Wednesday, February 29, 2012

GRG Recap - Music & Musicians

The Genre Reading Group rocked it out last night with a discussion of books about music and musicians.  From the science of music & the brain to urban legends to Muscle Shoals, Alabama, we talked about it all.  There are so many facets to the impact of music on our lives that it would've been impossible to have comprehensive discussion, but the group enjoyed ranging far and wide on the books we read.

We'll be reading fiction next month and the topic is magical realism.  There is a large display of these books at the second floor Reference Desk so please do stop by and check one (or more!!) out, even if you can't make it to the March 27 GRG meeting to join in the discussion.

On to the list!

Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain by Oliver Sacks
With the same trademark compassion and erudition he brought to The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, Oliver Sacks explores the place music occupies in the brain and how it affects the human condition. In Musicophilia, he shows us a variety of what he calls “musical misalignments.” Among them: a man struck by lightning who suddenly desires to become a pianist at the age of forty-two; an entire group of children with Williams syndrome, who are hypermusical from birth; people with “amusia,” to whom a symphony sounds like the clattering of pots and pans; and a man whose memory spans only seven seconds-for everything but music. Illuminating, inspiring, and utterly unforgettable, Musicophilia is Oliver Sacks' latest masterpiece.

Girls Like Us: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon and the Journey of a Generation by Sheila Weller

Carole King, Joni Mitchell, and Carly Simon remain among the most enduring and important women in popular music. Each woman is distinct. Carole King is the product of outer-borough, middle-class New York City; Joni Mitchell is a granddaughter of Canadian farmers; and Carly Simon is a child of the Manhattan intellectual upper crust. They collectively represent, in their lives and their songs, a great swath of American girls who came of age in the late 1960s. Their stories trace the arc of the now mythic sixties generation -- female version -- but in a bracingly specific and deeply recalled way, far from cliché. The history of the women of that generation has never been written -- until now, through their resonant lives and emblematic songs.

Filled with the voices of many dozens of these women's intimates, who are speaking in these pages for the first time, this alternating biography reads like a novel -- except it's all true, and the heroines are famous and beloved. Sheila Weller captures the character of each woman and gives a balanced portrayal enriched by a wealth of new information.

Girls Like Us is an epic treatment of midcentury women who dared to break tradition and become what none had been before them -- confessors in song, rock superstars, and adventurers of heart and soul.

GENERAL DISCUSSION:  I thought there was a film made from this book, but I don't see any evidence of that.  The book was optioned in 2008 however.  The movie I was thinking about was actually The Runaways, starring Kristen Stewart, released in 2010 and adapted from the book Neon Angel: A Memoir of a Runaway by Cherie Currie.  PBS Arts has a special called Women Who Rock, exploring the phenomenon of the women who are the 21st century's top-grossing recording artists.

Music Fell on Alabama by Christopher Fuqua
Music Fell on Alabama is the story of the Muscle Shoals, Alabama, music industry, which began with Rick Hall's single Fame Studios and exploded to turn the Shoals into a thriving music hot spot. Competition and jealousy threatened to end the Shoals' story before it began, as the area quickly began attracting the attention of a who's who of stars, including Bob Seger, Cher, the Osmonds, Aretha Franklin, Paul Simon, and Lynard Skynard.

Who Were the Beatles? by Geoff Edgers
Almost everyone can sing along with the Beatles, but how many young readers know their whole story?  Geoff Edgers, a Boston Globe reporter and hard-core Beatles fan, brings the Fab Four to life in this Who Was...? book.  Readers will learn about their Liverpudlian childhoods, their first forays into rock music, what Beatlemania was like, and why they broke up.  It's all here in an easy-to-read narrative with plenty of black-and-white illustrations!

The 27s: The Greatest Myth of Rock and Roll by Eric Segalstad
When Delta bluesman Robert Johnson died poisoned by whiskey in 1938, he started a mysterious pattern of premature deaths among rock & roll musicians at age 27.

The 27s: The Greatest Myth of Rock & Roll tells the fascinating and complete story about music's most eclectic phenomenon. In addition to stories & anecdotes about the lives and legacies of thirty-four 27s, the book delves into numerical and astrological meanings behind the number 27.
Adding tension to a gripping narrative, The 27s is beautifully illustrated throughout and the art complements or create visual tangents intended to draw the reader further in to The 27s' universe.

