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Archive for the ‘Dogs’ Category

Are you in the mood for just the right amount of magic and puppetry and suspense and thievery? SplendorsAndGloomsIf that’s the case, then you’re in the mood for Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz, whose previous book, Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village was a Newbery Award winner. Splendors and Gloooms is no slouch either, being a 2013 Newbery Honor Book.

Since I’m having trouble these days describing books, I’ll take the description off of the Association for Library Services to Children website: “Lizzie Rose, Parsefall and Clara are caught in the clutches of a wicked puppeteer and a powerful witch in this deliciously dark and complex tale set in Dickensian England, where adventure and suspense are interwoven into nuanced explorations of good versus evil.” It is deliciously dark and scary. You can feel the London fog wherever Lizzie Rose and Parsefall travel.

Parsefall is the perfect Dickensian ragamuffin and Lizzie Rose is his prim and proper, although poor, partner in crime, both dominated by greasy, master puppeteer Grisini–a perfect name for him. When these three perform at Clara’s twelfth birthday party and she  disappears soon thereafter, the plot thickens. How the bigger than life Cassandra, the powerful witch in her remote castle, enters into the story is for readers to find out. Even Ruby the spaniel is adorable.

Readers will feel like they are living through an 1860s London winter.They’ll certainly feel like they are part of the story, not merely reading it. They might find themselves shouting out loud, “No Parsefall, don’t do that!” or “Watch out. Grisini’s hiding there!” Even I was afraid of Grisini.

My daughter recommended this book to me, before it was voted an honor book, indicating her good taste in books. For some reason, Splendors and Glooms, to me, was a middle school version of Night Circus because they had that same foggy aura (although their subjects are somewhat different).

So, my 2013 has started off with a bang. I’ve finished Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool and now Splendors and Glooms. Next up is Courage Has No Color, The True Story of the Triple Nickles: America’s First Black Paratroopers by Tanya Lee Stone which is getting great reviews and The Spindlers by Lauren Oliver which has gotten great reviews. And then coming down the pike soon is Beth Kephart’s Dr. Radway’s Sarsaparilla Resolvent, a prequel to Dangerous Neighbors. I know, also, that Susan Campbel Bartoletti’s new book, Down the Rabbit Hole: The Diary of Pringle Rose, is due out in March.  If my reading keeps up at this pace, 2013 is going to be a banner year.

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Birthdays are supposed to be great, but not so for Taylor Edwards. It was on her seventeenth birthday that she found out her father had pancreatic cancer and would not last the summer. So, it was decided that the family would spend the summer at their summer home on a lake in Pennsylvania, a place Taylor left abruptly five years earlier and had not returned to since, leaving behind her best friend, Lucy, and her boyfriend, Henry.

It was a big shock for everyone being back at the lake. Of course, Lucy and Henry were still there harboring unresolved hostility towards Taylor. Taylor wanted to be anyplace else but the lake, however circumstances wouldn’t allow it. And how do you act ‘normal’ when you know it’s your father’s last summer?

Morgan Matson’s Second Chance Summer is a book about second chances…second chances with friends, family, yourself. Taylor, always in the habit of running away when things got tough, is forced to stay and confront all those difficult situations. In doing so, she becomes a stronger person.

In this day when there are many families with two working parents there’s not enough time for family. Second Chance Summer reinforces how fleeting life is and how important family is. The book is 468 pages and I was fine until the last 15 when tears welled up in my eyes. While I don’t want to think about my own mortality and leaving my children, I admire the way Taylor’s father made sure he was still in their lives long after his passing. Second Chance Summer is quite nicely done. Congrats, Morgan.

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I love Joan Bauer. I liked her books from way back, but after hearing her speak just about a year ago, I love her even more. She is vibrant, vivacious, purposeful and she’s a good storyteller, apparently coming from a family of storytellers. So, when I saw a random copy of Stand Tall, I figured it was worth reading…and I was right.

