‘Chomp’ by Carl Hiaasen brings another Florida masterpiece to life


Rating: 5 stars

‘Chomp’ by Carl Hiaasen is another tale of life in the swamps of Southern Florida, where the alligators and cottonmouth snakes roam.

As usual, the range of characters is astounding. There is Wahoo, the protagonist and the son of an “animal wrangler” whose thumb was chewed off by Alice, the alligator (it was totally his fault, he insists). His mother is fairly normal, but she is in China for most of the book working as a language teacher to make the money to pay off their past-due mortgage. His father is another great study in character traits — animal-loving, unique, down-to-earth, and as stubborn as they get.

Wahoo is smart (except for the incident with the thumb), and he takes a job where the payoff will be enough to cover the overdue mortgage payments. What he didn’t count on was a crazy leading man, Derek Badger, from the show “Expedition Survival!” who decides that he’s going to do all the stunts himself with real animals.

Wahoo also doesn’t plan on picking up a classmate with an abusive father. Her father follows them to bring back his runaway daugher, and he bring not only his booze, but his gun, with him.

What ensues is the kind of hilarity at which Hiaasen excels. Reminscent of his adult books, ‘Chomp’ is full of fun, thrills and laughs.

This is a book that would be a great read-aloud for students from fifth grade through eighth grade. There is plenty of room for practicing all the great reading strategies, from prediction to character study, from summarization to using imagery to picture scenes. It’s also a great study in the Everglades ecosystem and the wildlife that lives there.

Definitely visit his website for kids. Hiaasen is a champion of Florida’s natural environment and there are links to wildlife groups and environmental groups.

Please note: This review is based on the advance reader’s copy provided by the publisher, Knopf Books for Young Readers, for review purposes.

Dog, Inc. by John Woestendiek


Rating: 4 1/2 stars

Dog, Inc. (The Uncanny Inside Story of Cloning Man’s Best Friend) by John Woestendiek tells the story of cloning from before it was called cloning. He covers the people, the scientists, the countries and the history in a smooth narrative style that is easy to read and understand.

Although John truly is a dog lover (visit his blog and read about his travels with Ace, his adopted mixed-breed companion), he manages to write the book dispassionately–without any hint of emotional distaste when describing the Korean habit of eating dogs (although they usually just eat the mixed breed dogs and keep the purebreds as pets).

There is little judgment in the book, just fact after interesting fact. One fact in particular I found interesting was how the Koreans were so successful at cloning dogs. In the United States the cloning of dogs was difficult because of the number of dogs it took to harvest the eggs from and use as surrogate mothers. The researchers, in their efforts to placate possible animal rights protests, took care to treat the dogs well and, when their services were no longer needed, find homes for them.

The Koreans, on the other hand, had a plethora of dogs from the farms where dogs were raised for meat. They were able to use as many dogs as needed for the egg harvesting, and there was no need to make sure the dogs were well treated–after all, they were simply animals raised as food. A picture included in the book that struck me as especially heartbreaking is of a cage of lovely, large golden dogs who look like Golden retreiver mixes. The caption reads, “Dogs waiting to be bought and butchered at Moran Market…Easy access to dogs, and few restrictions on their experimental use, helped South Korea corner the market on dog cloning.

And although one might think that cloning a beloved dog is a pasttime for the wealthy, the book also describes some not-so-wealthy individuals whose dogs were cloned. The human characters range from downright strange to extraordinarily brilliant. And the clones? Not as much like the originals as the uninitiated might think. The book emphasizes the scientific cloning wisdom: exactly the same DNA does not ensure exactly the same resulting animal.

Even indentical twins, who share the same DNA, are not identical in all aspects even when they are raised in the same home by the same parents. Clones, on the other hand, are raised in different circumstances, and that fact can make a huge difference. Just ask one Ralph Fisher, whose cloned bull, Second Chance, attacked him. The book has a plethora of stories about various cloned animals–all well researched.

Dog, Inc. will interest dog lovers and science enthusiasts. It’s also a book that will be passed on to friends.

John Woestendiek writes the blog ohmidog! , where he communicates stories with similar good humor and keen perception. Here is an excerpt from one entry:

“I’ve written my name in books before — but always as a reminder to other people to keep their grubby paws off of them, or at least return them when they’re done.

But yesterday was a first: I signed my own book — own, as in the one I wrote.

