The body count rises. In this chilling YA thriller, the author of the best-selling Testing trilogy examines not only the dark side of social media, but the dark side of human nature.

 

Thanks to Rachel at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt  and the author for sending me this ARC! It will be offered as a giveaway to one lucky winner in the USA–link to the Rafflecopter is at the end of this post. 

 

As pervasive as social media is among today’s students, NEED illustrates what can happen when teens are faced with having every wish fulfulled so they can appear superior to their peers. Angst and stress rule in this small town in Wisconsin, where all troubled and misunderstood Kaylee wants (or NEEDs) is a kidney for her younger brother. She is doubtful of the site’s ability to grant wishes, yet she posts her request up anyway.

Getting deep into the story may take a while: there are many characters and each chapter is told in their own point of view. We see the social media site becoming larger and more greedy, in how it changes its requirements to submit a “need”. These “needs” morph rapidly into “wants”, and grow rapidly from a new pair of skis into setting up an entire VIP package – including car service and front row seats – for a concert. Greed and deceit go hand in hand, while Kaylee (who may or may not be completely innocent) tries to figure it all out. Authority figures see her as an unreliable narrator and thwart her efforts.

Soon, very bad things are happening, and deaths start occurring. As the plot unfolded, it went from believeable to almost over the top; how was it that the police and other school figures weren’t able to stop the killing? However, when you consider the teen hormones and lack of good judgement, it did kind of make sense. Towards the last third of the book, the dark twists suddenly started making sense, and I was on the edge of my seat, hoping Kaylee would be able to figure things out in time to save others from certain death.

There are plenty of lessons to be learned from reading NEED, the most important being if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Plus, reading this from an adult aspect made me truly see how 17-somethings treat everything like life and death, whereas a jaded (read: older) person would see through all the convolutions and machinations and not become sucked in. Kaylee annoyed me sometimes when she was so hesitant to make a move, but given her past (which the author slowly reveals) she has reasons to be that way.

I enjoyed the descriptions of the cold weather and the bare emotions of the teenagers, just trying to get through the drama. The plot twists will keep you interested, and once details are shared, bit by bit you see the big picture and how all the narrators/characters tie in to each other.

NEED should be a big hit in today’s social media obsessed world. YA readers will enjoy the escalating greed of the members of NEED, as well as the ever fluid high school world of who-is-cool-this-moment dynamic. Charbonneau’s premise is brilliant without being too dystopian. Definitely one to check out.

 

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Here’s the link to our giveaway—-good luck!
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Don’t want to enter the contest? Want to buy your own copy? Click [easyazon_link identifier=”0544416694″ locale=”US” nw=”y” tag=”gimmethatbook-20″]here[/easyazon_link]. NEED will be published on November 3, 2015.

 

 

 

Dogs Don’t Lie: A Pru Marlowe Pet Noir by Clea Simon

dogs dont lie

Pru Marlowe isn’t your ordinary animal psychic. A tough girl on the run from her own gift, Pru left the big city to return to her picturesque Berkshires hometown looking for a little peace. Too bad that her training as an animal behaviorist got her mixed up with Lily, a rescue dog, and Charles, her person. Now Charles is dead, and   Lily looks good for it. After all, Lily is a pitbull, a fighting-ring   dropout, and way too traumatized to give Pru a clear picture of what she has witnessed. But Pru knows something about bad girls trying to  clean up, and, with a sense of justice strong enough to overcome her dislike of human society, she takes the case. Listening to the animals, Pru picks up clues–and learns there are secrets in the  pretty little town that make murder look simple. Unable to tell  anybody about her psychic abilities, uncertain at times about her own  sanity, Pru comes to realize that if she clears Lily, she’ll likely become the prime suspect–or the next victim. While the only  creature she can totally trust is her crotchety tabby Wallis, Pru’s  got to uncover the real killer–and find a way to live with her gift–before the real beasts in the town savage her and those she has come to love. The first in the Pru Marlowe “pet noir” series.

