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Author: Terri Schlichenmeyer

Terri Schlichenmeyer of "The Bookworm Sez" is based in Wisconsin.

“Faithful: A Novel” by Alice Hoffman

Faithful by Alice Hoffman

Faithful: A Novel” by Alice Hoffman

c.2016, Simon & Schuster
$26.00 / $35.00 Canada
272 pages

BOOK REVIEW
by TERRI SCHLICHENMEYER

The best years of your life.

That’s what people tell you about high school. Remember those days, they say. They’ll be the best of your life. But zits, mean girls, broken dreams, and broken friends aren’t exactly best. Sometimes in high school, as in the new book “Faithful” by Alice Hoffman, the very worst things can happen.

Nobody thought it was anything but an accident.

The road was icy that night. Shelby Richmond was driving and she wasn’t speeding. She never was sure why her best friend, Helene, sitting in the passenger’s seat, didn’t buckle up like she usually did. Parts of the night remained sketchy, but the thing Shelby knew was that the car spun out of control and Helene was left in a coma.

Seventeen years old. Helene had a lifetime left, but she’d never live it. Instead, she lay in her childhood bedroom, tended by volunteers, visited by people who believed her capable of bestowing miracles.

Seventeen years old. Shelby believed that she, not Helene, should be in the coma.

She cut her hair completely off. Buzz-cut, in fact, and she stopped eating. All Shelby wanted was to smoke weed and sleep while her mother flitted upstairs in their home and her father disappeared as often as he could. Her only friend, if you could call him that, was Ben, her dealer. And it was Ben she moved to New York with, after they graduated – a graduation Helene would never have.

In New York , Shelby got a job and discovered that she liked animals. She worked her way up to manager of a pet store. Someone said she was pretty, so she grew her hair again, and she made a best friend. And Ben loved her, but she couldn’t love him back. Shelby didn’t deserve Ben. She wasn’t lovable.

But was that true?  Her dogs certainly adored her. Her mother never stopped loving her, fiercely. Her father tried (or so he said). And then there was the stranger who’d been sending postcards to Shelby ever since the accident… weren’t inspirational, anonymous notes some form of caring?

In a small way, “Faithful” defies categorizing.

Its plot is minimal: it’s a story arc roughly set in a ten-year period of one woman’s rather unremarkable life. Granted, not everybody does what author Alice Hoffman lets her character do, but what happened to Shelby , happens to others.

And yet, this story is singular. And it’s impossible to stop reading.

There’s a crispness in this novel that doesn’t become too harsh; instead, it’s comfortable, like an old yearbook. After a few pages, in fact, it’s almost as if we went to school with Shelby , or avoided her on the playground. We know her – and when Hoffman puts her in unique (yet not outlandish) situations, Shelby ’s actions are satisfyingly right.

Come to think of it, so is this whole book.

Mark it down; it should be your next Book Group pick. It should be on your bedside table. If you love novels, “Faithful” may be your best book this year.

Terri Schlichenmeyer is based in Wisconsin

“Nixon’s Gamble” by Ray Locker

nixons-gamble

Nixon’s Gamble” by Ray Locker

c.2016, Lyons Press
$29.95 / $35.95 Canada
352 pages

BOOK REVIEW
by TERRI SCHLICHENMEYER

You can’t fool me.

I see what you did there. I’m watching you; you can’t pull the wool over my eyes. I wasn’t born yesterday. I know all the tricks. Yep, I see right through you… but if you say those things often, always remember – as in “Nixon’s Gamble” by Ray Locker – some things aren’t always transparent.

In the summer of 1975, Richard Nixon was “bitter and combative” as he testified under oath at a grand jury hearing for a Navy Yeoman accused of leaking secrets to the press. Nixon knew that the Yeoman was innocent, and he said so – also admitting that his “entire White House… was based on secrecy…”

It certainly was no secret that Nixon was focused and determined throughout his career. He’d started out in law, served in World War II, then entered politics at the behest of a group of businessmen, ultimately gaining a reputation as a “dirty campaigner” who knew how to collect political allies, and who would do anything to win.

