dog's purposeI must admit that I dreaded seeing Lasse Hollstram’s latest film, “A Dog’s Purpose.” Months before, I’d been unable to watch the trailer without crying, so that didn’t bode well for the film. And I tend to avoid dog films after the trauma of viewing “Hachi: A Dog’s Tale” (also directed by Hollstram) led to night of sobbing and wadded-up Kleenex, and days of sadness.

But the allure of cute canines was too strong, so I succumbed and popped “A Dog’s Purpose” in my Blu-Ray player the other night. Although I shed a few tears, much to my surprise I was able to power through and enjoy the film.

Based on the best-selling novel of the same name by W. Bruce Cameron, “A Dog’s Purpose” depicts the story of one dog who, in his quest to find the meaning of his life, reincarnates again and again.

Once he gets past a short life as a stray dog, he is reborn as a Golden Retriever and finds himself attached to young Ethan, who names him Bailey. The two are inseparable, even as Ethan grows up and finds love.

Bailey lives his a long life and, sadly, must inevitably let go of his happy existence. He is reborn as Ellie, a female German Shepherd. Bailey’s new life is one of hard work, as he is a police dog partnered with the taciturn Carlos. Ellie’s days are spent chasing criminals, making drug busts, and tracking kidnapping victims, and her nights are spent trying to break through to the lonely Carlos.

After Ellie makes an early exit, Bailey reincarnates as Tino, an adorable Pembroke Welsh Corgi. He is the faithful companion of lovelorn college student Maia, joining her on her journey as she falls in love, gets married and starts a family.

Bailey lives a good life as Tino, but eventually must move on. He takes the form of a St. Bernard-mix puppy who finds a new home when he is given away in a parking lot. Sadly, his new existence is one of neglect and loneliness, as he is banished to growing up in a barren yard. When he is driven away from home and dumped, he follows his nose and finds himself in a familiar place, with a familiar person, and with a new name: Buddy.

I won’t reveal anything more about this final chapter of Bailey’s life, other than that some of the tears I cried during “A Dog’s Purpose” were from pure happiness.

Just a note: Bailey and his various incarnations are charmingly voiced by Josh Gad, whom younger viewers might know from his work as Olaf in “Frozen” and LeFou in the live-action “Beauty and the Beast.” If you’re in the mood for a sweet story and cute dogs, I recommend checking out “A Dog’s Purpose,” available on DVD from the Joplin Public Library.

tookReviewed by Tammie Benham

Continuing my quest to finish all books nominated for this year’s Mark Twain award, and realizing my opportunity to write a book review was due the week after Summer Reading Club ended, I closed my eyes picked one of the two books I had yet to read.  I ended up with “Took,” by Mary Downing Hahn in my hands.

 

Let me begin by admitting I am not a fan of horror.  So reading “Took,” took some effort.  This book is scary, creepy, icky, and all other words associated with this genre.  The book is also a good read and appropriate for children in third grade to sixth grade who love the Goosebumps books and are looking for something else to scare them late at night.

 

When Daniel and Erica move to West Virginia with their well-meaning parents who are looking to start over, they immediately sense danger.  Children bully them at school and on the school bus.  Their parents become more and more withdrawn, arguing and ignoring their children.

 

When Erica starts telling Daniel about the voices she hears, he doesn’t believe her.  Alone and fueled by the whisperings of “Old Auntie,” the ghostly witch who lives in the woods with her mutilated hog, “Bloody Bones,” Erica turns more and more to her doll for company until one day, Erica disappears.

 

When Daniel’s mother withdraws to her bed the day his sister turns up missing, while Daniel’s dad disappears into his office to immerse himself in videogames. Daniel takes it upon himself to use local lore and the few clues he has to find his little sister.  Will Daniel rescue her in time?  Or will Erica stay “Took” forever?

 

Well crafted, this offering from Ms. Hahn keeps suspense alive as the story moves through darkest night and deepest glen.  The characters are scary in the way the witch from Hansel and Gretel is frightening.  There is no specific gore and no actual violence.  Lots of spine-tingling suspense followed up with extraordinary bravery.  A great read for a dark night.

 

The drawbacks of this book, and possibly the most dangerous parts, are the lack of adult intervention when Daniel and Erica are bullied and the cavalier way in which Daniel’s parents dismiss and ignore him after his sister’s disappearance.  These two elements help to move the story along but in a time when bullying and violence appear too often in the news, finding them so easily accepted in a book intended for children is enough to give me nightmares.  Read, but make sure to discuss these situations.

matchup  More than 3800 suspense writers are part of an organization known as International Thrill Writers. They don’t pay dues but support the organization by publishing an anthology every few years. In 2014 the Faceoff anthology pitted popular characters from some of the most read male writers against each other.

