Sunday, July 20, 2014

Invisible Ellen

Well-drawn characterizations and a compelling opening launch Invisible Ellen, a unique story of friendship by actress/writer Shari Shattuck. The book begins with an intriguing description of Ellen Homes, a 24 year-old, 273 pound, socially-awkward woman who shares a low-income, one-room apartment—and a "love of caloric excess," namely in the form of bacon—with her cat named Mouse. Ellen was once a product of the foster care system, where she was either taunted or ignored due to a prominent scar on her face and her left eye, halfway closed, which limits her vision. Ellen's background, along with her physical deformity, encourages her to espouse evasive techniques of anonymity to accommodate her limitations and cultivate her reclusiveness. But one afternoon, a young, blind woman boards the same bus that Ellen takes to her job cleaning at a Costco store, and Ellen instinctively intervenes to save the stranger from being mugged. Ellen's once-manageable, invisible life—spent quietly observing, from a distance, her struggling, also afflicted neighbors and co-workers, namely a troubled, pregnant woman and a drug dealer—is suddenly upended by the incident. In an ironic twist, the blind woman named Temerity takes an interest in Ellen and after more than six years of isolation, offers Ellen friendship—along with the motivation to more fully participate in life and courageously help others, regardless of complications.

Shattuck (Legacy) has written an upbeat, entertaining survival story about the souls of lost human beings often ignored by society and shows how lives can be profoundly transformed through unlikely human connections.
Putnam Adult, $26.95 Hardcover, 9780399167614, 304 pp
Publication Date: May 29, 2014
To order this book via INDIEBOUND link HERE

Note: This review is a reprint and is being posted (in a slightly different form) with the permission of Shelf Awareness. To read this review on Shelf Awareness: Reader's Edition (6/5/14), click HERE

Putnam Adult, $26.95 Hardcover, 9780399167614, 304 pp
Publication Date: May 29, 2014
To order this book via INDIEBOUND link HERE

Note: This review is a reprint and is being posted (in a slightly different form) with the permission of Shelf Awareness. To read this review on Shelf Awareness: Reader's Edition (6/5/14), click HERE

Sunday, July 6, 2014

The Mill River Recluse

"Sometimes, what you find in a small town can surprise you," writes author Darcie Chan in The Mill River Recluse. The novel centers on Mary Hayes McAllister, a wealthy, disfigured, elderly widow who inhabits a white marble mansion that overlooks the insular town of Mill River, Vermont. Chan describes Mary as "a woman who knew the difference between being alone and being lonely, who wanted so much to be accepted, to have coffee at the bakery, to come face-to-face with someone she didn't know without feeling fearful." Mary's early life was marred by an event which stole her innocence and confidence—and later led to an abusive, heartbreaking marriage. 

The story behind Mary's reclusiveness, which winds back to WWII, unfolds among other Mill River townsfolk who are struggling with their own challenges and demons. This includes an 87 year-old priest, Mary's only friend and confidante; a lustful, power-hungry cop; a widower transplanted from Boston with a young daughter; a teacher battling her waistline; and the town misfit, who practices witchcraft.

Secrets and unexpected gestures of kindness shape Chan's compassionate novel that blends elements of mystery, suspense and romance. After sixty years, Mary's reclusiveness is second nature in town, but behind-the-scenes, she remains attuned to the lives of those around her—"decent, hardworking people, the kind that don't have a lot but would give everything they have to a neighbor in need." Mary humbly leads this initiative, which culminates in a beautifully rendered denouement that rekindles hope for a troubled world. 
Ballantine Books, $15.00 Trade Paper, 9780553391879, 416 pp
Publication Date: June 17, 2014
To order this book via INDIEBOUND link HERE

Note: This review is a reprint and is being posted (in a slightly different form) with the permission of Shelf Awareness. To read this review on Shelf Awareness: Reader's Edition (6/24/14), click HERE

Sunday, June 29, 2014

How to Survive Life (and Death)

It's one thing to have a Near-Death Experience (or NDE, for short), but to have three?  Could it be that fate shepherded Emmy nominated art director and author Robert Kopecky away from three potential near-death catastrophes in order to finally convince him to commit his experiences to the page and share what he's learned with others?

