Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Book Review: You Ought To Do A Story About Me (OT) (life after the NFL)

You Ought To Do A Story About Me: Addiction, An Unlikely Friendship, and the Endless Quest for Redemption, by Ted Jackson (HarperCollins, $27.99, 329 pages, 2020)

1990

How many times has a journalist or reporter heard this: "You ought to do a story about me"?

Suppose you, the journalist or reporter, met a homeless man on the street, engaged him in conversation and learned he had played in the NFL and  more than one Superbowls. Would you believe him? Would it make front page news?

This actually happened to author and photo-journalist Ted Jackson in Louisiana. The player was Jackie Wallace of the Arizona State University Wildcats (where he majored in Math), the Minnesota Vikings, the Baltimore Colts, and the LA Rams. And yes, he has a Superbowl ring.

What happens to professional athletes when they can no longer play at the top of their game? Are they ready to be 'just normal?"

The wise athlete has set aside funds or invested in the market, or finished a degree or two, and not spent all his new-found salary. Others who make it big suddenly, go overboard. The average professional football career lasts 3-7 years and young men start that career (and adulation) right out of college with no life experience, little budgeting knowledge.

Jackie Wallace was one such young footballer. Read how he fell into a depression, became addicted and ended up in prison three times. It could happen to anyone. But then, keep reading about his roller-coaster ride of love, loyalty, and coming out on top.

A 30-Year Friendship Between a Fallen Athlete and  Photo-Journalist


What also happened to Jackie were a lot of head concussions - before the world knew about CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) or TBI (traumatic brain injury) resulting in early dementia and perhaps contributing to Wallace's ups and downs, addiction recoveries and fallbacks, too numerous for this reader to keep track of.

2020

But author Jackson published his book in 2020. What happened to Jackie Wallace between the front-page newspaper story in 1990 of his success and failure, and the next couple of decades? Did he die young or did old friends find him after the article and set up an environment for Wallace to succeed in life once more?

Writing Style

This is a book about a black man from New Orleans and his life during the Civil Rights Era (and beyond) written by a white man from small town Mississippi about the same age but with very different experiences, reviewed by a white woman from the north who grew up about the same time. Very different lives. Both men were deeply religious as well.

Jackson's life is mirrored next to Wallace's with photos embedded (but no captions) and cryptic chapter titles. Mostly a fast read, once momentum is achieved but, nevertheless, a long book. Putting it aside halfway through will still be a fascinating experience but finishing the book will profoundly affect the reader.

"A benevolent friend and a thief. An addict, an abuser, and a pilgrim. A selfish philanthropist. A humble narcissist bent on self-destruction." (page 181) A complicated man (as we all are) and his life choices.

Jackie Wallace was not "an athlete dying young.*" 

Or was he?

Caveat: This book was sent to me for review. It is available in the Howard County, MD, public library.

*To an Athlete Dying Young, by A H Houseman

Friday, January 8, 2021

Book Review: Paws vs. Claws (An Arthur and Queenie Mystery) - dog, cat, girl, boy, cow

Paws vs. Claws: An Arthur and Queenie Mystery, by New York Times bestselling and Edgar Award winning author Spencer Quinn/Peter Abrahams (Pas de Deux Corp/Scholastic Press, 2019,  309 pages, $16.99, grades 3-7, ages 8-12)

Ah, that prolific and delightfully entertaining Spencer Quinn of the 12 Chet (dog) and Bernie (human) books is at it again, this time for kids with his 3 Birdie (girl) and Bowser (pup) books


and now the 3 Arthur (dog) and Queenie (cat) books!

Mix in a set of 11-year-old fraternal twins (who loathe* each other) - Harmony and her brother Bro (in the grade behind); the old Blackberry Inn run by Mom, since Dad and Mom were divorced; an incorrigible* dog narrator (Arthur) and feline authoress, Queenie. Add in ambidextrous* Jimmy whose black eye was caused by running into a ladder or a door or a branch or Walter. And don't forget the gone-cow, a coma, a drowning, and . . . the oh-so-aptly named Catastrophe Falls (not named after a cat).

Our dog Arthur loves sports stuff: hockey pucks and baseball balls, especially in mud season in Vermont. Our cat Queenie loves her morning saucer of cream from Sweet Lady Em, a cow who seems to have disappeared: thus, the mystery in the title.

