Thursday, July 30, 2015

Book Review: Louie the Labrador (dog, any child, educational)

A Kid’s Guide to Louie the Labrador, 2nd in the series* A Puppy’s New Home, by AJ Richards, illustrated by Rayah Jaymes (CreateSpace, 42 pages, 2014, $11.69, ages 2-12 with 3rd grade reading ability – great for an older child to read to a younger sibling)

Cute illustrations of Louie the black lab are sure to bring black labs back into popularity, but the page that hooked me was page 4 with space for your child’s name plus her dog’s name.

Louie the Labrador is the second in a series of children’s interactive books that teach school lessons in a fun way as well as how to take good care of a puppy. Your child will want each book in the series as the family decides which dog to get.

Interactive, Yes!

Several pages tell us all about labs and then ask the reader a question so your child can play her part in the book, too. Louie was born in Canada but now lives in the US. When you turn the page to a map of the States, Louie asks if the reader can find her own home on this map page.

Children are often advised to pick up their toys and clothes, to puppy-proof their house, but what does that mean to a child? Louie the Lab shows the things that need to be picked up and the foods that are good for both dogs and kids, as well as the foods that are not good for dogs. Selections are circled to make the points more child-memorable.

Painless Lessons are Fun

Truly an interactive book, Louie’s story begins with geography but your child will not realize how much she is learning and you will not be aware of the lessons either!  How to greet a dog, how to pet a dog, and other puppy lessons are presented in story-like ways to keep your child’s interest while implanting in her mind the correct way to behave around dogs. For example, one lesson in dog language: Louie wags his tail when he is happy and asks the reader what she does when she is happy.

Lessons in counting, geography, even safety and health, as well as playing with a dog outside which is “. . . more fun than playing inside alone on the computer,” says Louie. Louie’s book also ends with three pages of glossary words and a page of Internet references. Most unique is the feeding chart that tells how much to feed to your new puppy and how often (however, ask your veterinarian because kibbles differ from brand to brand in how much to feed).

This series gives a great, fun foundation in how to live with a dog (and sneaks in other entertaining lessons).  Your child will want to read them all!

*Other books in the series include Bella the Bichon Frise, Max the Golden Retriever, Lady the Yorkshire Terrier, Princess the Bulldog, and more. You can even purchase a personalized copy of one of these for your child with your dog’s name.

(Caveat: This book was sent to me to review.)

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Book Review: Redeployment (OT) (Iraq, veterans)

Redeployment, by Phil Klay (Penguin Press, 2014, 291 pages, $26.95)

The award winning* Redeployment draws you in with an intriguing cover photo: a Marine with his duffel bag, in silhouette. You can tell he’s a Marine if you look closely at his cover (hat). The background is harder to identify.

Admissions, Confessions

I must admit, however, that I consented to review the book because I am a dog book reviewer primarily and the first of the dozen vignettes in Redeployment begins “We shot dogs.”

I must confess, however, that I have not yet read the first essay - yet - and perhaps never will. But the remaining essays or short stories are truly magnificent and reminiscent of The Things They Carried, that lasting Vietnam Conflict novel by Tim O’Brien which is now taught in college English classes.


However, not being prior-service (that is a way of saying you have never been in the military), the reader runs into so many acronyms that he may give up. However, if a glossary were added, it would be voluminous indeed. Even with 25 years’ “in,” myself, I came across a few acro’s that were new to me. Maybe they were Marine lingo. (SALUTE reports, RPGs, SAWs, EPWs are just a few that might get in the way of the non-military reader, and then there are the four-letter words. . . . )

A Baker’s Dozen

Each chapter relates the story of a different Marine and especially the recent conflict in Iraq and its effect on the US troops who were there, mostly in combat, but also some who spent their deployment on a large base supporting the others (in Vietnam they were called REMFs). Most of the book conveys what happens to the Marines when they are back Stateside, the effect the fighting (or non-fighting) had on them, how they seemed, to regular stay-at-home Americans and how they adjusted back into civilian life (not always easily). But what will stay with you most is the camaraderie the troops experienced that sometimes carried over to civilian life.

Written in the first person, each chapter tells the story of a different Marine, from junior enlisted to senior, with a few officers thrown in. Some are arty (artillery), some are adjutants, some are on MRAPs hit by an IED. Phil Klay is truly amazing in his knowledge of various MOS’ (jobs) in a combat zone. Either he is a master of interviewing different job-holders or he has done an amazing amount of research.

The Camaraderie of the Band of Brothers

Those of you who are veterans will be brought back to your days of friendship and solidarity, and bullshit, and will smile when you read ‘nine-line’ because you know what that is, like an inside secret. Some chapters are more avant-garde than others, mostly the longer ones but you will have your favorites, if the topic of ‘coming home/redeployment’ can conjure up favorites. If not, you will recognize yourself in many of the characters in each chapter and the readers will understand, perhaps for the first time, what the band of brothers is all about and why friendships forged in the military last a lifetime.

