Monday, February 27, 2012

'About a Cow'

I'm a sucker for animal stories.  Fiction, non-fiction.  Children, adults.  Doesn't matter.

What does matter is how well the story is told.  A wonderful example of good animal storytelling is the 'Chet and Bernie' series by Spencer Quinn.  The books are narrated by Chet, a clever dog who helps his human partner, Bernie, a private eye, solve crimes.  Most of the crimes involve animals, and Chet has a special rapport with most of them.  'The Art of Racing in the Rain', by Garth Stein, and 'A Dog's Purpose', by W. Bruce Cameron, are other excellent examples of sensitive, thought-provoking storytelling.  They all captured my heart and reinforced my compassion for the animal kingdom.  As for non-fiction, 'Dewey the Library Cat', and 'Oogy', made me cry so hard I couldn't catch my breath.  Ditto the James Herriott books, a phenomenal series of memoirs which have become well-deserved classics.    

All of these books share a common theme:  The love between animals and their humans.    

'About a Cow', by Andy Frazier, is what one would call a 'little story'; simply told, but full of impact.  Narrated by Princess, a cross-bred cow, she is confronted by prejudice, general snobbery, and, at one point, a sense of resignation.  Right after her birth, she is loved and cared for by a boy named Jamie, but when Jamie grows ill, Princess is sold off...and everything changes.  The story takes off when a once-famous cattleman enters her life and gives her the chance to shine.  The humans who love her give her the confidence to go on and become the best she can be.  But along the road, she meets humans who do not have her best interests at heart.  The line separating compassion and cruelty is made very clear.  Mr. Frazier has done a fine job of bringing more than a few tears to my eyes.

The adventures of Princess continue in 'In the Company of Animals', 'Cow Factor', 'The Royal Detective,  and 'Cow Diva'.  For more information, visit Andy's site:

Thursday, February 23, 2012

'The Book Thief'

There recently came a time when I didn't have the desire to read escapist fiction.  I had, of course, four books going at once; sci-fi/fantasy, a boring mystery, and a scathing commentary on the greed of Wall Street ('Greedy Bastards'  Read it.  It will piss you off).  

But one, little book held me fast.  One little book made my bath water grow cold...and I didn't even notice.  That one, little book grabbed my heart and tore it in two.  When I finished it, I sat in that cold bath water, sobbing for what was lost, what should have been.  Sobbing for the courage of a little girl who was lost, was found, found love, and stole books.  She discovered the power of words.  Words which had the power to inspire courage, and the power to make cowards of those who thought they were doing the 'right thing'.

'The Book Thief', by Markus Zusak, opens with the narrator, Death, telling us the story of the Book Thief, living near Munich during WW2.  Written in spare, gorgeous prose, Liesel's story is one of loss and heartbreak.  But when her mother leaves her in foster care, it is there that Liesel discovers love, friendship, and a courage she never knew she had.  

Not only does she attain the understanding of love, she grows curious about the power of words.  It is after her brother's burial when she discovers a book hidden under a mound of dirt and she steals it.  When she settles in at her new home, her perceptions are kept well-hidden until the arrival of a Jewish man awakens a tie she thought long gone.  Her curiosity leads her to steal more and more books.  The mayor's wife is a major source, and their friendship is at once heartbreaking, yet uplifting.  But it is Rudy, her neighbor, who becomes Liesel's 'partner-in-crime' and best friend.  Their 'what could have been' is one of the most heartbreaking passages in the story.   He, and Liesel's foster father, Hans, made me cry more than any other characters in the story.

It is so hard to review a story that is so well-written, so sensitive, so tearful.  A story that will anger you to your very soul.  And although this is listed as a Young Adult novel, it will hold hostage even the most jaded adult heart.  I'll be honest; 'The Book Thief' touches me every time I read it.

And it will touch you, too.