The sequel published in June, MatchUp, pairs male and female writers together. The Booklist description says “Think Dancing with the Stars, but with mysteries.” The task for each pair of writers was to create a suspenseful short story starring their well-known characters.

Lee Child was the editor and also gives an introduction for each story. This information on the authors/characters and insight into the writing process is an interesting addition to an entertaining collection.

I am not familiar with all the characters depicted but for the most part that didn’t affect my enjoyment of the stories.  I saw the movie but have not read the Rambo series by David Morrell.  I was also unfamiliar with Gayle Lynds’ character Liz Sansborough but I thought their collaboration, “Rambo on Their Minds”, one of the best in the book.

“Midnight Flame” by Lara Adrian and Christopher Rice not only had characters I was unfamiliar with but also a genre I don’t usually read, the paranormal. The authors did an excellent job of taking two characters, Lucan Thorne and Lilliane, from different time periods and creating an entertaining tale. I probably won’t delve any further into the world of vampires and Radiants but I enjoyed this foray.

Child’s partner in prose was Kathy Reich with his character, Jack Reacher, coming to the rescue of Temperance Brennan. Brennan is charged with murdering a reporter who was going to expose her as inept or corrupt in her examination of the death of Army Colonel Calder Massee. As soon as he hears the news report Reacher knows she is being framed and heads her way to help.

In “Deserves to Be Dead” John Sandford’s Virgil Flowers is (to no one’s surprise) on a fishing trip when he becomes involved in a murder. Lisa Jackson’s Regan Pescoli is the investigating officer. In the intro Child’s identifies Sandford as the main author but surprisingly Regan Pescoli is the driving force for this dark tale.

Karin Slaughter and Michael Koryta teamed up for the longest and in my opinion the best tale in the anthology called “Short Story”. The two authors take their characters back in time to younger days hinted about in the series.

Slaughter’s Jeffrey Tolliver has just received his shield and is in the north Georgia mountains for a romantic getaway. He is stood up but that doesn’t mean he goes without female company. His companion for the night tries to steal his car and winds up dead. Tolliver, who had given chase wearing his t-shirt, Auburn underwear and one shoe, is arrested.

At the same time Koryta’s Joe Pritchard and Lincoln Perry are sent to the same place to find a Detroit drug dealer who is in Georgia to meet his supplier. It doesn’t take long for Joe and Lincoln to get involved and determine Tolliver’s innocence. The three team-up to find the killer and the drug dealer during an all-time record snowstorm.

There are 11 total entries with something for everyone in this engaging collection of short stories. You may even find some characters and authors to add to your reading list. The library has both regular and large print editions of it as well as the eaudiobook for download.

dogI’ve always been a big fan of dogs, particularly working dogs and most particularly farm dogs, so I was happy to see Farm Dogs: 93 Guardians, Herders, Terriers and other Canine Working Partners here at the library. As stated in the introduction, the breeds in the book perform one or more of the following tasks: guarding flocks, protecting the farmstead, herding/driving/working livestock, controlling rats and other vermin, pulling carts, or serving as all-around farmhands. So, hunting dogs are not included, though often found on farms. Sled dogs are a specialized group not listed here, nor are any giant breeds as the author feels they are insufficiently agile for regular farm work though there are certainly some very large breeds included. There are some terriers, although many were either not originally working dogs or have been bred to be companions only for a long time and are no longer considered “working” dogs. While many of the dogs contained make good companions, many are best suited to working conditions and will not make good family members if they don’t have a job to do. Border collies, for example, are very popular as pets but generally are not suited to anything approaching a sedentary life. They need something to do most of the time. If not given something to do, they will find something to do, and not necessarily something their human companions will be happy with!

The first chapter gives a short history of the human/dog relationship while the second delves a bit more deeply into the special needs and considerations of working farm dogs including housing and care, levels of sociability, energy levels, fencing and legal issues. The third chapter gets underway with choosing the right dog for you, including picking a trustworthy breeder or adopting a shelter or rescue dog and the particular concerns about rescue dogs that are intended for work. Also of concern are mixed breed dogs, particular those that are mixes of one type or working dog and another. A terrier/livestock guard mix is probably a poor choice for livestock guarding, given the terrier prey drive, for example. On the other hand, a herding breed/herding breed mix might be a fine herder and is sometimes done intentionally by those setting out to create a new breed but it definitely something that all but the most expert should avoid. Sticking to purebred dogs created for the specific task is usually wisest, though many accidental crosses wind up as general-purpose farm dogs on many a farm!