…I won’t compare the excitement of tearing open that cardboard box to seeing your baby arrive — that would be wrong — but there are some similarities, the main ones being, “Wow, that came out of me?” and the realization that all the labor pains were worth it after all.

The book is about the cloning of dogs — how, and why, it came to be achieved, and the colorful characters involved: from the Arizona billionaire who funded the initial research; to the scientists who produced Snuppy, the first canine clone, in South Korea; to those who marketed the service (even before the first dog was cloned); to those who bought it, the bereaved pet owners seeking replicas of dogs dead or near death.”

Buy Dog, Inc. Get it for yourself or a dog-loving friend. It will not only enlighten you, it’s a great topic for conversation at parties. Best of all, it will make you think about cloning in a new light. And cloning is not going away.


Animals That Changed The World is full of interesting facts for all ages


Rating: 5 stars

Animals that Changed The World, by Keltie Thomas, is a study in contrasts. Among the twenty or so animals featured in the nonfiction book are those that have helped mankind and those that (to this date) pose a threat to us (some microbes).

From the book:

Did you know that goats may have been the first to discover coffee? Or that, long before texting, pigeons were the fastest way to send messages? And that dolphins work as underwater detectives for the U. S. Navy?

Find out the surprising ways that animals–from dogs to dolphins, sheep to silkworms–have changed the course of history.

Just one of the many fascinating theories in the book is that the herding of goats not only enabled man to stop roaming and settle down, but the goats changed the topography of Africa and even the world’s climate. Interesting ideas like that are why adults as well as middle aged readers will love this beautifully illustrated, well-organized book.

The book makes no judgment about how mankind uses animals which may disappoint animal lovers. For example, that elephants work and are used in circuses is discussed. The book states, “In circuses and zoos, elephants kill more handlers and keepers than any other animal.” However, the book does not discuss the idea that it may be that elephants are not suited to captivity and may be mistreated by circus handlers to perform unnatural tricks.

The book is a natural for classrooms studying animals. Because of the simple writing style, lovely pictures and drawings, and careful organization, the book would be suitable for any student reading at the grade  level equivalent of fourth grade. The neutrality of the book may make for interesting discussions by the classroom teacher if the book is used in a school setting.

The author, Keltie Thomas, is no stranger to nonfiction for children. She is a former editor of Owl magazine and has authored several non-fiction books for children. She has been nominated for the Silver Birch Award by the Ontario Library Association five times. The book is published by Annick Press in Canada.

This book is available for preorder. The book will be available in September of 2010.

This book would make a great gift and is a must for a school library.

Interview with Spencer Quinn author of the ‘Chet and Bernie’ series

spencer quinn

courtesy of Diana Gray

Rating: 5 stars

Spencer Quinn, aka Peter Abrahams, is the author of the popular (and New York Times bestselling) “Chet and Bernie” series about a private detective dog-and-human team.

Told from Chet’s point of view (the dog), the narrative tends to get cleverly interrupted by such things as wonderful aromas, fire hydrants, other dogs, and, of course, rawhide bones. The muse behind the idea to write about a doggie detective? Abrahams’ wife, of course.

In town to sign copies of his newest release, “A Fistful of Collars,” which had just made the New York Times bestselling list, Abrahams agreed to an interview. He is charming and modest. He hates to brag and he loves his family.

What inspired him to write about a detective and a dog?

Abrahams said, “At dinner one night, my wife said I should do something about dogs.” Although he had included dogs in his other stories, he knew right away that he wanted the dog to tell the story in first person. But he didn’t want a talking dog.

That night, he jumped right in. He wrote the first page of “Dog On It.” It was easy in a sense, he said, because he’s had dogs his whole life and he loves dogs. Diana, his wife and the inspiration behind the Chet and Bernie series, reads all his work-in-progress.

Throughout the series, there have been ongoing plots and one of the most fascinating at the end of the most recent book, “A Fistful of Collars,” is whether the puppy seen in the neighborhood is really Chet’s progeny. And who might the mother be?

Abrahams did say that more information will be included in the next book, which takes place in New Orleans. Of course, with bayou country all around, a new character is Iko, the alligator. Also, in the sixth book, the real location of the series finally is pinpointed.

Abrahams’ editor bestowed a working title on the next book, “A Dog House Named Desire.” Quinn fans will be “desiring” the next book soon. The series is like potato chips — you can’t have just one.