For All of Us

War touches us all and Klay writes about all of us – students, lawyers, chaplains, infantrymen, State Department employees. War is an elephant – no one can see the entire thing but, together, the whole is more than the sum of the parts. By relating the experiences of many so-different Marines, we get a glimpse of what war is like, both during and after. Now I am waiting for a similar account of Afghanistan.

*2014 National Book Award for fiction, Chatauqua Prize, New York Times list of ten best books for 2014, etc. 

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Book Review: One Dog at a Time, Saving the Strays of Afghanistan (dogs, Afghanistan)

One Dog at a Time, Saving the Strays of Afghanistan, an Inspiring True Story, by Pen Farthing, Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press, 2009, 308 pages, about 25$

I took a deep breath and opened page one of One Dog at a Time one empty Friday night. Suffice it to say, I finished it Saturday morning and then explored the companion website,


Farthing’s book is an inspiration which totally trumps other books about saving dogs from the 'sandbox' (Iraq or Afghanistan) - hands down!

Well Done

Well-written and well-edited, One Dog at a Time is more about the dogs than about the people trying to get the dogs out. Dogs are major characters, not merely the background - as it should be.

The Story Begins

A small contingent of British soldiers in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, for a short tour in the boondocks in 2006 notice feral dog packs when out on patrol – a couple of dogs even keep pace with the patrol and follow along (for handouts?). When one Brit finds Afghans betting on a dogfight, he is compelled to step in to stop the fight - and the die is cast.

How other dogs seem to make their way to this small British enclave in the desert and what their stories are, make engrossing reading.

But even more spell-binding is the seat-of-your-pants tale of trying time and time again to transport some of these dogs to the only animal shelter in the country – hundreds of miles north, through dangerous Taliban territory, and in a country that has always been hostile to dogs. (Dogs are unclean in the Muslim religion, even though the Afghan hound takes its name from this country.)

Who should read One Dog. . . .

One Dog at a Time is for women but it is not primarily a tear-jerker.

One Dog at a Time is for men because it is about war – the boredom, the noise, the camaraderie.

One Dog at a Time is for dog-people – we meet dogs and we meet puppies, all with an amazingly different story about how they came to the small British encampment in the desert.

One Dog at a Time was for me because all of a sudden I was back in the Sandbox and saw the tans and the beiges, and felt the searing heat that made it hard to breathe under the crushing weight of my heavy body armor – all over again.

For women, this is a book about the children of war, about the dogs of war. It can be heart-wrenching to not be able to help all the children and all the women and all the dogs and puppies you see. However, it may just spur you on to do what you can.

For men. For soldiers. Every patrol is potentially dangerous. Every non-patrol is also dangerous – many NATO outposts are bombarded daily with rocket and mortar attacks. The frustration of being military in a country that may not want your presence. The frustration of having buddies injured not in a firefight but in a vehicle accident that could just as easily (almost) have happened back home. The frustration of being sent home early yourself, due to an injury.

For everyone who wants to experience the colors (tan, light brown, taupe, medium brown, dusty brown, dark brown) or lack thereof, the heat and sweat dragging you down, the boredom of being out in the boonies with only a firefight to look forward (?) to, to break the monotony - this book depicts life as it truly is (I was there, deployed to the adjacent province in Afghanistan shortly after the incidents depicted in the book). Farthing realistically portrays life for the soldier and life for the dog, each scrambling to survive and sometimes bonding together.

Hope Abounds

But it is not primarily a war book or a desert book. It is a dog book, hopeful.

Why? Perhaps Because we can. . . .

Why should we spend so much money trying to get just one dog out of Afghanistan when there are so many deserving dogs in our own country?

Perhaps because we can.

Perhaps because we are free to choose what we want to spend our money on, free to do what good we can.

Perhaps because one person has fallen in love with and bonded to one particular dog.

Perhaps because hope abounds.

What didn’t I like about One Dog at a Time? Readers who haven’t been deployed to Afghanistan may not figure out what a ‘terp’ is (interpreter - not defined at first mention) and those who are not British may have to guess at some words (I assumed ‘chuff’ means happy or excited or pleased or something like that).

What did I like about One Dog at a Time? EVERYTHING else! This book is a keeper! Although I don’t give stars or paws for books that I review, if I did, I would give One Dog at a Time the max!

Hope abounds that we can do good, one dog at a time.

(This review appeared in Yankee Dog, Fall, 2010, and GRREAT News, Jul-Aug 2010.)

Friday, July 10, 2015

Which book. . . ?

Oh, dear, what shall I read? George, the Dog, or Dogfella? Dogfella or George, the Dog?

This is becoming a question asked more and more frequently as there are always quite a few books out on the same topics: dogs and the military, rescue dogs and rescued dogs, service dogs, therapy dogs, and even animal control officers, to name just a few of the recently popular genres!

