‘A Guard Dog Named Honey’ by Denise Gosliner Orenstein is a sweet summer story of determination, friendship, and a big slobbery dog

guard dog honey

I started the middle grade story “A Guard Dog Named Honey” by Denise Gosliner Orenstein predisposed to dislike it. I don’t usually approach books with that attitude, of course, but this one is about a girl who wants to sell a dog for profit in order to raise the bail money to get her brother out of jail. I’m all about the dogs, and if her brother was in jail, I reasoned, no dog should suffer because of his stupidity.

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‘The K Team’: New from David Rosenfelt

k team

David Rosenfelt’s latest novel marks the beginning of a new series. After twenty Andy Carpenter books, we again meet newly designated hero Corey Douglas and his K9 partner Simon. Both had been introduced in the previous Andy Carpenter entry, “Dachshund Through the Snow.” And, Andy fans, fear not. Corey is just as funny, just as smart, just as charmingly naughty as Andy. Rosenfelt, here in “The K Team,” again demonstrates his prodigious talent for creating a main character whom you will love and laugh with, and who is very good at solving complex and confusing crimes that mere mortals like you and me are entirely incapable of de-puzzling.

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‘Devoted’ by Dean Koontz brings back — in spirit — a genius dog from decades ago.

devoted

The Dean Koontz book that got me hooked on him was “The Watchers,” and the dog in that book, a brilliant golden retriever, thoroughly enchanted me. In “Devoted,” Koontz creates a dog, and then a network of dogs who — maybe, he hints — descend from that highly intelligent dog. And Kipp, the loyal golden, is the kind of dog every dog lover dreams of having — a dog who understands us completely and can communicate with us freely. Continue reading

‘Race the Sands’ by Sarah Beth Durst is an amazing accomplishment – her best work that uses a fantasy world to teach us about our own

race the sands

“Race the Sands” is Sarah Beth Durst’s 20th published book, and maybe her best book yet. It’s a lovely fantasy in which women prove their strength not physically, but through mental exertions. The two main characters, Tamra and Raia, each have escaped a tortured childhood in the desert kingdom of Becar. They each end up working with kehoks, monsters who are born with the souls of depraved humans who didn’t deserve to come back in a human or animal body. Once reborn as a kehok, they are destined to be reborn as kehoks forevermore. It’s eternal damnation, and kehoks are monsters.

These monsters don’t respond to love or kindness. They want to kill and maim and destroy everything because of their monstrosity. Tamra, a former elite kehok rider, is desperate to find a kehok to train and a rider to race the kehok in Becar’s national races and win. It’s the only way she will be able to continue paying her daughter’s tuition at the school for augurs. Augurs are elite citizens, and the only ones who can read your soul (aura), who can tell you what you will be in the next life. It’s all about life, death, and rebirth. And the augurs control it all in Becar, where the emperor has died and his younger brother, Dal, cannot be coronated until his brother’s soul has been located in its new vessel and protected. But the augurs cannot find Zarin, his brother, in whatever new body he was reborn into, and time is running out. The neighboring country is amassing troops to invade, and important decisions cannot be made until there is a ruler.

Raia is running from unloving parents and an unwanted engagement to a man who killed his first wife. She is determined to make her way in the world, and if she can ride a kehok and succeed, so be it. What no one expects is how the newborn kehok Tamra buys, an apparently unmanageable killer, reacts to Raia, and what happens when they begin to race together.

The trainer, Tamra, is an unusual main character. She is not beautiful, but rather scarred and determined. She is a wonderful mother, but she is far from perfect. What she does have is an inner kindness and humanity. While other kehok trainers beat and starve their animals into submission, Tamra controls them with her mind, while treating the kehoks humanely. She is so powerful she can control several kehoks using just her thoughts. Strong women in this book show the men in it that physical strength isn’t always most important.

Durst forces us to question the status quo about religion and government. She opens our eyes about the nature of power and the corrupting forces that power and money can bring. She makes readers realize that no one is better than anyone else because of their position or their title. And that those who would preserve their power at the expense of the freedom of others are monsters.

While kehoks are monsters, they are straightforward monsters. You know by looking at them that they are monsters. Human monsters are a different animal. They walk among us, look like us, and often have power over us, but under their human disguise, they are as ugly and venal as any kehok.