By 1968, he was ready to win the Presidency, and accomplish a set of goals.

Says Locker, Nixon wanted to restore relations with China , “thaw the Cold War” with Russia , and end the Vietnam War but he’d have to use precision: each piece depended on the timing of the others. Nixon knew that if anyone fully understood what he was about to do and how he’d do it, they’d try to stop him.

He’d already sabotaged Johnson’s attempts to end the Vietnam War. Hours after he was inaugurated, Nixon then effectively shut the Oval Office doors, limiting official contact with several Cabinet members. This forced many in his administration to communicate almost entirely with him through his national security advisor, Henry Kissinger, who was also kept partially ignorant of Nixon’s full plan.

But lies beget further lies, leaks happen, and Nixon wasn’t satisfied. He created a Special Investigations Unit, which dubbed themselves “The Plumbers” because their mission was “to stop leaks.” Their efforts eventually extended to break-ins; one, coincidentally, was at the Watergate Hotel…

I had several thoughts as I was reading “Nixon’s Gamble,” the strongest of which is how stunned I was at author Ray Locker’s investigation results.

Even those who think they know Nixon’s career will be astounded at what Locker found in his research. This is one of those books that reads like a spy novel sometimes, albeit one that we know is horribly ill-fated, and that will set your jaw into your lap quite often – both for the audacity that Nixon possessed, and for the legacy that his “gamble” left, even now.

But did it work, or did it not? Locker, in his final pages, writes of the aftermath of Watergate, Nixon’s resignation, and Ford’s pardon, but he quietly leaves readers to decide on the end results.

Bear in mind that there were many players in this historical arc and that can get overwhelming. Still, if you’re a Boomer who remembers, a history buff, or a newly-minted political watcher, “Nixon’s Gamble” hits the jackpot.

Terri Schlichenmeyer is based in Wisconsin

“Ugly: A Memoir” by Robert Hoge

ugly

Ugly: A Memoir” by Robert Hoge

c.2016, Viking
$16.99 / higher in Canada
200 pages

BOOK REVIEW
by TERRI SCHLICHENMEYER

You already have a name.

Your parents gave it to you when you were born. It might’ve meant something special to them, it might’ve been a name they liked, or something that sounded beautiful. Whatever the situation was, you have a name that’s served you just fine but, as in the new book “Ugly” by Robert Hoge, your classmates often use a different one.

Usually, when a baby enters the world, there is a great celebration of its birth but for Australian Robert Hoge, there was silence. He was born with a “massive bulge” from his forehead to the place where his nose should’ve been and his eyes were on either side of his head. His legs were both “mangled” and misshapen. His mother, expecting her fifth child, instead “got a little monster,” Hoge says.

Author Robert Hoge (Photo by Matt Warrell)
Author Robert Hoge (Photo by Matt Warrell)

A week after his birth, when his mother went to see him for the first time, Hoge says she “did not care about her son.” His parents planned on giving him up but they first decided to discuss the matter with Hoge’s siblings, who insisted their parents fetch the baby – and so, just over a month after his birth, Hoge went home with his family.

It didn’t take long for them to realize their love for him, nor did it take long for them to see Hoge’s fighting spirit. Despite his leg deformities, he was able to get around. Though he had a misshapen head, he was clearly very smart. They could appreciate who he was, but they understood that society might not – and so, at four years of age, Hoge underwent an hours-long surgery to correct some of his physical problems.

The surgery was successful – or, at least as successful as it could be with a growing boy – and so Hoge went to school with his siblings. He made friends, got into mischief, found school subjects he loved, tried to find a sport he could play, and was bullied by name-calling. He went to camp, learned to swim, and as he grew, “doctors were… starting to notice me noticing how girls noticed how I looked.”

And so, the year he turned 14, Hoge was offered more surgery to make him look “normal” – a surgery that came with risks…

You’re having a bad hair day. You feel fat in those jeans. And you’ll never complain again, once you’ve read “Ugly.”

