Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Book Review: Can I Be Your Dog? (children - dog, home, letters)


Can I Be Your Dog? by Troy Cummings* (Random House, 2018, 40 pages, pre-school to grade 2, ages 3-7, $16.99)


The front inside cover has a slew of cartoon-y postage stamps, mostly dog-related. I wondered why. Nevertheless, . . . on with the book.

What Makes a Good Children’s Book?

To find out, I asked the experts: I asked some kids!

“A good story.”
“A hero I could be.”
“Surprises.”
“A book that makes me smile.”
“A fun book with a good ending.”
“Good pictures that I can talk about.”

Can I Be Your Dog? is a GOOD Children’s Book.

Yes, dear reader, Can I Be Your Dog? has all of these, including pathos and an ending that should bring you to happy tears.

Our Friend, Arfy the Dog

Arfy lives in a soggy cardboard box at the end of an alley but knows all the houses on Butternut Street.

The Lost Art of Letter Writing

Arfy wants a real home all of his own so he sends off his resume in a letter to one house after another, and receives one rejection letter after another – the yellow house,


the butcher, the firehouse – and more. We see his letters and the letter carrier on every page.

Arfy fooled even me. I never guessed who he would end up with but it’s a perfect match. And the inside back cover tells young readers how they can help other animals find homes.

The Picture Tells the Story

Illustrations by author Troy Cummings fill every page and include much for your child to discover and tell you all about!

A Favorite

Can I Be Your Dog? is a clever book that your child (and you) will read not only once but two or three times in a row. Arfy will live on your Favorite Books shelf!
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*Author Cummings is a best-selling author. Doesn’t Day of the Night Crawlers (A Branches Book, The Notebook of Doom #2) sound fun? And how about Giddy Up, Daddy? (actually starring the author!).



And everyone needs More Bears!



Friday, May 3, 2019

Book Review: (OT) Educated (Idaho, Mormon)


Educated: A Memoir, by Tara Westover (Random House, 2018, 352 pages, $28) One of the Ten Best Books of 2018, according to the New York Times, NPR, Time, the Washington Post, GMA . . . . And a NYTimes bestseller. Almost 6000 customer reviews on Amazon: 80% of them, 5-star reviews. ‘Nuff said?


Powerful Family Drama of Enablers

Set in Idaho. Written by a woman, one of seven children of survivalist Mormon parents, who never attended public school yet earned her PhD after Harvard and Cambridge and, of course, Brigham Young University (BYU). All things I know a lot about so, of course, I was more than intrigued. Especially since I was on the “Wait List” for Educated at my local public library for more than four months.

It was worth waiting for.

An intriguing tale of a young girl who taught herself algebra and geometry in order to pass the SATs (college entrance exams).

An Explosive 24-hour Read

It was worth waiting for. (Short chapters, how I love them!)

I even read this book wrong: I started at the beginning, then read a couple of chapters in the middle, then those at the end. Way before then, I was hooked and ended up near the beginning again. However, it might be better to read it all the way through: your speed will accelerate as you become mesmerized in Tara’s family and her life.

With four older brothers and an older sister, and one younger brother, the siblings seem to be split age-wise: one older brother rebels and is accepted by Purdue on the way to a PhD in Engineering while both Tara and her younger brother earn PhDs (her younger brother, in Chemistry). Perhaps it is a generational ‘thing’ that the more modern younger ones want to break away from the family dependence. Or perhaps just coincidence since the family is so isolated from anyone not family, anyone who thinks differently.

Age-old Dilemmas for Women

Should I pursue education if I lose my (dysfunctional) family in the quest? I was brought up on a mountain by fundamentalists who do not believe in doctors or the government: can I survive in a city, at a university? Will I ever be good enough? Will they ever forgive me for being different? What did I do to earn such physical abuse: is it my fault? What is the Holocaust? Do I still have a family, a home? Does a 20-something woman have enough to tell the world in a memoir? Why should I wash my hands after using the toilet if I don’t piss on my hands? Herbal medicine was good enough for my mother who became a midwife so how do you know when to go to a doctor when you are on your own?

Educated is not necessarily a book you will love but it will stay with you for a long, long time. That is the mark of a good book.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Book Review: Family Jewels (crime mystery, dog)


Family Jewels: A Stone Barrington Novel, by Stuart Woods (Putnam, 2016, 311 pages, $28) Number 37 in a series of 44 (28 of which are bestsellers – or is it 50? The internet disagrees with itself.)