Friday, February 17, 2012


Do you, dear reader, ever find yourself in either one of these positions:
  A.  You are in the mood to read something, anything, but the shelves are bare?
  B.  You have way too many books stacked by your nightstand, under the coffeetable, on the dining room table, on a shelf conveniently located near the bathtub?

I'm B, most of the time.  Which means now.  It's a delicious dilemma, trying to pick the next book to read, and I usually end up having a different book at the ready in nearly every room in my house.  I have four books on my nightstand (I partake of each one every night), ten near my coffee table, and...none near my bathtub.

That's right.  None near my favorite reading spot.  Because I read it.  In two days.  

Frank Peretti's new novel, 'Illusion', is that book.  Although I sometimes shy away from Christian-themed stories (I find that some of them pontificate a bit too much), I do read those that have a touch of the divine.  I have read a few of Mr. Peretti's other novels, and I appreciate the way that he doesn't impose his beliefs on the reader.  He seems to be a gentle type of person, someone I would like to meet.

'Illusion' is the story of two magicians, Dane and Mandy.  They have been together for forty years, famous for their creative feats of illusion.  But they are more than a 'magic act'; they have been married for almost forty years and still very much in love.  But when Mandy dies in a car accident, Dane's world is shattered and he turns his back on his career.  While he is mourning in solitude, Mandy awakens in the present, but as the nineteen year-old she was in 1970.  Amidst her confusion, she discovers the ability to perform impossible feats of magic.  

Mr. Peretti has written a story that made me keep turning the pages.  What will happen when Dane and Mandy finally meet?  Why is she still alive, when he saw her die?  So many questions, but the answers come quickly, and in a most unusual way.

While the characters are well-realized, the line separating good and evil was a bit smudged.  But that's what made this story so interesting.  Faith plays a huge role in this story of love, science, reconnection, and surprise.

'Illusion' will be released in March 2012 by Howard Books, a division of Simon & Schuster

Friday, February 10, 2012

'White Horse'

Along with every other bookseller, I have witnessed the birth of a new genre.  Although it's a combination of horror/fantasy/sci-fi/romance, it is that very combination that makes it stand on its own.  And I have a name for it, although booksellers probably wouldn't want to attach the sign to the section.  But, indie bookstores being indie bookstores, they can do as they please (I thank them for that) and they are welcome to assign any title they want to this newish genre.

It is the I know it.

Over the years, I've been very impressed with some of the EotW titles that have found a place on my bookshelves.  One that comes to mind is 'The Stand' by Little Stevie King (sorry, Mr. King, but I give you that moniker with the greatest affection and respect).  It is a perfect story of good vs. evil, and told in the most horrific way.  As time went on, I sought out more EotW stories.  'The Passage', by Justin Cronin, is another great example, and it, too, has a place on my bookshelf.  Both books are very dense, and take a while to get through.  They are also full of characters that are fully established.  You almost wear your heart on your sleeve while reading the stories.  

And then 'White Horse', the debut novel by Alex Adams, landed on my desk.

The book may be slim, but the story is anything but.  It grabs you and won't let go until you reach the very last page.  Of course, it does contain the 'good vs. evil' theme.  There is a bad guy (a really bad guy with a few surprises of his own).  And then there is Zoe, our thirty year-old heroine, a strong, quiet woman who stoically confronts the pain and sadness surrounding her.

Because she wants to go to college, she earns money by cleaning animal cages in a laboratory for a pharmaceutical firm.  When a mysterious vase shows up in her apartment, she begins to see a psychiatrist who not only helps her try to understand the reason for the vase's appearance, but also tries to help her get through the grief she is experiencing from the death of her husband.  But soon her life begins to spin out of balance when everyone around her either grows sick and dies, or changes in the strangest ways.  

It is Zoe's personal journey that is the most interesting aspect of this story.  Her interactions with those who harbor either the most evil of intentions, or the most loving, are handled with great insight.  Ms. Adams writes short, clean sentences, and not a word is wasted; her style is the perfect way to expose the mounting tension of Zoe's journey.  And in this case, what doesn't kill Zoe makes her stronger.   