Twelve-year-old Tree has a complicated life. He’s the tallest seventh grader at Eleanor Roosevelt Middle School, weighing in at 6′ 7″ (that equates to a size 16 shoe, if you’re intersted). He’s not good at sports, even though everyone thinks a 6′ 7″ kid is a born athlete. His parents are recently divorced and they have shared custody so he (and the school) needs a color coded schedule to know where he’s residing on any given day. And his Vietnam Vet grandfather just got his leg amputated below the knee. So, things aren’t easy.

While teens may not relate to everything in Stand Tall, there’s enough to gain and keep their attention. As Susan often reminds me, Joan Bauer is one of only a handful of authors whose books are good for middle grades. There’s no violence, no cursing, no inappropriate behavior. What Ms. Bauer does produce is a good story line that combines obstacles with hope, a daunting-looking future offset by strong role model characters. All this with humor and great characters. Stand Tall is no slouch of a book. OK, you can groan now.

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“I’m too busy surviving to play.” So says 12 year old Sugar Mae Cole, somewhere in the middle of Joan Bauer’s latest YA book, Almost Home. So are many of us in this day and age. But Sugar’s predicament is that she finds herself homeless. Things get worse when her mother, Reba, is sidelined by depression and Sugar is put in a shelter.

However, things look up when her social worker places her with a loving family and Reba starts to rebound. There’s always the specter of another fall as Reba tries to reconnect with her drunk, gambling, deadbeat husband, Mr. Leeland. But….

Some authors are grand storytellers and Joan Bauer falls into that category. Stories with a message: strength. Bauer’s characters are always strong. Her stories are always strong. Bauer has created some unique characters like Sugar’s ever wise grandfather, O. Kingston Cole (King Cole) whose memoir, full of philosophical sayings, Sugar continualluy quotes, Mr. B, her old English teacher, and Lexie and Mac, a loving couple who take in children in need.

In a talk last year to librarians, Ms. Bauer said she always wants to leave a message…that you can do it, if you want. You can rise from adversity and go forward. There is no better way to get that message across to teens (and adults) than through a Joan Bauer book. Teens may or may not relate to homelessness, but they’ll certainly relate to Sugar Mae Cole and her dog, Shush. So, if this doesn’t convince you, just look at that cute puppy, presumably Shush, on the cover of Almost Home. That should dig at your heart strings.

Any Joan Bauer book is the perfect read for a middle grader and his/her parents.

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Boy, I haven’t read a tear jerker in a long time, but Stay With Me by Paul Griffin brought tears to my eyes. Mr. Griffin was nice enough to come to our library and give a writing workshop and now I’m sad that I missed the opportunity to see/hear him.

Cece and Mack are made for each other and they know it. They are truly in love, even if they’re only fifteen. Cece doesn’t care about Mack’s prison record. If her brother Tony says Mack’s OK, then he’s OK, because Tony is never wrong. He knows people. But sometimes being in love requires the utmost sacrifice.

Griffin has created a cast of characters that you love, warts and all. Vic ‘knows what he knows’ and is willing to give people chances, including Mack. Cece’s mother, Carmella, might drink a bit much, but she loves her kids ‘like a crazy person’. Cece’s brother Tony has a heart of gold. And Mack. Despite a hard life, he’s a good person and has a special way with dogs. He can train any dog, but has a soft spot for pit bulls (as does Griffin). This may be his undoing and his salvation.

I need to give you the first paragraph: “A Hundred and Two Days: That’s probably about average, but it didn’t seem close to that long, especially in the beginning, that first month or so. It was just getting to that sweet spot, where everything is perfect for a while. A short while. Before it starts to fade-little by little, usually. Not for them, though. For them, it was ripped away in the middle of an ordinary summer afternoon, in a little less than a minute and a half.”

Very powerful. Stay With Me is told by both Cece and Mack. They are strong characters. This is a strong story. Stay With Me is definitely one of my 10 best books of 2012. I’ll be reading more of Paul Griffin.