Kopecky never planned on personally investigating the nature of death and how to live a more fulfilling life. But in his entertaining memoir and self-help book, How to Survive Life (and Death): A Guide for Happiness in This World and Beyond, he delivers his insightful and inspiring personal story, which puts mortality into perspective while offering strategies to improve and experience life to the fullest. Crafted in simple, accessible prose, and filled with lots of good humor, the author intersperses details of each of his NDEs, which occurred via various culprits in three distinct generations of his life. The author's disembodiment experiences—and each aftermath—taught him valuable life lessons that ultimately enlightened him about the nature of time, how to face fear and suffering, why "radical kindness" and compassion, along with forging a spirit of generosity and forgiveness, are essential to keeping faith and hope alive.

Kopecky ties cosmology, metaphysics and quantum reality together with his own spiritual experiences, while also weaving in theories from Buddhism, Hinduism, the teachings of Gandhi, excerpts from the apocryphal Gospels of Thomas and the more contemporary views of Joseph Campbell. In the end, Kopecky's miraculous passages back from the brink of death make for a compelling narrative—for believers, nonbelievers and garden-variety skeptics. He demonstrates how love and surrender are liberating, healing powers that can ultimately bring us "out of this world"—and sometimes back again, too!
Conari Press,  $16.95 paper, 97801573246361, 224 pp
Publication Date: April 1, 2014
To order this book via INDIEBOUND link HERE

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Martha Grimes: Every Book the Last Book

