Review: The Penguin Book of Witches, edited by Katherine Howe

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics (September 30, 2014)
  • ISBN: 9780143106180
  • Source: Publisher

Our country has had a long-lasting obsession with witches, dating back to the infamous Salem witch trials.  The animosity and fear toward witches, however, reaches even further back in time.  The existence of witches appeared several times in the Bible with vague details about their evil presence. They emerged again in medieval England.

In this treasury of historical accounts, Howe has cultivated a richly detailed volume showing the progression of societies terror for this group of individuals.  With excerpts from a witch hunting manual written by King James to transcripts from those accused of witchcraft in Salem,The Penguin Book of Witches is not only a study of our societies fascination with witches but an exploration of how individuals perceived different than the general masses were treated with animosity and horror.  Women were accused of witchcraft for the most minor of offenses, including behaving in a manor that strayed from what society deemed normal and appropriate.

While a good portion of this volume deals with the Salem witch trials, Howe also showcases cases of witchcraft not as familiar or renowned. I cringe to thing how modern women would fare if we were held to the same standards as some of these women. It’s probable that the majority of female society would be deemed witches.  What is most frightening, however, is how our society still considers it appropriate to control the lives, and bodies, of women.

The Penguin Book of Witches is the perfect sort of book to curl up with on a cool, fall day. While I didn’t read through it in one sitting, I found myself picking it up and reading a section whenever I could find a free moment. Howe kept the formatting of the accounts, not modernizing it in any way, so it does take a bit of concentration to become comfortable with the language and style used. All this said, this was a completely mesmerizing read, wholly fascinating and incredibly informative. Highly, highly recommended.

 

Review: Dr. Mütter’s Marvels: A True Tale of Intrigue and Innovation at the Dawn of Modern Medicine by Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Gotham; First Edition edition (September 4, 2014)
  • ISBN: 9781592408702
  • Source: Publisher

We’re all familiar with Dr. Mütter’s Philadelphia museum of oddities, filled with abnormalities of the human anatomy.  However, very few of us know that Dr. Thomas Dent Mütter was a pioneer in the field of medicine and surgery.

Exposed to tragedy at an early age, Mütter came to be a renowned plastic surgeon in his twenties. Unlike most of his peers, he genuinely cared about his patients, treating them with kindness and sympathy. At this point in medical history, there was no anesthetic; patients were fully conscious during the very painful surgery. Additionally, they were sent home immediately after the surgery was performed; no convalescing in a hospital under the watchful eyes of nurses and doctors. For this reason, the majority of patients died after surgery due to infection and other ailments that would now be considered minor.

Dr. Mutter’s Marvels goes far beyond the life of Mütter himself; it’s a well-researched, truly captivating exploration of the history of the medical field in the early 19th century. Despite being a non-fiction title, the prose and flow of the book made it read like nonfiction. While there was some creative liberties taken, the benefit it provided far outweighed any negatives. Honestly, I was completely intrigued by the amount of historical detail the author added to the storyline, truly immersing the reader in the time period.

Scattered throughout this volume are detailed illustrations of Mütter’s patients with their ailments as well as excerpts from Mütter’s personal journals. These multimedia additions add another dimension to this reading experience, giving readers a visual component that truly drives in just how big of a trailblazer Mütter was for the medical profession.

Additionally, the reader is granted a glimpse inside the mind of Mütter himself. Having lost his entire family from various illnesses at an early age, it’s obvious as to why Mütter was so enamored by the medical profession. His eccentricities, like his obsession with clothing rich not only in color and detail but in quality, made him stand out as a truly unique individual.  He was a genuinely captivating person; getting a glimpse of his history and his contributions to the medical profession make me respect him, and his museum, even more. His collection of macabre medical specimens wasn’t created for shock value, instead as a means for Mütter, and the medical profession, to understand human anatomy, and these shocking ailments, even more.

Dr. Mutter’s Marvels is a book that will be appreciated by a wide fan-base. It is a book that will remain a part of my permanent collection, a truly unique and rewarding reading experience. Highly, highly recommended.

 

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Review: A Deadly Wandering: A Tale of Tragedy and Redemption in the Age of Attention by Matt Richtel

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow (September 23, 2014)
  • ISBN: 9780062284068
  • Source: Publisher

In 2006, Reggie Shaw, a Utah college student, was involved in a brutal car crash that instantly killed two men. The accident wasn’t caused by inclement weather or adverse road conditions. It occurred because Reggie Shaw’s attention was elsewhere: on his cell phone. In the minutes that led up to the accident, Reggie was sending texts to his on-again, off-again girlfriend. Sending the texts took seconds. The damage caused by the distraction forever changed the lives of numerous people.

