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“The Dog Year” by Ann Garvin

 

Book Cover - The Dog Year

Surgeon Lucy Peterman loses her husband, unborn child, and her perfect life in a car accident. Six months later and back at work, she tells everyone she is fine. But, in Ann Garvin’s “The Dog Year,” Peterman is stealing anything in the hospital that can be slipped into her pockets. That’s no big deal, right? She more or less knows why she’s doing it and it’s not like she’s selling Band-Aids on the black market to make a profit. Who could it hurt?

 

Peterman is one of those doctors that is loved by her patients. She goes the extra mile to protect their dignity before they undergo the knife, a rarity in most hospitals where impersonal interactions are the norm. Because of this, the hospital staff ignores her thefts until they impact inventory. When records, witnesses, and cameras confirm that much more is missing than the odd bandage or two, Peterman is told to get help or lose her job. Returning the stolen supplies would be a good start, but she can’t bring herself to admit that she needs help, not even when it turns out that an entire room in her house is filled to the walls with the evidence.

 

The hospital administrator orders her to see a therapist who in turn, sends her to a local Twelve Step program. AA is not the answer for everyone and when Peterman is sent there, she knows it’s not going to work. She avoids the meetings, at first because she’s in denial, but later because it’s not a good fit.

 

“The Dog Year” is a moving portrayal of grief and its aftermath, exploring the raw emotions that can paralyze our hearts and bring us to our knees. While many of us might turn to coping mechanisms that can be hidden from the outside world – screaming behind closed doors or drinking to excess – we all do something to help ourselves get through the reality of being left behind. Faith helps some, social connections help others, but I have never met anyone that could go it entirely alone. And yet, that’s what Peterman tries to do.

 

Garvin provides a strong group of supporting characters that show sympathy for Lucy Peterman, grieve with her, and best of all, point out truths in the face of her re-creating the facts. The brother realistically enables her bad behavior until he can’t take it anymore, a high school acquaintance cuts her slack and stands by her when Peterman’s thefts become more public, and a convincingly written anorexic has no sympathy for this woman that leads a privileged life. There are assorted quirky souls that add depth and texture to this beautifully written story. Even the dog in “The Dog Year,” tugs at our hearts, plays a pivotal role, and brings people together in unexpected ways. There are astonishing discoveries and changes as Peterman begins to deal with her new reality – quite satisfying in a hopeful way.

 

There are so many things to love about “The Dog Year.” I cried, I laughed – it made me remember my own times of grief in softer ways. After a while, life does go on, even if we’re not ready for it. We just need to “Choose to find a way.”

 

Despite the serious nature of the topics, the book has many laugh-out-loud moments. Peterman has a wild, sometimes crude, sense of humor and much of that humor is directed at herself. She can be snarky, and sometimes mean, and oh, so very spot-on with some of the jokes. There are also many moments of tenderness toward the people in her life, something she finds hard to feel for herself.

 

Through Lucy Peterman’s character, Garvin makes several important points. Addiction takes over lives at weak moments in different ways. And while there are commonalities in addictions, if we want our loved ones to heal, there has to be a more conscious effort to match the treatment to the person and the addiction. “The Dog Year” bravely shouts that from the rooftops. 

 

Having spent her life in medicine, Ann Garvin brings a great deal of insight to “The Dog Year” about how hospitals and the health care world works. She is also crazy about dogs and it shows.

 

Please visit www.anngarvin.net for more information.

 

 

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“Mother Earth Father Sky” by Sue Harrison

 

Book Cover - Mother Earth Father Sky

 

 

The time is 9,000 years ago. Chagak lives a simple life beneath “Mother Earth Father Sky” in the Aleutian Islands. She helps the other women skin seals, smooth the hides with volcanic rock, sing songs to praise the hunters, and weave curtains and sleeping mats from grass that grows in the area. Her mother creates a special suk for her from bird skins and cormorant feathers to celebrate her transition into womanhood. Chagak is about to be married to a young seal hunter she likes and life is as it should be. Her routine is one that all the women in her village have always had, against the constant background of the roar of the wind and the sea.

 

One day, while Chagak is gathering berries and grass, her village is attacked and unknown warriors butcher everyone in it, including her betrothed. Her own group is not a war faring tribe; they hunt seals, not people, so she cannot understand the why. As the lone survivor (except for her infant brother) she has the gruesome duty of burying everyone, saving their spirits for the travel to the afterlife. Harrison’s expressive writing reveals the emotional trauma that Chagak endures while dealing with the worst parts of life.

