Disclosure time. I know Sonja Hakala, I read and reviewed her last book. Further disclosure, I am not a big fan of mysteries. It’s not that I dislike them, I simply don’t read them, so I figure the two things even out to create some measure of objectivity. I like Hakala, I don’t really like mysteries. Moment of truth. I loved this book!
Hakala surprised me! A Vermonter, I am always interested in how writers handle talking about my state. Hakala managed to bring to life the astute local wisdom of native New Englanders, while making them ring true. She did this while weaving a story of art forgery and international intrigue and somehow made it seem possible to have occurred to people I know. She created a story that somehow managed to be clear and crisp as a New England day and simultaneously as rich and captivating as an unexplored landscape. I was hooked.
Her cast of characters was long, but well drawn so that I could identify each and embrace them like locals in my own small town. The plot kept me enamored and reading on to see what would happen to Edie Wolfe and company and to learn exactly what the secret was behind the painting that hung in Carding Academy. Reading Thieves of Fire is a bit like reading an adult Nancy Drew! I highly recommend. It is a book that manages to be as familiar as the easy chair you curl up to read it in, while offering enough surprise that you can’t wait to turn the page.
From Pack of Two to Marley & Me, the best part of reading a dog book is seeing the changes and impact the dog had on the humans in its life. Barbara Techel’s memoir, Through Frankie’s Eyes, is no exception. While some books deal with the happy chaos an animal can bring to an ordinary life, others focus on the comfort they provide to humans facing a life change or a tragedy. In Techel’s book, it is her dogs, who face tragedy – from Cassie, her lab, who is diagnosed with cancer to Frankie, the dachshund, whose Intervertebral Disk Disease (IVDD) leads to a doggie cart or wheelchair and inspiring work with Techel as a therapy dog. Dog lovers will find themselves riding a rollercoaster of emotions as these two face their challenges, but it is what they teach Techel that is the heart and soul of the book.
At first glance Techel’s story may seem to lack drama – she is an ordinary person, a middle-age wife and dog owner in search of a satisfying career, a sense of purpose, an authentic life. Yet, this is exactly the book’s appeal. Techel’s search is shared by all of us regardless of our circumstance and thus, her story becomes our own. Techel subtitles her book “one woman’s journey to her authentic self, and the dog on wheels who led the way” and this description couldn’t be more apt. We experience her growing confidence as she and Frankie tackle the daily trials of caring for and being a disabled dog. From the first page, it is easy to see Techel is an empathetic and sensitive soul and her care and work with Frankie soon puts these talents to use in helping others.
Techel’s writing style is open, honest, straightforward and clear. She does not shy away from sharing the simple challenges, fears and worries of everyday life and does not try to present her story as anything, but the simple journey of one woman and her dog. It is an endearing approach and an inspiring one. I found myself loving Techel’s story for its sincerity, her willingness to admit that what can seem like minor concerns to an outsider – shyness, lack of confidence, money woes, the search for the perfect career – are in fact the major issues of life. How wonderful for any of us who are as lucky as Techel to find someone to guide us toward the person we were meant to be, how much more wonderful for the dog lovers among us when that guide turns out to be canine. Through Frankie’s Eyes is a sweet tale and a gentle read, a familiar journey for anyone whose life has been changed by a special-needs pet, and a reminder for all of us that sometimes the biggest triumph come in finding our own path.
