Book Review: A Marriage In Dog Years – A Memoir

Title: A Marriage In Dog Years: A Memoir

Author: Nancy Balbirer

Format: Kindle Edition

Published: 2018

 

I chose this book as my Amazon First Reads choice for the month of May.  A Marriage In Dog Years is officially released tomorrow, June 1st so look for it on Amazon soon!

Meh.  I felt meh throughout the entire book.  **Spoiler alert**, I’m going to essentially tell you about this book so if you’re curious about it, stop reading my blog post right now and come back after you’ve read it.  Or heed my warning and know that you really are not missing much by passing on this book.

The book starts out with us finding out she found the love of her life, Sam.  Sam even comes and rescues her on the middle of a busy California freeway when her car breaks down.  It is at this point we realize the marriage is doomed as Nancy tells us, “it will occur to me that I had been so moved by the romance, the love, the chivalry of it all, that I had failed to notice we were not traveling west, but east—away from the sun.”

Nancy and Sam adopt a dog, Ira, and move from California to New York.  Nancy yearns to be a mother and ends up going through IVF treatments to conceive.  Heartbreakingly, she becomes pregnant with twins and loses one.  She does give birth to a health baby girl they nickname the Bear.  It is here we find out that Sam really did not want to become a father, he just knew Nancy really wanted to be a mother and he wanted to make sure he was happy.  Wait, Sam gets even better.

Ira is eleven years old and is diagnosed with a terminal illness and given a matter of weeks to live.  Don’t worry, Ira makes it another year.  As Ira gets ill, the marriage falls apart.  Well, the marriage is already in shambles at this point in time, we just get to hear how it all falls apart.

Sam “accidentally” forwards her a text from his mistress.  He’s cheating.  Nancy and Sam have been in therapy and this gets brought up.  Sam wants to keep seeing the mistress while he works on his marriage.  Nancy agrees.  Sam is a winner, isn’t he?

The book goes on and they divorce…finally.  I cannot believe how long Nancy held on to her marriage, trying to make it work.  Nancy describes it best when she wrote, “when a marriage is in crisis, there’s only so long you can pretend before dull pain turns into searing agony.”  She held on for so long.  I was angry with her for holding on for so long.  Sam was wishy washy and didn’t stick with anything long-term.  She truly deserves better.

So after the divorce comes the death of Ira.  I cried.  We just lost our sweet little pup Rose over the summer and just reading the demise of Ira brought back memories and I let it out.  Dogs become a part of our lives and Ira became her best friend.

Overall, I give this book a 3.  I didn’t care for it and I felt like the author wrote this book with a thesaurus of big words by her side.  I don’t know if I’m dumb or she was showing off or if I was just so irritated with her and how she handled her crumbling marriage I just resented everything she wrote.  I struggled to find the motivation to finish this book, but I did it.  Next week I will be reviewing Wynn In Doubt by Emily Hemmer, catch you next Thursday!

Books Review – Board Book Roundup

My method for picking out children’s books is to walk around the library and look for books on display that seem interesting/cute, randomly flip to a couple pages and see just how much text there is and to check out the artwork (I can’t tell you how many books I’ve put back because the illustrations are awful!), and then read them to a ridiculously smart almost three year old.  Anyway, I decided to combine several in this review.


TITLE: Harold’s ABC
AUTHOR/ILLUSTRATOR: Crockett Johnson
FORMAT: Board Book
PUBLISHED: Originally 1963. This edition – 2016? 2015? (New book/doesn’t say)

The book is kinda cool.  Harold and his trusty purple crayon (yes, that Harold) go out on an adventure through the alphabet.  This isn’t a typical ABC book.  There’s no A is for apple, turn the page, B is for Banana, etc… Instead, what you get is a story interrupted by that… “To go on any kind of trip, you have to leave home. He started with A for Attic…”  And as Harold is going through this, you see illustrations where the letter is front and center to something they’re talking about (In A’s case, the A makes up the top of the house. Q forms the Queen’s head.)

It isn’t bad, but this book is *small* – like maybe 4 inches or so.  I wish it had been just a little bit larger and the letters had been a little bit bolder.  I’m guessing with a kid a little older who already knows his letters that this story would go over better, but in this case, the toddler knows *most* of his letters and it was a little difficult to get him to pick out the letters and he got bored with it.  [Note: This paragraph brought to you by the phrase “little bit”]

A few of the letters were weak (X is for X-out), and Z was for snore “Zzzl” – um.. since when is there an l in the middle of a snore?  But most of them were good.

I’ll give it a 3/5.  Nothing overly wrong with it, but nothing exceptional about it either.