“Race the Sands” will grab you and not let go. While the first few chapters take a slower pace because Durst is building the background and the world of Becar, the pace picks up to the point that this becomes a book you can’t put down, a book that you will savor at the same time you are feverishly turning the pages to find out how it all ends. I actually reread it immediately, looking for and enjoying my favorite parts. The characters and their world will linger in your mind long after the last page has been turned. It’s a perfect book — powerful, thoughtful, heartbreaking, and impactful.

Review first posted at Bookreporter.com.

Please note: This review is based on the advance reader’s copy provided by the author for review purposes.

‘The NOT Bad Animals’ by Sophie Corrigan is the perfect book for an online lesson in critical thinking

not bad animals

It’s stay-at-home time in Illinois with COVID 19 everywhere. We left school on a Thursday afternoon expecting to return on Friday. But after an emergency school board meeting, our superintendent (rightly) decided to close school that night. School as usual was cancelled, and we have not been allowed to go back.

For me, it’s presenting a problem because all of my treasured personal picture books, a collection built up over years of reviewing superb books, are in my classroom. But a few new picture books have arrived in the mail, and one, in particular, is going to make for an excellent lesson with my first and second (and maybe third) grade students. Continue reading

‘Something She’s Not Telling Us’ by Darcey Bell; a novel set of liars

not tellingus

In “Something She’s Not Telling Us,” author Darcey Bell makes it pretty clear that there are some unreliable narrators telling the story. The main character, Charlotte, appears to have a perfect life. Her husband has made enough money that now he can pursue his passion, theater, and she owns a group of flower shops and gets to spend her days among the beautiful blossoms and heavenly scents of exotic blooms. They have a beautiful daughter, Daisy, and while she does suffer from asthma, it’s under control with her inhaler. So Charlotte and Eli, her husband, are as happy as can be. Continue reading

Five nonfiction picture books about animals that are perfect to welcome Spring

Spring is here and it’s time to enjoy the outdoors — while safely keeping social distance, of course. And for those shut inside on rainy, gloomy days, what could be more enjoyable than reading about animals in nature while at the same time learning fascinating and important facts about the world around us? These five picture books are perfect for reading and will become favorites at bedtime. Continue reading

‘What I Lick Before Your Face and other haikus by dogs’ by Jamie Coleman

what i lick

Dog lovers will be charmed and amused by this little literary gem, with an adorable photo of a dog licking its face on the cover, and more adorable photos of dogs on every page. From pit bulls to pugs, the faces of the dogs and the haikus on each dog’s page are carefully selected for maximum effect. The lovely white poodle with the fancy lion haircut adorns a haiku that reads:

‘Names
Within me there lies
The blood of a million wolves
You named me “Fluffy”‘

Some haikus are so clever and ambiguous, only dog parents will know what they are really referring to. “Lunch, no longer lunch/ Pooling in autumn sunshine/ Becomes again lunch”

There’s many references to poop and balls. The toilet might also be mentioned a few times. After all, it’s a dog who “wrote” these poems. Right? But there are also references to the companionship and love we have for our dogs and they have for us. But mostly, it’s humor. With some poignant exceptions like on poem titled “Going to Live on the Farm:” “Guys, there is no farm/ I wish there was, but there is/ Only nothingness” Heartbreaking haiku.

What makes these poems so enjoyable and so relatable is that they really do seem to express the feelings of our dogs. Loving, resigned, stoic, even disgusting at times, in all ways like our four-legged (usually) best friends.

And to answer the title question? It’s what remains after the surgery to neuter one’s dog, only expressed in rather less technical language.

First posted on Bookreporter.com.

 

‘The True Story of Zippy Chippy: The Little Horse That Couldn’t’ is a refreshing tale for our times

zippy chippy

“The True Story of Zippy Chippy: The Little Horse that Couldn’t” is by Artie Bennett and Dave Szalay. This clever picture book is the result of a small newspaper article that Bennett read about a race horse whose only win was for the most number of races lost. Zippy Chippy ran 100 races and lost every one! Ironically, Zippy Chippy makes more money now, as the biggest loser, than he ever did racing. Continue reading

‘Olympig’ by Victoria Jamieson is a fabulous picture book with an important lesson

olympig

“Olympig!” by Victoria Jamieson is the story of Boomer the pig. It’s also a story of determination and desire. And hard work and practice. And it’s a story about reality.

Boomer is determined to win at the Animal Olympic Games. When the newsman, Mr. Hamstring, interviews Boomer, he asks, “The other animals in the Olympics will be faster and stronger than you. Tell me, Boomer, how can you possibly win a gold medal tomorrow?” Continue reading