In this narrative non-fiction, Richtel shares scientific evidence that details how our attention is easily comprised by technology.  We all experience this; one of the examples noted is the cocktail party effect. We can listen to a conversation with someone while our attention is elsewhere.  The same is true with our cell phones in cars, but the difference is we think we can balance that attention without any harm. That is clearly not the case. Texting while driving has deadly consequences.

The scientific evidence Richtel further shows just how addicted we are to our technology. Responding to a text, getting an instant response or interaction is, to our bodies, like a drug.  The high is similar to the effects of drugs or of having sex. Like other addictions, the need for more intensifies over time until it reaches an unhealthy level.

Richtel, a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist, succeeds at his intent to get this message across to his readers.  Balancing a truly horrific accident with scientific evidence grabs the reader with heart-breaking emotion from the very few pages.  Readers follow Reggie through the accident investigation, his prosecution, and how his life, too, was changed by this accident.

It’s obvious that Richtel knows his data. This is clear in the evidence he relays, but also in the formatting of this book.  He knows our attention spans are short. With the internet, and text messages, information has to be relayed in short bursts or our attention is lost.  So, to keep his readers’ attention, each chapter is limited to a handful of pages.

As I devoured this book, I often forgot I was reading a piece of non-fiction.  The constant reminder that this story is real was horrifying to me. Yet the emotion, the intensity Richtel uses captivates a reader much like a suspense or thriller novel. Unfortunately, this story is all too real.

As the mother of a young man who will be driving within the next year, I genuinely think this book should be required reading for teens participating in driving programs.  We all remember what it is like to be a teenager; our social lives are the most important things to us. What we need to ingrain in the minds of our children is that texting while driving has deadly consequences. No conversation or relationship is worth the life of another human being.

It is rare that I say everyone should read a book. In this case, I almost demand it. While I read an egalley, I will be buying a print copy for my son. I will encourage his school library to carry it in their collection. I will share it with my friends so they, too, can have their children read it. This book is that important.

 

Review: Haunted Stuff: Demonic Dolls, Screaming Skulls & Other Creepy Collectibles by Stacey Graham

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Llewellyn Publications (August 8, 2014)
  • ISBN-10: 0738739081
  • Source: Author

There’s a reason so many of us find dolls to be creepy. Their uncanny likeness to human children. Their lifelike eyes and expressions. Horror movies often pick up on this fear, manipulating our terror by focusing on a demonic doll that torments anyone that crosses its path.

Sometimes, however, our fears are validated when we learn of dolls and other inanimate objects that seem to have a ghostly presence tied to it. In Haunted Stuff: Demonic Dolls, Screaming Skulls & Other Creepy Collectibles, Graham examines a host of reports of haunted objects and places, from skulls refusing to be removed from their homes to portraits that transform right before one’s eyes.

As a fan of antique stores, flea markets, and yard sales, I’ve always been wary of sinister feelings I experience when I handle a particular object. Graham has evidence to prove that objects close to a person can hold on to their essence long after that person has passed.  Some of the more chilling segments hit me quite close to home…hauntings that take place in the very town in which I live, or sites that I have visited myself.

As an avid reader and viewer of anything remotely ghostlike, I was familiar with a few of the objects Graham featured.  A startling number were new to me. Unlike other books of this sort, Graham provides readers with advice on how to deal with haunted objects they experience and provides testimony by the victims of these haunted objects. Each segment is brief yet vivid with detail. Additionally, Graham inserts her own experience in ghostly matters, adding a wholly personal and therefore believable spin to this haunting collection. All in all, Graham provides a truly captivating and chilling read.

Haunted Stuff is the perfect reading material for the upcoming Halloween season, or to read at a campfire late at night. The cover alone sends chills down my spine! As a writer “about the spookier side of life,” Graham has degrees in both history and archaeology/anthropology. She knows her stuff when it comes to haunted history.

If you are looking for a book that will give you goosebumps, sending chills down your spine, Haunted Stuff: Demonic Dolls, Screaming Skulls & Other Creepy Collectibles is the book for you. A must read this Halloween season. Highly recommended.

Come back tomorrow for a spooktacular guest post from Stacey Graham herself!