TITLE: Dig
BOOK BY:  National Geographic Kids
FORMAT: Board Book
PUBLISHED: 2015

So, Dig looked cute.  There’s a photo of large excavating equipment on the front, and when I opened it up randomly, I opened it to a larger photo of the same piece of equipment.  So I sort of assumed that it was about big equipment, which excited me.

Apparently, I should have looked at more pages, because it’s about all kinds of things that dig – people, dogs, whatever.  I was a bit disappointed.  Also, the toddler didn’t really care that mommy and daddy could dig in a garden.  He wanted the big equipment too.

This is an issue I have with board books.  Nothing about the book on the back cover, just a sales pitch for the rest of the series.

Anyway, really disappointed. The book was done well enough, but it isn’t what either of us wanted. And some kid apparently snacked on the library copy, so it tastes good enough.

Still, I’ll give it a tentative 4/5.  I was disappointed in it because it wasn’t what I thought it was (and really, what are the odds that I’d open randomly to the one page of equipment and not any of the other 10 pages of mammals?), but it wasn’t a bad book.


 

Book Review – LOST

TITLE: LOST: Lost and Found Pet Posters From Around the World
AUTHOR*: Ian Phillips
ILLUSTRATOR: Ian Phillips?
FORMAT: Paperback
PUBLISHED: 2002 (NOTE: this is the 15th anniversary edition – it says so on the cover)

So… This looked like it would be something cute and amusing and I’d flip through the pages for an hour and not be sad I wasted time.  I mean, it’s the anniversay edition, so… they wouldn’t reprint something that was crap, right? I went to check it out of the library, and the librarian gushed about how wonderful this little book was.

And I took it home and I looked forward to it.

The concept of this book is…different.  People have lost (or very rarely found) a pet and of course, they make a poster for it.  The author* of this book for whatever reason collects these posters and once made a call around the world for them.

There’s a quick prologue explaining that, and a quick … epilogue? appendices?  whatever… with a list of tips for making your own lost pet poster (note – it didn’t say you had to lose a pet first) and a few stats about pets that I find hard to believe.  Oh, and the font the author used is kinda hard to read – its one of those that is probably meant to look like somebody with remarkably neat handwriting printed something, but it’s done in like 80% gray, so it’s just annoying.

On the right hand are pet posters, and they’re… um… well…  Crap a lot of times.  There’s exactly one page somewhere in the book in color, and there’s a lot in the book that have been copied to the point where you can’t make out half the stuff in them.  I don’t know if they were that bad to begin with or if they were poorly reproduced for the book or what.  But since so many of these posters don’t have pictures of the pets in them at all, who knows.  (I want to be annoyed by that. After all, who doesn’t have a picture of their pet and still cares enough to make a lost pet poster, but if the book was printed in 2002 and it’s a 15th anniversary edition, I guess we’re looking at the 80s, so I can see why they sucked so bad.  Still, if I hadn’t found the book in the non-fiction section, I would have had to check to see if it was a humor book)

The best part about the book was that the left side pages formed a flip book, and if you flipped towards the back you saw a dog run into the page, followed by a cat, followed by a bird, and they corresponded with the dog, cat, and everything else section (the last of which includes birds, a cow, and even a sandwich).

But, since the book was designed to show of the posters, I have to give this one a bad rating.  Another in the “I really wanted to like it” category, I give it 2/5 stars.

 

 

*Note – can you call yourself an author when all you do is write 50 words at the beginning and then show scans of something you’ve collected?

Book Review – The Garden of Abdul Gasazi

TITLE: The Garden of Abdul Gasazi
AUTHOR & ILLUSTRATOR: Chris Van Allsburg
FORMAT: Hardback
PUBLISHED: 1979

To continue my ‘read all the books’ of Van Allsburg, I picked this one up for no reason other than I liked the artwork on the front (all the topiaries are animals).
In the story, a little boy is asked to dog-sit, and of course he messes it up. The dog runs straight into a garden clearly marked as “no dogs” and the magician inside takes the dog.
There is some really cool magic-y stuff that happens in the story, and I like how it ended, although I do have to say that with the ending, it might be suitable for slightly older children (like 5ish?)…

I don’t really have a lot to complain about with this story, so I won’t. I give it a solid 4/5 pages.