Inventive use of maps, timelines, and sidebars aid the reader with a sense of place, additional information, pop cultural placeholders, and more.

The 27s include crooner Jesse Belvin ("Earth Angel," "Goodnight My Love"), Rudy Lewis of the Drifters, Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones, Malcolm Hale of Spanky And Our Gang, Alan Wilson from Canned Heat, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Arlester Christian of Dyke And the Blazers, Jim Morrison, Ron "Pigpen" McKernan of the Grateful Dead, Pete Ham of Badfinger, Gary Thain of Uriah Heep, Roger Lee Durham of Bloodstone, Helmut Koellen of Triumvirat, Chris Bell of Big Star, D. Boon of Minutemen, Pete de Freitas of Echo & the Bunnymen, Mia Zapata of the Gits, Kurt Cobain of Nirvana, Kristin Pfaff of Hole, Raymond "Freaky Tah" Rogers of Lost Boyz, Sean McCabe of Ink & Dagger, Jeremy Michael Ward of De Facto and The Mars Volta, Bryan Ottoson of American Head Charge, Valentin Elizalde.

The recent history of New Orleans is fraught with tragedy and triumph. Both are reflected in the city’s vibrant, idiosyncratic music community. In Keith Spera’s intimately reported Groove Interrupted, Aaron Neville returns to New Orleans for the first time after Hurricane Katrina to bury his wife. Fats Domino improbably rambles around Manhattan to promote a post-Katrina tribute CD. Alex Chilton lives anonymously in a battered cottage in the Treme neighborhood. Platinum-selling rapper Mystikal rekindles his career after six years in prison. Jazz trumpeter Terence Blanchard struggles to translate Katrina into music. The spotlight also shines on Allen Toussaint, Pete Fountain, Gatemouth Brown, the Rebirth Brass Band, Phil Anselmo, Juvenile, Jeremy Davenport and the 2006 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. With heartache, hope, humor and resolve, each of these contemporary narratives stands on its own. Together, they convey that the funky, syncopated spirit of New Orleans music is unbreakable, in spite of Katrina’s interruption.

GENERAL DISCUSSION: One member mentioned a recent Stevie Nicks song celebrating New Orleans.

Take Me Home: An Autobiography by John Denver
The internationally acclaimed singer, songwriter, and environmental activist describes his youth in a conservative military home, striking out on his own, early success, uneasy dealings with fame, and concern for the environment.  

Between Rock and a Home Place by Chuck Leavell
For more than half of the Rolling Stones’s incredible career, Chuck Leavell has been their keyboard player and an integral part of their acclaimed live performances. But fans also recognize him from the landmark Eric Clapton Unplugged session and tours, the late George Harrison’s final performances and of course Leavell’s time with the Allman Brothers at the height of their creative success. That’s only half the story of the Alabama-born musician, however, who reveals in this candid, photo-filled memoir how he became not only one of the world’s most highly regarded rock and roll piano players, but also one of the most respected and hon-ored environmentalists and forestry experts in the United States.

Chuck Leavell is one of the most respected keyboardists in the world of rock-n-roll, and at the same time, his work at Charlane Plantation--the award-winning tree farm he and his wife Rose Lane have created near Macon, Georgia--has earned Leavell a fast-growing reputation as one of our country’s foremost conservationists. His first book, Forever Green: The History and Hope of the American Forest, 2nd Edition was released in 2004.

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
Somewhere in South America, at the home of the country's vice president, a lavish birthday party is being held in honor of the powerful businessman Mr. Hosokawa. Roxane Coss, opera's most revered soprano, has mesmerized the international guests with her singing. It is a perfect evening—until a band of gun-wielding terrorists takes the entire party hostage. But what begins as a panicked, life-threatening scenario slowly evolves into something quite different, a moment of great beauty, as terrorists and hostages forge unexpected bonds, and people from different continents become compatriots. Friendship, compassion, and the chance for great love lead the characters to forget the real danger that has been set in motion . . . and cannot be stopped.