Adults who enjoy Chet and Bernie might want to introduce the next generation to Abraham’s books. “The Outlaws of Sherwood Street” is a great adventure series. The first one is titled “Stealing from the Rich,” and the next book in the series, (predictably) “Giving to the Poor,” will be coming out next May.


‘Big Girl Panties’ by Stephanie Evanovich


Rating: 4 stars

In “Big Girl Panties,” Stephanie Evanovich will endear herself to the millions of women who are not happy with their bodies (and studies show that’s 75% of women — lots of future readers).

This story raises an interesting question: Can a man who is a perfect specimen — handsome, wealthy and confident — fall for a woman, Holly, who is overweight and insecure? And to make the question more intriguing — imagine that, because of her body type, this woman will never be svelte and model-like.

The characters are well-drawn. Many of Holly’s insecurities will have women who carry some extra weight (or have ever carried some extra weight) nodding their heads as Holly tries to fit (squish) into her tiny airline seat.

In Evanonich’s effort to give Holly excuses for gaining a lot of weight, she throws a few too many challenges into her past. Losing a husband, having an unloving, detached family, and being something of a social misfit (a loner), all detract a bit from the essence of the story.

Also detracting slightly from the romance between Holly and Logan, a personal trainer to the stars, are the secondary characters of Amanda and Chase. They have a “nasty” secret — that Chase has a hankering to spank women and Amanda, his wife, doesn’t mind.

Now that Chase and Amanda are married, he confines his spanking to her — but the subject is explored in a way that might make some readers uncomfortable. At one point, “He peppered her bottom with firm, well-placed swats, indicating he meant business.”

Amanda’s generous curves don’t seem to detract at all from her beauty. Yet while Logan thinks Amanda is beautiful, Holly’s rather over-generous curves don’t elicit the same response.

In spite of its flaws, the story is charming and humorous, and many will enjoy the not-very-surprising ending. Love trumps all — and that’s why women read romances.

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

Dog On It and Thereby Hangs a Tail are two clever, suspenseful and just fun books to read


Rating: 5 stars

“Dog On It,” the first book in the series by Spencer Quinn, introduces Bernie, a somewhat down-on-his luck private investigator, whose assistant is the able canine Chet. Chet, who flunked K-9 school (for reasons he alludes to in the book), narrates the tale.

A teenager has disappeared, and Bernie suspects the father is involved. Together, they solve the disappearance with both PIs using their individual talents. For example, while Chet is not good at reading maps, as he explains, his nose is far superior to any map.

Bernie is a likable character whose concern for the environment becomes a running gag because Chet doesn’t quite understand what an aquifer is.

The plot has enough twists and turns to keep you turning the pages, the characters are well-written, the mystery is appropriately mysterious–what more could you ask? An adorable dog? Good writing? Included at no extra charge.
As Jessica Moyer of Booklist Online writes: The always upbeat Chet may well be one of the most appealing new detectives on the block, but conscientious, kind, and environmentally aware Bernie is a close runner-up. Essential for all mystery collections and for dog lovers everywhere.
“Thereby Hangs A Tail,” the sequel, continues with the crime busting duo. Publishers Weekly said, Quinn manages to keep things both humorous and suspenseful… a proper, satisfying whodunit.

Check out the video on facebook for the release of Dog On It in Germany. Or you can visit the official blog of Chet the Dog. It’s all fun.


‘Powerless’ by Matthew Cody is a great middle grade action adventure


Rating: 5 stars

“Powerless” by Matthew Cody is an easy book to overlook. Superheroes — been done before, especially for middle grade readers. But to overlook this little gem would be a mistake. Cody really takes what is not a novel idea and makes it his own.

Perhaps what makes the story so compelling to read is that the main character, Daniel, has no superpowers. He moves to a town where many of the kids his age (twelve) have really cool powers. Some can fly. Others are really strong. Some of the kids are good, but there are a couple who are really, really bad.

Daniel loves mysteries, and the situation surrounding the super-powered kids is shrouded in mystery. Who created the rules that they follow? Where did the powers come from? Why do the kids disappear when they turn thirteen? And most of all, how will Daniel cope with being ordinary when his friends have such amazing abilities?

There are twists and turns in this mystery-cum-action story and the ending will leave the reader anxious to get hold of the next book in the series, “Super.”