What’s striking, the one thing you’ll notice immediately about this book, is that author Robert Hoge writes entirely without a pity-party invitation or an over-sugary attitude of gratitude. His life just is, and he doesn’t fancy that up much; in fact, there are times when his story is told surprisingly unimpassionedly.  That near-monotone telling is saved by Hoge’s delightfully spry sense of humor, which shows up in unexpected places and makes this book less of a sad tale and more of one of triumph.

“I’m the ugliest person you’ve never met,” Hoge says early in his book but readers will know better. They’ll know “Ugly” is the name of a beautiful book.

Terri Schlichenmeyer is based in Wisconsin

“The Motion of Puppets” by Keith Donohue

the-motion-of-puppets

The Motion of Puppets” by Keith Donohue

c.2016, Picador
$26.00 / $37.00 Canada
263 pages

BOOK REVIEW
by TERRI SCHLICHENMEYER

Lately, there are days when you don’t move so well.

Sports injuries old or new, creaky bones, long night, short night, slept wrong, it can happen at anytime and any age. But, unlike in the new book “The Motion of Puppets” by Keith Donoghue, your life is still yours, no strings attached.

The toy store was almost never open.

Time and again, Kay and Theo walked past it, charmed, and tried the door but there was never anyone there. They probably couldn’t have afforded anything anyhow; the income from a cirque acrobat (her) and a transcriptionist (him) wasn’t enough for frivolous purchases but browsing could’ve been fun.

It might’ve also been a nice distraction from the stresses of being newlyweds in a temporary home. They’d moved to Quebec from Vermont for the sake of work, but neither was happy: Theo was often flustered by his beautiful wife, and Kay was bored – which was perhaps why she impulsively agreed to attend an after-hours party with the cirque’s manager, a notorious womanizer.

But Kay loved her husband and could never enjoy a dalliance, so she left the party alone. Walking home, her imagination overcame her and she was sure she was being followed; when she saw a light in the toy store, she hoped she’d be safe there, tried the door, and slipped inside.

That was the last thing she knew before her head was removed from her body, her limbs from her torso, and her innards replaced with sawdust. She had memories but could remember little. She could feel, but not hurt; walk, but not talk until something cut a brutal slash across where her mouth should’ve been. She learned then that puppets can move and talk from midnight until dawn but they could never leave the confines of puppetry unless someone who loved them recognized them and helped them escape.

Desperately missing his wife, Theo walked the streets of Quebec in search of Kay. Was she dead?  Abducted? Or, as the cirque’s “little man” claimed, did mythology hold the answer?

“Never enter a toy shop after midnight.”

If those words don’t send a chill through your spine, then “The Motion of Puppets” is really not the book for you. If they make you a little squirmy, though, you’ll be very happy with the tale author Keith Donohue’s spun.

Almost immediately, you’ll notice a sense of off-balance. That may be because, though there’s a modern-day setting to this story, it has a curious feel of Victorian times: it’s dusty and chastely formal and contains a dwarf and a Holmseian academic – all of which, when a cell phone or computer appears, only heighten the instability. Donohue tells his tale from Theo to Kay and back, and we get a good understanding of both – yet not enough to pre-determine how this book will end.

For anyone with coulrophobia (fear of clowns), pupaphobia (fear of puppets) or who merely wants a nights-are-getting-longer novel, here’s one that’ll chill you good. For you, “The Motion of Puppets” is a book to move on.

Terri Schlichenmeyer is based in Wisconsin

“The Wonder” by Emma Donoghue

the-wonder

The Wonder” by Emma Donoghue

c.2016, Little, Brown $27.00 304 pages
c.2016, HarperCollins $32.99 Canada 304 pages


B
OOK REVIEW
by TERRI SCHLICHENMEYER

The truth was bent a little bit.

Okay, so it was actually mangled. Warped beyond anything that might remotely be real. Wrapped up in a colossal “liar-liar-pants-on-fire” conflagration. The truth was nowhere near the lie you told to save face, to save feelings, or as in the new novel “The Wonder” by Emma Donoghue, to save a life.

Lib Wright was so angry, she could hardly breathe.

