Interview with Claire Cook, author of bestselling ‘Must Love Dogs’ series


Claire Cook, author of the bestselling “Must Love Dogs,” (which was made into a movie with Diane Lane and John Cusack) is filled with optimism about the year 2015. She just published the third book in the MLD (Must Love Dogs) series, “Fetch You Later.”

And exciting New Year news? The first book in the series, “Must Love Dogs,” was #1 on the Amazon Contemporary Romance list and #13 overall. It was also #1 for all of Barnes and Noble’s ebooks. That’s something to celebrate.

“In 2014 I published three books,” Cook said. “‘Must Love Dogs: New Leash on Life,’ ‘Never Too Late,’ and ‘Must Love Dogs: Fetch You Later.’ It’s exciting because readers seem to love the characters in the series. I had many tell me that they already devoured ‘Fetch You Later’ and they want to know when the next one will be out!”

Well, those readers will be happy to know that Cook is working feverishly to complete Books #4 and #5 in the series so they can be published in 2015. “I love writing this series,” Cook related. “It’s so much fun because I get to find out what will happen next. I love the characters.”

Why do readers enjoy series so much? “I think that there are a lot of books out there to choose from. When we find characters we like, it’s great to know that there will be more adventures with them, and we’ll be able to keep up with their lives.”

Cook is also very proud of her first nonfiction book, “Never Too Late,” and the new path that has opened for her. She reinvented herself when she left teaching and became an author. Her book is all about how people can reinvent themselves at any stage in life. She has been invited to speak and teach courses based on reinvention, and she loves it.

She’s also learned something very important: “I’ve learned to say ‘no.’ If you say yes to everything, nothing gets done. I say ‘yes’ to the most important things: writing, family and friends. But they understand that writing is important. It’s about prioritizing. Either life takes control or we do.” And that last sentence sounds just like something from “Never Too Late,” which is about taking control and making changes.

Cook’s final advice about reading Must Love Dogs? “Jump in. The books do stand alone, but starting at the beginning is great because you can see the progression of the events and how the characters develop and change.”

‘What the Dog Knows: The Science and Wonder of Working Dogs’ by Cat Warren

what the dog knows.jpg

Rating: 4 stars

Cat Warren knows what she’s talking (or writing) about. In “What the Dog Knows: The Science and Wonder of Working Dogs,” she describes why she began working with her dog, Solo. He was an “unruly” puppy and needed a way to harness his energy in a positive manner.

Warren did her homework and decided that teaching him to be a search dog would suit their needs. For the dog, it’s the ultimate game, and for the handler, it’s very rewarding on a much different level. Warren describes the lengthy training process and how it works.

And she doesn’t pull her punches. Solo sounds like a dog who may indeed have needed a job, but who still remained difficult. During one of their early “jobs” she writes, “He did a final brief tarantella around me, striking the pocket where I’d stashed the toy with his open muzzle. Not a bite. It hurt nonetheless. Brat.”

Warren takes the reader through the minute-to-minute action during a search. It’s hard work. Dirty work.

But the author doesn’t just talk about her experience. She explains the training and science labs. She explains what other trainers and handlers do. The reader will read about animal psychologists, forensic anthropologists, breeders and scent researchers.

It’s all explained in an easy-to-read yet detailed narrative. This is a fascinating book for dog lovers and for those who want to know more about how dogs help us each and every day. The dogs and people who work so hard to help others are all heroes.

Please note: This review is based on the final hardcover book provided by the publisher, Touchstone, for review purposes.

‘Whatever After: Fairest of All’ by Sarah Mlynowski: Fantasy fun for girls

Humorous fairytale for middle grade readers
Rating: 4 stars
“Whatever After: Fairest of All” is the first fairytale retelling in the “Whatever After” series by Sarah Mlynowski. And it’s not all “meet the prince and live happily after.” There is, however, a happily ever after — after all, it IS a fairytale.
But readers will find the fairytale protagonist, in this book Snow White, much more empowered than in the original Grimm. In fact, young readers should be encouraged to read the original (far more gruesome than Disney) Grimm story as it is referenced often in the book.

