Reviews of what you should be reading next.

Tag: dogs

Just Life by Neil Abramson


Veterinarian Samantha Lewis and her team are dedicated to providing a sanctuary for unwanted, abused, and abandoned dogs in New York City. But every day it gets harder to operate her no-kill shelter. Sam is already at her breaking point when she learns of an unidentified, dangerous virus spreading through their neighborhood. The medical community can only determine that animals are the carriers. Amid growing panic and a demand for immediate answers, suspicion abruptly falls on dogs as the source. Soon the governor is calling in the National Guard to enforce a quarantine—no dog may leave the area.

Samantha knows from her own painful history that, despite the lack of real evidence against the dogs, a quarantine may only be the beginning. As questions about the source of the virus mount and clash with the pressure for a politically expedient resolution, Sam is forced to make life-altering choices. She finds allies in a motley crew of New Yorkers — a local priest, a troubled teen, a smart-mouthed former psychologist, and a cop desperate to do the right thing — all looking for sanctuary from their own personal demons. But the person Sam needs the most to unravel the mystery of the virus and save the dogs is the last one she’d ever want to call on—because contacting him will mean confronting the traumatic past she has fought so hard to escape.


Thanks to the author and publisher for providing this review copy.

Imagine a neighborhood in Manhattan in the grips of panic over a virus – one that is killing children and could possibly be spread by dogs. Imagine a shelter vet pushed to her breaking point by lack of money and no lack of politics. Add in a priest who may be losing his faith, an orphaned teen, and a few stray dogs who need homes.

Put yourself in the shoes of the veterinarian, who deeply loves her faltering shelter and all the dogs who call it home. Feel the only emotions that seem to be present in the first half of the book: incredible sadness, defeat, and frustration. Think about the sources of help available to you: none. At least none you can trust.

Welcome to JUST LIFE.

Not a happy, comfortable read, for sure. It is, however, a thought provoking and emotional story about making choices, standing up for what you believe in, letting go of your personal demons, and learning to trust.

Each character is deeply flawed but holds a spark inside them: the priest who throws a rock through his own church window because he is feeling distant from his Savior; the teen who was abused in foster homes and who is determined to save all the dogs at risk, no matter what; the assistant deputy mayor who is practicing good politics by shutting down the shelter.  The sun in their world is Sam, the veterinarian who gives everything she has to the stray dogs, her only family.

As the virus swirls around the neighborhood the tension ratchets up, and Sam is forced to make hard choices to save the dogs. Who will back her up?

My attention was held during the entire reading of this book. The veterinary medicine is correct, and the possibility of a bird flu – like virus (but with deadlier complications) was plausible. Each character’s story is revealed bit by bit, and sometimes they are sympathetic, sometimes not.

The character of Beth Cohen provides much needed comic relief during many dark times. She is a disgraced psychologist forced to either submit to a jail sentence or “volunteer” at the shelter. She asks probing questions, making Sam confront her fears and doubts. As I mentioned, she is also sarcastic and self effacing, adding a lighter touch here and there.

Gabriel, the priest, provides one of the most human touches in JUST LIFE. He is suffering from dementia, and his portrayal is poignant and heartbreaking. His backstory is the platonic love he held for his best friend and confidant Channa, who died recently. He wonders if he will be able to remember her, and the emotions she stirred in him. He questions his God, in a crisis of faith that pervades the entire book until the end. The scene with him in chapter 35 made my heart well up, and brought tears to my eyes. Well done, Mr Abramson.

JUST LIFE is a tightly woven story that will not leave you easily. It is not a story with a bright shiny ending, nor is it a depressing tale of failure. It is a tour de force of the human condition and the bond we share with our animal friends; and the lengths we will go to in order to protect them.

You can get your copy [easyazon_link identifier=”1455591041″ locale=”US” nw=”y” tag=”gimmethatbook-20″]here[/easyazon_link].



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].

The Dogist by Elias Weiss Friedman

I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for this honest review.

Before I saw this book, I was not familiar with The Dogist, a site devoted to the photographic beauty of dogs. Now I’m an ardent follower on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. This lushly photographed book is a thing of beauty and truly a joy forever, as you can lose yourself in the liquid eyes of canines each time you open this book. No matter what page you are on, there is charm and detail.

Each section comes with an endearing title, such as “Seniors”, “Beards”,  and “Little Dogs”.  When you have multiple photos to compare side by side, you can truly appreciate the subtle differences between different dogs of the same breed–or the vast differences between various breeds with the same attributes. One of the cutest sections is called “Give a Dog a Bone” and shows dogs with, well, bones in their mouth. There is also a blurb about the author’s eponymous charity, which he calls a “Secret Santa for dogs”.

There is the occasional two page spread that showcases one dog across both pages, or shows a dog in multiple shots, usually an action photo that includes a toy or squirrel. These are well crafted and really captures the spirit of the playful dog in action.

The section called “Costumes” will make every dog lover smile broadly and marvel at how well the canines and clothing fit together. The expressions of the dogs range from being proud of their sartorial splendor, to merely tolerating their owner’s foibles.

Yes, it’s easy to anthropomorphize in some of these photos; but do not all dog lovers do this? THE DOGIST is food for the soul, in that it gives everyone a chance to look deep into the very being of man’s best friend. Friedman’s utter command of the camera focus highlights each whisker, each tooth, each drip of slobber, and captures it for posterity.

Finally, there is enjoyment in simply reading the dog’s name and breed.  Every type of appellation is here; from whimsical to apropos. To me, this is one of the best parts of the book: people who normally may not see, for instance, a Dogue De Bordeaux will have a close up, extremely personal view. Some breeds are over represented, such as the Bulldog and Pit Bull, but there are some rare ones here too.

I thoroughly loved looking through this book. Opening it at some random page will always elicit a smile and a feeling of a full heart. Dog lovers will rejoice in the familiarity of the poses, and those who appreciate fine photography will appreciate the unique images captured here.

Yes–you want your own copy! Click [easyazon_link identifier=”1579656714″ locale=”US” nw=”y” tag=”gimmethatbook-20″]here[/easyazon_link] to purchase it.

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].


The Nearly Calamitous Taming of PZ by Martha Ritter



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].


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