Yes, she was told that she would be handsomely paid and put up – which was true – but she was also told that her skills as a nurse were essential, which was a lie. All those years of working in a field hospital in the Crimean War, all the time spent learning from the great Miss Nightingale, all the hours spent on patient care, and these Irish villagers were telling her that her assignment was to be little more than jailer.

Anna O’Donnell, they said, was eleven years old and hadn’t had a bite of food for four months. She consumed water by the spoonful, which was to say sparingly, and skeptics had come ‘round. To prove that the child’s feat was a miracle of God, a committee had hired Lib and an elderly nun to watch the girl’s every movement for two weeks.

Anna didn’t need nursing care. She absolutely didn’t need Lib.

But nevermind. Miss N had taught Lib to finish a task and, as Lib saw it, her task was not merely to report her observations in respect to Anna, but to reveal the little shammer for what she was. Surely, no child can live without sustenance, and Lib aimed to get to the bottom of it all.

But it wouldn’t be easy. Anna was a sweet, gentle child with a devotion to God and an eagerness to please those in her household, Lib, and the nun, Sister Michael. Many times during her eight-hour shift, Lib heard the child’s prayers and saw her playing with her holy cards, but she never saw her eat a bite.

A miracle? No, it was obvious that Anna was in distress: her body was slowly shutting down for lack of food, as Lib’s job suddenly expanded…

Coming to a theatre near you? Don’t be surprised.

“The Wonder” practically begs to become a movie, and for good reason: as she’s done in many of her past novels, author Emma Donoghue takes a snip of something true (yes, there were real Fasting Girls throughout history) and spins a tale around it – in this case, a possible murder, set in Victorian Ireland. While readers of Sherlockian whodunits will relish that, the alternate (and perhaps larger) appeal is in Donoghue’s main character, a no-nonsense, self-assured woman who becomes someone else before us, as the story unspools.

Add in a hint of magic that seems, even to some of its characters, to be terribly out of place and you’ve got a novel that grabs you good, and an ending that’s purely perfect. You’re going to love “The Wonder.” It’s a straight-up edge-of-your-chair read.

Terri Schlichenmeyer is based in Wisconsin

“Playing Dead” by Elizabeth Greenwood

playing-dead

Playing Dead” by Elizabeth Greenwood

c.2016, Simon & Schuster
$26.00 / $35.00 Canada
247 pages


B
OOK REVIEW
by TERRI SCHLICHENMEYER

Your wallet is genuine, original faux-leather from faux-Venezuela.

It matches the pleather jacket you love so much and your favorite fake-silk shirt, which you like to wear when you drive the car you bought and can barely afford, but that looks great for appearances. Life is sometimes all about pretending but, in “Playing Dead” by Elizabeth Greenwood, faking your demise isn’t quite as easy.

Loaded down with student loans in the six-figures, former teacher Elizabeth Greenwood was desperate: that kind of debt terrified her, and she began to toy with an idea that many consider. Rather than let the owed-money scare her half to death, maybe she could just fake her death instead.

But faking a death is so drastic, on expert told her, and it leads to more problems. Instead, just disappear, which is “a very different act…” Faking is fraud; disappearing is easier, often legal, and you can still keep in contact with loved ones (though it won’t erase the debt). Disappearing doesn’t even have to be expensive, the expert said; in fact, the poorer you are, the better. Money, he believes, is one of the main reasons people disappear; the other is violence. Love is an “outlier.”

“Faking your death almost never works,” said another expert. That man’s job is to track down fraudsters, and he’s only been stumped once – which is to say that death-fakers are almost always caught. Some turn themselves in after being “dead” a short time; others are nabbed because they trusted someone who couldn’t keep a secret. Many “dead” people are found because they do something dumb to blow their cover.

Men attempt “pseudocide” more than do women.

The bottom line, Greenwood discovered, is that being dead before you actually take your last breath is hard work. You’d have to leave everything behind: family, pets, hobbies, and career; change your appearance and “disconnect” completely. You can never be “you” again, in any form. That takes “serious planning” and serious commitment – not to mention the “heartbreaking” effects it has on those you’ve left behind…

All fun aside – and a lot of what’s inside “Playing Dead” is fun – how many times have you thought of chucking it all, grabbing a plane, and lying on an anonymous beach for the rest of your life?  It sounds perfect, doesn’t it? – and who knew an entire industry existed to help you do it?