The first person narrator is a young girl whose brother finds a magic mirror in the basement of their new house. He shows her the mirror, and they get swooped into the story of Snow White.

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‘Firefight: Book 2 in The Reckoners’ by Brandon Sanderson


Rating: 5 stars

It all started with “Steelheart” and Brandon Sanderson continues the epic adventure and excitement with the second book in the series, “Firefight.” The first book ends with a satisfying closure, but the High Epics, those humans granted super powers, continue to harass and kill those less powerful than they.

From Newcago (the new Chicago), David and the other Reckoners travel to Babilar (Babylon Restored), as Manhattan is now called. The High Epic in charge there, Regalia, has raised the level of the ocean, and everything is surrounded by water.

David, the protagonist, is reckless but determined. In the first book he was determined to join the Reckoners, a group of people who wanted to bring down Epics. When he finally did join them, he was disappointed that they didn’t want to attack the really powerful Epics, just the lesser ones. David’s goal was to kill Steelheart, the High Epic who had killed his father. He was also the High Epic who turned the city of Chicago and much of Lake Michigan to steel.

As he did in the first book, Sanderson creates a new reality and describes it so perfectly that the reader will feel as if he or she is climbing the rope bridges between skyscrapers surrounded by water. The reader will see the glowing fruit and bright colors that are everywhere. Sanderson’s descriptions are brilliant.

Also brilliant is Sanderson’s sense of humor. David constantly uses figurative language to describe the world around him. Sanderson intentionally makes David really bad at creating metaphors and similes. A few examples:

“My eyelids drooped like angry drunk men stumbling down a street, looking for an alleyway in which to vomit.”

“The sun sank down like a giant golden pat of butter melting onto the corn of New Jersey. Or…wait. That abandoned city was kind of more like spinach than corn. So the sun sank down into the spinach of Jersey.”

And perhaps best (or worst): “Dust floated in the air, lit by fruit that dangled from the ceiling like snot from the nose of a toddler who had been snorting glowsticks.”

And the lame similes become a part of the story.

A big part of this story is the fact that the more the Epics use their power, the crueler and less human they get. David fell in love with Megan in the first book. At the end (spoiler alert), he found out she was an Epic. He still cares about her. And even though the head of the Reckoners is Prof, who himself is an Epic, the Reckoners do not believe that Epics can be kind. Their goal is to eliminate the Epics. Prof retains his humanity by gifting his powers to those in the group in the guise of weapons so that they don’t all know he is really an Epic.

Every Epic has a weakness, and the fact that David researched them compulsively after his father was killed means he knows as much about their weaknesses as anyone. And he is determined to find out the root of each Epic’s weakness.

The first book was powerful and exciting; the second is just as filled with adventure, humor and a fabulous first person narration. David is a great character, and this reader is excited to learn more about how his meeting with the High Epic named Calamity in Book Two will have changed him.

The series is great for reluctant readers and for those who love adventure and excitement mixed with a dash of super powers. Fun, funny and hard to put down — don’t miss it.

Please note: This review is based on the final hardcover book provided by the publisher, Delacorte Press, for review purposes.

Interview with author Steve Ulfelder of ‘The Conway Sax’ mysteries

Steve Ulfelder, author of “Purgatory Chasm,” his first published novel and a finalist for an Edgar Award, loves to talk (among many other subjects) about his pets. And although he has cats, his new love is his rescued greyhound, Bonne (short for Bonneville — like the race course).

Steve Ulfelder and his race car

courtesy of Ulfelder and Minotaur Press

Ulfelder is so enamored with greyhounds that two will be appearing in his next Conway Sax novel. Bonne, a rescue greyhound, cleverly snagged her new home by leaning into Ulfelder when he went to visit her. Now he’s smitten and she has a fabulous family.