Have you ever thought of writing a book -- for yourself, for your family, to promote your business, to share your story or experience with the world? If your answer is "yes" to any of these than this is the book for you. Author Sonja Hakala compiles, in one place, an overview of all the major publishing options -- independent publishing, private publishing, self-publishing, traditional publishing and electronic publishing -- so readers get an understanding of each in order to achieve exactly what the title promises. Hakala's 196-page book is packed with useful information including the history of publishing and how to really assess a book from the inside and out in order to make sure yours is up to par with traditional publishing standards. Having worked in publishing for 25 years, Hakala knows the industry and she has "put her money where her mouth is," so to speak, by independently publishing her book through her own company, Full Circle Press, it is a beautiful testament to those writers who choose to take this route in seeing their book come to light. This book just feels right in your hands and once you open it, you'll find yourself immersed in a world that few writers ever truly understand, yet, Hakala is there to help you navigate it. As a memoir writing instructor and writer myself, I plan to comb the pages of this book for both my own benefit and that of my students. I have already recommended it to those that have completed their memoirs and the great thing about it is Hakala's tome offers something for both those who have a story to share with the greater world and those who want to limit their audience to their immediate families. As far as I'm concerned this is a must-have for any writer or lover of books, for that matter. Material on the history of book publishing and the design of books really has a greater audience. Having heard Hakala speak in person, this is the opportunity I've been waiting for -- a chance to soak up all the knowledge she has to share at my own leisure. I better stop now so you'll have a chance to go buy this information packed book and begin to write your book, your way!
I first learned of Amy Shojai’s book Lost and Found through Blogpaws, a site for pet bloggers and received a free copy from Story Cartel in exchange for an unbiased review. Promoted as a dog-viewpoint thriller, it grabbed my attention. I usually prefer memoirs and non-fiction dog-themed books, but thought the dog-related theme worth a try.
I wasn’t disappointed. Overall, this book was an enjoyable and entertaining read. Unfortunately, its autistic-children-get-violent theme may not be as readily received following the Newtown shooting. Readers sensitive to this should be aware. That said, Shojai does seem to have some knowledge or at the very least done some research on autism and weaves a story with a variety of twists and turns. I saw some of them coming, but like a good episodic television show, I still found myself entertained.
This was not what I expected when I first opened the book. Chapter One begins “September Day sloshed another half-cup of coffee” and the only thing that kept me reading passed this sentence was to discover if Shojai was serious in dubbing her character or if there was some joke to be revealed. Unfortunately, the name seems to be intentional and was made worse by the fact that September’s sister is named April and their maiden names January. These monikers are so ridiculous they took me out of the story for a moment, but I pressed on and a few pages in found myself impressed. Describing September’s cat, Shojai writes, “Macy paced. His tail dry-painted September’s cheek and wove in and out of her long wavy mane. Green slanted eyes, coffee-dark hair, hidden claws and enigmatic smile – she’d been told more than once that she and the cat matched in both personality and looks.” Now, this was a description worth reading!
Also, impressive was Shojai’s handling of Shadow, the therapy pup. When Shojai is writing in Shadow’s voice, the story is at its best. By writing from the dog’s point of view, Shojai is able to reveal true insights into the dog-human bond. I would have loved to hear even more from Shadow and wouldn’t mind reading a sequel from his point of view.
The book could have used more careful editing. Half way through a dog named Bruno becomes Jet for a few pages before reverting back to Bruno again, which I found a bit disconcerting, but overall this is a fun read if you can get passed the darker elements. I recommend it for the Shadow parts alone.
I love dog books, but I admit some are better than others. Russ Ryan’s It’s Just a Dog is one of those. The thing is I wasn’t expecting it to be. Before I turned on my Kindle and began the first page, I had pretty low expectations. You see I knew nothing about the book or its author other than the fact that it was a novel about not only a talking dog, but a talking ghost dog! I seldom turn down a dog book, that’s why I’m reviewing them here on the blog, but my taste typically gravitates toward memoir not gimmicky or cutesy talking dog stories.
Ryan’s book is neither of these. It is at once heartfelt and hilarious! And, cleverly engaging. I fell in love with the voice of his protagonist dog painter Charlie Keefe from the get-go and would have continued to the end just to listen to him tell his story, but there is more to this book than a charming style and amiable narrator. The plot may be a wee bit light and episodic, but this book has heart and like all the best comedy, a bit of soul as well. Any dog lover will identify with the emotions of Charlie, who loses and grieves for his dog Petey (who must be put down while he is away on vacation) until said dog reappears as a ghost. Charlie welcomes him back with open arms as any dog owner would. Ryan, who admits in the acknowledgments to having had a Petey of his own, manages to deal with grief and the loss of a beloved pet without getting schmaltzy, in a way that is both fresh and fun. The actual plot is secondary and maybe a little light for some readers, but as an artist myself I had to admit I identified and enjoyed Charlie’s career challenges. I also thought his romantic entanglement to ring true, but what delighted me the most were the emotions familiar to all dog owners that managed to make me both smile and empathize with Charlie’s plight. Ryan may have entitled his book “It’s Just a Dog,” but this novel is anything but your typical dog story. It’s a fast and fun read with hidden depths.
