Welcome back as we celebrate all things bookish by recognizing the 12 days of Bookmas, that most wonderful time of the year. As a reminder, this year I’m going to profile a small selection of favourite things on a theme, based on what I’ve read and enjoyed in 2015. If you have suggestions or recommendations for topics, please leave them in the comments!
Today’s theme is Animal Lovers Need Books Too.
I’ve read a number of amazing books featuring animals in some way this year, and have shared the love of them with many animal-friendly friends already. However, since buying that perfect book for a pet owner can be tricky (no one wants a repeat of the “Where the Red Fern Grows” incident of many years ago), I’d like to suggest some sure-fire hits.
When Sara Renault fired Rory O’Connor from his part-time job at a Boston art museum, and in response, Rory—Irishman, actor, musician, reformed party-boy— impulsively leaned over and kissed her . . . she kissed him back. Now, as Rory’s visa runs out on the cusp of his big Hollywood break, Sara insists that he marry her to get a green card. In a matter of weeks they’ve gone from being friendly work colleagues to a live-in couple, and it’s all grand . . . except for Cody, Sara’s beloved dog from her troubled previous relationship. Sara’s over-attachment to her dog is the only thing she and Rory fight about.
When Rory scores both his green card and the lead role in an upcoming TV pilot, he and Sara (and Cody) prepare to move to Los Angeles. But just before their departure, Cody is kidnapped—and it is entirely Rory’s fault. Desperate to get back into Sara’s good graces, Rory tracks Cody and the sociopathic dog-napper to North Carolina. Can Rory rescue Cody and convince Sara that they belong together—with Cody—as a family?
Stepdog was a gem of a read during this past summer. Told from the perspective of Rory, an Irish actor about to strike it big when his green card is about to run out, this is as much as story of a man learning to live with and love a dog as much as it is a romance between two humans. There’s a honeymoon period, then the realization that both parties are there for the long haul. Rory and Cody faced a process of give and take and even some resentment and difficulties to surmount before Rory could admit how he truly felt about Cody (the dog).
I found myself laughing at some of Rory’s observations, especially towards life as a “guy with a dog” on his daily walk with the local mommies in the botanical gardens. Throw in some action/adventure, and a complicated relationship with Cody’s owner and her ex, and you have a surprisingly touching road trip that had me genuinely concerned for how the story might end.
Stepdog is published by William Morrow Paperbacks, and distributed by HarperCollins Canada. ISBN: 9780062369475, 416 pages.
Chi is a mischievous newborn kitten who, while on a leisurely stroll with her family, finds herself lost. Separated from the warmth and protection of her mother, feels distraught. Overcome with loneliness she breaks into tears in a large urban park meadow., when she is suddenly rescued by a young boy named Yohei and his mother. The kitty is then quickly and quietly whisked away into the warm and inviting Yamada family apartment…where pets are strictly not permitted.
If you’ve read my blog for a while, then you are more than familiar with my affection for Chi, the tiny lost kitten adopted by Yohei and his family. Finally, we have larger collections of this wildly popular manga series available in The Complete Chi’s Sweet Home, Parts 1 & 2 (out in January, 2016) allowing us to read larger swaths of Chi’s stories in one sitting. For young girls who want to start reading manga but are a little put off by where to start, this is an excellent recommendation as the story lines are short but engaging.
Don’t be put off by the manga format; the stories are sweet and the illustrations are quite detailed in their simplicity. What helps to sell the book, however, is how realistically the interactions between Chi and her humans are portrayed in the story-lines. Chi’s behaviour is completely that of a normal kitten, and part of the fun is finding the ways that Chi mirrors your own cat. These are quick reads, but you will find yourself browsing them again and again.
The Complete Chi’s Sweet Home – Part 1 is available from Vertical Comics. ISBN: 9781942993162, 480 pages.
Elsie Lavender and Homer Hickam Sr. were high school classmates in the West Virginia coalfields, graduating just as the Great Depression began. When Homer asked for her hand, Elsie instead headed to Orlando where she sparked with a dancing actor named Buddy Ebsen (yes, that Buddy Ebsen). But when Buddy headed for New York, Elsie’s dreams of a life with him were crushed and eventually she found herself back in the coalfields, married to Homer.