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OK, so it’s a bit soapy, but A Dog’s Way Home by Bobbie Pyron made me mist at the ending. You’d have to be a totally unfeeling person not to mist up after reading about a dog traveling 300+ miles, through rain, sleet, and snow, battling humans, coyotes, and starvation to get back to his 12 year old owner, Abby. And that’s what Tam does.

In chapters alternating between Abby’s unwavering belief that Tam is alive and Tam’s unwavering love of his owner, A Dog’s Way Home is heartwarming. It’s the movie Homeward Bound without the humorous interplay of Sally Field and Michael J. Fox.

Tam is show quality Sheltie. On the way home to Harmony Gap, NC from a show 300+ miles north near Roanoke, VA, Tam’s in a crate in the back of a truck driven by Abby’s mother. She swerves off the road to avoid a deer and dog and crate go flying off the truck and down a major hill, landing in a rapidly flowing creek. Lucky to escape, Tam begins his long trek home.

Abby and her mother are injured and taken to the local hospital. They can’t go back to the scene of the accident. Abby’s father, Ian, a musician, is on the road a lot. To make matters worse, some months later, the family must move to Nashville to further Ian’s career. Now, how will Tam ever find Abby?

I must admit I wasn’t expecting much after reading the first chapter, but boy this book grows on you. Yes, you know the ending, but traveling Tam’s road to get there was as stressful for me as it appears to be for him. This is a great book for middle school age dog lovers. It captures the awkwardness of those teenage years. It captures the reciprocal love of a girl and her dog and it’ll capture your heart.

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Susan and I saw Garth Stein at a local bookstore several years ago and he was charming. It was after we had read the book (of course, at Susan’s recommendation), The Art of Racing in the Rain,  and I was compelled to purchase an autographed copy. In my mind, he looks like the author of The Art of Racing in the Rain should look and he has created a character, Enzo, a dog, like none other. Enzo is wise, philosophical, knowing, much more so than a mere mortal.  It is funny, then, that that is what he would like to become in his next life-a man.

Denny Swift is the mortal protagonist. His life in a nutshell: he finds and adopts Enzo, falls in love with Eve, marries her, and has a child, Zoe. Eve passes away prematurely from cancer and her rich parents, dubbed “the Twins” by Enzo because they dress alike, act alike, are a similar shade of nasty, decide that they want custody of Zoe, since Denny’s life as a race car driver is so unstable. When Denny refuses, they sue for custody, creating an emotional ordeal that is the crux of this amazing book.

Enzo, unfettered by societal conventions, calls it as he sees it.  He describes the Twins in uncensored terms, saying what we, who might know them, would like to say but feel constrained in doing so.  He acts upon his feelings, both negative and positive, including shitting on the Twins’ white carpet when they’ve pissed him off.  In essence, he is our alter ego. The fact that life is compared to automobile racing is only secondary, but so apt. “The car goes where the eyes go”, as does our life.

My dog’s name is Harley…it’s about as close to a motorcycle as I’ll ever get. After reading The Art of Racing in the Rain for the second time (and enjoying it as much as the first time), I look at Harley differently. I wonder if he is all knowing, if he sees things that we, wrapped up in our own little worlds, are too blind or pre-occupied to see. I wonder whether he wants to be a man in his next life. I wonder whether he has all these thoughts in his head that he can’t articulate because his mouth wasn’t constructed for speech. I wonder if he realizes that I love him, even when gets me angry. I hope so.

Denny, when taking Enzo for a spin around a race track, tells him “Bark once for slower, two for faster” and, of course, Enzo barks twice. Well, if I was a canine, I’d bark twice to have Garth Stein write a little faster, because it’s been a long time (especially in dog years) since The Art of Racing in the Rain was published.  It’s time for a new Garth Stein book. Put this book on your holiday wish list.

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