 

Thanks to the author for this review copy! When I met her at BookCon 2015, she was signing copies of two books. Fans got to pick which one they wanted and Ms Simon graciously shared a few words with each person as she inscribed their copy. I was intrigued, since I never heard of “pet noir”, and knew right away I wanted to review this book.

Pru is an animal trainer who just happens to be able to “hear” thoughts in her head, thoughts that come from the animals around her, wild or tame. She’s also hovering on the edge of misanthropy, a trait that has carried her through dark times in her past. The author alludes to Pru’s past with tantalizing bits here and there, and the reader must put everything together, like a puzzle with a few missing pieces.

Pru’s tabby cat Wallis, is a typical feline: reticent, self centered, and slothful. She sneeringly communicates with Pru in such a way that her comments seem disingenuous, until Pru makes the connection and it all makes sense. This was a bit hard to get used to in the beginning, until I realized it was being written intentionally in that fashion–I wasn’t missing things due to lack of brain cells.

Simon’s attention to detail in writing about Wallis’ behavior is a joy to behold. She truly describes a cat’s attitude, movements (Wallis “delicately splays a toe” while grooming herself) and complete disinterest; exactly like every cat I’ve ever known! Some of Simon’s best writing is done as she leads the reader into the mind of various critters, such as ferrets, dogs and birds. It was so easy to believe their conversations and mannerisms were true renditions. Every little quirk of dogs sniffing trees or the flock mind of starlings was rendered perfectly. Perhaps this story written in a different way would have seemed surreal or silly. Not so here. I seamlessly moved through the story in a state of belief that yes, Pru could hear these thoughts and the animals could pick hers up as well. No cartoonish Dr Doolittle thing going on here—-this is excellent writing.

The author can render people well too: the tippling town gossip, the sweet talking bad boy, the vapid gum snapping kennel attendant are all easy to picture. And let’s not forget about the plot. There is drama, suspense, and lots of red herrings. Absolutely delightful.

I had a fun time reading DOGS DON’T LIE. It sounds like Ms Simon had a fun time writing it too. I’ll be picking up more of her work in the future.

Want your own copy? Do yourself a favor and read this. You can pick it up [easyazon_link identifier=”B0056KOCZ8″ locale=”US” nw=”y” tag=”gimmethatbook-20″]here[/easyazon_link].

 

Little Texas Sweetheart by Julia Chadwell

little texas

 

 

Little Texas Sweetheart is the gripping story of one woman’s spiritual, mental, and physical journey across America. The book takes you through the terror of domestic violence and abuse. The story of how she and their eight children escape to a free and healthy life is a hair-raising page-turner. The book is a chronicle of the advance of women’s rights in America.

 

 

 

 

I had the pleasure of meeting the author at BookCon 2015. Her story was so compelling I asked for a review copy, and she was gracious enough to give one to me. Thanks, Julia!

EXCERPT:

On a cold morning in Northern Florida, I am sent into a pancake house to ask if they could give us some food.  The manager looks at me as if I am a cur dog.  He looks out the window and sees three little cold, hungry waifs standing by an old jalopy.  Then he sees Ronald in his Army field jacket, stocking cap, and long red beard.  He winces and turns to me sighing.