#Mx3 Review: Suburban Legends: True Tales of Murder, Mayhem, and Minivans by Sam Stall

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  • Print Length: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Quirk Books (October 1, 2013)
  • Source: Publisher (via Edelweiss)

In this collection of horrifying true stories, Stall proves that living in the suburbs isn’t as quiet or calm as one would tend to believe.   In stories ranging from hauntings to brutal killings and supernatural creatures, Stall terrifies readers with tales destined to be retold around a campfire or at a slumber party.  Stall focuses on well-known stories of murderous individuals we’ve all hear about on the news, but also focuses on local, lesser-known stories. Included, when applicable, are chilling photographic evidence of the haunting, or, even more terrifying, of the killer.  For those more sensitive, Stall does share stories that are more humorous than terrifying, a perfect combination of hilarity and horror.

This collection of 60 stories is broken down into the following categories:

  • Inhumanly Bad Houseguests (hauntings, poltergeists, paranormal activity)
  • The Ghoul Next Door (Do you know what your creepy neighbor does behind closed doors!?)
  • Hellish Commutes (haunted roadways, hotels, etc)
  • Backyard Beasts (unnaturally odd creatures)
  • Really Desperate Housewives (murderous wives/mothers)
  • Lawn of the Dead (Horrifying things found buried in backyards or uncovered during construction)
  • Sundry Cul-de-sacriliges (Miscellaneous hauntings, paranormal activity)

Each story only has a page or two devoted to it, so if you are anything like me, you’ll find yourself wanting to know more. I caught myself hitting Google to find out more, especially when I discovered that one of the stories was based just a few miles down the road (gulp!)

Recently re-released in ebook format, Suburban Legends: True Tales of Murder, Mayhem, and Minivans is a must needed addition to your Halloween reading collection! Highly, highly recommended.

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Review: We’ve Got a Job: The 1963 Birmingham Children’s March by Cynthia Levinson

  • Hardcover: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Peachtree Publishers (February 1, 2012)
  • ISBN-10: 1561456276
  • Source: Publisher

Many of us have basic details about the Birmingham Children’s March in 1963 in which 4,000 students boycotted school in a march to protest segregation. Yet never before have we stepped inside the shoes of those students who stepped up to fight for rights which should have been guaranteed but were not.

We’ve Got a Job follows the stories of four children who participated in the march. Nine-year-old Audrey Hendricks was the youngest to participate. Her parents stood behind her decision, as did her teachers and close friends. Washington (Wash) Booker grew up among poverty and a strong fear of the police. It wasn’t uncommon for parents to threaten their children, ordering them to behave or “the police are gonna come and get you.” James Stewart was an excellent student, opting not to let the color of his skin determine how well he did in school. He lived in a large house with a pool, his parents were lucky enough to have successful jobs. Arnetta Streeter had light skin and could have passed as white, but instead went so far as to attend young activist training so she could stand fight to end segregation. She grew up being called names due to the light color of her skin, even by other black children. Her desire for change was so strong that she started a club at school called the Peace Ponies. Among the stories of these young, brave, individuals, readers get a glimpse of other powerful individuals from both sides of the battle lines  involved in this fight, from Martin Luther King, Jr to Reverend Shuttlesworth and Bull Connor.

Breaking up the text are large black and white photos that allow readers to visualize the intensity of this battle, from the fear in the eyes of those individuals being attacked by police to the shrouded faces of the Ku Klux Klan. Detailed sidebars heighten the intensity, adding even more information to this detail-rich chronicle of a pivotal time in our nation’s history. Words cannot express how moved I was by this book. This is a title that should be added to curriculum in schools around the country so that it may educate and inspire this generation of children to work for further change not just in our own country but world-wide.

I chose to read this book with my boys. Justin is seven, just two years younger than the youngest student in this march. At this point in his schooling, while he he has learned about the great acts of Martin Luther King, Jr., his curriculum hasn’t delved into the deeper and more dark aspects of that time period. He was shocked and horrified to learn of the treatment of children his own age, the crimes that be committed against blacks without fear of punishment from the authorities (and in some cases, at the hands of authorities). So gracious that he will never have to endure this treatment, I still felt it was important for him to learn at an early age just how far our country has come.  John-John is thirteen and well-informed about this pivotal time in our nation’s history. Still, he was unfamiliar with the Children’s March and was devastated to learn about what those young children went through to stand up for what they believed in.  Given the fact that we are a biracial family, I felt it was important that the boys understand just how lucky we are and appreciate just how much those before us did in order to guarantee the freedoms we now have.

Highly, highly recommended.