The Narrators

Note that the title and subtitle put the dog before the cat (this comment is at the request of an 11-year-old reader who has a dog).

Chapters are narrated by either Queenie the cat , The Cat's Meow, or Arthur the dog, mostly alternating chapters. For readers familiar with the Chet and Bernie series, you will recognize a lot of Chet in the thoughts of Arthur the dog. 

Writing Style

A bit slow to start out and a bit too reminiscent of Chet's train-of-thought writing (thinking), nevertheless, an engrossing book that makes the reader feel smart - hints develop into crucial clues later on but when first introduced, the hints are natural parts of the plot.

*look it up!

Read More About It! Book 2 in the series is Ruff vs. Fluff. Book 3 is Bark vs. Snark. The three books in the Echo Falls series are written for grades 5 and 6 (ages 8-12), primarily - Down the Rabbit Hole, Behind the Curtain and Into the Dark.

The Spencer Quinn books may be available at your friendly neighborhood public library.

Sunday, January 3, 2021

Book Review: A Borrowing of Bones (veterans, Vermont, dogs, murder mysteries)

A Borrowing of Bones: A Mercy Carr Mystery Book 1, by best-selling author Paula Munier (Minotaur Press, 2018, 342 pages, $26.99)

Another 24-hour book! Finally!

I have read many books lately that are hard to finish (I am a reader/judge for three literary awards that just about anyone can enter so reading lower-quality books to the final page can be a long chore); therefore, I was delighted to discover A Borrowing of Bones to be a good, fast, yet long read. 

Value added was provided by the two main characters having been deployed to Afghanistan (as was I) and their two dogs being r-e-a-l major characters: one, a Malinois/Belgian Shepherd, Elvis, (like a German Shepherd) had been a military working dog while the other, a rescue Newfie mix, Susie Bear, was trained in search-and-rescue (SAR) for his person, a Fish and Wildlife Department game warden in Vermont.

I truly liked all the characters plus the two dogs play a major role. What more could one ask for?

In addition, . . . . 

The reader will be pleasantly surprised to find several chapters (out of 50) ending on cliffhangers and be totally surprised by the twists and turns!

Plus plenty of references to Shakespeare and Vermont history and geography. Though I have been to Vermont, if I had a map, I would hopefully be able to find the places mentioned - unless they are fictional.

Bonus

I also found half a dozen 'triplets,' two in the beginning, one in the middle, and others at the end. After noticing the first two, I paid attention, looked for others and realized author Paula Munier was having fun with her readers. Here is an example of the triplets: "bones, bodies and bombs" in one sentence. and another - "Shakespeare's scripts and sonnets and soliloquies."

But, . . . . 

Any book this long is bound to have some errors - either typos or factual errors, even in a fiction book, if the author is not a subject matter expert. I read some reviews that really harped on this. I can usually forgive one or two -  Munier wrote some other things that I wasn't quite sure about plus there were several sentences that I had to read a few times to understand. However, both protagonists had been deployed to Afghanistan as I had: I learned early in my work there that Afghani referred to the currency not the people. I was quite harshly called on that so I didn't forget it. The author, on page 44, makes the same error. She has not been to the country but has spent a lot of time with an organization called MissionK9Rescue so I was surprised at that error.

Now, About the Plot

A woman veteran and her former Army dog are walking through the woods one morning when they come upon a baby! She takes the baby, reports the incident - and later the baby is removed from the hospital by someone unknown. 

This veteran also finds human bones in the woods close to where her dog alerts on the scent of explosives.

A man is stabbed to death. The veteran's home is ransacked. Her grandmother, a veterinarian, tries to match our hero up with the Fish and Game agent, also an Afghanistan veteran, with a SAR dog.

Another stabbing.

And so on. Exciting.

Writing Style

I like short chapters. Munier provides them along with considerable conversation so the 50 chapters (untitled though) speed by. I liked this book so much that I just might read the second

Book 2

and third
Book 3

books in the new series (hope they are a bit shorter) and may also read Fixing Freddie: A True Story of a Boy, a Mom, and a Very, Very Bad Beagle.

Caveat: This book can be found in the Howard County, MD, public library system.

