Thursday Book Feature: The Demmies

The Demmies: A Novel

By Ann K. Parsons

Copyright 2017.

Fast forward to the year 2050. Demmies are what Randy Newman could have meant by “.” These genetically engineered human beings are no more than a foot tall, and as a result, their bodily functions are different from ours. However, they have voices and minds just like we do and can live, love, and think just like the rest of us.

For years, Alex Kenyon and his family have been birds in a gilded cage, living in a luxurious doll house in a lab in Houston, Texas. By day, they are celebrities, promoting the cause of genetic engineering through regular press conferences. By night, they are tortured at the hands of mad scientist Dr. Lud.

As the book opens, Alex’s wife has just given birth to their tenth child. Everyone is on edge as a result of what is being done to them at night, which no one knows about, and the adults fear for their safety and that of the children. They’re afraid to try and escape because it’s a big world out there with big people who may or may not help them. After a series of events including the discovery of a Mexican family of demmies in a different part of the lab complex and the fake death of the Kenyons’ oldest son, some of those big folks risk their lives in an attempt to help them escape and start a new life.

I met the author, Ann Parsons, several years ago when she joined a writers’ group to which I belong. She began writing this story in the 1970’s. After joining our group, she decided to start work on it again and sent chapters to our email list. Even so, knowing how the book ends, I found it hard to put down and might have pulled an all-nighter in order to finish it more quickly.

You don’t have to be a science fiction buff to appreciate this story of oppression followed by freedom. In a way, this book is similar to Aldus Huxley’s Brave New World except in this case, the demmies are only conditioned not to trust big folk, and the ending is more positive. The Demmies is the first of a trilogy of books Ann has written about these little characters. I hope she publishes the other two books in this series. I want to read more.

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Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

Like me on Facebook.

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Thursday Book Feature: Follow Your Dog

Follow Your Dog: A Story of Love and Trust

by Ann Chiappetta

Copyright 2017.

The author, blind as a result of retinitis pigmentosa, shares her experiences with a succession of dogs that influenced her life, focusing on her first guide dog, Verona. She describes her turbulent childhood: her parents’ divorce, her father berating her when she broke or lost her glasses, and how she found a way to escape through nature and books.

She talks about the dogs she and her husband and children had as pets before Verona came along. She explains the process of applying for a dog through Guiding Eyes for the Blind in Yorktown Heights, New York, about a forty-minute drive from her home in New Rochelle: why she was rejected the first time, how she applied to other schools and was eventually accepted by Guiding Eyes for the Blind and started training in January of 2008.

She then describes the arduous twenty-six day process of learning to work with Verona: her apprehension and excitement on the day she first met her, the full days of walking routes in bitter winter weather, the exhilaration upon graduation. She explains the adjustments her family had to make since Verona wasn’t a pet.

She then describes reactions of others to her dog and how Verona impacted her life until 2015 when she was compelled to retire her. She explains how she returned to Guiding Eyes for the Blind and obtained Bailey, her second dog, describing how Verona adjusted to Bailey doing the work she once did. She then talks about how Verona became a certified therapy dog. Inserted at strategic points throughout the book are essays, poems, and blog posts, and at the end, a list of resources for those interested in applying for a guide dog.

I met Ann over a year ago through Behind Our Eyes, a group of writers with disabilities. I’ve always enjoyed reading her material.

I like dogs but am not interested in getting a guide dog. For one thing, I do really well with a cane, so I don’t think it’s necessary for me to have one. For another, they’re a lot of work, as illustrated in the book, whereas with a cane, when you arrive at your destination, you just fold it up, put it somewhere out of the way, and forget about it until you need it again. It’s a matter of personal choice.

Since November is National Adopt a Senior Pet Month, after reading this book, you might want to think about adopting a retired guide dog. Verona was lucky that Ann and her family were willing and able to keep her after she was retired, but other former guide dogs aren’t as fortunate. In any case, this book would make a great gift for a dog lover or someone with a visual impairment interested in getting a guide dog. It would also be a good educational tool for anyone training in a disability-related field.

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Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

Like me on Facebook.

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Thursday Book Feature: Any Day Now by Robyn Carr

Any Day Now

By Robyn Carr

Copyright 2017.

