Wednesday, June 29, 2011

A Bride's Portrait of Dodge City, Kansas, by Erica Vetsch--A Review

A Bride's Portrait of Dodge City, Kansas, Barbour Publishing, ISBN 9781616265069, September 2011

Addie Reid has worked with her Uncle Carl in his photography business since her parents died during the Civil War. She moved with him from Abilene to Dodge to open a new studio. Addie herself has considerable skill and talent as a photographer, which her uncle has encouraged. Here in Dodge, she's made a new friend, Fran Seaton, and things are looking good.

Until Carl dies of a heart attack not long after they open their new studio.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Dog Sense: How the New Science of Dog Behavior Can Make You a Better Friend to Your Dog, by John Bradshaw

Basic Books, ISBN 9780465023486, May 2011

It was the best of books, it was--not the worst of books, not by a long shot, but incredibly annoying in places.

This is a serious effort at collecting in one place the current state of the science of dog behavior. Bradshaw discusses the evidence we have for how and when dogs evolved from wolves,  as well as what dogs' close relationship to wolves does and doesn't mean for their behavior and needs in human households. For the last century or so, much training and dog management advice has been based on the idea that wolf packs are competitive, internally violent groups, dominated by the fiercest, most powerful male, or possibly the fiercest, most powerful male and female--the "alphas." Since, the reasoning goes, "dogs are wolves," dog owners need to establish themselves as "alpha" and dominate their dogs, lest the dogs seize control of the household and become problems and even threats.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Should Christians Embrace Evolution?:Biblical and Scientific Responses, edited by Norman C. Nevin--A Review

Should Christians Embrace Evolution?:Biblical and Scientific Responses, P&R Publishing, ISBN 9781596382305, June 2011

I had hoped and expected this book to be a serious discussion of the relationship between science and religion, and how when approached seriously and openly, each can inform and enlighten the other. Instead, this collection of essays is an apologia for Young Earth Creationism and Intelligent Design, with the voices of believing Christians who are engaged with science nowhere permitted to speak for themselves.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Among the Departed: A Constable Molly Smith Mystery, by Vicki Delany

Molly Smith and her boyfriend Adam Tocek are both constables in the town of Trafalgar, British Columbia. Adam is also the handler of Norman, a highly trained police dog. Late one evening, Adam gets a call that there's a small boy missing from a camping area nearby, and all three of them respond. The boy is quickly found, unharmed, but Norman also finds some bones. Adult human bones.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Love is the Best Medicine: What Two Dogs Taught One Veterinarian About Hope, Humility, and Everyday Miracles, by Dr. Nick Trout--A Review

Love Is the Best Medicine: What Two Dogs Taught One Veterinarian about Hope, Humility, and Everyday Miracles Love is the Best Medicine, Broadway Books, ISBN 9780767931984, 2010

Dr. Nick Trout, a veterinary surgeon practicing at Boston's Angell Animal Medical Center, gives us the stories of two dogs and their loving owners, who had a profound impact on his life. The first is a pampered fourteen-month-old minpin named Cleo, who has just suffered the third leg fracture of her young life. The other is a rescued stray cocker spaniel, found by a kind-hearted couple in the parking lot of a restaurant in suburban Boston. At least ten years old, matted, filthy, and in dire need of dental work, Helen is despite her history is a sweet, loving dog eager to be a part of her new family. (She is also, unexpectedly, fat rather than emaciated, because she's a clever, sweet, charming little beggar well-known at that restaurant.)

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Shirley Thistlethwaite has gotten the attention of the City of Memphis

Shirley Thistlethwaite (YesBiscuit) has been blogging about conditions at the Memphis Animal Shelter, a.k.a. the city pound. She has used their own published statistics, and the evidence provided by the Memphis Animal Shelter's own webcams, installed after a high-profile raid a couple of years ago.

The evidence of those webcams is bad enough. Most of the animals that come in the door at MAS are never offered for adoption. They serve out their three-day stray hold (if they are not owner surrenders), and then they are killed. I won't bother detailing all the abuses and tragedies Shirley has reported, because she's already done that, you can read about them on her blog, and that's not what this post is about.

What this post is about is the ChipIn Shirley set up to raise money to help rescue groups pull animals from the stray area and give them whatever vet care they need so that they can be adopted. This ChipIn fund has saved one dog, Ranger, and there were high hopes of rescuing more.

Note I said "were."

Shirley has received a letter from the Memphis city attorney informing her that he had researched South Carolina law (where Shirley lives), and that she is in violation of a SC state law prohibiting anyone from raising money on behalf of a charity or non-profit without written authorization from the party the funds are allegedly being raised for. The city attorney, Mr. Herman Morris, Jr., says that Memphis Animal Services has never authorized any third parties to raise money on their behalf, and therefore Ms. Thistlethwaite must cease doing so immediately, or face the dread consequence, Legal Action.