Book Review – Solstice Magic

Solstice Magic: A Calgary Stampede Adventure
Jean Stringham
Paperback
2013

I’ve thought long and hard about this review, and I still don’t know what to say about it.
The book starts off with a prologue that has seemingly nothing to do with the next 2/3 of the book. A cowboy appears by magic on the day of the Summer Solstice [oddly, the same day I started reading this book]. Then in chapter 1, we’re suddenly on a farm somewhere in Canada.
So the family dynamic is a bit unique. There’s Mom, Dad and Daughter, which isn’t as weird, but then the grandmother – who the son hasn’t spoken to since he was a young kid – arrives from the Ukraine with her huge, man-eating dog in tow. We also have the less-than-typical family at the next farm – siblings and their grandmother. They’re also Ukranian. [Note: 3.8% of the overall population of Canada, and 14.8% of Manitoba are Ukranian – I looked it up.]
The daughter, Zo, has just been given a pet rabbit, Susie, and is teaching it to do hopping courses. The grandmother is hell-bent on chasing it around the house with a broom and shouting about vermin in the house. Which adds color, but…

Let me stop. The book is a bit weird and jumps around from thing to thing. A few things you’ll see in this book:
Family relations, including the dynamic of Zo’s grandmother trying to be a human being, which she mostly fails at. There are several instances where you just want to slap the bitch. Pretty much every time she’s in the book.
Lots of stuff about animals: the hopping course, sheep-hearding by dog courses, the Calgary Stampeed, the grandmother’s psycho crazy dog, etc. As a side note, though, I don’t know how Canada works, but in most countries, bringing a dog in would result in the dog being quarantined for six weeks. I would assume Canada is much of the same, though, but my google-fu tells me that only certain dogs don’t have to be quarantined and I’m not sure this dog fits that description.
Ukrainian everything – which is both good and bad. The author chose to use more Ukrainian spellings kevbosa instead of kielbasa, etc. I don’t care. There’s a glossary in the back if you get confused. But she italicized everything every time she used such a word. If a normal book talked about having kielbasa for dinner, they wouldn’t have italicized it, so why Jean thought she should here is beyond me. It was distracting and annoying and something a good editor would have pointed out. Another thing, the mysticism and Ukrainian stuff was interesting, but for somebody with absolutely no background in it, there were a few things I would have liked explained better. The magical aspects of the book, though… I wasn’t sure where the Ukrainian stuff stopped and the magic began or how intertwined they really were.

Some other concerns – I never felt a good voice for the author or the characters. Transitions were weak – sometimes there were entire paragraphs that should have been there for transitioning that weren’t – and Zo was in high school but sounded about ten. Also, serious climactic scenes didn’t feel any stronger than any other scene, and there were a few (especially in the last third of the book) that should have felt heavy while I read them. Zo living with her friends, for instance, felt about as serious as a slumber party.
I don’t at all buy that a five foot nothing size two woman could pass as a guy in the rough and tumble world of rodeo. Not without a lot of hazing.

I could tell that the author was really into animals. The descriptions of the dogs/cows/bull/sheep/bunnies were all great.
Sentence structure/grammar/that sort of thing were good.

So rating. I don’t know that I can give one to this book that I won’t want to change tomorrow. (I really have spent an entire day trying to figure out how to rate this book) It’s a decent showing for a first novel, but there are a lot of things that need tightened up. I think it would do better as YA than an adult book for sure. But I think it’s appeal – at least with the book as its written now – is small. So I think if you’re really seriously into Ukrainian things or the Calvary Stampede that you’ll want to read this book, but I’m not sure how much it will appeal to you if you don’t.

 

July 19- Edit to add this note:  The author read my review and sent me a letter, explaining the background of the book.  *ahem*  Now, while I did discover that the book was meant to be YA (apparently I didn’t know this going in), it doesn’t change anything else I said.  Because the truth is that most readers find books by accident.  We find them in libraries and bookstores and yard sales.  And even if we find them online, we generally don’t get more than just the back cover blurb.
Besides, most of what I said above stands.  Knowing that the book is about Ukranian Mysticism (which, incidentally, I did know) doesn’t make it any more clear if you don’t know what Ukranian Mysticism is.  It also doesn’t fix the problems that I had with the book.

Writer Wednesday – Andrew Toy

AndrewToy-TourBadge

 

Let’s start with the basics. Who are you?
I’m Andrew Toy, author of The Man in the Box and blogger at the popular AdoptingJames.wordpress.com, book editor, and writing coach.

Tell us (briefly) about you…
I’m a simple guy who was born and raised in Southern California. I was the dork who would rather be writing stories than be impressing the girls with skateboarding and surfing – I mean, I tried that for a stint of time, but didn’t really work out to my advantage. I love ice cream, pizza, bean burritos, my Floridian wife, and our awesome loft in Louisville, KY.

