Race, Peggy. Desiree: the Music of My Soul. Texas: Black Rose Writing, 2021.
Reason read: as a member of LibraryThing I review books for the Early Review program. This is the August 2021 selection.
There is no doubt in my mind Peggy Race has had her share of heartbreak. This is how one dog was able to mend her heart and put her on a path of purpose. Losing her second husband of only nine months to a freakish accident, Peggy was lost. Dogs became her lifeline. One dog in particular became her saving grace.
Confessional: this took me a really long time to read. The language is extremely flowery, for lack of a better way to describe it. The overuse of the word “as” became obsessively distracting. I became acutely aware of every time it was used as an adverb, conjunction, or preposition. It just seemed to be everywhere. Additionally, every sentence with “ing” as a suffix was equally distracting. There seem to be a formula to Race’s writing because “like” imagery was everywhere: “Like a film reel…” “Like the waters of Katrina…” “Like a blank chalkboard…” “Like a soundtrack of songs…” “Like a fresh coat of paint…” I could go on and on. I loved the story. I loved Peggy’s devotion to puppy mill dogs and her volunteerism brought me to tears at times. I just couldn’t synch with her writing style.
As an aside, I am addicted to a voyeuristic show called “Murder, Suicide, Accident.” Each episode is dedicated to a person’s questionable death. There is a certain formula to the show. Someone finds the body and from all outward appearances it looks like either a suicide or an accident. Enter the medical examiner, pathologist, and autopsy reports. Suggestable evidence points to something quite different happened. Experts agree something isn’t sitting well with the evidence. At the same time loved ones are interviewed and their words support a particular slant – “She was depressed and mentioned suicide to me.” “They were fighting a lot right before he died. She threatened to leave. The cops were called a few times.” “She was always getting hurt and was very accident prone.” The viewer starts to make judgements on the nature of death until there is a killer’s confession, suicide note, or irrefutable evidence pointing to an accident. Terry’s death could be featured on this show. Family would argue Terry was an expert rider. Would he work in a closed garage with a motorcycle running? Would he intentionally kill himself leaving his worldly belongings to an ex-girlfriend only nine months after marrying Peggy? Both of these actions seen short-sighted and slightly daft.
Playlist: “Thank God for Kids,” “God Bless the USA,” “I will Remember You,” “Have You Ever Been in Love,” “My Way” by Frank Sinatra.
Author fact: Race has written other books about rescuing dogs.
Book trivia: there were no photographs in my copy of Desiree.
Line I hope is kept in the final publishing, “Plowing through the uncultivated boundaries of my heart, I managed the feelings that came with loss” (p 6). That is what you do, isn’t it? You keep charging through unrefined emotions, just trying to keep your sh!t together.
Robertson, Keith. The Dog Next Door. New York: Viking Press, 1950.
Reason read: April is National Dog Month. For the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge I needed a book with an animals in the title.
Thirteen year old Hal has wanted a dog all of his life. His neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. Perkins, have never wanted a dog in their lives. Ever. Unfortunately, Mrs. Aylesworth, boxer breeder and sister to Mrs. Perkins, unceremoniously sends the Perkins a beautiful dog named Beau as a gift. So begins a dilemma with a seemingly easy fix: the Perkins should give Hal the dog. Right? Only, Hal’s parents think a dog would be too much responsibility for Hal and the Perkins, knowing Beau is a pure bred, think he could be sold for a lot of money (once they get over the guilt of selling a gift). Stalemate. As a consolation prize, Hal’s parents tell him he can build a treehouse in the back yard complete with a telescope. With the help of elderly boat builder and friend, Mr. Seward, Hal not only builds a shipshape treehouse, he develops a keen sense of responsibility. He watches helplessly as Beau, the new canine about town, is blamed for dog fights and attacks on community members. Beau is getting the reputation of being a vicious dog. Hal needs to set the record straight, but how?
The Dog Next Door was beautifully yet sparsely illustrated by Morgan Dennis. I wish there had been more illustrations.
Author fact: Robertson has written other books, but The Dog Next Door is the only one I am reading for the Book Lust Challenge.
Book trivia: This was a hard book to find. Not many libraries had it on their shelves. As an aside, my edition (published in 1950) had seen better days. It had pen marks, rips and holes.
Nancy said: Pearl mentioned The Dog Next Door when reminiscing about the books she used to read as a child. I have to admit, it was cool to hold a book old enough that my dad could have read the same copy. He would have been twelve years old and definitely interested in reading about a boy who longed for a boat and a dog of his own.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Great Dogs in Fiction” (p 104). Both Keith and the title of his book were left out of the index.