Every once in a while, I get an itchin’ to read a good (short) mystery, really fast, to get it out of my system. Sort of like an occasional yummy desert. I read John MacDonald (Travis McGee), Jonathan Kellerman, David Baldacci, James Patterson, Spencer Quinn (dog mysteries), and Sue Grafton.

Stuart Woods’ work is fast paced, and a mystery, so it fits the bill perfectly. When I noticed Family Jewels for $5 at Barnes and Noble, I grabbed it, hoping I hadn’t read it before! (Reading several dozen books a year, I can easily start the same one twice – especially after a few years or with a new cover.)

Woods is an almost professional pilot and sailor: the flying experience comes through in nearly every book, to entice a specific reader niche, while the Nancy Drew-like plot carries the rest of the readership. Add wealth and women and you have a recipe for a good night’s read. With lots of conversation.

Our protagonist, Stone Barrington, is an attorney, a former cop in New York City with residences in various locations, a private plane, and a few women in every book – every man’s dream. He is on dining-out terms with the NYC chief of police and his phone calls are accepted by the US president (female), whose husband is also a former US president!

Family Jewels takes us to New Mexico with a wealthy bejeweled divorcee who believes her ex is out to get her so she hires Stone. Would you believe the ex also tries to hire Stone because he thinks she is out to get him? Or so they say, until the woman is murdered.

Where’s the Dog?



I would probably not be writing about Family Jewels if there weren’t (wasn’t?) a dog involved. This one, Bob, is a delightful Labrador who adopts Stone Barrington (love that classy name). I smile whenever Bob comes on the scene. He is a good dog who goes out to dinner with our hero and lies politely under the restaurant dinner table nursing a juicy T-bone bone.

So goes the plot - and the pace is quick until towards the end we finally learn a bit about Nazi history.

The Cover

Family Jewels has an electrifying front cover which contains a hint to part of the plot - a ruby and diamond necklace. And you'll want to read more of Woods' novels with many of the same recurring characters.

Woman in Gold*, Gustav Klimt, Adele Bloch-Bauer, Helen Mirren

If the names above are not quite familiar to you - you have heard them somewhere but can't quite place them, you may at least remember something about the Helen Mirren movie of four years ago. Chances are if you didn’t see it then, you will want to after reading Family Jewels!

And now, I think it’s about time I read another Spencer Quinn canine mystery of the Chet and Bernie type. Quinn must have a new one out now: it’s been about a year since I curled up for a couple of hours with that talking sleuth of a canine!



Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Book Review: Dog at the Door (golden retriever, pups, girl, boy, veterinarian parents, mystery)


Dog at the Door, by Ben Baglio (Scholastic, 2002, 152 pages, grades 2-5, ages 7 and up) number 25 in the Animal Ark series of 45



An Unsettling Setting – A Mystery?

Mandy lives with her mom, Dr. Emily, and dad, Dr. Adam, in a house connected to a veterinary clinic, the Animal Ark. A dog appears at their front door (on Halloween night, to boot) and appears very pregnant. Where did she come from? Why did she come here, to their door? Where is her owner?

The Plots

Now we have two possible plots: solve the mystery to find the dog’s owner before the impending “birth day” or help the dog give birth soon - but when - if she will let Mandy and her parents, the vets, help.

Getting ready for the imminent births takes most of the twists and turns of the plot, leaving the solution of the mystery to be revealed rather quickly after the pups have arrived. Along the way, a hint is discovered when the dog shows an interest in eggs and the backyard chickens (no spoiler here!).

Lights! Action! Camera!

The action is fast-paced: in a matter of only a few days, the golden retriever drop-in canine visitor becomes a new, first-time mom who learns her maternal role slowly, thus serving as a lesson in life to Mandy and her best friend, Charles, a year younger neighbor with a dog of his own (whose story was also written by author Ben Baglio).



Both youngsters are likable and realistic yet adult-like (as is usually the case in books for children).

Your youngster will love and learn and want to read the other titles in the Animal Ark series, at least the ones with dogs on the cover! (Some have cat covers.)

Note to parents: one pup is stillborn and another, weak enough to require hand-feeding around the clock, doesn’t make it even after an apparent rally. However, both situations are handled with love and understanding care. The mother pup does finally accept her pups and learns to love and care for them.