The Writer's Life

Since 1981, fans of the Richard Jury mysteries have come to expect eccentric characters, peculiar murders and a smart, cultured, analytical detective who searches for killers from a cast of disparate suspects. One of the more consistent hallmarks of a Richard Jury novel are the titles derived from clever names of actual pubs and bars, like The Old Fox Deceiv'd and The StargazeyMartha Grimes has largely set the atmospheric series in London and quaint, small-town villages in the English countryside, but a few titles are also set in America--The Horse You Came in On in Baltimore, Md., and Rainbow's End in Santa Fe, N.Mex. Her new Jury novel, Vertigo 42 (see review below), is set in London and environs.
Grimes is a writer of authority and great wit. She continues to reinvent and put refreshing new spins on the traditional mystery form. She has also penned several other books, not all of them mysteries. Her novels Foul Matter and The Way of All Fish offer funny, suspenseful send-ups of the publishing industry.
You are a U.S. born-and-bred writer, yet most of the Jury novels are set in Britain. What is your connection to England?
None, other than I've always liked it.
Do you often travel to England and the British countryside for research?
Not as often as I used to. Perhaps every couple of years now.
You've written 23 books in the Jury series. How and why do you stay engaged in this series and keep it fresh?
Because I like the characters, not simply Richard Jury and Melrose Plant, but all of the characters, including the ones readers appear to hate.
How was Richard Jury's character originally created?
As with all of my characters, Richard Jury simply popped into my mind. So did Melrose Plant. So did all of the others. There's no backstory; there's no searching for names; there's nothing prior. All I knew about the main character was that I wanted a Scotland Yard detective.
Do you have favorite characters from the Jury series? If so, who are they and why do they appeal to you?
Carole-anne Palutski (Jury's neighbor) is one because she's always intruding. She has no respect for Jury's personal "space." This amuses me. I'm especially fond of the kids and the animals. I always enjoy writing scenes with them in it. Mungo (the dog) was a total relief from boredom.
I also really like Harry Johnson because he's more clever, most of the time, than Richard Jury. Jury needs a nemesis.
The names of pubs and bars play a significant role in each Jury novel. Was this a conscious choice from the inception of the series?
Yes. I couldn't imagine better titles.
The name and atmosphere of the champagne bar, Vertigo 42, is a departure from your usual small-time pubs. Why did you make this choice?
Because of the name. How could one resist it?
How did the story of Vertigo 42 germinate?
Stories don't really "germinate" for me. I start writing and keep writing and the story goes on. Vertigo 42 started because, as I said, I was fascinated by the name. That's the way a lot of the books in the series started: because of the name.
Do you carefully plot out your novels in advance of writing them?
I never plot them out. I tried once and couldn't do it. The reason for this is (1) I can't write unless characters are moving and talking in some setting that I can see and hear, and (2) plots bore me. There is a famous writer/editor, whose name escapes me, who was approached by a student who asked him to look at a plot she'd formed for a novel. He said, "There is no plot." I loved that. A plot cannot be foretold separately from the whole story.
You studied at the University of Iowa writing program and concentrated on poetry. How and why did your writing career veer toward mystery novels?
My poetry was complicated by elements of mystery--dark houses, fleeing children, bodies, blood. The book of poetry I published is a British mystery in poetry form, or a satirical treatment of one.
Your memoir, Double, Double--co-written with your son, Ken--deals with your shared struggles with alcoholism. Would fans of the Richard Jury mysteries want to read this book?
I don't know if they'd want to read it because they like Jury. But everyone knows someone who's been touched by alcoholism, so perhaps that would be a reason to read it.
Is there a difference between writing a novel "under the influence" versus being sober?
Yes, "under the influence" is more fun. However, "under the influence" suggests some sort of drunken stupor. I never actually drank when I wrote, but that had to do with my writing schedule more than my being a good little writer. Insofar as the books are concerned, I doubt anyone could tell where the line was drawn.
If readers have not yet experienced a Richard Jury novel (pity the fool!), should they start with the first book (The Man with a Load of Mischief) or can they jump into the series midstream?
There's no need to start at the beginning. I'd suggest The Anodyne because it introduces the Cripps family and features Emily Louise Perk, who serves as a perfect example of Jury's and Melrose Plant's interactions with children. But one could start anywhere in the series, I think.
Do you have a favorite Richard Jury novel?
The Old Wine Shades because it's intelligent. I enjoyed writing about quantum mechanics and, also, it introduces both Harry Johnson and the dog Mungo. How could I ask for more?
You've been writing and publishing books for decades. Does the process get easier or more difficult?
More difficult. Much, much more difficult.
You are an esteemed and lauded "mystery writer." Do you often have the urge to write fiction other than mysteries?
I've written nine novels that are not mysteries--two books in the Andi Oliver series certainly aren't mysteries! How do readers come by this naive idea that any book that contains a mysterious death or a disappearance or something else inexplicable is a "mystery"? If that were the case, even Henry James would be thought to have written several "mysteries." I'm getting tired of the assumption that any book I write must be a mystery.
Throughout the series, Richard Jury has been rather unlucky in love. Do you think he'll ever find a true, lasting soul mate?
I thought he had. But I was wrong. I think he will. I could be wrong again.
Do you foresee a conscious end or conclusion to the Jury series some day?
Robert Frost said, "Make every poem your last poem." Every Jury novel has a note of finality to it, although the only one readers ever paid attention to was the ending of The Blue Last. Every book is the last book, in a very real sense. I have no plans for closing down Richard Jury. But life does. --Kathleen Gerard

Note: This interview is a reprint and is being posted with the permission of Shelf Awareness. To read this Q&A on Shelf Awareness: Maximum Shelf (5/21/14), click HERE

Vertigo 42

New Scotland Yard Superintendent Richard Jury returns to the page with a visit to Vertigo 42, a stylish high-rise champagne bar in London. Jury is meeting friend-of-a-friend Tom Williamson, whose wife, Tess, died 17 years earlier. Her fatal fall down a flight of garden stairs was ruled a result of a misstep, but Tom isn't convinced. He asks Richard Jury if he'll use his connections to investigate.