     He says, “Bring the children in.  I will feed them, but not you.  I won’t even let him come in here.”
     I bring the children into the fragrant warmth and seat them on high stools at the counter.  I watch their eyes light up as the waitress brings them plates stacked high with golden pancakes.
     As they begin to eat, a gentleman customer steps up to the counter and says, “I’d like to buy breakfast for the lady.”
 Written in an unassuming style and full of raw emotion, LITTLE TEXAS SWEETHEART is an eye opening account of domestic violence and despair. I could not read this book more than a few chapters at a time, as the events described depressed and angered me. Hearing of precious possessions broken and thrown away, slaps and punches doled out, and Ronald’s viselike grip on the freedom of the family was just too much to take in large doses.
I actually had to re-read the passage when the police came to the house to see if everyone was all right, and left without doing anything. One of the officers even admonished one of the author’s children, saying “Daddies do that sometimes”–explaining that sometimes women have to get slapped to keep them in line. The times were so different then, and women truly had no rights.
Picture a woman with 3, 4, then 5 children in tow, living in a car or on a dirty campground, begging for food and clothing, washing that clothing by hand and trying to maintain a brave front. Now imagine that same woman being told that things were “her fault for being a bad mother and wife”.
Victims of domestic abuse are often people with no self confidence and a history of abuse during childhood. They may think that things truly are their fault and they are powerless to make a change. My heart went out to Chadwell time and time again, as Ronald would sweet talk her after a beating, or promise that “this time” they would stop moving from city to city, in search of the perfect job and living arrangements.
Make no mistake–this woman was no dummy. She got multiple degrees and became a teacher, and was always on the lookout for simple ways to educate and entertain her own children. Who knows where she would have made her way in the world if things were different?
Imprisoned by her own shame at the failure of her marriage, she stayed with her husband and endured years of abuse. This story matter of factly tells us how she prayed for help; sometimes her God helped her, sometimes not.
Particularly enlightening to me was the emphasis on how different things were in the 50’s and 60’s: domestic disturbances were the norm, almost expected, and were treated as minor things. Women were considered secondary citizens and sometimes “needed” to be kept in line, and the manly policeman apologized to the Man of the House for bothering him with a silly thing like an unexpected visit.
Chadwell makes no apologies for what she endured; at the end of the book she realizes that she is a battered woman with no self esteem, and that there are many others like her. She finally builds a support system and finds her backbone.  What a relief to be rid of the evil Ronald!
I guarantee you will feel outrage, disgust, and pity for this poor woman who wasted so many years of her life being miserable and downtrodden. Her goal in writing this book and exposing her shame was to help others in her position. When I spoke to her at BookCon, she was a lovely, well spoken, and kind individual, who gives no outward scars of her ordeal.  She has a strong faith in God and just wants to move forward and be happy.
This is a story I’ll not soon forget, nor will I ever forget Ms. Chadwell.
Want your own copy? You can pick it up [easyazon_link identifier=”0615410731″ locale=”US” nw=”y” tag=”gimmethatbook-20″]here[/easyazon_link].

The Nearly Calamitous Taming of PZ by Martha Ritter

 

PZ

A charming, classic adventure tale about the scary, crazy, and heart-thumpingly joyful plunge into connecting with others.

A mute, nameless foxhound has spent her life in a laboratory cage. She has never seen the sun. When she gets rescued, Dottie, a diva ladybug with a heart as big as her hat, helps the dog understand the world and find a home with Olivia, a restless, solitary girl seeking comfort that her new pet cannot supply.

The isolated dog and the hesitant girl must face their fear of connecting. They learn to tame each other, let go, survive adventures, and find the courage to trust as they search for their place in the sun.

The Nearly Calamitous Taming of PZ— lyrical and approachable, with resonant details–has both humor and heart. Although intended for children eight through twelve, its classic unfolding and off-beat characters tickle the fancy of adults as well. It is both an adventure story and a tale with many layers–about overcoming obstacles, mining experience for what matters, and doing what is necessary, though not always desirable, for friendship. Ultimately, it is about the joy of a hard-won connection.

The classic illustrations–with a contemporary edge–reflect this fresh, poignant, wise, and sometimes downright wacky book.

Thanks to author Martha Ritter for gifting me this book for review! I had the pleasure of meeting her at BookCon 2015, and we had a wonderful conversation about many different things.  We discussed a book called Nest by Esther Ehrlich that I had previously reviewed, and wondered if PZ could be comparable to it.

Happily, I can state that yes, PZ is just as wonderful, touching, funny, poignant, and full of good feels as NEST. The plot is simple: lab dog ends its usefulness, goes to shelter, gets adopted, and learns about the world.  It’s the telling of the story: sometimes from the dog’s point of view, sometimes from the adopter’s, that makes it so beautiful and a joy to read.