Stardust Melody: The Life and Music of Hoagy Carmichael by Richard M. Sudhalter
Georgia on My Mind, Rockin' Chair, Skylark, Lazybones, and of course the incomparable Star Dust--who else could have composed these classic American songs but Hoagy Carmichael? He remains, for millions, the voice of heartland America, eternal counterpoint to the urban sensibility of Cole Porter and George Gershwin. Now, trumpeter and historian Richard M. Sudhalter has penned the first book-length biography of the man Alec Wilder hailed as "the most talented, inventive, sophisticated and jazz-oriented of all the great songwriters--the greatest of the great craftsmen."

Stardust Melody follows Carmichael from his roaring-twenties Indiana youth to bandstands and recording studios across the nation, playing piano and singing alongside jazz greats Jack Teagarden, Benny Goodman, Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, and close friends Bix Beiderbecke and Louis Armstrong. It illuminates his peak Hollywood years, starring in such films as To Have and Have Notand The Best Years of Our Lives, and on radio, records and TV. With compassionate insight Sudhalter depicts Hoagy's triumphs and tragedies, and his mounting despair as rock-and-roll drowns out and lays waste to the last days of a brilliant career.

With an insider's clarity Sudhalter explores the songs themselves, still fresh and appealing while reminding us of our innocent American yesterdays. Drawing on Carmichael's private papers and on interviews with family, friends and colleagues, he reveals that "The Old Music Master" was almost as gifted a wordsmith as a shaper of melodies. In all, Stardust Melody offers a richly textured portrait of one of our greatest musical figures, an inspiring American icon.

What have we missed on this topic?

Friday, February 24, 2012

Downton Fever!

For the past several months, my weekends (for the Dowager Countess’ information: n. the end of a week, especially the period of time between Friday evening and Monday morning) have been pleasantly rounded by episodes of the second season of Downton Abbey on PBS’ long-running Masterpiece Theater.  Well, it is more accurate to say that I have eagerly anticipated Sunday night so that I can completely stop whatever I am doing (cooking dinner, working on an assignment for class, having a conversation) and be transported into early 20th century Britain for a few hours.

In case your lodgings exist under a rock, Downton Abbey is a British television series about the fictional aristocratic Crawley family and the family’s servants at their country estate.  The critically acclaimed period drama has amassed a legion of American fans since its first airing on Masterpiece Theatre last year because of the sumptious production design, historical setting, and dramatic storylines invovling both the artistocratic family and the family's servants. Watching one good period drama has made me hungry for more, and now that the wait has begun for season three, I have been on the lookout for Downton Abbey watch-a-likes. Over the past week I have viewed The Young Victoria (screenplay written by Downton creator Julian Fellowes) depicting the budding relationship between Queen Victoria and Prince Albert as well as The Duchess starring Kiera Knightley, based on Amanda Foreman’s biography of the fashionable and politcally-savvy Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire. Thankfully, I found the website Enchanted Serenity of Period Films, which has indexed hundreds of periods films, including a number set in the Edwardian era, the era in which Downton begins.

The following are some Downton watch-a-likes films and miniseries to help keep you occupied before Season 3 begins: 

A Very Long Engagement starring Audrey Tautou, is a love story based on the book by Sebastien Japrisot and directed by the visionary Jean Pierre Jeunet. In the first rain-drenched scenes, we meet five condemned French soldiers as they are being led to No Man’s Land, the above ground area between the French and German trenches on the frontlines of the Battle of the Somme. The youngest of these five soldiers is Manech, who says he can feel the heartbeat of his fiance Mathilde in his self-muitlated hand.  In 1920, armed only with the clues she can glean from the possessions left by the the condemned soldiers and stubbornly convinced that Manech survived No Man's Land, Mathilde wages her own war to find out what happened to her fiance after going over the top.

Gosford Park is a winning collaboration between revered director Robert Altman and Downton creator and writer Fellowes evoking Agatha Christie. Sir William McCordle and his wife Lady McCordle host a shooting weekend at their country estate, bringing together their wealthy guests and the guests' servants, played by an excellent ensemble cast (including Maggie Smith as....a plucky Dowager Countess). When a murder occurs during the weekend, all are suspect and well-hidden secrets come to light in this gripping upstairs-downstairs mystery.
More films and miniseries to check out include:

Brideshead Revisited, both a 1981 miniseries starring Jeremy Irons and a 2008 film based on the book Evelyn Waugh called his "magnum opus."

The Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy was most recently adapted for television in a 2002 miniseries starring the dashing ginger-haired Damian Lewis.

and Upstairs, Downstairs, both the original 1970s television show and the 2010 remake currently on-air in Britain.

Unlike many series airing on Masterpiece Theater, Downton was not based on a classic novel. However, there are plenty of read-a-likes to check out that evoke the same time period and topics covered on the show:

Birds of a Feather by Jacqueline Winspear finds housemaid turned detective Maisie Dobbs on the trail of a thirty-something-year-old runaway daughter of a worried businessman. The young lady's disappearance is connected to the death of another young woman. Does a single white feather provide a clue to the killer? Nearly fifteen years after the Great War, Maisie Dobbs finds that some wounds have not healed, to a murderous degree.  

American Heiress features another wealthy American woman named Cora that found a place for herself in the British aristocracy in this debut novel by Daisy Goodwin. Cora Cash marries the charming Duke of Wareham and discovers the high price to pay for her dreams of nobility.

In Inheritance by Robert Sackville West, the vast country house of Knole, formally the seat of the Earl of Dorset, is the main character. Since the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, the massive estate was home to generations of the Sackville family and proved to be a towering presence in the family's story.

For more great reads about British aristocracy, English country estates, World War I and more, check out:

Aristocrats by Stella Tillyard

The House of Tyneford by Natasha Solomons

The Beauty and the Sorrow by Peter Englund

The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford

Below Stairs by Margaret Powell

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

The Newcomes by William Makepeace Thackeray

The Children’s Book by A.S. Byatt

and don’t forget the bastion of British historical fiction Georgette Heyer!  
So stop by the 2nd floor reference desk if you want to talk about Cousin Matthew, Mr. Bates and the rest of the crew AND to pick up a Downton Abbey read-a-like and watch-a-like flyer that Holley and I put together just for YOU!!


Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Made For Each Other

Happy Valentine's Day! 
Love is in the air at the library.  Literally, it is hanging from the ceiling in the form of candy-colored hearts printed with sweet messages using a font complete tiny hearts to dot the i’s.  You see, Holley and I went a little overboard for our Valentine’s Day display because we got so EXCITED about the theme - famous couples!  Holley assembled an intriguing array of books featuring the history and fiction’s most-loved love stories such as Napoleon and Josephine, Scarlett and Rhett, and Tristan and Isolde.

But to draw attention to some lesser known literary couples, I want to tell you about two stories whose characters, for me, have become synonymous with the joys and trials of true love.

The sleepy French provincial village of Sainte-Agathe in The Lost Estate by Alain-Fournier wakes up with the arrival of charismatic seventeen year old Augustin Meaulnes.  Le Grand Meaulnes, as the other schoolchildren call him, gets lost in the countryside for three days and happens upon a decripet but enchanting chateau.  There, in the midst of a whirling betrothal celebration, he meets the beautiful sister of the groom, Yvonne de Galais. When Meaulnes tries to return to the chateau, he cannot find the way, setting him off on a dream-like quest for his lost love. Meaulnes’ journey is made all the more romantic by the fact that Yvonne de Galais is based on the real-life Yvonne de Quievrecourt, a young lady whom Alain-Fournier met by chance on Seine riverbank.  He waited for her at the same place the next day and the next and immortalized her on the page as Meaulnes’ elusive Yvonne de Galais. Tragically, Alain-Fournier would die in World War I a year after the publication of this, his only finished novel.

Part one of Sigrid Undset's intimate yet sweeping Kristin Lavrandatter saga set in medieval Norway, is the most romantic. In The Wreath, we are introduced to the young Kristin.  She is devoted to her father, obedient to religion, and delighted by everyday life on her family’s expansive farm in rural Norway. While a child, Kristin’s parents arranged for her to marry the affable Simon Darre as an advantageous match for the estate.  But before her marriage occurs, teenaged Kristin meets the dashing but scandal-ridden Erlend Nikulausson.  Overcome by her intense attraction to Erlend, Kristin struggles with how to reconcile the disparate roles of dutiful daughter and passionate lover of Erlend. The arc of Kristin’s timeless story is continued in the trilogy’s next two installments.

Stop by the second floor to check out the previous titles and much more including:

Heloise and Abelard: A New Biography by James Burge includes insights from recently discovered love letters between the philosopher and his intelligent student.