Five years before Tess's death, she'd hosted a party for some children at her estate; tragically, nine-year-old Hilda Palmer fell into a drained pool on the grounds and died. Could Tess's death been an act of revenge?

For the next seven days, Martha Grimes (The Man with a Load of Mischief) plots the journey of Jury and his dependable sidekick, Sergeant Wiggins. As they travel through the English countryside, they seek out the five surviving party guests (all now adults with secrets of their own), hoping to unearth new insights into Tess's death. Their quest is complicated by two more deaths--in Long Piddleton and Sidbury--that may or may not be related.

With each new discovery and red herring, Grimes leads readers deeper into dark, winding labyrinths of suspicion and doubt. Jury remains an engaging protagonist: smart, witty, sarcastic and wholly unafraid to follow his instincts. As in the other 22 books in the series, Grimes's fondness for classic movies, literature and cleverly named British pubs resurface.  In Vertigo 42, Grimes, a master of the genre, pays homage to Alfred Hitchcock. While some of the identifying descriptions of the large supporting cast are a bit sketchy, Grimes surprising mystery gives just enough information to refresh old fans and whet the appetites of new readers

Scribner Books, $26.00 Hardcover, 9781476724027, 326 pp
Publication Date: June 3, 2014
To order this book via INDIEBOUND link HERE

Note: This review is a reprint and is being posted (in a slightly different form) with the permission of Shelf Awareness. To read this review on Shelf Awareness: Reader's Edition (6/3/14), click HERE

To read the full review of this novel as originally published as a special feature of Shelf Awareness: Maximum Shelf (5/21/14)--a much longer and much more comprehensive review--link HERE

Sunday, June 8, 2014

The Dog Year

Beneath the surface of Luscious "Lucy" Peterman's life as a well-respected Elmwood, Wisconsin breast surgeon is a woman with a shattered psyche. Eight months before, Lucy lost her loving husband and her unborn child in a single afternoon. Ever since, Lucy has tried to bury herself in work. But there's a problem. Lucy has developed an inexplicable urge to pilfer hospital supplies such as bandages, tape, IV tubing and stockpile them in the bedroom she once shared with her husband. When the powers-that-be at the hospital catch Lucy in the act of stealing, she is given an ultimatum: go for psychological counseling or forfeit her medical license. Under protest, she chooses the former, soon understanding that the root of her addiction stems from the realization that if she had such provisions with her on the day her life forever changed, Lucy might've been able to alter her fate.

The bond Lucy shares with her brother deepens as she undergoes treatment for her kleptomania and is propelled on a journey that connects her with a concerned psychoanalyst; an anorexic stranger with deep-seated emotional issues of her own, who might have friend potential; quirky attendees at a local 12-Step, AA meeting; and a snarky cop who once knew Lucy in high school. Along the way, a stray dog unexpectedly wins Lucy's affections and helps soothe her languishing grief.

Engrossing characterizations and unexpected complications permeate The Dog Year by Ann Garvin (On Maggie's Watch), a novel that addresses serious issues of loss and self-actualization in a very entertaining way.

Berkley Trade,  $15.00 paper, 9780425269251 , 336 pp
Publication Date: June 3, 2014
To order this book via INDIEBOUND link HERE

Note: This review is a reprint and is being posted (in a slightly different form) with the permission of Shelf Awareness. To read this review on Shelf Awareness: Reader's Edition (6/6/14), click HERE

Sunday, May 25, 2014

My Wish List

Middle-age is a time for reflection. But for Jocelyne Guerbette, the 47 year-old owner of a local haberdashery in Arras, France, the stakes grow higher when she wins an $18 million lottery jackpot. For over twenty years, Jocelyne has lived an uneventful life in "a dreary town, no airport, a grey place." She has endured the loss of a child and marital ups and downs to a handsome man, now sober, who works for Haagen-Dazs and whom Jocelyne imagines dreams of driving a Porsche and being married to a younger, thinner wife. She loves her two adult children, but they clearly have lives of their own. Tending to the shop, cultivating light-hearted friendships and caring for an infirm and much-adored father have sustained her, along with maintaining a successful blog that has enough "unique visitors" that advertisers now want space.