Arthur, Elizabeth. Binding Spell. New York: Doubleday, 1988.
Binding Spell is another one of those stories where you feel like you have been lifted out of your little life and plopped down in the middle of someone else’s. A lot of someone elses, really. Felicity, Indiana is a community full of interesting characters and Binding Spell has the occasional long rambling commentary on religion and the nuclear arms threat, especially when the Russians come to town. Let me back up. Meet the community of Felicity: Ryland Guthrie is a hypochondriac furniture salesman. His brother Peale has been the county sheriff for all of five months. Ryland was married to April (divorced five years) and they have a son, Clayton. Peale married Amanda but sometimes forgets she’s his wife. Bailey and Howell Bourne are brother and sister. They lost their parents in a car accident. Bailey is twenty years old and a witch in training and Howell is married to Charlene. Ada Esterhaczy is Hungarian and a self proclaimed witch. Maggie, a counselor at Powell College, is her granddaughter. She also dabbles in witchcraft. Billy Bob Watson is the maintenance man at Powell. He likes to try to run over students with his tractor. Mitch Ketchum is a down and out desperate farmer in danger of losing his farm. Murrary Anderson artificially inseminates horses and has just been dumped by his girlfriend, Rosie. Dr. Richard Minot is a professor at Howell and has the hots for Maggie. Ryland starts dating Maggie. Peale has a thing for Bailey. Ada just wants her dog to mate with Ryland’s so that she can breed puppies. Then there are is the weather. Did you get all of that? Now enter the two Russians, come to visit Powell College. Howell, Billy Bob and Mitch hatch a plan to kidnap the Russians in order to save their farms. Thinking Ada will hate the Russians due to her Hungarian heritage they bring the captives to her farm. Only Ada is too busy cooking up love potions to bind certain couples (human and animal)…and that’s when things go a little crazy.
Lines I liked, “She was less trouble than her pet cat” (p 39) and “Now, as the pain – which might, admittedly, have been caused by that ice water he had drunk down so rapidly, with some ice shards inadvertently included – poked him tenderly in the side, he could not decide whether it was pancreatic cancer or Maggie’s being late” (p 217).
Reason read: April is National Dog Month
Author fact: Arthur wrote a memoir, Island Sojourn that is not on my list.
Book trivia: Binding Spell is Arthur’s third novel but the only one I’m reading for the Challenge.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Great Dogs in Fiction” (p 105). Chance is my favorite of the dogs.
Conant, Susan. Bloodlines. New York: A Perfect Crime Book, 1992.
This is one of those quick reads that you almost feel like reading over again because it goes by so fast. Holly Winter is a writer who has a column about dogs. In her spare time she trains, shows and is obsessed with Alaskan malamutes. Be prepared for overkill. Holly is extremely passionate about dogs of all kinds and loathes puppy mills. When she discovers a malamute for sale at a pet shop she just knows the dog came from a puppy mill. Only going to investigate the malamute, Holly gets caught up in a mystery when the owner of the pet shop is brutally murdered and the malamute goes missing. Holly is straight out of Murder, She Wrote as she tackles solving the crime by tangling with tough guys and other shady characters.
Confessional: I get snagged by repetitiveness. If something occurs too often *in any situation and not just books* it sticks out like a throbbing thumb to me. In this case, Holly Winter’s condescending tone when she is explaining something. Here’s what I mean. These are direct quotes from the book:
- “You know her? If you don’t know what I knew…”
- “Maybe you don’t know the breed.”
- “You may not realize.”
- “Maybe you’ll understand. If not I’d better explain.”
- “Doesn’t everyone know this? Maybe not.”
- “In case you didn’t know…”
- “If you know anything about obedience…”
- “In case you’ve spent the last two years exiled…let me explain.”
- “Before I tell you…I want to make sure that, in case you are a newcomer, you understand something…”
- “In case you aren’t a specialist in AKC regulations, let me explain.”
- “You probably don’t need a translation but just in case…”
- “You do know about that, don’t you?”
- “You do know how to read a pedigree, don’t you?”
- “Stranger around here?”
- “You know what a palindrome is, don’t you?”
- “Have I lost you?”
- “…in case I’ve lost you…”
- “You know what an Elkhound is?”
And the list goes on and on. It happens enough times that it sticks out to me. The more it sticks out, the more I am aware of it…and it drives me crazy.
Reason read: Dog Day is August 26th.
Author fact: Conant won the Maxwell Award for Fiction Writing in 1991. By the titles of her books you can tell she is a huge dog lover.