Friday, January 1, 2021

Book Review: The Bookshop (England, widow, small town bookstore)(OT)

The Bookshop, by Penelope Fitzgerald (Mariner Books, 1978, 156 pages, $14.95) (author is a Booker Prize winner and was also the recipient of National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction) Now a major motion picture* (2018).

Intriguing Cover

"Books Matter"

A small English town does not have a bookshop. A 10-year resident and widow purchases a very old house (centuries old) in the middle of town, moves in and opens a bookshop necessitating hiring a 10-year-old girl as a part-time assistant. 

"A Good Man Gone"

Replete with a Boy Scout troop, a fancy gala at the home of the retired General and his 'do-good wife,' a rather lazy BBC employee and his girlfriend, an old cantankerous gentleman in an even older house. Lolita has just been published and on the recommendation of the cantankerous old man, the bookshop owner, Florence Green, purchases 250 copies to sell, creating quite the sensation.

Just because a town does not have a bookshop, does it need one? Perhaps there is a reason why it does not have a bookshop. . . but, now, with said bookshop, how to close it down? 

Writing Style

Ms. Fitzgerald writes as the British author she is, with numerous words I had to guess at and even more references to British life (although I understood the references to the Royal Family and to Baden-Powell). Sentences were either short and easily comprehended or quite convoluted.

Book Club Selection

Written in 1978 and taking place even earlier, The Bookshop was a selection in my book club, therefore, I did finish it. Otherwise, I would not have read the entire book, short though it is at 157 pages.

Caveat: This book is available in our county public library system, along with the DVD. I would suggest reading the book first (I didn't). Reading the Introduction after finishing the book will make the reader more appreciative.

*

Monday, December 28, 2020

Book Review: A Home for Goddesses and Dogs (new girl, two dogs, Connecticut farm, fitting in)

 A Home for Goddesses and Dogs, by Leslie Connor (Harper Collins, 385 pages, 2020, $16.99, ages 10-12, grades 5-6)


An intriguing title and cover of the new book by the award-winning author of The Truth as Told by Mason Buttle, A Home for Goddesses and Dogs made for a book we didn't want to miss. We love the cover - a house on a hill (Pinnacle Hill Farm) with silhouettes of two women and a dog, trees, a car and shed, with several moons above as they change phase day by day, and, in the foreground, a young blond girl kneeling and petting a yellow dog. So much to tell!

A long book and slow-reading but, fortunately, with fairly large print.

Goddesses

What are goddesses anyway - are they really the photos that Lydia and her mom 'improve'? Are they Aunt Brat, her wife and Lydia? Maybe Lydia's two new girl friends? 

The Plot?

Rather plotless until way way into the book, but, nonetheless, the story of a young girl whose father left the family years ago and whose mother recently died goes to live with Aunt Brat and the aunt's wife - and a grandfatherly person and an old dog. Chelmsford is a small town in Connecticut with only a dozen students in Lydia's 8th grade class. Within a week, they get a yellow dog but our hero, Lydia, is not a dog person.

She brings a box of goddesses with her to the farm in Connecticut. Goddesses are cut-out photos of women that Lydia and her mother improved with paint and crayons and lace and names like the Goddess of Three Hearts and the Goddess of Spring Planting.

The Meaning of Family

Lydia enlarges a mouse hole in the wall of her upstairs bedroom and then falls through the floor. The new dog has to undergo expensive surgery. Both incidents, and more, show family values in action.

And, with dogs in the picture, DogEvals must comment on how they are depicted. Housetraining is drawn out unnecessarily and not correctly but, otherwise, the dogs are real dogs.

And Secrets

"I hadn't hidden it from her. . . Was not telling her the same thing as keeping it from her? Or was it choosing not to share? Was there a difference?" (page 257)

Writing Style

Like many books for elementary and junior high students, this book is very slow from chapter to chapter; however, author Leslie Connor writes very well on a micro level and every once in a while the reader comes across a gem of a sentence or paragraph. It is a long book and we would have preferred more action or a shorter read. 

Caveat: This book is available in the Howard County public library system.

Sunday, December 27, 2020

DogEvals' Book of the Year, 2020 Style

 And the winner is. . . . (actually we picked it in July!)



Once a year, along comes a (dog) book we simply love. We keep it. We turn to it often and, if it is a coffee table book, even more often. Sometimes it is an inspiring book that goads us into action, whether it is to volunteer at our local shelter or to write to our representatives. 

