Thursday, June 27, 2013

Book Reviews: You Had Me at Woof, and, Love at First Bark - Excellent and Not (dogs, memoirs)

Some authors have only one book in them – but what a book! A good, best-selling author writes magically, has a unique story to tell and knows to go home when the party is over.

Some authors write more than one book but have only one good book in them. Julie Klam is one such author. I simply adored You Had Me at Woof so I eagerly picked up Love at First Bark and found out she has written other books as well. Unfortunately, Klam has only one good book in her – Woof. At least it saved me from the others.

Below you will find both books reviewed, Woof, first.

You Had Me at Woof: How Dogs Taught Me the Secrets of Happiness, by Julie Klam (228 pp, 2010, $24.95, Riverhead Books [Penguin])

Whoever said that you can’t tell a book by its cover was right! I passed right by Woof many times in my local bookstore and, frankly, just wasn’t interested after seeing the cover – wrong breed and a little dog at that. I am not a BostonTerrier person (like the cover dog): I’m a Golden Retriever and Lab person, a big dog person.

Fortunately for me, my local library has Woof so I could read it but now I am going to buy it so I can reread it – and keep it!

A 30-something woman working part-time in New York City living in a small apartment, without a boyfriend, gets a dog and, by Chapter 2, is married with a little girl on the way.  She eventually becomes involved with a Boston Terrier rescue organization as well as the ensuing hilarious characters and situations that will have you laughing out loud.

Woof is funny, heartfelt, well-written and just about perfect – in other words, charming.  And if you want a tear-jerker, Woof is that, too. From the senior dog the vet believes has Cushing’s disease but turns out to be pregnant, to the author’s daughter Violet naming the new puppies Wisteria and Fiorello, you will laugh until you cry.

But you will also learn about the trials and tribulations of having a dog and that being involved in dog rescue teaches us how dogs make our lives just a little livelier and lovelier and more worth living.
Somehow, Klam weaves just the right word-pictures to describe her family and their dogs’ antics and her new-found volunteer work rescuing Bostons.

Even when one of her own dogs dies and she waxes eloquently about the human-animal bond, her words fit brilliantly well together to explain what others can only attempt.

Woof is another 24-hour book. You will read it non-stop and wish there were a sequel!
- - - - - -
Love at First Bark: How Saving a Dog Can Sometimes Help You Save Yourself, by Julie Klam (2011, Riverhead Books, 170pp, $22.95)

Since Love at First Bark was written by the same woman who wrote You Had Me at Woof — almost the funniest and most heart-warming book of 2011 — I had high expectations for Love. My expectations were dashed.

At her best, Klam is hilarious when writing about mundane everyday things: she makes us feel nice and warm and fuzzy inside with her magic prose. She makes doing the laundry suspenseful.

And Klam has a daughter you will love - Violet names her dogs after flowers!

Klam also has the relaxing knack of opening a book or chapter with pages of lovely word-pictures that have you guessing at what the chapter will actually turn out to be about!

Love is a small book with three chapters, each about a different dog “rescue” situation in New York City (author Klam fosters Boston Terriers and has three “interesting” Bostons). I read the shortest story first, which was the third one. I don’t remember what it was about. The second, “My Darling Clementine,” was quite good, but the opening vignette, “Morris, The Pit Bull – Couples Therapist!” quite literally took the cake. It was that good — Klam at her best like she was in Woof.

An interesting cover photo of a (probably) Chocolate/Yellow (depends on which cover you buy)

Lab is especially interesting since neither the dog in story one, a Pit Bull, nor the dog in story two, a Boston Terrier, resemble the cover dog. There is no one dog in story three — just a trip to New Orleans and visits to dog shelters there.

I have often thought that everything has a cover photo of a Golden Retriever or a Lab because those breeds are so photogenic and popular and, yes, it works. I buy just about anything with one of those two breeds on the cover! I guess I’m just the average American sucker of a dog-person for good advertising strategy.

However, besides a great first chapter and a good second one, the immediate inside front and back pages sport a colorful collage of dogs, including a Pit Bull, a Boston Terrier, and, yes, the requisite Lab and Golden!

It seems nowadays that almost all books cost the same, no matter how many pages or how well written. This is a short book in more ways than one.

(This latter review first appeared in GRREAT News, Jan-Feb 2012.)

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