Dog-Ma, The Zen of Slobber. As a dog lover you probably identify with that title and if you don’t, you’re at least likely to identify with one of the canine cast of characters in this super-packed book.
Author Barbara Boswell Brunner’s book definitely targets dog owners by weaving amusing anecdotes of the life she and her husband, Ray, shared with numerous canine companions over the course of their courtship and marriage. Nine dogs of their own and many canine friends grace the pages of this book, each portrayed as a person in his or her own right. The book is full of laughter and tears as Boswell Brunner shares her dogs’ antics and sadly the heartaches of some. To me it is in these tender moments that Boswell Brunner’s writing is not only at its most poignant, but also at its best. Yes, she knows how to weave an amusing tale – who will forget her dobie's tampon ear supports, Cooper’s toy Horton emitting its endless chatter, her Turbo strolling an upscale neighborhood with a goat? These are wonderful, funny stories, but when Boswell Brunner turns to the sensitive her writing truly moves me. I love her homage to Madison – “She saw the silver lining in every bad situation. Madison was an optimist. Madison was loved.” Beautiful.
No doubt readers will have their favorite characters – mine was Cooper and I would recommend this book just to hear about his antics with his stuffed toy, Horton, which called to mind my own dog, Vader. Other readers will certainly find their pets amidst these pages. My primary disappointment with the book is that Boswell Brunner didn’t take us deeper into her own life. Yes, we are privy to the couple's moves and career evolution and she offers us glimpses into deeper fare such as her cancer and a mother-in-law with Alzheimer’s, but she doesn’t dwell there long and I think the story would have been richer if she had. I have a feeling Boswell Brunner is a good enough writer to go there if she wants to, to fill out the details of her own life with as much heart, humor and soul as she brought to the dogs. I think in a second book, she should try doing just that. Still, there is much here and enough plain old good dog stories to make any dog lover smile.
If you live in a small town, the dynamics of Sonja Hakala’s novel The Road Unsalted will be familiar to you. If you live in the Upper Valley of Vermont and New Hampshire, as I do, this story may feel like walking into a page of your own life. Hakala sets her tale in the fictional town of Carding, Vermont, but locates Carding in the Upper Valley region. Real life artists and locations pepper the story that has all the right elements including: small town politics, romance and scandal, and the warmth of family and friends found in such a tight-knit communities. At times I found myself laughing at the familiarity of it all, and at other times I was downright touched. Take for instance the scene where the friends of one of the main characters, Ted Owens, gather on the ski slopes to help him confront a painful memory. The characters ring true if a few, such as Lisa and Alli-O, are deliciously over the top. There are even a few scenes from the point of view of a dog, Nearly, a tribute to Hakala’s own dog Goldie. Nearly offers an unique perspective that dog lovers will enjoy. Hakala manages to use all these devices without seeming silly or diminishing the pace of the narrative. The novel is also peppered with lyrical description: “To the north of the green, the land swooped down to Half-Moon Lake, a big fat puddle that filled a hole craved out by the Corvus River. At the head of the lake, a thirty-foot bluff jutted out over the water, a great knobbly knee of granite that has resisted the river’s erosion for time out of mind.
The story has real heart as illustrated by the relationship between Suzanne and her Uncle Ted, but characters such as Edie Wolfe and her dog Nearly will long linger in my mind. The storyline – whether the Carding Academy of Traditional Arts will be forced to leave town as a result of a political debate over ancient roads – is entertaining, but it is the small town intrigue and wonderfully written characters that keep me reading and eager to return to Carding once again in the future.
Please note: I received a copy of this book for an unbiased review. The opinions are my own.