Your emotions will range from tears to glee as PZ navigates through a world she’s never even known existed. Dotty, the ladybug that lives in her ear (just under the flap) encourages the former lab dog to be strong and learn how to be true to herself. There are moments where you can completely understand what the dog is thinking, as a situation arises and PZ reacts.  I could see her trying to go through a doorway and finding it terrifying, so much so that I was able to transfer her fictional emotions to living canines I’ve encountered. (I’m a vet tech by trade and felt that reading this book gave me better tools to cope with scared dogs at my clinic.)

The family that adopts PZ is a broken one. The father has passed away a year ago, and the 11 year old Olivia is getting skinny due to lack of appetite, and often breaks into tears. She and PZ circle each other warily at first, each doubting each other’s ability to be a good companion. There are disappointments and triumphs, and you can see how the girl and the dog truly help each other to grow and learn.

Towards the end of the book, there is an event that affects the relationship between the shelter dog and grieving girl. I can’t say I saw it coming, but it is fitting and well written. The author has created suspense and it is easy for the reader to want a happy ending, to hope that Olivia and PZ can work together as a team.  (No spoilers–you must read the book yourself!)

I felt I would be able to read this story without tearing up or laughing out loud. I was wrong! There is pathos and humor that fits perfectly together, and the plot advances seamlessly. What a perfect way to convey so many ideas: love, trust, uncertainty, and growth.  The illustrations complement the story, and add that other dimension of having a perfect picture of what the characters look like. The drawings are alternately moving and comic, without being too complicated.

Want your own copy? Yes, you do. Everyone should read this book.

You can pick it up [easyazon_link identifier=”0986381713″ locale=”US” nw=”y” tag=”gimmethatbook-20″]here[/easyazon_link].

 

BookCon: So much better this year!

We enjoyed our trip to BookCon at the Javits Center, NYC so much! There were authors to meet, books to discover, and $10 sandwiches to eat.

Here are some of the people we found interesting:

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Kyle is standing with author Daniel Melnick. His book is THE ASH TREE, the story of a family’s journey out of the Armenian genocide in 1915.  You can read more about his book at his website here.

 

 

 

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Mike is standing with author Connie Ruben, with her book THE STAGES OF GRACE, about Alzheimer’s and acceptance. Look for his review on the site soon!

 

 

 

 

 

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In this photo, Kyle is standing with author Martha Ritter. Look for a review of her book, THE NEARLY CALAMITOUS TAMING OF PZ, from us. Kyle is really excited to read this book about a shelter dog, an 11 year old girl, and trust.

 

 

 

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This is author AJ Walkley with her two books VUTO and QUEER GREER. Mike is going to read one (or both) and post a review.

 

 

 

 

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This is author Julia Chadwell, author of LITTLE TEXAS SWEETHEART, a memoir about domestic violence , and her travels  across America. Kyle will be reading and reviewing her book.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Mike chats with CEO David Dunham of BOOKGRABBR, a new social media platform that lets you download books and share what you are reading with your friends.

 

 

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David Baldacci was there, signing books for his loyal fans.  Some of the signing lines were snaked all around booths..but it was worth it!

 

 

 

 

 

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Here is beloved author Norton Juster, signing his book THE PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH. Kyle was ecstatic to share a few words with him–it was the high point of the day for her!

 

 

 

 

 

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Bestselling author Emma Donoghue is signing copies of her book, ROOM.

Kyle read her book SLAMMERKIN and enjoyed it.

 

 

 

 

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All around the Javits Center there were banners promoting new books. Lee Child’s new book should be awesome!

 

 

 

 

 

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Kyle tried to get her hands on an advanced reader’s copy of THE WITCHES by Stacy Schiff, but there were none available.

 

 

 

 

 

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This was the Hachette Group‘s book signing line up. Lines formed early for all of these star authors.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The last advanced reader’s copy Kyle got was from author Clea Simon. It’s called DOGS DON’T LIE, and Kyle plans on reviewing it here! Simon calls the genre “pet noir”, and it’s first in a series.

 

 

 

 

 

All in all, this year was so much better because there were more authors, less crowds (the area was spread out so we weren’t all crammed in), The reading list is overflowing for gimmethatbook, and that’s always good.  Looks like we have to get reading!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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