But before you pack, heed the info that author Elizabeth Greenwood found. Her research goes from someone who helps people vamoose, to someone who helps find them. Elvis, Michael Jackson, and Andy Kaufman make appearances here, while Greenwood goes to prison, to Filipino morgues, and the surface of WITSEC. Through it all, she lends humor and eager lightheartedness to her findings, but with a niggling vein of semi-seriousness and the question: could you?

See if that thought doesn’t tickle your brain while you’re reading this book; the answer might surprise you. In the meantime, dream, and know that “Playing Dead” isn’t one of those books you’ll just pretend to like.

Terri Schlichenmeyer is based in Wisconsin

“I Will Send Rain” by Rae Meadows

I-Will-Send-Rain

I Will Send Rain” by Rae Meadows

c.2016, Henry Holt
$26.00 / $37.00 Canada
272 pages

BOOK REVIEW
by TERRI SCHLICHENMEYER

Rain, rain, go away.

That never worked, did it?  You could chant those four words all you want, trying to keep your picnic, reunion, or party from being ruined, but the sky opened up and there you were. Rain, rain, go away – unless, as in the new novel “I Will Send Rain” by Rae Meadows, that’s the kind of storm you really need.

Another day of hundred-degree weather.

That was Annie Bell’s second thought, as she eased herself out of bed, off the sweat-soaked sheet and, away from her sleeping husband, Samuel. It would be a hundred-degrees again today, just like it had been for weeks.

Her first thought had been of the baby she’d lost ten years before. Annie often wondered what Eleanor would be like, and it confounded her that Samuel never thought about their second-born. Then again, a lot about Samuel confounded her.

And then there was Birdie.

Annie’s worried about her first child. At fifteen, Birdie seemed to be on the edge of all kinds of possibilities, and none at all. Birdie thought she was in love with Cy Mack, and Annie knew that Birdie dreamed of life in a city but Cy Mack was never going to take her away from the Oklahoma panhandle, that was for sure.

Escape was what Annie wanted for Birdie more than anything.

And Fred – sweet, mute, Fred, seven years old, frail and rather sickly. Nobody knew exactly why Fred couldn’t – or wouldn’t – talk or why he never had, but Annie figured he’d say something when he was good and ready. She worried about him, too, but in the meantime, he was a good help for Samuel.

And, oh, Samuel!  There were times when Annie remembered what she gave up to love him, and she wondered how they’d lost that love. Was it the hardship?  The isolation? The farm, the draught, the loss of crops or children?

She wasn’t sure of that, or anything, except that they needed rain. So when the sky turned black that hot afternoon and electricity filled the air, there was hope…

But, of course, you know better. You know what happened to the Dust Bowl during the Dirty Thirties, and in “I Will Send Rain,” anticipation is half the story.

From the very first paragraph, author Rae Meadows makes it difficult not to become mired in the Bells’ lives, and impossible not to watch in steely dread as each character in this book falls apart slowly or becomes slightly insane (or both). Our sentry-duty’s complicated by creeping dust and dirt that almost seems alive and that nearly becomes a sinister character in itself, giving the story a rubber-band tightness that runs snapping and sparking on every page.

This dark novel felt Armageddon-like to me, and I was wrung out by the end but it’s been awhile since I’ve been as satisfied with a story as I was with this one – therefore, I highly recommend it. In a good way, reading “I Will Send Rain” will leave you in a puddle.

“Trials of the Earth: The True Story of a Pioneer Woman” by Mary Mann Hamilton

Trials-of-the-EArth

Trials of the Earth: The True Story of a Pioneer Woman” by Mary Mann Hamilton

c.2016, Little, Brown
$27.00 / $32.50 Canada
319 pages

BOOK REVIEW
by TERRI SCHLICHENMEYER

Your toast was burnt this morning.

It was the first in a tsunami of irritation you had to endure today: the house WiFi was down, your shirt got wrinkled, the cat threw up on the carpet, humid weather, your coffee got cold. What next? Read “Trials of the Earth” by Mary Mann Hamilton, and review your day again.