Helen of Troy by Bettany Hughes casts new light in the biography of the owner of the face that launched a thousand ships.

Twilight of Avalon by Anna Elliott - Elliott returns to the earliest versions of the Tristan and Isolde myth to craft a beautiful tale of the two lovers.

The Loves of Charles II by Jean Plaidy is an intriguing novel by one of England's foremost historical novelists

The Woman He Loved by Ralph G. Martin heavily researched the The Duke and Duchess of Windsor as individuals and as a couple to craft this biography of what is surely one of the world's most talked about love affairs of the 20th century.

Abigail and John: a Portrait of a Marriage by Edith B. Gelles presents the fullest examination to date of the fifty-four year marriage between two of the nation's most revered figures.

The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton - Published in 1920, Wharton's masterpiece critiques the mores of late 19th century through the forbidden love of Newland Archer and the Countess Ellen Olesnka, members of New York City society's upper echelons.

Go Down Together: the True Untold Story of Bonnie and Clyde by Jeff Guinn is a detailed account of the infamous couple.

The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett - There has never been a more compatible literary match than Nick and Nora Charles whose witty banter and glamorous lifestyle propel this detective story into a classic.

The Commoner by John Burnham Schwartz is the story of the first-nonaristocratic woman to marry into Japan's imperial family.


Thursday, February 2, 2012

Coffee & Couponing Panel Re-Cap

Hi Readers!
I wanted to give you a run down on the great presentation we had this past Saturday at our Coffee & Couponing Panel. We had a variety of guests, so really managed to cover a LOT of topics.
Our panelists were:

  • Christie Dedman who you may from her 14 years at The Birmingham News or, more likely, as the Birmingham Bargain Mom! Christie has three money-saving columns that appear in The Birmingham News and The Birmingham News' Extra each week. She is featured bi-weekly on WBRC-Fox 6 and weekly on Birmingham's Magic 96.5's morning show.
  • Patrick Noles is a Birmingham native and the Owner of The Super Deal.Com. He comes to us with information about finding awesome online deals from local retailers. 
  • Holly Syx is the founder and owner of a local website offering deals for all sorts of establishments from Publix to
  • Trish Bogdanchick is a founder of which was begun in 2008 with the goal to provide parents in the Birmingham and surrounding region with local resources to make parenting less stressful and more fun, AND to save you time, energy and MONEY!
Our panelists gave us a lot of great resources to save money on groceries, tech items, clothing, and more. A lot of those deals can be found online at coupon sources such as:
When an audience member expressed that the coupons from these sources seem to be for foods that are not always healthy, Christie Dedman responded that Whole Foods is a great coupon resource, and the flyer at the front of the store usually has really good deals. 

Trish B. spoke about some of the deals offered at her website, as well as websites like which offers coupon codes and discounts to popular retail establishments. She also said the Junior League of Birmingham's Bargain Carousel is one of the best places to get great deals! Information about this event, which is often called "the largest garage sale in Birmingham" can be found at the Junior League's website. And by the way, the next Bargain Carousel will be held in April, just a few short months away!

Patrick spoke about the deals available at his website, Patrick talked about ways his business works with local businesses to provide customers with good deals while supporting the local economy. Deals at savings from 50%-70% off can be found at his website for clothing, restaurants, and local activities. An email every day brings the deal to your inbox! Some examples of recent deals include some our neighbors in Crestline such as The Pants Store, Zoe's Kitchen, and Laura Kathryn

Dr. Rauterkus, who was our moderator for the panel, opened the Q&A session with a questions of his own - are those big box stores like Sam's Club and Costco a good deal?
The response from the panel was mixed. Most agreed that the big stores can be a good deal, especially for meats and, according to Holly Syx, your baking items like flour, sugar, chocolate chips, and some herbs. Trish B. and Christie commented that the name brands tend to be cheaper at grocery stores when you shop on a sale day AND with coupons! Holly and Christie both said that is also a surprisingly good place to get deals on groceries and some items for the home. 

Everyone agreed that, no matter what you are buying, you should check for online deals as well as in-store offerings. Many times deals are available online, sometimes even with free shipping, that are not available in-store.
One audience member asked how our panelists are paid. Holly Syx said that her website grew out of her coupning habit/hobby. She started out emailing a list of coupon deals in spreadsheet format until people started telling her she should create a website - and a business was born! Patrick and Trish both stated that they earn revenue from ads and local partners. Christie is an employee of the Birmingham News!