But perhaps you don’t want to read all of the books on one topic (unless you love the subject) and may not have the money to purchase more than one, so which one is the best? How do you find out?

This is a question I often am asked. My reply is, ‘It depends!”

Start with the Reviews

And, of course, find a book reviewer whose reviews you like, who tells it like it is (the good, the bad and the ugly), who has the same interests as you (e.g., DogEvals), and then, rely on that site as a place from which to start.

Two Examples

Some currently popular dogs-and-the-military books include Saving Cinnamon (previously reviewed as 44 Days out of Kandahar) War Dogs, The Dog Who Could Fly, Sergeant Stubby, Dogs of War, One Dog at a Time* (with a half dozen more reviews to come) and, recently, DogEvals reviewed Dogfella and George, the Dog, John, the Artist – both, books about ex-cons and the dogs who saved them.

This One or That One?

If you like British books, if you like street art, choose George, the Dog, but if you prefer New York City, the Mafia, TV shows (the Oprah Winfrey Network) and dog and cat rescues and shelters, then Dogfella is for you. If cuss words turn you off, select another book.

On the other hand, George, the Dog, is a story that must be non-fiction: nobody could make up a life like John’s. Dogfella is more plausible, but still, with the Mafia. . . .

Magic? Yes, Magic!

I could easily compare these two books based on style, theme, character development, or any one of the myriad other ‘things’ an English major learns to observe and evaluate, but I was not an English major! So, if I like a book, it is because it has magic in the writing, causing me to stay up all night at times. Such a book is unforgettable. And, yes, I sometimes disagree with other reviewers.

In a nutshell, I preferred Dogfella over George, the Dog, but I loved the drawings in George!

*Review to appear next (I reviewed One Dog at a Time years ago but forgot to post it!)

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Book Review: Dogfella (dog and cat rescue, ex-con, Mafia, NYC, chi's and pit's)

Dogfella: How an Abandoned Dog Named Bruno Turned This Mobster’s Life Around, by James Guiliani with Charlie Stella (Da Capo Press [Perseus], 2015, 239 pages, $24.99)

From Godfella to Dogfella

James “Head” Guiliani is an ex-con, a former cocaine addict and an alcoholic who worked for John Gotti, boss of the Gambino family, as an enforcer for the Mafia in New York City.  Who would want to read a book about him?

James “Head” Guiliani is also a dog and cat rescuer with his own shelter and dog bling store, The Diamond Collar, complete with groomers, where you can find ‘girl dog clothes’ as well as ‘boy dog clothes.’ Guiliani drops everything when he gets a call about an injured cat or about a dog tied to a parking meter, abandoned. He works seven days a week at The Diamond Collar and at Keno’s Animal Rescue, his shelter•, feeding the numerous cats and dogs twice a day and cleaning the floor three times a day. But he loves the work. Who wouldn’t want to read a book about him?

How Did He Turn His Life Around?

In a word, Lena. The lovely Lena, his wife.

And Bruno, the Chihuahua. James fell in love with the little dog who needed someone at the end of his life. James took it hard: “I was a six-two, 240-pound, ex-con, mush. I was useless.” (p. 25) He ended up giving his all for the neighborhood animals who had nothing. He “became obsessed with the idea. I’d been warned . . . that former addicts often replace one addiction with another. Well, if my new addiction was saving animals and opening a rescue shelter, so be it. At least it would be doing something constructive.” (p. 184)

From Chihuahuas to Pit Bulls: “That Gangster Guy Who Saves Animals” (p. 161)

Most ‘dog’ books, because they are written by humans, are actually more about the human than about the dog. Dogfella is no exception. However, this time this reviewer didn’t mind the digressions that take over the book. As a matter of fact, it kept me on my toes, trying to understand the lingo of the streets of ‘gangsta New York’ – for me, much harder than trying to understand a book written by a British author. (Caveat: some of the language is quite raw, as is the recounting of former exploits.)

Dogfella is an engrossing, inspiring book that you will read quickly because you can’t put it down. You will end up liking this ex-con for what he does. Chances are, you will even check out the links in this review.

Dog Grooming, Dog Bling, Dog Rescue and a TV Show on the Road to a Sanctuary

Steps on the way to Guiliani’s dream of an animal sanctuary include the Diamond Collar store and grooming facility and his shelter, Keno’s. He is well on his way, thanks to this book and all the resulting media exposure, including a 10-episode series on The Oprah Winfrey Network. Former contacts don’t hurt, either!

“The Diamond Collar TV Show/Dogfellas” has been called bizarre, heartfelt, and hilarious. Stay tuned!
•Keno’s is Different
Here is the list of rules on the wall at Keno’s:
            Remain a cageless environment
            Never require excessive or intrusive applications for potential adopters
            Never require a fee for adoptions
            Be run on the honor system, requiring those who adopt to promise to bring their rescue back to Keno’s if things didn’t work out
We would never set time limits for any of my animals; none would be eurthanized to make space. (pp. 224-5)