Jocelyne narrates author Gregoire Delacourt's compressed, evocative novel. The story is structured in short, revelatory chapters infused with an unexpected twist that speaks volumes about the nature of truth, love and happiness. When Jocelyne learns of her lottery win, she is faced with a choice—to share the news or to hide the truth? As Jocelyne reassesses the startling truths and realities of her life, she compiles lists of what she might do with the winnings. Should she buy a potato peeler? A flat screen TV? Or maybe a home by the sea? But would the money wreck the however imperfect life that Jocelyne comes to believe she deeply loves?

My Wish List by Gregoire Delacourt; translated from the French by Anthea Bell
Penguin Books,  $15.00 trade paper, 9780143124658 , 176 pp
Publication Date: March 25, 2014
To order this book via INDIEBOUND link HERE

Note: This review is a reprint and is being posted (in a slightly different form) with the permission of Shelf Awareness. To read this review on Shelf Awareness: Reader's Edition (4/1/14), click HERE

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Julia MacDonnell: A Search for Truth

The Writer's Life

photo: Gabriel P. Chang
Throughout her life, author Julia MacDonnell has been "trying to piece scraps of secrets and stories" together. The fact that her mother never spoke about the experiences of her own painful childhood and upbringing--she was one of five daughters, losing her own mother in childbirth when she was six; her father died just a few years later; and she and her sisters were "taken in" and raised by a paternal grandmother--seems a "take-off point" for MacDonnell in the creation of her novel Mimi Malloy, at Last! (See review below).
MacDonnell's first novel, A Year of Favor, was published in 1994 and centers on a young journalist caught up in a dramatic saga set in Central America. MacDonnell has worked as a freelance reporter, journalist and is a tenured professor of Creative Writing at Rowan University in Glassboro, N.J.
It's been 20 years between books. Why such a large gap?
Believe me, it wasn't a gap I ever planned for or wanted! The reception of my first novel was a heartbreaking experience. At the time, my publisher was in the midst of a huge transition. My editor left, and my novel ultimately became something of an "orphaned book." In the end, it fell through the cracks. It wasn't championed as I had hoped, and it was a crushing experience. But I never stopped writing, never stopped longing to be published, and never stopped believing that I would, sooner or later, be published again. During those years, I wrote about 15 short stories, eight of which have been published. My story "Dancing with Ned" was recently published in the spring issue of Alaska Quarterly Review. I also have two other novels in various states of completion.
How did Mimi Malloy, at Last! germinate? What was the inspiration?
I recently found journal notes dated 1992 that I wrote right after my mother's death. I'm the second oldest in a brood of eight children. My mother and I had an enduringly contentious relationship, though we squeezed in a few happy years after my kids were born. But once she'd passed--unexpectedly from a stroke at the age of 64--I realized I knew almost nothing about her life. And by then I could not ask. Years of confusion and false starts passed. Then I wrote a story called "Diana's Dresses," in which a 40-something daughter takes her ailing, grouchy mother to an exhibit of Princess Diana's gowns. I found Mimi in that story. But only once my novel was finished did I realize that I'd imagined for myself the necessary mother, a mother I understood, loved, appreciated and respected, and who returned all those feelings back to me.
Tell us about how you write.
Before I begin to write, I stake out certain perimeters and parameters for the story. Sometimes, I'll scribble these out by hand and tack the pieces of paper to the wall. As the late John Gardner said, a bad plan is better than no plan. Usually, I know how the story will end, but I don't know how I'll get there. For me, everything that really matters happens during the writing itself, and everything is open to change. I listen hard to my characters--I'm a good listener--and I've learned to let my stories grow and change; to not impose my ideas on them or try to control them too much.
The setting and characters are always easiest for me. As with Mimi, the characters come at me, hooting and hollering like hungry children, demanding to be taken care of. Then I've got to figure out how to entertain and appease them, keep them busy, give them something worthwhile to do. Figuring out the plot and structuring the novel are always the hardest things for me.