Book trivia: While I was bogged down by how didactic Holly could be, other people complained about how “preachy” she was about puppy mills. For some reason that was more forgivable to me. People tend to write about what they know. It’s obvious Conant has strong opinions about puppy mills so she’s going to express those opinions through Holly.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter “I Love a Mystery” (p 118).
Kumin, Maxine. Up Country: Poems of New England. New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1972.
There is no doubt Kumin knows New England and knows it well. Her poetry reflects the deep woods and country living that is so typical of life in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island. Her style of writing is plain and straightforward, without complicated phrasings or over the top descriptors. Every line is a perfect image as clear as day. Reading Kumin’s poetry is a breath of fresh air literally and figuratively. Nearly everything she writes about the reader is able to relate to if they know living in the country. For example, if you are a dog owner and your beloved pooch has ever wrestled with a skunk then you know how impossible it is to get ride of that smell. Kumin writes, after many attempts to clean her dog, “skunk is still plain as a train announcement” (p 4). Exactly.
ps~ if you want to read this, try to find the copy illustrated by Barbara Swan. Her artistry is beautiful and compliments Kumin well.
Book Trivia: Up Country won Kumin a Pulitzer for poetry in 1973.
Author Fact: Kumin has experience with New England living. She is rumored to live in New Hampshire.
BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called “Prose By Poets” (p 194). In this case this is poetry by poets.
McCaig, Donald. Nop’s Trials. New York: Warner Books, Inc., 1984.
Nop’s Trials was not what I expected. I was thinking since it was primarily about a Border Collie named Nop that it would be sweet and gentle, like the breed itself. Indeed, the story definitely has warm and tender moments – like when Nop is communicating with other friendly dogs – but there is definitely a harsher side to Nop’s Trials. If you know anything about Border Collies you know they are working dogs, used on farms to corral livestock like sheep or cattle. They are so agile and smart and quick to learn that people have created competitions to showcase their training abilities. These competitions are called “trials” and McCaig uses the word “trials” to steer the reader to this mode of thinking. In reality, Nop’s “trials” stem from the competition but are more of the “trials and tribulations” variety. Because Nop is a prize winner, always taking first place at the trials, a vicious man named Grady Gumm is hired to steal Nop from his owner, farmer Lewis Burkholder. This is to prevent Nop from ever competing again. Grady is an unscrupulous dog owner himself who keeps dogs for fight-to-the-death matches so pretty soon into the story there is a violent scene. I have to admit it shocked me. The good news is that Nop escapes Grady only to bounce from one trial to another. He encounters many walks of life, dog lovers and dog haters alike.
But Nop’s Trials isn’t just about Nop and his misadventures. It also delves into Lewis Burkholder’s life without Nop. It portrays a man as a farmer, a father and a husband as well as a dedicated dog owner who never gives up on Nop. The story examines the relationships between man and land, father and pregnant daughter, father and son-in-law, as well as husband and patient wife. Life’s lessons are masterfully played out while Nop’s fate remains a mystery.
Author Fact: McCaig lives pretty much the same way as Burkholder – on a farm in Virginia with Border Collies.
BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter obviously called “Great Dogs in Fiction” (p 105).
King, Thomas. Truth & Bright Water. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1999.
The title of this book fascinates me. Here’s why: I’m reading the book in honor of April being National Dog Month (indeed there is a dog named Soldier in the book), yet the story is about two coming-of-age Native boys. The title comes from the geography. Truth is an American town on one side of a river and Bright Water is a reserve on the Canadian side of the same river. Truth and Bright Water are sister cities, or tiny towns to be exact.
Truth & Bright Water is more about a Native teenage boy named Tecumseh than it is about the small towns of Truth and Bright Water which he calls home. Tecumseh is fifteen and life for him consists of keeping peace with his separated parents, keeping his abused cousin company, learning how to drive, trying to find a job, understanding what it means to be Indian during tourist season, unraveling the mysteries surrounding his aunt, and finding things like a baby’s skull with his dog, Soldier. While Tecumseh is an average kid his community is anything but. Truth & Bright Water opens with Tecumseh and his cousin, Lum, spying on a woman who not only empties a suitcase over a cliff, but appears to have jumped off after it. Was it suicide? Then there is Monroe Swimmer, a famous artist returned home, who lives in a church and has big plans to make said church disappear. And what of the baby’s skull found with a ribbon threaded through its eye holes?
There are several quotes that I liked. Here’s one, “…maybe ground squirrels… are just like people. some are lucky, and some aren’t. Some get to drive nice cars, and some end up by the side of the road” (p 91).