The “wild country of Arkansas … was just beginning to settle up” when Mary Mann’s father brought his family from Missouri down to buy a home. He didn’t live long enough to enjoy it, however – he died ten days after they arrived, leaving Mary’s mother with six children to feed.

There was work in Arkansas , though, so Mary’s brothers got jobs at the sawmill, while Mary and her sisters took in boarders. One of them, a roguish Englishman named Frank Hamilton convinced Mary’s brothers that he had romantic intentions for the seventeen-year-old, though marriage wasn’t what Mary wanted. Still, she agreed to it as her mother and eldest brother lay dying.

Married life was a challenge. Unbeknownst to Mary before the wedding, Frank was quite the drinker, which greatly embarrassed her. He couldn’t seem to hold a job for long, or jobs didn’t last for him, either. She hoped her first child would help glue their marriage, but the baby died and Frank drank harder.

She was in a different country, in a different home when her second baby died.

And then, despite a lot of moves that uprooted their growing family, life smoothed. Mary became a mother again, a dressmaker and a county-renowned cook, learned how to keep house in a tent (though she always dreamed of a real home), how to feed a crowd, and what signs to heed when a storm or flood was imminent. She was brave. She was a good wife but a lousy widow. Life was “an adventure.” And at some point, she “quit looking back in my mind and looked forward.”

Wait. Did I say this is all true? – because it is. Author Mary Mann Hamilton was a real person who really homesteaded in the south from roughly 1882 to the early part of the last century, and “Trials of the Earth” is her tale.

Here, the word “pioneer” takes on new meaning: covered wagons and prairies tend to come to mind, but Hamilton makes it clear that, a mere hundred years ago, there were still wild parts to this country and settling them was no picnic. Life was tough for our forebears, really tough: as quick deaths rack up, readers will be shocked; likewise, over the casual racism. Overall, you’ll never whine about your cold coffee again.

Be aware that this “direct and simple autobiography” can be confusing: the Hamilton family moved often, and that’s hard to follow. We meet many, many scamps and even more kind folks and neighbors, and it’s hard to keep track of them, too. The trick is not to try too hard, enjoy the journey, and “Trials of the Earth” is a book you’ll toast.

Terri Schlichenmeyer is based in Wisconsin

“The Man Who Made Things Out of Trees” by Robert Penn

Man-Who-Made-Things-Out-of-Trees

The Man Who Made Things Out of Trees” by Robert Penn

c.2016, W.W. Norton
$26.95 / higher in Canada
256 pages

BOOK REVIEW
by TERRI SCHLICHENMEYER

Shade feels good right about now.

Just sitting in it seems to lower your temperature by ten degrees. It calms you, too, and makes you feel drowsy. This time of year, the shade of a tree is a welcome thing and, as you’ll see in the new book “The Man Who Made Things Out of Trees” by Robert Penn, that tree can offer so much more.

For most of Robert Penn’s childhood, an ash tree at the edge of a garden was the gateway to adventure. It was just a tree then; he never paid it much heed, nor did he consider that so many of his favorite possessions came from ash wood. And yet, that tree stood in the back of his mind and on a crisp winter day, he felled one just like it near his South Wales home, to see all that could be done with a single tree.

The tree hadn’t been easy to find: because each kind of wood has its season and ash is best harvested in winter, Penn began his search early. He wanted a tall, straight tree of the correct width, no extra lower branches, and with a wide canopy.

Surely, such a tree stood somewhere….

Indeed, he was nearly out of winter when he found it.

According to an expert, Penn’s chosen ash was in remarkably great shape, and had started growing perhaps 130 years before. Though that area had been cleared of trees during World War I, Penn’s tree had been spared for some reason; for that, he felt a small twinge for cutting it but once it was down, it was clear what the tree could do.

Its leaves immediately became fodder for livestock; thicker brush went to the woodpile. There were tool handles made, a handcrafted wheel, a set of sturdy bowls, arrow shafts crafted traditionally, a toboggan, tent pegs, an Irish hurling stick, a writing desk – in all, forty-four different items. Even the sawdust was put to use – but will the ash tree be around for future generations to enjoy in similar ways?