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‘The Iron Trial: Magisterium Book One’ by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare


Rating: 4 1/2 stars

Harry Potter, step aside. There’s a new kid on the block, and his name is Callum Hunt. He’s a very different kind of protagonist in “The Iron Trial,” the first book in the new series, “Magisterium,” by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare.

Callum Hunt has grown up an outcast at his school. The other kids make fun of him because of his twisted leg, deformed from birth. He is unable to run or join in physical activities like other kids, so he is bullied and friendless.

When he turns twelve, he must be tested for magic at the Iron Trial. Call’s father has repeatedly told him to stay away from magic, and now he warns Call that he must be sure to fail at the trials. Call tries so hard to fail that he succeeds beautifully, perhaps too beautifully, because he is selected to attend the Magisterium, the magic school.

It’s underground and the authors spend time (and it’s time well spent) describing the beauty and uniqueness of the caverns and tunnels that make up the school.

Like many other books about kids who go to a magic school, Call is part of a group of three, including Tamara, whose family is powerful and very controlling, and Aaron, who is destined for greatness.

Call’s mother was killed when he was a baby, and his father found him in a cave where Call’s mother had scratched the words “kill the child” on the ground before she died. His father sends a letter to Call’s mentor asking the mentor to bind Call’s magic (take it away from him), but Call intercepts the letter.

Why does Call’s father worry about him? Who is Call? He (and we) will find out some answers to those questions during the course of this book, but much of what happens to Call will have to be found in upcoming books. This is just the first part of his adventure.

Each author is successful in her own right. Holly Black is the bestselling author of “The Spiderwick Chronicles” and she won a Newbery Honor for “Doll Bones.” Cassandra Clare is the author of two bestselling young adult series, “The Mortal Instruments” and “The Infernal Devices” (think “City of Bones”).

This series is perfect for reluctant readers and lovers of fantasy. It’s filled with mystery, clues, a tormented protagonist (middle grade style), and lots of adventure. An easier read than the Harry Potter series, this is jolly good fun in spite of any similarities.

Please note: This review is based on the final hardcover book provided by the publisher, Alfred A. Knopf, for review purposes.

‘Virals’ by Kathy Reichs


(Please note: This is a reprint of an earlier review — this series is ongoing)

Rating: 4 stars

Virals by Kathy Reichs is the start of a series about a group of teenagers living in South Carolina who are exposed to an artifical virus which causes their bodies to mutate. They end up having dog-like abilities some of the time. Having powerful eyesight and a super-strong sense of smell aids them in their investigation of a set of dog tags found on a semi-deserted island.

Dog tags seem innocent enough, but what the teens find leads into a deadly¬†adventure–and the threat comes not just from the engineered virus they are exposed to but also from mysterious killers who don’t want certain secrets unearthed.

Tory Brennan, whose aunt is the world-famous forensic anthropologist Tempe Brennan, is super smart. Her three friends are not far behind in the smarts department. They attend a prestigous private school courtesy of the university where their parents are employed. Living together on an island and being the “outcasts” at the posh private school helps them form a friendship which gets forged into an iron bond as the adventure progresses.

In addition to the four teenagers, the characters include an adorable puppy, a semi-wolf pack, a Jewish mother (there is some truly hilarious dialogue that comes out of her mouth), a clueless father, and the usual villans: rich ones, professorial ones, and even young ones.

Of course, readers’ credulity might be strained at some of the stunts, but it all works into a great mystery as the reader tries to work with the clues and figure out the who-done-it.

As it turns out, there are more than one “who-done-its.” The twists and turns are clever and keep the reader engrossed and wanting to find out what waits around the next bend.

The descriptions of Charlotte, SC, are plentiful and worthy of a travelogue. It sounds like a lovely place to visit–especially if you aren’t getting chased and shot at.

Readers of the adult series about Temperance Brennan will enjoy this YA book just as readers of this book will no doubt look into the adult series. Perhaps neice and aunt will meet in a yet-to-be written book. Visit the author’s website for more information about her appearances and other titles.

Disclaimer: This review is based on the final hardcover copy provided by the publisher for review purposes.