There are several problems with this, first and most obvious to anyone who read the YesBiscuit blog, that Shirley was abundantly clear about the fact that the money raised would go to rescue groups pulling animals from the Memphis Animal Shelter--not to Memphis Animal Services. There was no confusion and no room for confusion on this point. I do not believe that Mr. Morris is confused, nor whoever gave him his instructions.

This isn't about Shirley raising funds without authorization; she's not doing that and they know that. This is an attempt to stifle public criticism which is getting way too much attention for the comfort of the City of Memphis. It may astonish Mr. Morris to learn that other people can hop online and research other states' laws; it may astonish him more to learn that you don't even have to be an attorney to do that. You can look at Tennessee's Anti-SLAPP statute at the link. It would appear that Mr. Morris is most likely breaking the law of his own state.

Shirley has taken down the ChipIn for the moment, while she assesses her situation. Superficially, the bullies have gotten what they want, but I suspect that the ChipIn was merely the hook, and not the goal. Most likely, what they want to do is intimidate Shirley into shutting up about the Memphis shelter and its appalling conditions and appalling kill rate. But she's not going to shut up, and any further letters or communications with similar threats now that the ChipIn is down would be clearly and unambiguously aimed at suppressing her exercise of her First Amendment rights. You don't even have to be a lawyer, or even a librarian, to know that.

In the unlikely even that Mr. Morris or any of his taxpayer-paid staff are reading this: I am not a lawyer, and I don't play one on the internet; I am a librarian, and I have no sense of humor about people who think their comfort is more important than the First Amendment.

UPDATE: Shirley's new ChipIn is up, and it's clear enough that even Mr. Morris should not be able to delude himself that anyone will believe she's raising money for Memphis Animal services. Read about it here.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Lost Voices, by Sarah Porter--Review

Harcourt Books, ISBN 9780547482507, 304pp., July 4, 2011

Lucette is living with her uncle in a tiny Alaskan fishing village after the death of her father. Grief for her father and her uncle's abuse has her silent, lonely, and isolated. Her only friend is a mentally disabled boy whom no one else, not even his own family, has any patience for.

Then, on her fourteenth birthday, Luce's uncle ratchets his abuse up one more unspeakable level, and she flees to the cliffs, falls--and finds herself in a strange, new, underwater world. She has become a mermaid. After the years spent traveling with her loving but thieving father, and the months trapped in a tiny village with her abusive uncle, Luce is thrilled to find a community she truly belongs to, where she starts to make friends and where her beautiful singing voice gives her real status. There's a catch, though; the mermaids use their singing to lure ships onto the rocks, and then make sure everyone drowns. Luce wants to fit in with her new friends, the only friends she's ever had, but she also tries to cling to her humanity--and that creates an awful and dangerous conflict, within herself, and with the other mermaids.
     This is a touching coming of age story, with characters who should be recognizable to any girl who ever attended junior high. Porter takes these girls and their problems, strengths, and flaws seriously, and portrays a believable conflict between community and individual morality.
     Warning: This is the first book of a trilogy. The immediate story is resolved, but there's a larger arc that remains open.
     Highly recommended.

     I received a free electronic galley from the publisher via NetGalley..

Monday, June 13, 2011

Katie Up and Down the Hall: The True Story of How One Dog Turned Five Neighbors Into a Family, by Glenn Plaskin--A Review

Hachette Book Group/Center Street, ISBN 9781599953854, September 2010

In 1988, Glenn Plaskin bought a twelve-week-old cocker spaniel puppy, and named her Katie. As a first-time dog owner, he hardly knew where to begin, but a mutual friend introduced him to his neighbors down the hall in his Battery Park City apartment building, Pearl and Arthur. This older couple were life-long dog owners, and their last dog, a cocker spaniel named Brandy, had died two years earlier. Unprepared to get a new dog at this late stage of their lives, Pearl in particular is more than willing to help Glenn learn how to be a dog owner, and provide dog-sitting services.

It's not long before Glenn, Pearl, Arthur, and Katie start to build a bond a good deal closer than friendly neighbors. Arthur and Pearl were never able to have children, and Glenn's family, while close emotionally, is not close geographically. Pearl becomes another grandmother for Glenn, and a vital part of Katie's life, since she can't (usually!) accompany him to the office. Katie is a pampered darling, but a sweet, cooperative dog as well, and the fun grows when, as an indirect result of Glenn's work as a newspaper columnist, Katie starts to get modeling jobs.

And then Glenn's life runs full speed into a brick wall. The paper he works for is sold, and he's among the many let go. With all the other newspaper people on the job market at the same time, he's not having any success finding a new job. While he's still looking, his long-standing back trouble worsens dramatically, leaving him too disabled to work. He's getting physical therapy and attending a support group at a local community center--and Katie, accompanying him to the center, expands his family once again. She starts playing with six-year-old Ryan, and Glenn forms a friendship with Ryan's single dad, John. Coincidentally, John wants to move to someplace that will give him a less stressful and demanding commute, and an apartment becomes available in Glenn's building, on the same hall. Pearl becomes a friend and confidant to John and a grandmother to Ryan, and the three households bind together. They're in and out of each other's apartments, having "family" dinners together on a regular basis, and celebrating birthdays together. When Glenn is recovered enough to work again, he gets a job with Family Circle, and one of his feature articles is "Grandma Down the Hall," about the family they've created together.