Review: Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press; 1 edition (November 13, 2012)
  • ISBN-10: 145162137X
  • Source: Publisher

Twenty-four year old Susannah Cahalan was a writer for the New York Post. She was a very outgoing young woman, leading an active social life. It’s early 2009 when she wakes to find to small bite marks on her arm. The city is on a big bed bug scare so Susannah instantly thinks she’s been infected. After having her apartment treated, Cahalan’s paranoia about the tiny, pervasive bugs should have diminished. Instead, her paranoia in general increases. This incident is just the precursor for host of other symptoms, including drastic mood swings, sensitivity to bright lights and general feeling of unease.

Her doctors initially diagnose it as mono…yes, the kissing disease. Yet the symptoms not only continue, but intensify, after she receives treatment. Cahalan begins experiencing horrific seizures and hallucinations. It is only the persistence of her family and loved ones that convince doctors to admit her into New York University Hospital.

The doctors don’t actually know how it began for me. What’s clear is that if that man had sneezed on you, you’d most likely just get a cold. For me, it flipped my universe upside down and very nearly sent me to an asylum for life.

 

The diagnoses ranged from epilepsy to alcohol withdrawal to a host of mental illnesses. The most terrifying part of this ordeal is that Cahalan doesn’t remember most of it. She awakes in a hospital bed, under guard, weeks later, unable to speak.

Brain on Fire is Cahalan’s narrative of her descent into madness. Unable to recall the majority of the events that took place in this month-long time frame, Cahalan uses her doctor’s notes, video recordings, and a journal her father kept to relive the living hell that turned a healthy, ambitious young woman into a catatonic shell of a human being. It wasn’t until her case was reviewed by a doctor (a “real-life Dr. House”) with experiences in cases like this that Cahalan received a legitimate diagnosis for her illness, a newly discovered autoimmune disorder. Essentially, her body was attacking itself, attempting to rid her body of a hidden infection of some sort. Her brain was on fire, under attack by her own body.

Cahalan’s narrative is incredibly haunting. Imagine losing a month of your life, waking with no memories of what transpired? Once she did regain conscious, the recovery was not instant. She had to learn to do many of the things she took for granted. Her relationships were tested; luckily she had a dedicated boyfriend and parents who remained by her side throughout the entire ordeal. When she awoke the relationship she had with her parents, divorced, changed. Before the ordeal, she didn’t have that close a relationship with her father, yet was incredibly close to her mother. After her illness, those relationships shifted. Her father was there by her side almost continuously, supporting her when she herself could not, perhaps making up for lost time.

The amount of knowledge and information contained within this book is truly tremendous. In addition to learning about Cahalan’s harrowing diagnosis and recovery, readers learn a great deal about her illness, an illness just recently discovered. While Cahalan’s story is terrifying, what is more terrifying is the number of individuals suffering from this disorder, yet not diagnosed. Individuals banished to mental institutions for an illness that is not at all psychological.

Bottom line: this is a book that must be read, if not for just the subject matter alone but to raise the awareness of the number of illnesses and disorders that go undiagnosed, unknown. Highly recommended.

Review: This Life Is In Your Hands by Melissa Coleman

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (April 10, 2012)
  • ISBN-10: 0061958336
  • Source: Publisher

In the late 1960s, Melissa Coleman’s parents, Eliot and Sue, gave up their life in regular society to move to a rural rugged coastland in Maine. They purchased 60 acres of land, planning to exist solely on the crops they grew. They were inspired by Helen and Scott Nearing, authors  of Living the Good Life, a couple well known as proponents of living off the land. Coleman’s parents literally lived off of what they established themselves, including a wood cabin they built from hand, devoid of the conveniences of plumbing, electricity, etc. It was here they raised Melissa and her two sisters.

Melissa was born within months of this move to the rural life. She wasn’t raised as many children were, instead of close friends she relied on farm animals around her to keep her company. It wasn’t too long before she was graced with a younger sister to keep her company in the open expanse of nature around her. For the sake of living off of nature, her parents swore off common practices, including prenatal care, childhood vaccinations, and the like.

This life her parents established for them was not an easy one. Her father worked endlessly to produce crops that, in turn, her mother diligently prepared for storage in their food cellar. Her father became obsessed with providing for his family. Unfortunately, the perfect simple life they craved for wasn’t the life they obtained. Soon the media learned of this family’s farming movement, and the idyllic life they craved to create began to crumble. When a horrific tragedy befalls the family, this facade of a happy life the family created began to fall apart. Instances of mental instability in Melissa’s mother became more prevalent, “checking out” when things got too rough. The patriarch of the family, the proponent behind this movement, begins to falter in his passion and his dedication to his family. By the fall of 1978, this life they created together, out of their own sweat and tears, is nonexistent.