Some other audience questions concerned coupon clipping services, which are out there on the Internet and make coupons available, but you do have to pay for them. One of our panelists also mentioned some couponing groups will offer swaps. There are couponing groups in both yahoo and google, so check them out!
If you were at our panel presentation and want to add something to this list, please comment and let me know!

Good luck saving :)

Katie M.

    Wednesday, February 1, 2012

    GRG Recap - Stories Narrated by Animals

    The Genre Reading Group met last night to discuss fiction novels with animal narrators.  That is, animals of the four-legged variety!

    It was an interesting topic and really got us thinking about the issue of perspective.  I put forth the argument that when an author may want to explore a topic from a fresh view, or without the inherent biases and prejudgments that normally accompany (fictional or otherwise) the adult human perspective, he/she may use an unusual narrative perspective to achieve that distance while still cultivating some emotional investment in the turn of events.

    Books like Emma Donoghue's Room, narrated by a five-year-old, lend a child's perspective to grown up topics.  Little Jack, a victim of kidnapping who has known only the confines of an eleven by eleven room his entire life, is suddenly confronted with the utter strangeness of a world which we all take for granted, allowing us to see our environment through brand new eyes.  Alan Bradley's Flavia de Luce mysteries (the first in the series is The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie) are light and funny.  Flavia is an enchanting eleven-year-old amateur chemist/detective whose insights are laser sharp, cutting through all the bureaucratic red tape that comes with adulthood.

    The Collector Collector by Tibor Fischer is narrated by an ancient ceramic bowl.  Don't laugh, this is no passive container.  This bowl has been witness to some of "history's major convulsions--revolutions, famines, massacres, wars--and has survived more than four hundred breakages and three thousand thefts."  The bowl is there, a eye witness, without having any real hindering from emotional investments in what is going on.

    Another great perspective from an unusual narrator is Markus Zusak's The Book Thief.  The story is about a young German girl named Liesel fostering with a family outside Munich during World War II.  While much of the story revolves around Liesel, her family, and the Jewish man they are hiding in their basement, Death is the one telling the story and he gives readers glimpses of his life and heartbreaking work during World War II.

    The other perspective is, of course, that of animals.  This is the perspective the Genre Reading Group read and discussed last night and here is the list of books brought to the meeting.

    A Dog's Life by Peter Mayle
    The bestselling author of A Year in Provence and Hotel Pastis now surveys his territory from a different vantage point: the all-fours perspective of his dog, Boy--"a dog whose personality is made up of equal parts Boswell and Dr. Johnson, Mencken and A. A. Milne" (Chicago Sun-Times). Enhanced by 59 splendidly whimsical drawings by Edward Koren.

    A GRG member shared a favorite quote from A Dog's Life, "To err is human.  To forgive, canine."

    Walking in Circles Before Lying Down by Merrill Markoe
    Dawn Tarnauer’s life isn’t exactly a success story. Already twice divorced, the young Californian is too busy job-hopping to start a career, her current boyfriend insists on living “off the grid,” her Life Coach sister perpetually interferes with incomprehensible affirmations, her eccentric mother is busy promoting the culmination of her life’s work: The Every Holiday Tree, and her father is ending his brief third marriage while scheduling two dates for the same night.

    Dawn’s only source of security and comfort, it seems, is Chuck, a pit-bull mix from the pound. So, when her boyfriend announces that he’s leaving her for another woman, a despairing Dawn turns to Chuck for solace. “I should have said something sooner,” Chuck confides, as he tries to console her. “Couldn’t you smell her on his pants?”

    Dawn is stunned. It’s one thing to talk to your pets, but what do you do when they start talking back? It’s not just Chuck, either; she can hear all dogs–and man’s best friend has a lot to say. The ever-enthusiastic Chuck offers his tried-and-true advice on the merits of knocking over garbage and strewing it everywhere, auxiliary competitive peeing etiquette, and the curative powers of tossing a ball. Doubtful of her own sanity, Dawn considers that, in the ways of life and love, it might be better to trust Chuck’s doggie instincts instead of her own.