Did the story of Mimi Malloy change over the course of the writing?
Drastically! Yes! The first time through, I imposed upon Mimi my own, much harsher, perspective on her life story. But then I began to hear her voice--a pungent brew of wisdom, snark and cliché--that emerged during the writing. She began to talk to me and tell me how she wanted her story to unfold. The early drafts of Mimi were quite dark. She was, in a sense, foretelling the story of her own death.... But Mimi mutinied. She told me in no uncertain terms that she wasn't done with life, with love, with mothering her children.... She was mad as hell about me trying to kill her off, and she switched on a big torchlight to show me where the story had to go. Mimi insisted that her life take a more joyful path. Thank God I had the good sense to listen to her, though we argued often.
Faeries and banshees (female spirits) play a part in Mimi Malloy. What is your experience with beliefs of this nature?
Angels and faeries have so much in common as to be almost indistinguishable, especially to a child with a vivid imagination. They're both invisible winged creatures with great power. My Irish-Catholic family considered assimilation into the middle class of the United States the ever-to-be-strived-for goal: we were Americans; we were required to melt into the melting pot. Those left in the "old country" were uneducated, ignorant even if through no fault of their own, and not to be trusted for any information at all about how the world worked. In other words, we most definitely did not believe in faeries, which would have been a form of blasphemy, though we knew people, including family members, who did. We knew about faeries to the extent that we knew we didn't believe in them. What we believed in were angels, winged spirits who were everywhere, reporting back to God on our every move.
Your two novels are vastly different, yet both deal with a search for truth. Is this a coincidence?
I was trained as a journalist and, like the protagonist of my first novel, I worked as a reporter, determined always to find the "truth" behind the official story, whatever that might be. I think I became a reporter because I intuited that my truth hunger could be put to good use. No such luck. Rather, I was frustrated and constrained by hard news, by journalistic ways of telling a story. So I moved on to fiction and memoir. But my tireless and, at times, obnoxious "truth search" is an essential part of who I am--even though I learned long ago that "truth" can never be fixed and is as stable as the slush in my backyard after a big snow melt. My need to find out the truth, the real deal, has often marginalized me among my siblings and my work colleagues. But there you have it, I can't help myself.
To me, what the novels share--and they share this with my stories, too--is the struggle of the main characters, all of them women, to find a way to be in the world. These are smart, uncertain, anxious women, locked in combat with their intelligence, their sexuality, their empathies, their inchoate values...they search to find a meaningful way to be in the world.
Will readers have to wait another 20 years for your next book?
I'm refining my story collection, which includes stories about a couple of Mimi's daughters. I've also got two novels in the works--and the less said about them, the better! It's that fear they'll wither on the vine if spoken of too soon. No, it won't be another 20 years!

Note: This interview is a reprint and is being posted with the permission of Shelf Awareness. To read this Q&A on Shelf Awareness: Reader's Edition (5/8/14), click HERE

Mimi Malloy, At Last!

Family is the cornerstone of Mimi Malloy, At Last! a novel by Julia MacDonnell (A Year of Favor), a later-in-life, coming-of-age story about the nature of memory. The heroine, Maire "Mimi" Sheehan Malloy—who sneaks cigarettes and Manhattans and worships the music of Frank Sinatra—thought she was finally settling into her forced retirement. But when a leak springs in a closet ceiling of Mimi's modest apartment in Quincy, Massachusetts, the 68 year-old divorcee—one of seven children in an Irish-Catholic family and mother of six, disparate daughters—has her life upended. After the building handyman—a World War II veteran and widower, with a "bum leg...and a big heart"—addresses the leak, Mimi discovers a striking silver pendant with an aquamarine stone. How did it get in her closet? Mimi, having suffered mini-strokes that have left holes in her memory, cannot remember anything about the pendant or its history.