 

Chagak knows her best chance of continued survival is to summon all her strength, take an ik (small canoe) and find the Whale Hunters village of her mother’s family across the open water. She hopes that her grandfather will take her and her brother in. During her journey, she stops at a beach to rest and encounters an old man, Shuganan, a renowned ivory carver who persuades her to stay. He cares for her as a granddaughter, keeping her safe when he can. Their relationship becomes precious to both of them and they use it to defend against unwelcome visitors who may have been the attackers at Chagak’s former village.

 

What follows is a saga of ancient rituals of the prehistoric Ice Age, descriptions of infinitely different roles of men and women, splendid tales of the origin of the world as understood by the First Men, and the awakening of a young woman’s spirit. Harrison has created a moving story of jealousy, betrayal, devastating loss, courage, murder, and greed surrounding the beautiful, gentle Chagak. Despite the harsh realities of Chagak’s life dependent on men, some of whom could be (and were) brutal, she learns to survive and even triumph.
 

“Mother Earth Father Sky” is meticulously researched, with incredible detail about the customs and implements used at the time.  A beached whale is reduced to bone and steaks and blubber on the page. We read that fat is carefully simmered, then separated into use for cooking and oiling skins. We learn how ulaqs are constructed and why the ikyaks stay afloat. A recent visit to a Natural History Museum was made more ‘real’ by having read Harrison’s debut novel. 

 

Chagak is only 13 in “Mother Earth Father Sky,” but we can surmise from archeological digs that she would have been considered of marriageable age as soon as she entered puberty. When young children developed enough dexterity/strength to hold a spear or weave a mat, they were trained to acquire life skills that supported the group in some way – skin seals, gather roots and eggs, collect driftwood for roofs, clean bones for clothing and housing. It was a harsh life by today’s standards of dishwashers and big box stores and restaurants, but for them, it was merely life. Chagak had long been a contributing member of her clan.

 

I ‘met’ Sue Harrison on Twitter and looked into her work, discovering that the prehistoric series, ‘The Ivory Carver Trilogy,’ was out-of-print and hard to find. I persisted in my search because of my interest in the Pacific Northwest and the Aleuts and acquired “Mother Earth Father Sky” through a used book dealer. Now that Harrison has been able to have the novels published as ebooks, I can share the review of this marvelous title.

 

 

Please visit www.sueharrison.com for more information about this bestselling author, her other series and projects.

 

 

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“The Southern Living Garden Book”

 

Book Cover - Southern Living Garden Book

 

Many of you have seen photos of a variety of flowers and shrubs in my garden. “The Southern Living Garden Book” is my go-to gardening reference whenever I want to expand the beds and need to research compatible plants and shrubs.

 

My hectic travel schedule defeated any year-round gardening plan I had while living in perpetually drought-stricken north Texas.  The intense heat required me to partner with neighbors or landscapers so that thirsty plants could be nurtured during the many 100+ degree weeks I was away. Eventually, I downsized the gardening attempts to a few pots on the patio.

 

Interestingly enough, the most successful arrangement involved two enthusiastic neighborhood children – eight and ten year old boys. I can only imagine the wild water fights on my patio while the flowers were getting their daily drinks, but my plants never looked better than during that summer.

 

But, now that I’m in North Carolina and my traveling days are severely reduced, I am ready for more extensive gardening adventures once more and my savvy cousin-in-law (a Master Gardener) recognized a need. “The Southern Living Garden Book,” contains over 7,000 plant listings, more than 1,000 color photos, additional color illustrations and new plant hardiness maps.

 

An important part of any gardening book is a “What-can-I-grow-in-my-garden-with-its-special-needs?” chapter. The category is tackled nicely in the section referred to as the ‘Plant Selection Guide.’  There are thirty-four plant lists (with photos) that help with areas such as hedges, screens or borders and other specialty spots. There are pages devoted to showy perennials, attractive plants for birds, and a wealth of other information – all keyed for climate hardiness, sun and water needs.

 

If you are not fortunate enough to live within driving distance of a nursery, a list of mail-order garden suppliers is included in the resource directory contained near the end of the book.

 

“The Southern Living Garden Book” is a substantial coffee table size, meant to be studied and used as a planning guide. Great investment of less than $30. if you have a gardening vision in mind; a beautiful and practical addition to my shelves.

 

 

 

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