    Filled with sharp wit, biting humor, and canine conversation that would make Doctor Dolittle’s jaw drop, Merrill Markoe’s engaging, cleverly written novel is about the confusing search for love and the divine acts of dog.

    The Labrador Pact by Matt Haig
    The Hunters are your typical family, with typical concerns—work, money, love, the trials of adolescence—with one difference: they are protected by a highly atypical dog, their black Labrador, Prince. Prince views it as his sacred duty to protect his family and guard its integrity. But what is he to do when the family's worst enemies are themselves?

    Wry, perceptive and heartbreaking, The Labrador Pact is a cunning and original take on domestic life in all its joy and disillusionment. Matt Haig has created an improbably poignant narrator in Prince, offering a truly unique perspective on the foibles of family relationships. As Prince uses his heart and soul (and wags and barks) to keep the Hunter clan together, he finds himself confounded by the odd behavior of the humans he loves. To save his family, Prince must betray the ancient Pact of the Labradors—a decision that may cost him everything.

    The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein
    Enzo knows he is different from other dogs: a philosopher with a nearly human soul (and an obsession with opposable thumbs), he has educated himself by watching television extensively, and by listening very closely to the words of his master, Denny Swift, an up-and-coming race car driver.

    Through Denny, Enzo has gained tremendous insight into the human condition, and he sees that life, like racing, isn't simply about going fast. Using the techniques needed on the race track, one can successfully navigate all of life's ordeals.

    On the eve of his death, Enzo takes stock of his life, recalling all that he and his family have been through: the sacrifices Denny has made to succeed professionally; the unexpected loss of Eve, Denny's wife; the three-year battle over their daughter, ZoË, whose maternal grandparents pulled every string to gain custody. In the end, despite what he sees as his own limitations, Enzo comes through heroically to preserve the Swift family, holding in his heart the dream that Denny will become a racing champion with ZoË at his side. Having learned what it takes to be a compassionate and successful person, the wise canine can barely wait until his next lifetime, when he is sure he will return as a man.

    A heart-wrenching but deeply funny and ultimately uplifting story of family, love, loyalty, and hope, The Art of Racing in the Rain is a beautifully crafted and captivating look at the wonders and absurdities of human life . . . as only a dog could tell it.

    This book is not part of our genre, but came highly recommended by one GRG-er, Thunder Dog: The True Story of a Blind Man, His Guide Dog, and the Triumph of Trust at Ground Zero by Michael Hingson with Susy Flory
    A blind man and his guide dog show the power of trust and courage in the midst of devastating terror.
    It was 12:30 a.m. on 9/11 and Roselle whimpered at Michael's bedside. A thunderstorm was headed east, and she could sense the distant rumbles while her owners slept. As a trained guide dog, when she was "on the clock" nothing could faze her. But that morning, without her harness, she was free to be scared, and she nudged Michael's hand with her wet nose as it draped over the bedside toward the floor. She needed him to wake up.

    With a busy day of meetings and an important presentation ahead, Michael slumped out of bed, headed to his home office, and started chipping away at his daunting workload. Roselle, shivering, took her normal spot at his feet and rode out the storm while he typed. By all indications it was going to be a normal day. A busy day, but normal nonetheless. Until they went into the office.

    In Thunder Dog, follow Michael and his guide dog, Roselle, as their lives are changed forever by two explosions and 1,463 stairs. When the first plane struck Tower One, an enormous boom, frightening sounds, and muffled voices swept through Michael's office while shards of glass and burning scraps of paper fell outside the windows.

    But in this harrowing story of trust and courage, discover how blindness and a bond between dog and man saved lives and brought hope during one of America's darkest days.

    Flush by Virginia Woolf
    This story of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s cocker spaniel, Flush, enchants right from the opening pages. Although Flush has adventures of his own with bullying dogs, horrid maids, and robbers, he also provides the reader with a glimpse into Browning’s life.

    War Horse by Michael Morpurgo (published for children in grades 5 and up)
    In 1914, Joey, a beautiful bay-red foal with a distinctive cross on his nose, is sold to the army and thrust into the midst of the war on the Western Front. With his officer, he charges toward the enemy, witnessing the horror of the battles in France. But even in the desolation of the trenches, Joey's courage touches the soldiers around him and he is able to find warmth and hope. But his heart aches for Albert, the farmer's son he left behind. Will he ever see his true master again?

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