…and a bit about what you’ve written…
The Man in the Box is an adventure/fantasy novel. I’m always hesitant to say “fantasy novel,” because it’s really a fictional book that dabs into fantasy every now and then. It’s about and average family man, married with kids, who discovers his imaginary childhood world inside a cardboard box. In this world he faces zombie-like ghosts, runs from dinosaurs, encounters titanic-sized panthers, giant insects… anyway, as you can imagine, he becomes increasingly addicted to life inside this adventurous world and he’d rather not spend time with his comparatively mundane family. So, he’s go to choose what he wants more. And the ending just might throw you for a surprise… Oops. Did I say too much?

…and what you’re working on right now.
I’m afraid I’ve told other bloggers and fans that I’m working on an apocalyptic series, but I’m putting that on hold until I get through some more research and possibly find a co-author. But just a couple of days ago, a light went on in my head and I was struck by the inspiration of a young reader’s book which I’m very excited about. I don’t want to give too much away just yet, but let’s just say dog-lovers and history buffs both will enjoy this read, no matter what age.

What are your earliest book-related memories?
Like reading them or writing them? Reading them, I was the first one in my kindergarten class to read an entire picture book by myself: If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. That was a good day, reading it to the whole class as they oohed and awed. My advise to kids, however, don’t accept your 15 minutes of fame too early in life, if they do in fact, only present themselves once in a lifetime. I could have done better, I’m sure. Writing books, however, I wrote a couple in junior high and high school (after I determined skateboarding was getting me nowhere), of which the public will never see.

What are your three favorite books?
Bottom of the 33rd by Dan Barry, The Grapes of Wrath by Steinbeck, and… I’m comfortable enough in my masculinity to admit that I really, really like Little Women. It’s a great character study! (It’s actually neck-in-neck with Anne of Green Gables.)

How many books to do you read at any given time? What are you reading now?
I read three books at a time: One fiction, one historical/biographical, and one Christian-related. Right now I’m reading Life of Pi (fiction), Elizabeth the Queen (biography), and Adopted into God’s Family (Christian). I can’t put Life of Pi down.

Finish this sentence; when I curl up with a book, I ___
…Feel like a girl. But when I read a few pages while I’m waiting for the dogs to go poop, I’m hoping it doesn’t rain all over me.

To re-read or not to re-read that is the question.
I read a lot of really good books. But if by some chance, I come across an exceptional book that I just don’t want to end, that’s when I’ll read it again a year or two later.

How likely are you to read a book that’s been recommended to you?
Very.

How likely are you to recommend a book (that isn’t yours)?
Extremely.

What do you look for in a good book?
Depends on the genre. For fiction, I’m looking for that rare moment when storytelling and skilled penmanship meet (it’s rarer than one might think). Life of Pi is once such book. For history or biography, I’m looking for how observant the author is about particulars and facts and tidbits other observers might not pick up on. Give me ALL the juicy details! For my Christian books, I’m looking for creativity and originality in their theological teachings. That’s rare to come by. Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis would be the perfect example of that.

Why do you write?
Okay. Here’s my being extremely vulnerable. I write to tell good stories. I tell good stories in hopes that Pixar Studios will want to have me join their storytelling team. That my expectation, anyway. The reality is, I just want to tell good stories and make a living off of it.

If you couldn’t be a writer, what would you be?
A lawyer. For real! There’s a lot of acting and story-spinning involved. The same story can be told a million different ways!

Where do you draw your inspiration from?
Pixar movies. Loud, upbeat, happy music.

What has writing taught you about yourself?
That I can (and will be) so much better.

How do the people in your life seem to view your writing career?
My wife is completely and 100% supportive of it. I can’t ask for anything more.

Are there any stereotypes about writers that you don’t think are true?
No. They’re true. We’re all weird and very socially awkward. I choose to be socially awkward because I want to see how people respond to unexpected circumstances, then I can transfer that to paper.

What do you see as the biggest challenge today for writers starting out?
Twitter, Facebook, Pintrest, itunes… everything is a distraction from writing. That’s why I get most of my writing done on paper.

Have you made any writing mistakes that seem obvious in retrospect but weren’t at the time?
This is too embarrassing. Next question.

Is there a particular project you would love to be involved with?
Yeah, that apocalyptic series I hinted at earlier. I can’t wait to get started on it. That, and Pixar’s latest projects.

How do you deal with your fan base?
I love ‘em! I feel I’ve earned their trust and I want to keep it by continuing to tell stories that they will be happy to invest in.

Finish this sentence; my fans would be surprised to know ___ about me.
My fans would be surprised to know that I deliver pizzas to help pay the bills. So keep telling your friends and family about my books so I can have more time to write!

Anything else we should know?
Yes. Don’t ever, under any circumstances, crawl into a cardboard box and close your eyes. And if you do, stay well hidden at night…

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