Sadly, author Robert Penn expresses his doubts. Between the emerald ash borer in the U.S. , and other diseases in Europe , the ash is struggling. “The Man Who Made Things Out of Trees” may, in a way, be its eulogy.

And what lovely parting words!  Penn is somewhat of a modern-day Thoreau when it comes to his beloved ash trees, as well as to the forest in general; his words are peaceful and inviting, but they’re also sweetly charming and filled with curiosity. Readers will be delighted to learn history, biodiversity, sustainability, and ancient arts; moreover, we’re offered an invitation that’s irresistible: look up and out at the things that surround us in nature. Don’t take it for granted.

Yes, readers may note a bit of irony here, but I still think this book is worth a read. You’ll smile, and you’ll mourn what’s inside “The Man Who Made Things Out of Trees,” so you shouldn’t miss it. Why wood you?

Terri Schlichenmeyer is based in Wisconsin.

“Paws of Courage: True Tales of Heroic Dogs That Protect and Serve” by Nancy Furstinger, foreword by Ronald L. Aiello

Paws of Courage

Paws of Courage: True Tales of Heroic Dogs That Protect and Serve” by Nancy Furstinger, foreword by Ronald L. Aiello

c.2016, National Geographic
$12.99 / $15.99 Canada
160 pages

BOOK REVIEW
by TERRI SCHLICHENMEYER

To you, your dog is a hero.

Nobody else protects you from spiders and shadows.  Nobody does a better job of warning you about summer storms or friends a-knocking. You need to give pats and get kisses to feel safe, and in “Paws of Courage” by Nancy Furstinger, you’ll see how some dogs go even further in their heroism.

Everybody knows that dog is (wo)man’s best friend but that goes doubly for a military or police dog and a handler: there are times when that relationship is a life-or-death matter. In this book, Furstinger offers mini-stories of those bonds, past and present.

Dogs, of course, have served on the battlefield for millennia but history only remembers a handful of brave canine soldiers. In World War I, Sergeant Stubby, a pit bull mix, saved countless lives by warning soldiers of incoming bombs and by alerting them to enemy presence. Tiny little Smoky, a Yorkshire terrier, helped soldiers by doing the same thing in World War II and, due to her size, was also able to help “thread vital wires through” a narrow underground pipe. From Great Britain , an English Pointer named Judy followed her handler to a POW camp in World War II, and was eventually listed as a POW for her own protection. Also during World War II, the U.S. military asked civilians to enlist pets for the war effort; around 10,000 family dogs became K-9 soldiers, sentries, and sniffers, including a German Shepherd mix named Chips, who was honored for bravery on the battlefield and for capturing enemy soldiers all by himself.

Today’s “battlefield partners” and other canine helpers are no less brave.

Belgian Malinois dogs, says Furstinger, are “canine superheroes” with speed and courage and are a “top breed for police and military work.” Newfoundlands are excellent swimmers and can dive; for those heroic maneuvers, they’re employed in water rescue. Labrador retrievers make great arson dogs, while many breeds serve as companions and helpers for veterans. And as for the future, scientists are looking at robots to replace dogs in battle, but they’ll never replace K-9s in our hearts.

You would’ve had to been born two months ago to not know that dogs are important members of military troops, crime-fighting organizations, and anti-drug efforts. For most of us, it’s always been that way; K-9 corps are a common sight.

So why read “Paws of Courage”?

I wondered that myself. Author Nancy Furstinger tells some rather common tales of military and working dogs, then and now; you might not recognize them individually but the stories are familiar, if not similar to others you’ve browsed or seen online. Been there, read it, kept the collar – except for two easy-to-love things: the abundance of pictures in this book, and in the sidebars of information.

Yup. They’re like kibble to dog people.

You might find this book in the children’s section of your favorite bookish place, but I think it’s more for readers ages 14-to-adult. Give “Paws of Courage” to your dog-lover especially, and you’ll be a hero.

Terri Schlichenmeyer is based in Wisconsin.