This year, it was Dogversations.

Dogversations: Conversations with my Dog

If these dogs could talk...here's precisely what Eva, the Brittany spaniel; Bruno, the golden retriever; and Agnes, the genetically diverse rescue dog, would say. Photographer David Leswick flawlessly captures the fun, quirky, clever, curious, and witty personalities of his family's three canine companions in this collection of heartwarming photography - plus the hilarious 'dogalogue' that comes along with it. 

The perfect literary and photographic treat for the eyes, heart, and sense of humor of any animal lover, Dogversations is a laugh-out-loud hysterical glimpse at how this canine crew tries to make heads or tails out of their daily lives with the human family that loves them....From GoodReads.com

From Amazon.com: Lovely photos, creative conversations between man and dog, great coffee table book

5.0 out of 5 stars
Dogversations is DogEvals "Book of the Year for 2020" and we read it way back in July! I would call it simply delightful!
The author-photographer dearly loves his dogs (and kids) and includes the reader in the conversations they have, each of which is totally believable and cutely entertaining.

Ever wonder what your dog is thinking? David Leswick tells us with the help of dog number one (Eva, a Brittany), dog number two (Bruno the golden) and dog number three (Aggie, 'All-American'). Dogs explain what they are thinking in canine conversations and ask questions about what humans do and why they do them. And we meet the author's dogs first as cute little puppies then watch them grow through pictures and words.

Eva Pup: Dave, Why is this cardboard keeping me in the kitchen?

I think my favorite two-page spread is the one of Puppy Bruno climbing out of his X-pen - "Can't talk - busy escaping!" And, of course, rules (to Bruno the dog) are merely loose guidelines!
"Dave, can't talk now. Busy escaping."

You will love Dogversations to read, to keep, and to gift!
(Photos courtesy of DLeswick)

Saturday, December 26, 2020

Book Review: Another Good Dog: One Family and Fifty Foster Dogs

Another Good Dog: One Family and Fifty Foster Dogs, by Cara Sue Achterberg (Pegasus Books Ltd., 256 pages, 2018, $25.95) Listen to a sampler here.

Not Just Another Dog Memoir

The cute puppy cover and title, Another Good Dog, had attracted my notice a few times. I had seen the book cover in my friendly neighborhood independent bookstore (lucky me) but I always passed it by, thinking it was just another dog memoir, memorable, but still I needed to review a more serious dog book this week, I kept saying to myself. Many of my dog trainer colleagues do not read dog memoirs but I dearly love them and I also love reading books 'written' by dogs (also in the minority there) so I passed it by for a couple of years. Until now, when I happened to read the subtitle and - glad I did!

Once or twice a year, I read a book that is truly remarkable and, what I like to call, a 24-hour book - so good that I read it in nearly one sitting although you can easily put it down and pick it up again without losing the flow (if you carry the book with you because you won't be able to wait to get back to it).

Another Good Dog is just such a book: funny, sensitive and, about dogs!

I didn't want this book to end. I want to meet the author and read her other books*. I even took the time to peruse the website of the dog rescue she fosters for, Operation Paws for Homes**, and am considering becoming a volunteer trainer for the organization: it certainly sounds like a great organization making a difference for dogs. And, to find she only lives about 50 miles from me!

Addicted to Fostering Rescue Dogs?

Our author was ready for another dog - almost. So, she and her family decided to foster until the right dog came along. Two years and 50 dogs later. . . they were all the 'right' dogs for them but the family kept finding other perfect families for the dogs (besides them, of course). And they slowly realized they were meant to foster. They also came to realize that if they adopted one of their foster dogs, then they would not be able to foster any more (after all, their house was only so big). And they were meant to foster. Author Cara Achterberg soon became addicted to dogs. Or was it addicted to puppies? Or maybe addicted to dogs needing a temporary home?

Operation Paws for Homes brings dogs (and cats) up north to Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and DC from an underfunded and overpopulated shelter in South Carolina (among others) on a weekly basis. View the 13-minute documentary here - "600 Miles Home".