This is the sequel to What We Find, which I reviewed here recently. Sierra, a recovering alcoholic looking for a new start, moves to Sullivan’s Crossing, a campground in the Colorado mountains, to be near her brother Cal, a lawyer who is in the process of making an old barn into a home for his new family. She finds a job and Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor, makes friends, and becomes romantically involved with Connie, a fireman with his own emotional baggage. Then, her troubled past comes back to haunt her. Other characters have their own romantic experiences. The book has a satisfactory ending.

Since my late husband Bill grew up in Colorado, I enjoyed reading a book set in an area with which I’m somewhat familiar. It was a great way to escape to the Colorado mountains without leaving my recliner. I also liked the fact that it’s not necessary to have read What We Find first, since plots from the previous book are briefly summarized throughout this book.

I can also appreciate the message Robyn Carr delivers in this book about rape. I’ve never been a victim of such a crime, but I know someone who has. I recommend this book especially to anyone in this situation in the hope they might gain insight from Sierra’s fictional story of survival.

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Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

Like me on Facebook.

***

Thursday Book Feature: The Summer Before the War

The Summer Before the War

by Helen Simonson

Copyright 2016

In 1914, Beatrice, a spinster, arrives in an English country village to teach Latin at a grammar school. Although some citizens are skeptical about a female Latin teacher, she is able to make a few friends. Then World War I breaks out, and everyone, including Beatrice, is caught up in the effort to support the troops.

This book has several sub-plots that bring out the injustices of English society during that time. Soon after war breaks out, a group of refugees from Belgium arrives in the village. When one girl is found pregnant, the residents arrange to send her away. When Beatrice tries to help her, she is shunned. In the grammar school where she teaches, a gypsy boy who is bright with a serious interest in learning is not allowed to take a scholarship exam because of his family’s heritage. As a result of the war, lives and limbs are lost, and the book’s ending is happy and sad.

Despite the seriousness of the war and closed-mindedness of certain characters, parts of this book made me laugh. The sadness caused by loss of life as a result of the war moved me nearly to tears. The Summer Before the War made me thankful to be living in today’s world with modern medicine and more liberal views, even though some people still look down on minorities and those less fortunate than ourselves.

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Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

Like me on Facebook.

***

Thursday Book Feature- A Dog Walks into a Nursing Home:

A Dog Walks into a Nursing Home: Lessons in the Good Life from an Unlikely Teacher

by Sue Halpern

Copyright 2012

This title sounds like the start of a joke, but it really isn’t. The author describes how she trained her Labradoodle, Pransky, to be a therapy dog, and how for years, they visited a county nursing home in Vermont once a week. She starts by talking about how she acquired Pransky and came up with her name. Years later after her daughter left home to go away to school, Halpern decided she and Pransky needed something to do, since her job as a stay-at-home mom no longer existed. Hence, she decided to train Pransky to be a therapy dog.

She describes the arduous process, which wasn’t easy for her or Pransky. Nevertheless, Pransky managed to pass the test.

Halpern then relates many experiences with residents at the nursing home who’s lives Pransky touched, like Dottie, hard of hearing, who enjoyed taking Pransky for walks with her wheelchair, Lizzie, who had difficulty speaking due to a rare genetic disorder but greeted Pransky whenever she saw her, and the Carters, a couple who always had plenty of dog biscuits to spare. Then there was Janis, who loved telling jokes but not about a dog walking into a nursing home. The author also touches on the history of therapy dogs and reflects on nursing homes and other topics related to aging.

The book is divided into seven chapters centered around each of the seven Catholic virtues. This is one thing I didn’t like about it, maybe because I’m not Catholic. I found her reflections on this and other religious and philosophical subjects irrelevant to her story. In fact, they either distracted me or put me to sleep.

Also, the ending was a bit up in the air. She talks about her daughter going off to study in Norway and then returning home briefly to accept a scholarship and give a speech. This had nothing to do with Pransky’s visit to the county nursing home. It might have been better to end by explaining how long she and Pransky volunteered there or if she and the dog were still visiting the facility on a regular basis when she finished writing the book.

On the other hand, having worked as a registered music therapist in a nursing home for fifteen years, I could relate to some of Halpern’s stories, since I had similar experiences. I could also understand her feelings of rejection when residents refused a visit from Pransky, since not all residents I encountered enjoyed music activities or wanted me to visit them in their rooms.