On to the good stuff! Chapter Four begins the task specific groupings and breeds. The first is livestock guardian dogs, like the Anatolian Shepherd or the Kuvasz. As with all the group chapters, the beginning outlines the general appearance, roles, behavior and temperament, and myths and misinformation about the group along with common health concerns and what to look for in a puppy. After you have that under your belt, you move on to the breeds within the group. This particular group contains a fair number of less well-known breeds, mostly not AKC registered and often very rare in the U.S. like the Armenian Gampr and Karakachan.

Chapter Five covers the herders: the more common Australian Cattle Dog, the Corgis and Border Collie as well as the Bergamaso Sheepdog, Louisiana Catahoula Leopard Dog, and Mudi among others.

Chapter Six, Terriers and Earthdogs, includes the Australian Terrier (one of which I owned many years ago—he was a character), Border, Cairn, and all the usual suspects including all three Russells and the more unusual Patterdale and Jagdterrier and the charmingly named Treeing Feist!

Finally, we come to the Traditional and Multipurpose Farm Dogs such as the Airedale Terrier (classed here because of its use as a multipurpose dog rather than a ratter/vermin hunter as are most terriers), the different varieties of Belgian Shepherds, and Giant Schnauzer.  Rarer are the Hovawart, Karelian Bear Dog (listed specifically for its work in bear deterrence as several other specialized breeds are also included) and the absolutely irresistible (to look at—apparently quite a handful) Pumi. If you’ve never seen one, go find a picture. Those ears!

A terrific book for the simple dog fancier and a valuable resource for anyone considering actually adding one of these working dogs to their life. Lots of pictures, lots of information.

 

If you enjoy inspirational fiction titles with a bit of murder and mayhem in them, you will enjoy today’s author. TERRI BLACKSTOCK is an inspirational cross-over author. She began her writing career under two different pseudonyms writing romance. Her books were published by the mainstream press and she frequented The New York Times best-seller list.

A spiritual awakening caused her to shift her writing into suspenseful drama. Although filled with suspense, mystery, the occasional murder and drama, Blackstock never fails to interweave the worldview and faith of her characters. Two books I will highlight today are no exception.

“IF I RUN” and “IF I’M FOUND” are the first two titles of a planned trilogy. The third book, “If I Live,” is set to be published next spring.

This trilogy is really several stories in one. The series as a whole tackles the lives of Casey and Dylan, who each are dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder. Casey’s is from the childhood trauma of discovering the suicide of her father, who she believes was a victim of murder rather than suicide. Dylan, on the other hand, is a veteran who has survived an attack that killed many of his friends. His PTSD causes him to be honorably discharged from military service. Upon arriving home, he discovers his best friend has been a victim of a vicious murder.

The victim was also a good friend of Casey’s. But her DNA, fingerprints and other evidence cover the crime scene, and Casey has disappeared. Dylan is hired by the family and the local police department to find Casey and return her to be charged with her friend’s murder.

If she was innocent, why did she flee? I kept asking myself that question. Casey appears to be the protagonist plagued by making dumb decisions, causing the reader to involuntarily yell at her, “How come you are being so stupid?!” Not once, not twice but over and over again.

Each of the books also contains a story within the story. There is a subplot in “If I Run” of a young teen’s disappearance. In “If I’m Found,” the subplot is about child abuse and the fallout of the accusations. Each subplot is resolved within the book, but Casey’s continued story of being on the run and Dylan’s attempts to find her continue throughout. Hopefully this will be resolved in book three.

Joplin Public Library has the first two books of this trilogy in regular print and audio. We also have the first book in large print. If you enjoy clean, inspirational reading but with a twist of suspense, you will enjoy all of Blackstock’s works.

On a personal note, if you have not yet visited the new Joplin Public Library, it is your loss. We are still a work in progress, and things are changing each day. You will be surprised and delighted at what you find. Come see us!

indexGenerally speaking, I don’t read books that have to do with nature. I’m not a person who’s interested in mountain climbing or caving. So why I picked up THE WHITE ROAD by Sarah Lotz is still a bit of a mystery to me. Maybe something in the description made me think of one of my favorite horror movies, THE DESCENT. Maybe I just wanted to try something different. No matter what the reason, I’m glad I gave this one a chance.

Simon Newman and his friend Thierry run a struggling website. On the hunt for content that will bring in new readers, Thierry discovers the story of Cwm Pot. While exploring a system of caves in Cwm Pot, three men died. Their bodies were unable to be recovered due to the difficulty of the cave. Thierry and Simon decide that Simon will explore the cave to get footage of the dead men.