It isn't all high spirits and fun. They're in the residential building closest to the Twin Towers. They live through the terror of realizing what's happened, fleeing the expanding debris cloud, and slowly rebuilding their lives and waiting out the time until they can return to their apartments. Also, Pearl and Arthur are in their late seventies when we meet them, and Katie is a dog, so in one sense the ending is no surprise. Glenn Plaskin makes Katie and his human neighbors come alive on the page, though, and while the ending is natural and inevitable, it's also deeply moving. Honestly, I cried through most of the last two chapters.

This is not a depressing book, though. It's warm and engaging and hopeful, and a must-read whether or not you're a "dog person."

Highly recommended.

I bought this book in ebook format.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

From Fearful to Confident--A Little Dog's Progress

A little over four years ago, I adopted a powderpuff Chinese Crested named Addy, who came from a great breeder, but then spent nine months in a home that, for her, wasn't ideal. It didn't give her the continuing socialization and training she needed; at less than fifteen pounds and with a sweet personality, within her own home it wasn't clear that training was needed. Then her owner's circumstances and needs changed, and she was returned to her breeder. It quickly became apparent that she was terrified of any dog that wasn't a Chinese Crested, and of most things that she'd encounter outside of the house or a fenced suburban back yard.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Two Moon Princess, by Carmen Ferreiro-Esteban--A Review

Tanglewood, ISBN 9781933718279, April 2010

I'm sorry to say that I was very disappointed in this book. The biggest problem is Princess Andrea herself. She's immature, self-absorbed, impulsive, and generally out of control. Initially this seems plausible for her age, since we're told that she's fourteen. However, it turns out that the year in her world is longer than ours, and in our years, she's seventeen. This does make the discussion of her admirers or lack thereof considerably less creepy, but even though seventeen-year-olds still have a fair bit of maturing to do, most of them are a great deal more mature than Andrea.

Andrea is the youngest of the four daughters of a king, Don Andres, and his queen Jimena. She's also the misfit, the tomboy, who wants to be a knight instead of a court lady. She's been indulged so far, training with the pages hoping to become squires to her father's knights, but with her fourteenth birthday, she is required to put away childish things and learn to be a lady. Unfortunately, she has so far failed to learn even some of the basics of court protocol, and already without any friends amongst the court ladies except the next-youngest princess, Margarida, she manages to actively offend people without intending to. She hopes for some support from her uncle, Tio Ramiro, her mother's brother, but even he thinks it's time for her to grow up. We do learn the interesting detail that no one really knows where Ramiro's castle is--and this of course is the key to much of the story.

Friday, June 3, 2011

The Atomic Weight of Secrets, or, The Arrival of the Mysterious Men in Black: The Young Inventors' Guild, Book One, by Eden Unger Bowditch--Review

Bancroft Press, ISBN 97816160880022, March 2011

It's 1903, and five children suddenly find themselves and their parents whisked away from their homes all over the world, to Dayton, Ohio, by mysterious men dressed entirely in black. The children are then separated from their parents, and brought together as the only students of Miss Brett, at Sole Manner Farm.

The children's parents are brilliant scientists, and the children themselves--Faye, Jasper, Lucy, Noah, and Wallace--are also budding young brilliant scientists. Miss Brett is startled to discover that she has nothing to teach them in the realm of science and mathematics, and equally startled to discover that they have never encountered stories, rhymes, songs, any form of literature. (Or cooking, either; Faye, for instance, has never seen eggs in their uncooked form.) They abandon the intended lesson plan, and the children expand Miss Brett's knowledge of science, while she introduces them to literature and cooking.

Meanwhile, the children worry about the absence of their parents and the lack of any word from them, and about the fact that the Men in Black are patrolling around the farm, ensuring that they cannot escape. But these are not your ordinary scared children. They act out their fear by trying to investigate the Men in Black, and invent the means to escape from the farm, and find and rescue their parents. In the process, these children who have never had good school experiences because they knew even more than their teachers, who have never had encounters that didn't end badly because they are accustomed to always being the smartest, have to learn how to work together as a team. The mechanical genius, the chemistry genius, the photographic memory, the budding young draftsman who can make "sketches" that are good working blueprints, all need to learn mutual respect and trust, and pool those talents.

They also need to take in a good deal of conflicting and confusing evidence, and figure out who in the adult world are their friends, and who are their enemies.

In addition to some definite science-fictional elements, there's also a strong element of secret history here, and saying more than that would reveal some critical plot elements far too soon.

This is a good, solid, young adult science fiction novel, probably accessible to readers somewhat below the intended age range. It is the first of a series, but does come to a reasonably satisfying interim conclusion.


I received a free electronic galley of this book from the publisher via NetGalley.