Please note: This review is based on the final paperback book provided by the publisher, Random House Children’s Books, for review purposes.

‘R is for Rocket: An ABC Book’ by Tad Hills


Rating: 4 stars

“R is for Rocket” is an alphabet book by Tad Hills featuring his familiar characters like Rocket the dog, Bella the squirrel and more. It will make for enjoyable reading for everyone from parents to teachers to kids. The illustrations are bright and colorful and the characters, while simply drawn, have emotions clearly drawn on their faces.

The script is clever. There is not just one word that starts with the letter of the alphabet on that page — Hills creates sentences with alliteration. Not only will this make it fun to read the book, kids will have fun pointing out all the “h’s” in the sentence, “Rocket finds a hat on a hill and puts it on his head. It makes him happy.” In the book, all the “h’s” are typed in boldface.

When “Bella plays in the ivy. It’s not a good idea. It makes her itch.” And so on. All clever. All with adorable animal characters in every creative scene. This would be perfect for a gift for a child from newborn to first grade. Kids will love reading it over and over and over.

Please note: This review is based on the hardcover picture book provided by the publisher, Schwartz & Wade Books, for review purposes.

The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson is a tense YA thriller

name of starRating: 5 stars

(Please note: This is a reprint — important because this series is still ongoing!)

“The Name of the Star” by Maureen Johnson is about a high school girl from Louisiana going to school in London because her parents, college professors, go there to teach for a year.

The publisher’s information says that Rory, the American in London, arrives just as a Jack the Ripper-like murder takes place. “Soon Rippermania takes hold of modern-day London, and the police are left with few leads and no witnesses. Except one. Rory spotted the man police believe to be the prime suspect. But she is the only one who saw him.

Although I like Johnson’s writing, this subject just did not strike me as interesting. The laugh was on me when I started the book and literally could not put it down. There are many factors that make this a truly good read.

The main character, Rory, is a very likable person. She’s real, down-to-earth, and just nice. Any American reading the book will feel like the tourist, Rory, sipping tea, looking at the architecture, visiting pubs, and just soaking in the English atmosphere. It’s a vicarious way to visit London.

When the spooky part starts, it begins low key and builds. But it really builds nicely to a point where one keeps turning the pages in a frenzy to find out what happens next. The blood, the danger, the spookily evil killer all combine in this don’t-read-it-alone-at-night story.

This is a book that will be enjoyed by both young adult readers and adult readers. It’s so many things: a detective story, a ghost story, a thriller, a travelogue, a good read.

For a novel that’s the first of a series, it has a wonderfully satisfying ending. There is a great twist right at the end which makes the ending not a final ending at all, but perhaps almost a beginning. But the reader is sated, happy to wait for the next step in the adventure — the second book — to be released.

The adventure continues!

This book was reviewed from a final hardcover version provided by the publisher for review purposes.

‘Because of Shoe and Other Dog Stories’: Dog lovers of all ages will enjoy it

because of show

Rating: 5 stars

“Because of Shoe and Other Dog Stories” edited by Ann M. Martin is a compilation of stories that are all, obviously, about dogs. The forward, appropriately, is by Martin’s dog, Sadie.

Sadie states, “Between the covers of this book you’ll read about funny dogs, adventurous dogs, brave dogs, smart dogs, and dogs who perform rescues.” What Sadie doesn’t say is that some of the stories will bring a tear to your eye. Some of the stories will make you smile. And all of the stories will be stories you want to share with others.

Classroom teachers, listen up. There’s nothing kids like more than dogs and stories about dogs. The stories are not as short as those in Cynthia Rylant’s fabulous book, “Every Living Thing,” but each of them brings to life kids’ short attention spans, their sense of humor, and their ability to overlook differences when united to help a dog.

“Because of Shoe,” the title story, is actually the second story in the book. It’s a charming story of a young girl in court recounting a long, humorous story about her dog named Shoe. She rambles on, charming the judge and the spectators, in spite of the judge’s tight schedule. The reader doesn’t find out until almost the end why she is in court. It works — really well.

There are many themes that emerge in these stories. Dog fighting, racism, adoption, not fitting in, and feeling alone are all relevant issues that teachers can use to prompt classroom discussions.

Check out Ann Martin’s page at Scholastic or visit her on Facebook.

Please note: This book is based on the advanced reader’s edition provided by the publisher, Henry Holt, for review purposes.