While Mimi and the handyman begin a relationship, Mimi's grandnephew enlists her help for a genealogy study for school. Mimi's sisters and daughters press for details from the "glory days" of childhood. However, a painful past, long repressed and filled with an abusive stepmother and a long-lost baby sister, suddenly emerges. Might the pendant somehow be connected?

MacDonnell's multi-faceted novel unspools via layered flashbacks. Mimi's no-nonsense narrative voice and a cast of well-drawn characters take readers on a humbling journey that explores the past and present; the bonds between parents, children and sisters; the power of secrets; and heroic acts of love.
Picador,  $35.00 hardcover, 9781250041548 , 288 pp
Publication Date: April 8, 2014
To order this book via INDIEBOUND link HERE

Note: This review is a reprint and is being posted (in a slightly different form) with the permission of Shelf Awareness. To read this review on Shelf Awareness: Reader's Edition (3/18/14), click HERE

Monday, April 28, 2014

Elizabeth Gilbert: Success, Failure and The Drive To Keep Creating

Best-selling author Elizabeth Gilbert was once an "unpublished diner waitress," devastated by rejection letters. And yet, in the wake of the astounding, popular success of her memoir Eat, Pray, Love, she found herself identifying strongly with her former self and former life.
With beautiful insight, Gilbert reflects on why success can be as disorienting as failure and offers a simple—though hard—way to carry on, regardless of outcomes.
This is a short, inspiring talk for anyone facing challenges in life—it's not just for writers!

Visit to watch more inspirational videos

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Almost Perfect

Is it ever too late to dream? Author Diane Daniels Manning explores the implications in Almost Perfect, a touching novel about an older woman who feels her time has passed and a 14 year-old boy, with mild autism, whose dogged determination demonstrates how one is never too old—or limited—to continue to have goals and aspirations. 

The story begins as Elizabeth "Bess" Rutledge has all but given up her livelihood, serving as one of America's top breeders of Standard Poodles, and her dreams of someday winning Westminster, the premiere dog show in all the world. Bess closes up her once-famous kennel, "Umpawaug," located in rural Connecticut and keeps only two dogs: McCreery, one of her aging champions, and his rambunctious, handsome son, Breaker.

At the same time, Benny, a lonely boy who lives nearby—unhappily, with his neglectful father and stepmother and a distant mother whose affection Benny fervently craves—longs to have a dog to keep him company. When the boy with "curly, reddish hair and baby smooth cheeks" accidentally discovers Umpawaug Kennel and meets and falls in love with McCreery and Breaker, his desire to have a dog grows even stronger. His father remains adamant against the prospect. But when Benny learns of Bess's history with dog shows, he decides that if he can learn to become a dog handler and ultimately show Bess's champions at Westminster, he might finally win the attention of his self-centered mother.

Set-in-her-ways, headstrong Bess initially resists Benny's proposition. But with Benny's relentless prodding and determination—along with the encouraging support of Bess's sister, son and a counselor from the special school Benny attends—Bess softens and an unlikely partnership-mentorship forms. 

Can these two, vastly different people help each other fulfill their respective dreams? Can Bess really put her faith in Benny? Is he capable of becoming a dog handler and facing the stresses of learning how to show Bess's beloved poodles?   

Diane Daniels Manning has crafted a sensitive, hope-filled story about a friendship that slowly blooms in and out of dog show arenas, while also offering a behind-the-scenes glimpse inside the suspenseful world of show-dog competition. McCreery and Breaker may be at the heart of this moving novel, but they also serve the larger theme of how dogs and canine companions often bring unlikely people together, forming life-changing bonds that can resurrect and heal the human spirit.
Beltor,  $9.99 paperback, 9780578136394 , 342 pp
Publication Date: January 29, 2014
To order this book via AMAZON link HERE

Note: Up to 100% of the author's profits will be donated to charities serving animals and children. Visit the author's website ( to learn more