Since October is National Adopt a Shelter Dog Month, I thought this would be a fun book to read, and it was, although Pransky didn’t come from a shelter. There’s no reason why a shelter dog couldn’t be a therapy dog if the pooch has the right disposition and receives proper training.

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Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

Like me on Facebook.

***

Thursday Book Feature: What We Find

What We Find

by Robyn Carr

Copyright 2016

 

Maggie is a successful neurosurgeon in Denver. In March after her practice is closed down as a result of allegations against her partners, she is sued for wrongful death, and her boyfriend dumps her. She retreats to Sullivan’s Crossing, a camp ground in the Colorado mountains that her father owns.

He welcomes her with open arms, and she meets Cal, a lawyer who is also retreating from a painful past. They fall in love, and for the next six months, while they’re both dealing with emotional baggage and figuring out what to do with their lives, they encounter a cast of interesting characters including a man suffering from dementia, two kidnappers, and a naked hiker, to name a few. Maggie’s father has a heart attack. Cal defends a prostitute facing criminal charges, and Maggie saves the life of a teen-aged boy who fell off a cliff. There’s more.

At first, I didn’t like the way the author prolonged the story over six months. I wanted things to be resolved sooner. Eventually, the extra characters and sub-plots with their humorous twists and turns helped me relax and enjoy the ride, so to speak.

This book made me laugh a lot but occasionally almost moved me to tears. I downloaded it from Audible and loved the way the narrator portrayed Maggie, especially. The voices she used for other characters were also good. This book is set in Colorado, which borders Wyoming, where I live, and since I have relatives in Colorado, and my late husband grew up there, I felt at home reading the book. It’s part of a series, so I definitely plan to read more.

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Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

Like me on Facebook.

 

 

Thursday Book Feature: The Right Time

The Right Time

By Danielle Steel

Copyright 2017.

 

At the age of seven, Alexandra is abandoned by her mother and finds comfort in reading books with her father, a Boston contractor. They start with Nancy Drew mysteries and work their way to Agatha Christie and beyond. After her mother dies in a car accident when she’s nine, Alex begins writing her own crime stories, much to a teacher’s consternation.

When she is fourteen, her father dies after a long bout with Alzheimer’s. An orphan with no other relatives, she ends up in a convent where nuns encourage her to send her stories to mystery magazines, where they’re published. In high school, she gets her first novel idea, and by the time she’s nineteen, she has found an agent and published her first book. Because her father has told her that many people don’t read murder mysteries published by women, she writes under the name of Alexander Green.

Her career takes off after the publication of her first book, and by the time she graduates from Boston College, she has published more books. She travels through Europe and lives in London for a couple of years before returning to the states. All this time, she’s leading a double life, struggling to keep the identity of Alexander Green a secret, as her books gain more popularity. This isolates her and leaves her vulnerable to arrogance and envy of others. Then, she gets a movie deal in Hollywood with one of her books, and after that, another book is made into a television series in London. There, she finds romance at the right time.

One thing I found disconcerting about this book is that no dates are mentioned. At one point during Alex’s childhood, there’s a reference to the book, The Silence of the Lambs. A search of Wikipedia told me this book came out in 1988, but that doesn’t give a clear indication of exactly when the action takes place. Since the book spans close to forty years, dates to orient the reader would have been helpful.

I also don’t like the author’s portrayal of writing classes and conferences. Not all classes are taught by lazy teaching assistants who are jealous of other writers, and not many writers’ conferences are venues for drinking and sex. As a writer myself, I found such activities helpful.

However, I like Danielle Steel’s portrayal of the nuns in the convent where Alex lives after her father dies. This is not an orphanage but a community center of sorts. The nuns are either teachers or nurses, and when they’re not working, they’re teaching classes in art, health, and other subjects to community members. You’d think nuns would turn up their noses at crime fiction but not these sisters, who support Alex in her writing endeavors.

I downloaded this book from Audible and enjoyed the narrator’s portrayal of all characters. I was with Alex when her books became bestsellers and wished a publisher would pay me three million dollars for a book. As the author points out though, it’s not about the money. It’s about sharing your talent with the world.

 

Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

Like me on Facebook.