There are several scenes that I also liked. I thought the dialogue between Tecumseh and any adult was amusingly accurate. Tecumseh would ask a question and to avoid answering it the adult would ask a different question over it or simply ignore his question completely. In several instances Tecumseh and the adult are having two different conversations that only converge if the subject isn’t sensitive. Here’s an example of a conversation between Tecumseh and his mother who has been gone on vacation:
“So, how was Waterton?”
“”You need to put your sleeping bag away,” says my mother.
“Did you stay at that fancy hotel?”
“And you forgot to knock all the mud off your shoes.”
“I suppose you took the bus out to the lake” (p 203).
Tecumseh wants information about where his mother went and she is clearly ignoring the questions. Tecumseh sums it up later by saying, “Sometimes the best way to get my mother talking about a particular topic is to change the subject and then work your way back to where you wanted to be” (p 204). Classic. The whole book is full of scenes like this. I liked King’s writing so much that I’m definitely adding him as a favorite author on LibraryThing.
BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in two different chapters. First, in “American Indian Literature” (p 23) and again in “Great Dogs of Fiction” (p 104).
LibraryThing Review: The first thing I thought when I started to read this book is odd, odd, odd. For one, the first character you meet is a man named “Bone.” He’s not called Bone because he’s super skinny. Nothing obvious like that. He’s called Bone because he sucks on a chicken bone all the time. How bizarre.
The whole story just gets weirder and weirder. Elderly Effie sits out on her porch and spies on the neighborhood. She keeps a journal of everything her paranoid self sees. Her neighbors come and go around her, all of them quirky, too. I found the development of each character too shallow to muster up any real feelings for them. In fact, there are so many characters and their development so shallow I had trouble keeping them straight. In all, there are over 18 different characters and each get barely a paragraph at one time. If anyone, I liked Carl the best. In an effort to impress a woman he builds a boat…from inside his house – using the insides of his house. And. And, I liked Himself, the dog. Himself is the star of the story, but you wouldn’t know right away.
Here are a couple of funny/good quotes:
“‘You know what’s wrong with you, Mrs. Haygood? You’ve got opticum rectitus, a growth connecting the optic nerve to the rectum, producing a continual sh!tty outlook,’ Mr. Haygood said. He was oiling a gear on a blue tin tank” (p 34).
“10:57 Strong marijuana odor from That Big Indian’s. I think one of his bathtubs is creeping over my property line” (p 37). Obviously, this is from Effie’s journal. She’s the funniest one in the book. Her paranoia is great.
BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter “Great Dogs in Fiction” (p 105). Himself is a great dog but he was barely in it.
Written in 1951 this book has classic charm. It’s written for kids – gradeschool age – but not a bad read for adults either. It’s the story of Jared Pye (Jerry) and his dog, Ginger. It opens with Jerry needing to earn a dollar to buy a puppy. His sister Rachel helps him and before long they have the smartest puppy on the block. It’s not long before Ginger’s talents as the smartest puppy are notice by some unsavory types and he disappears. Of course, being a book for kids it all ends well, but I won’t spoil it for you.
What I loved about the book was the complexity of the story. Ginger disappears in chapter 7 and the mystery remains unsolved until the last chapter of the book. Ginger is missing for six months. In a child’s mind that is a long time. Seven chapters are filled with how the children search and seach for Ginger, but it’s also about how they carry on without him. There are interesting things that happen outside of the main plot.
I didn’t find any quotes that really grabbed me, but I did promise myself to look up mite boxes to see what they really looked like.
BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust in two different chapters: “Best for Boys and Girls (p 21) and “Libraries and Librarians” (p 138). In this last chapter Ginger Pye is mentioned as an aside. Pearl is really drawing attention to Estes’s other book, The Moffats.
Teale, Edwin Way. Autumn Across America. New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1965.
I’m sure hundreds of books about traveling across the country have been written (I’m thinking specifically of Steinbeck’s Travels With Charley among others), but this is one of my favorites. It is a great combination of science and ecology, history and socialism with personal antidotes sprinkled throughout: a story of a deaf, mute man who lost his dog; the antics of sea otters playing in the surf; pages from John Muir’s diary and lines from Emerson’s poetry, to name a few. You can tell that Teale loves the land and everything above, around, on and in it. He has stories about birds and butterflies, deer and dogs, trees and turtles, flowers and faces. He introduces you to wonderful people, interesting facts. My favorite part, which I read outloud to kisa, involved scaring a pond load of birds only to have them all react in precisely the same way. Not one bird reacted more than another. They all did the exact same thing at the exact same time. I found that so fascinating.