About Another Good Dog

Along with her stories and photos of her 50 foster dogs over two years***, Achterberg welcomes us into her small village, her six country acres replete with chickens and horses, her traveling patient husband whom she dearly loves, and three rambunctious teens who cry along with Mom every time they have to say goodbye to a dog. "We're running low on puppies," said the youngest teen (page 242). Thankfully, they have a resident dog who stays.

There is the dog they have less than 24 hours before he is adopted out. There is the dog who stays with them for six weeks - until the scared, shy dog comes out of his shell, and finds his forever family. There is the dog who is 'theirs' for four months. There is the dog who ate a baseball, the dog who is afraid to go outside, to eat, or to drink for the first two days. 

Love Means Never Having to Say You're. . . . 

Fostering rescue dogs means loving them and then letting them go, watching them leave. It never gets any easier but the light at the end of the tunnel is knowing you have made another family inordinately happy and another dog deliriously happy even if the dogs generally undergo a name change once they leave you behind. An email with photos from the forever family in the following few days seems to settle the deal and put you at ease, that you have done your best. And on to the next foster dog or two (or litter).

Style (Writing, that is)

A great book has a great storyline plus great writing, writing that shows you rather than tells you. Writing that puts you in the story so it is happening to you and around you. I call that, magic.

Achterberg has that magical writing style apparent with the first page. Although one word seems to flow effortlessly after another, I'm sure each paragraph was written and rewritten and rewritten once again. The end product is a book that will endear you to the author and her foibles and perhaps even inspire you to become involved in dog rescue.

"I loved the both. How could I not? And the risk was part of that love. It's unavoidable when you open your heart to anyone - dog or human." (page 97)

Achterberg even uses footnotes! Plus, she sneaks in bits and pieces of canine husbandry facts and other information about man's best friend, but she does this so skillfully you don't realize you are being subtly educated.

A Great Book Review

Every once in a while, a book review seems to almost write itself - this one didn't even wait until I had finished reading! It just "grow'd" like Topsy from Uncle Tom's Cabin as I read. I simply couldn't wait for the review, even as I didn't want the book to end. Fifty stories about dogs is just the right number to read in one sitting.

You Can Do It, Too!

Yup, you too can foster with a good sound organization behind you, like Operation Paws for Homes. The author includes FAQs from her years of fostering experience and the critical need to transport dogs from the American south to points up north: different cultures, different weather which may perhaps account for part of the culture differences, different ideas of spaying nd neutering (or not). . . but Achterberg also writes that "dogs are pretty understanding and more than patient with us. We offer them stability, food, safe shelter, medical treatment, and most of all - love. That's five things they may never have experienced in their lives. (page 250) And then she goes on to reveal what dogs give us in return (you'll have to read the book to find out).

To Foster or Not To Foster. . . . 

Achterberg debunks the reasons for not fostering. Fostering will be the hardest, most fulfilling job you will ever do for free (all expenses paid and assistance freely given). Just do it!

And finally, Achterberg won my little old dog trainer's heart when she talks about what you need to do before fostering a litter: "Get a crate. Find a trainer. Clear your schedule." (page 242) Puppies could "easily takeover [sic] a life" [ibid] but you will love them for it.

Suggestions?

I wish I had read Another Good Dog the year it came out: it would probably have been my Book of the Year for 2018. My only suggestion would be for photos to accompany each dog-story rather than be stuck together in the middle of the book.

Read More About It: Operation Paws for Homes sounded familiar plus the logo was one I had seen somewhere so I thought and thought, then, on a whim, searched through my seven years of weekly blogs at www.DogEvals.BlogSpot.com - and found not just one but two blogs I had published about Operation Paws for Homes and their logo.

* Blind Turn (2021)

One Hundred Dogs and Counting (2020)

Another Good Dog (2018)

Practicing Normal (2017)

Girls' Weekend (2016)

I'm Not Her (2015)

Live Intentionally (2014)

**Operation Paws for Homes has a plethora of BLMs (black Labrador mixes) but also numerous hounds and even a chihuahua-dachshund mix and a bloodhound on occasion. "Lab mix was the default breed for rescue dogs with short hair, ears that didn't stick up, a curving tail and a medium-large size." (p. 181)

***more than 25 foster dogs a year at one location in Pennsylvania requires more paperwork, licenses, inspections and headaches.

Caveat: I found this book at my local county library since the copy I had purchased long ago has disappeared.

(photos from Achterberg's website)