Almost Perfect, by Diane Daniels Manning – Review

About the book Almost Perfect Almost Perfect

Paperback: 330 pages
Publisher: Beltor (January 28, 2014)

A YA novel about two unlikely friends, their dogs, and the competitions that bring them and their community together. (Kirkus Reviews)

An old woman who has given up hope and a boy who believes the impossible wonder if life would be perfect at the Westminster Dog Show.

Seventy-year old Bess Rutledge has dreamed of winning the Westminster Dog Show all her life. Despite her decades-long career as one of America’s top Standard Poodle breeders, she has decided she’s too old to hold on to her foolish dream. She sells off all the dogs in her once famous kennel except for the aging champion McCreery and his mischievous, handsome son Breaker. Part of her senses they might have been the ones to take her to Westminster, if only she’d dared to try.

Bess meets Benny, a teenager with mild autism who attends a therapeutic special school, and learns he has a dream of his own: to impress his self-absorbed mother. Benny is drawn into the world of dog shows and becomes convinced he has found the perfect way to win his mother’s attention. If he can win Westminster with either McCreery or Breaker, he just knows she will finally be proud of him. Getting Bess to go along with his plan, however, is not going to be so easy. . .

Buy, read, and discuss Almost Perfect

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

My Thoughts:

This book is a bit of a slow burner…but once you get into it and really get to know the characters, you find that it has it’s own special charm. Bess and Benny the two central characters, couldn’t be more different, and yet, through love of dogs and strange circumstances both of these slightly bent (if not actually broken) people become friends in the way that old souls and young souls tend to do.

I enjoyed the sense of otherness the author used when writing Benny’s scenes. He’s autistic, but high functioning, and there is never any question that his brain is wired a bit differently from those who are neurotypical. There is also no question that this is BAD. It isn’t. It’s just one part of who this boy – young man, really – is.

Likewise, Bess’s stubbornness is a key character trait without being her only character trait. It makes you want to goad her into being your friend, deliver hot tea and baked goods to her while she’s tending a bitch in labor, and then massage her feet afterward, just because she clearly NEEDS someone to give her as much TLC as she gives her dogs, especially McCreery.

I have five dogs living in my house right now. Four are mine, all rescues. One is my current foster-dog. I love them all as if they were the purebred poodles that Bess breeds, and I know how quickly each of them has become a vital piece of my heart, so the fact that this story was so tied up in the human-canine bond really resonated with me.

Bottom line: Almost Perfect was a fabulous read full of three-dimensional characters and great dialogue. Read. This. Book.

(Confession: I read this months ago, and only now had a moment to write the review. Apologies to the author for the delay.)

Goes well with Shepherd’s pie and a glass of apple cider (hard or not, doesn’t matter.)

Mini-Review: The Art of Racing in the Rain

Art of Racing in the Rain
The Art of Racing in the Rain
by Garth Stein
Harper, 321 pages
Get it from Amazon >>

I have such a backlog of books to review that there are likely to be endless days of me sitting up late writing little blurbs until the dark circles under my eyes are permanent. Well, I’ve always had minor goth tendencies.

In any case, The Art of Racing in the Rain is a lovely, sad book by Garth Stein about a dog, his person, and the concept of the souls we love never truly leaving us. It’s told as much from the dog’s perspective as the man’s, and I’ve had to put it down more than once while reading it because it was too close to issues with some of my own dogs.

If you love animals, and can stand a good cry, this novel is worth a read.

In Progress: Animals In Translation by Temple Grandin

My birthday was last Monday (the 17th), and, as usual, I received a book from my aunt in Connecticut. In recent years she’s been sending more non-fiction than fiction, but I’m not sure that’s intentional.

In any case, she knows that there is no drug rehab equivalent for bibliophiles, and really, as addictions go, reading is a pretty safe one. I mean, what other substance sends you to a bookstore or library when you’re jonesing for a fix? How often do you see a voracious reader begging on the street corner, “Man, I just need a dollar for another book?”

But I digress.

My birthday book this year is Animals in Translation, by Temple Grandin. I’m barely into it, but already I’m fascinated. It’s about how people with autism respond to animals, often understanding them on levels that neuro-typical humans cannot. I’m reading it as a dog-lover and animal rescue volunteer who loves animals, but apparently this book is quite well regarded. In fact, I found a link to it on the PLoS Biology website, in which the editors actually asked Ms. Grandin to respond to something they’d posted. The complete article is here.

It’s all really interesting, and makes me look at my dogs in a new light. I’ll review the book when I’ve finished with it, of course, but I wanted to share what I have in progress for a change.

Review: Dog Years, by Mark Doty

Dog YearsDog Years
by Mark Doty
Get it from Amazon

Dog Years was, perhaps, not the best choice of read for a time when I was convinced we were going to lose our chihuahua, Zorro. (He’s got a heart condition, and while we know we don’t have much time with him, he’s no longer in that “death rattle” stage.), but I couldn’t resist the happy golden retriever on the cover.

This memoir of the author’s last months with his partner Wally, of the new relationship with partner Paul, and of his two dogs, Arden and Beau, is a rambling story, loosely chronological, but not entirely orderly, in much the same way that walking the dog around the block really involves zigging this way to sniff a fence post, or zooming the opposite direction to pee on that particular blade of grass, or going wildly off course because it was imperative to chase a bird/cat/squirrel/kid on a bicycle.

A gentle read, parts that stood out for me were moments on the beach at Sandy Hook, NJ, which is where I grew up, and the daily routine of dog stewardship (because really, they own us more than we ever own them), and the pain of loss when each finally went to his end – this isn’t a spoiler – it’s obvious from the back cover that the dogs would not survive the book. I laughed when I read about Arden spitting out his medication, and cried when I read that he suffered from anxiety attacks after 9/11 (the dogs lived a good part of their lives in New York).

Dog Years is, in many ways, a memoir of a man told through the eyes of his dogs, though it’s never in their voice. Author Mark Doty is also a poet, and you can hear the poetry underlying the rhythm of his prose.

Goes well with:: Cool water and bits of cheese to share with a cuddly canine friend.