Although 'White Horse' won't be released until April 2012, I recommend that you put it on your reading list.  It's an unforgettable story.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

'Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children'

As much as I love the Young Adult genre, when it comes to reviewing/recommending them, I leave that happy task to my 'partner-in-crime', Michelle, owner of thepassionatebookworm blog.  She has a great passion and good eye for all things YA.

But for the past year, I have been very eager to read 'Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children', by Ransom Riggs.  I'll admit that the cover art initially drew me in, but when I read the synopsis on the book flap, I grew more curious every time I passed the YA section.  Borders had a great book loan policy for employees, but every time I tried to borrow a copy, it would be gone.

But now, Borders is gone, and my only source is the library.  I was placed near the bottom of the reserve list for about a month.  The day I received the call that the book was waiting for me, I practically ran down to the library to get the book into my hot little hands.  As soon as I arrived back home, I plopped down on the couch and dove into the story.

And what a story!  Mr. Riggs' first novel is nothing but astounding.  I read it in the bath tub (sorry, library; I made sure water didn't touch it), my bed, the couch, the car. Once I was finished, I couldn't wait to write my review.

The story is accompanied by a collection of some of the oddest photographs I have ever seen, and they totally enhance the novel.  Although the author does a fantastic job of describing the unusual characters, the photographs really bring them into focus, blazed upon the reader's mind.  

Jacob has always been close to his paternal grandfather, who used to tell him the most imaginative stories.  But as Jacob grew older, he grew to disbelieve the tales, thinking he was getting a bit too old to believe in 'fairy tales'.  He learns that Abe, his grandfather, had been sent from war-torn Poland to a home on an island off the coast of Wales during WW2.  After a family tragedy, Jacob and his father travel to the island; his father, to collect information about birds, and Jacob, to learn more about the children's home where his grandfather once lived.  And it is also the place where Jacob learns the secrets of his grandfather's life...and some secrets about himself.  

Atmospheric, dark, and full of twists-and-turns, 'Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children' has most definitely earned every five-star review awarded to it. It is odd.  It is different.  It is dark.  But most of all, it is original.  It's a story that will stay with you and one you'll want to read again.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

'The Starboard Sea'

When I first read Donna Tartt's incredible novel, 'The Secret History', I was mesmerized by her portrayal of wealth, privilege, and all the little 'games' rich kids played out of sheer boredom.  Of course, those 'games' came at a price, and the poor suckers had to pay for it for the rest of their lives.  It made me glad that all I had was credit card debt.

Lo and behold, another such book has burst upon the scene, and it is just as brilliant.

'The Starboard Sea', by Amber Dermont, is the story of a wealthy young man whose last chance at academic success lies in his attendance at a boarding school that just might provide what he needs.  Jason's voice colors this story of tragic relationships, the love of the sea, and the search for meaning in a world that is constantly shifting.  It is through this beautifully told tale that Jason finds the answers for which he is searching...and discovers a truth which leaves him heartbroken.  He is consumed by guilt over the death of his best friend; gossip abounds about it, but Jason keeps his feelings hidden, which only fuels the flame.

On the surface, most of the major characters seem very frivolous, until you learn about their family relationships; divorce, debt, death.  The Big Three.  As each character acts out via silly games, idleness, and drinking bouts, you realize that they are avoiding the catastrophes and secrets that they keep well hidden.

Amber Dermont's first novel is a gem, and I'm eager to see what she has in store for us in the future.

And I hope it's the near future.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

'The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore'

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore from Moonbot Studios on Vimeo.

How rare it is to come across a delightful, imaginative little film.  'The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore' is nominated for an Academy Award.  This reader is hoping it sweeps that category.

This is for all book lovers; all of us who enjoy and appreciate the written word and the genius behind it.  Sit back, relax, and be amazed.  But I recommend you bring out the tissue box.