My favorite line, by far, “We had, for the space of a whole glorious autumn, been time-rich” (p 356). Wouldn’t that be nice? Where would you go if you had a whole season to travel in?
BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust in the chapter appropriately called “Nature Writing” (p 173). Pearl writes, “…these books beckon us to emulate Teale’s own travels…” (p 174).
Armstrong, William, H. Sounder. New York: Harper & Row, 1969.
Haunting. I find this story haunting on so many different levels. Haunting and tragic. Where do I begin? Where can I begin? The copy of Sounder I picked up had the words “now a motion picture!” emblazoned across the cover with photographs of scenes from the movie inside. Of course, I studied the photos before I read a single word and saw pictures of an obviously poor black family. One picture showed the mother with three kids as a father, handcuffed, is being led away by white, mean looking “authorities.” Another picture depicts the “criminal” as he is about to be struck by a prison guard…
But, the tragic pictures couldn’t prepare me for the quiet yet strong story. The raw undercurrent of something more ominous buzzed constantly. No one in the story has a name except the family hunting dog, Sounder. The father is accused of stealing a ham and is sent to jail, the mother cracks walnuts and sells the meat in town. There are three children and the story is told from the oldest’s perspective.
During the father’s arrest, Sounder is shot. Everyone in the family thinks Sounder is dead. What amazes me is the oldest son is more worried about the dog than his own father. His father’s guilt is plain, simple and true when his mother returns what was stolen, yet because Sounder’s body cannot be found, it’s all the boy can think about. “If the deputy sherrif had turned around on the seat of the wagon and shot his father, the visiting preacher and somebody would bring him back and bury him behind the meetin’ house, the boy thought. And if Sounder dies, I won’t drag him over the hard earth. I’ll carry him. I know I can carry him if I try hard enough, and I will bury him across the field, near the fencerow, under the big jack oak tree.” (p34)
I can’t do the storyline justice, but the writing is beautiful. Here are a few of my favorite lines:
- “And Sounder, too, settin’ on his haunches, would speak to the moon in ghost-stirrin’ tones of lonesome dog-talk” (p 38).
- “Now the cabin was even quieter than it had been before loneliness put its stamp on everything” (p 76).
BookLust Twist: From Book Lust and the chapter called “Three-Hanky Reads.” Sounder is paired with other dog books for children like Beautiful Joe and Goodbye, My Lady (p 237).
Steinbeck, John. Travels With Charley: In Search of America. New York: Viking Press, 1962.
This could easily be my favorite Steinback story. Maybe because it’s a true one. Maybe because it hasn’t left me wanting to slit my wrist by the last page. Maybe because Steinbeck writes about something I am interested in: traveling the country. His humor and DownToEarth voice make reading easy. I was thrilled when, by the 26th page, Steinbeck had already mentioned Deerfield, MA and my father’s school (the Eaglebrook School). His own son had attended there, hence the shout out.
Steinbeck does a wonderful job describing the small towns, the set-in-their-ways locals who inhabit each place, and the passing autumn into winter scenery. Like all his other tales (fiction or not), he makes the people and places come alive with vivid realism. My favorite part: Steinbeck wants to see the birthplace of Sinclair Lewis. He asks some locals about finding the small town of Sauk. They know the sign, “Birthplace of Sinclair Lewis” but it’s obvious they have no clue who Lewis was.
Booklust Twist: Pearl hides this gem in a chapter called ‘The Beckoning Road”, (More Book Lust, p.20)
Saunders, Marshall. Beautiful Joe: A Dog’s Own Story. Storytellers Ink, 1990.
Another Booklust special. I’m not being sarcastic. This book is special. I loved it. Decidedly a children’s book with great illustrations, I dove into it for a quick-like-bunny read (think an hour or so). I think I just needed a break from Admiral Hornblower and all his blowing (more on that in another post). Beautiful Joe is the haunting story of an abused puppy told from the puppy’s point of view. Very unique. This dog suffers cruelty at the hands of his farmer owner (like his tail and ears being chopped off). If you need a good cry, pick up this book! For all its sadness, at times it also is poetic and preachy. I’ve heard of other versions being underwritten by the ASPCA, though my edition made no mention. The narration does leave the story and focus more on animal rights from time to time, but all in all it is a moving story. It has touched the hearts, and remained in the memory of many.
Spoiler: Joe is rescued and ends up in a loving household.
Booklust Twist: Pearl calls this a “three hanky read” (Book Lust p.237). If you love animals I agree!