Simon finds a guide to lead him through the caves, he assumes everything will go well. But Simon and his guide Ed wind up trapped during a flash flood. The guide attacks Simon and dies in the resulting struggle. On his own in unfamiliar territory, Simon must decide whether he will wait for potential rescue or try to find his way out. Unable to stand the thought of being trapped with four dead men, Simon stumbles his way to rescue.

Of course, Simon’s footage goes viral. He and Thierry are on the verge of being rich, which means they need more content for their site. Thierry comes up with the idea of sending Simon to Mt. Everest to capture footage of the dead climbers at the summit. Eager for money, Simon agrees to go.

This half of the book is told from the viewpoints of Simon and a climber named Juliet. Juliet was a climber who was attempting to climb Mt. Everest with her partner Walter. Walter dies during the climb, leaving Juliet alone. She begins to see something along the way. A phantom climber that haunts her day and night. What – or who – is this entity?

Simon climbs ever closer to the summit, befriending his fellow climbers. As they get closer to the summit, he discovers that one of the other climbers, Mark, is actually the son of the lost Juliet. Mark wants to climb only to find his mother’s body. Simon is conflicted. Does he want footage for the site or to respect the journey of his new friend?

At the summit, Simon loses his grasp on reality and removes his glove. Because of the extreme environment, his hand is frozen. The guide who was leading him to the summit rescues Simon, but Mark is lost. Simon loses part of his hand to frostbite. But the footage of the climb skyrockets the website’s popularity. Despite this, Simon sinks into a deep depression and is haunted by the ghost of Ed. Discussing too much more of the plot would spoil the ending, but I will say that Simon goes on a quest to both rid himself of Ed and discover what haunted Juliet on Everest.

 More than anything, Lotz’s writing captures the extremes of the environments she writes about. The crushing depths of the cave and numbing cold of Everest are described so well that reading them was uncomfortable. The description of going through the tight spaces of Cwm Pot made me pretty sure I don’t ever want to go caving. This wasn’t quite the horror story I thought it would be, but if you’re looking for a different take on both scary situations and nature writing, THE WHITE ROAD is worth your while.

Echo

By Pam Muñoz Ryan

Some books are big. A book with many pages may have this stigma attached to it, as could a book that is bound in a particularly large cover. Working in a library, I hear many individuals comment on the “bigness” of a book. “Wow! That’s a huge book!” Recently, a book crossed my path that not only falls under this umbrella of big due to its size and length, but also due to another factor: its impact. The juvenile fiction novel, Echo, by Pam Muñoz Ryan certainly does well to meet this last-mentioned criterion.

 Echo has a form and style that is unique and inviting. The author does well to keep her audience captivated from start to finish. She does this by engaging the reader with a large story arc that is connected by various smaller stories. The book begins with a tale of discovery, as a boy named Otto uncovers a story and a harmonica in a forest. Otto then comes face to face with that story as he becomes lost in the forest, only to encounter a trio of protagonists that mystically appear—three sisters who seem to come directly from the story Otto has just uncovered. From here, the larger story begins to take shape. The significance of mystery and wonder, as well as the overarching theme of music is introduced in Otto’s dialogue with the three sisters. All of this sets the stage for a dramatic shift to occur in the story, a shift that will take place three different times and that will span three different generational time periods and three different geographical locations.

 In essence, Pam Muñoz Ryan tells one larger than life narrative by utilizing the vantage point of three different characters: Friedrich in Germany, Mike in Pennsylvania, and Ivy in California. Throughout these various stories, the main character remains the same: a captivating harmonica that seemingly finds its way into the hands of passionate musicians who are all interconnected in ways that are never fully realized by the individuals. Through her powerful attention to detail, Muñoz Ryan narrates a driven story that addresses many themes that are easy to relate to and that seem to transcend time and circumstance. She deals with political controversy, as Friedrich finds himself in the middle of Hitler’s rise to power. She deals with issues that are surrounded by the loss of loved ones, and the struggle of discovering one’s place in the world as Mike and his little brother Frankie find themselves in an orphanage after the death of their parents and grandmother. She also deals with racism, as Ivy is confronted with its harsh reality during the process of moving to a new community that views cultural heritage differently than she is used to. Throughout it all, however, there stands in the middle of these issues a solution to overcoming adversities: the power of music.

While not every reader will identify themselves as a musician, Muñoz Ryan takes advantage of the seemingly ever present realization that music plays a part, in some way or another, in the lives of most people who inhabit this earth. By using music as a median, she gives her readers something they can relate to as she wrestles with the thematic issues addressed above. Couple this with her ability to spin a story, and this novel has the potential to be a pretty big book that leaves a pretty big impression on its readers.71aK5tVGXsL