Unfulfilled as a miner’s wife, Elsie was reminded of her carefree days in Florida every day because of Buddy’s unusual wedding gift: an alligator named Albert who lived in the only bathroom in their little house. Eventually Homer gave Elsie an ultimatum: “Me or the alligator!” After giving it some thought, Elsie concluded there was only one thing to do—carry Albert home.
Carrying Albert Home tells the sweet, funny and sometimes heartbreaking tale of a young couple and their special pet on a crazy 1,000 mile journey. Told with the warmth and down-home charm that made Rocket Boys a beloved bestseller, Homer Hickam’s rollicking novel is truly a testament to that strange and marvelous emotion we call love.
I’ve been a fan of Rocket Boys and its subsequent movie, October Sky (and one of my favourite anagrams to boot!) for years. When I heard that Homer Hickam had a new book out, I was beyond excited. While most people wouldn’t count an alligator as a pet, I was beguiled by this “mostly true” story – or, as Homer says, “Everything in Carrying Albert Home is true except those parts that aren’t.” After finishing, I can only say that this book is a delight.
While the story is narrated by Albert and Homer’s son, it’s Elsie stole my heart as much as Albert – yes, the alligator – because she was so strong and independent. She’s brave and stubborn, and Homer just wants to make her happy, no matter what. I loved her reactions to everything that occurred, and how the trip to Orlando because a pilgrimage to the life she used to/could have had. Homer is exactly the way I would have expected him to be after Rocket Boys, and Elsie and Homer discover so much about themselves and their relationship along the way. Albert is absolutely charming as an alligator (well, perhaps less so when he takes on Albert’s trousers), but you can’t help but laugh over his love of belly rubs and “yeah, yeah, yeah’s”. Factor in a mysterious rooster, hurricanes, gin joints, Tarzan movies and famous faces along with a host of other adventures, and you can’t help but think that life with the Hickams was never boring.
This book is similar to Stepdog in that there’s a road trip and a man versus beast element, but the two stories take very different turns in very good ways. Carrying Albert Home is the perfect recommendation for fans of Big Fish and Forrest Gump,with enough fairy tale mixed in with reality to keep you laughing and along for the ride.
Carrying Albert Home is published by William Morrow, and distributed by HarperCollins Canada. ISBN: 9780062325891, 432 pages
A routine cell phone upgrade left author James Rebanks with a pretty decent camera and a pre-loaded Twitter app–the tools to share his way of life with the world.
James has worked the land for years, as did his father, and his father before him. His family has lived and farmed in the Lake District of Northern England as long as there have been written records (since 1420) and possibly much longer. And while the land itself has inspired great poets and authors we have rarely heard from the people who tend it. One Twitter account has changed all that, and now James Rebanks has broken free of the 140-character limit and produced “the book I have wanted to write my whole life.”
A Shepherd’s Life is a memoir about growing up amidst a magical, storied landscape, of coming of age in the 1980s and 1990s among hills that seem timeless, and yet suffused with history. Broken into the four seasons, the book chronicles the author’s daily experiences at work with his flock and brings alive his family and their ancient way of life, which at times can seem irreconcilable with the modern world.
I first heard about James Rebanks when someone I follow on Twitter started re-tweeting Rebank’s tweets. From there, I was enchanted by this modern-day glimpse into the Lake District, complete with flocks of sheep that have grazed the same lands for at least eight centuries (likely more, but there aren’t written records before that) and a live-tweet of the birth of sheepdog puppies.
Part memoir, part travelogue, part shepherding guide and part love letter to his home, A Shepherd’s Life: Modern Dispatches from an Ancient Landscape makes you feel everything that you would if you were part of a long-standing family of the area. Rebanks affection for his home and his dedication to his family and flock are evident in his writing, but he also manages to bring you into the lives of everyday people in some of the most stunning – and remote – places in the UK.
When all is said and done, however, this is a book about finding your place in your world. It’s about overcoming obstacles – the English school system, an increasingly dire farming situation, an uneven economy, the pull of home versus the need to explore – and coming out the other side. It’s about staying true to who you are, while trying to figure out who that is. Hopefully, after reading, you’ll have a greater appreciation for the work done by farmers, shepherds and those who feed us daily – I know that I do.
A Shepherd’s Life: Modern Dispatches from an Ancient Landscape is published by Doubleday Canada, a division of Penguin Random House of Canada. ISBN: 9780385682848, 256 pages.