This Life Is in Your Hands: One Dream, Sixty Acres, and a Family’s Heartbreak is Melissa’s own account of life growing up in a homestead family. Oftentimes, I found myself forgetting that it was her own life she was reliving, for the emotion usually associated with this sort of retelling was absent. I saw this as a clear indication of the sort of family she grew up in, a family more focused on nurturing the land than the members of the family itself.

Knowing from the premise of the book of the sort of tragedy that would befall the family, I became frustrated when it wasn’t brought up until the last 1/3 of the book. That said, the story Coleman portrays is an incredibly inspirational, yet also devastating, book. I was rooting for the family, so set on providing a good life for their children. As I watched the structure, the backbone of the family start to crumble, I was devastated. I wanted the Coleman family to thrive, to prove all those who doubted them that they could seek everything they needed from the land around them.

In today’s society, when we rely so much on technology to exist, I believe it is important to look back at what life was like without these materialistic items.  Coleman’s memoir gives us a glimpse of this simpler life, a life not too far in the past. Highly recommended.

Thank you to TLC Book Tours for providing me the opportunity to review this book. Please be sure to check out the tour page for additional stops in this tour.

Review: The Woman Who Wasn’t There:The True Story of an Incredible Deception by Robin Gaby Fisher and Angelo J. Guglielmo, Jr.

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Touchstone (April 3, 2012)
  • ISBN-10: 1451652089
  • Source: Publisher

After the tragic events of 9/11, those who survived the terrorist attack sought out others in attempts to seek solace and understanding for the feelings they were experiencing.  One of the women who played an active role in the creation and direction of the World Trade Survivors’ Network was Tania Head, a young woman who escaped the carnage of the  seventy-eighth-floor sky lobby of the south tower. In addition to losing her fiance in the other tower, Tania suffered serious burns and injuries. Her retelling of the experience gave other survivors the courage to step forward themselves and thus begin the healing process.

As one of the leaders and advocates for the 9/11 survivors, she was key in saving the “Survivor Stairway” one of the few remaining pieces of the then demolished buildings, as well as providing survivors the opportunity to tour the grounds of the WTC reconstruction.  However, as time continued, as Tania became more prevalent in the press, questions were raised about her retelling of the tragic events of 9/11. When a New York Times reporter attempts to contact Tania to get answers to some of these questions, Tania would cancel scheduled meetings and interviews. She refused to answer even elementary questions about that day.

Eventually, the truth was revealed. Not only was Tania not a survivor of 9/11, she wasn’t even in the city that day. She didn’t have a fiance who perished in the attack, either. The survivors who relied on her for strength had to undergo yet another period of grief, as if the woman they looked up to for so many years had perished herself.

In The Woman Who Wasn’t There: The True Story of an Incredible Deception, Angelo J. Guglielmo, Jr a film-maker and once friend of Tania Head, shares the unbelievable story of this individual’s desperate attempts for attention and acclaim after an event that rocked out country. It reads like a thriller, seeming to be unbelievable, for how could a woman manipulate those individuals already suffering so tremendously into believing she was one of them?

Once I started this book, I couldn’t stop. I stayed up until the wee hours of the morning, unable to stop until I finished it. Afterward, I desperately sought to find out why Tania Head would do such a deplorable thing? I found a great deal about this case online. I found myself surprised that I haven’t heard of this story earlier but honestly, so many stories popped up around this time about fake charities and the like I probably glossed over the story.

While the obvious feeling to experience after reading a story like this would be hatred or anger. That said, after I pondered the story over the weekend, there was a happy ending to this story. Despite all the horrible things Tania did, she was able to give hundreds of 9/11 survivors the strength and the confidence to heal, gave them a voice in the construction of the memorial, a voice thus far unheard.

It could be said that this book is once again giving Tania Head undeserved attention and praise, but I implore you to look beyond the story of this woman who betrayed hundreds and instead look at the progress these survivors have made over the years. This is a book that I encourage many to read; those directly affected by the 9/11 terrorist attacks may find it too overwhelming to read but I do still encourage them to give it a chance. For ultimately, while there is a great deal of betrayal portrayed, there is a constant glimmer of hope, a glimmer that helped the victims of this tragedy rise up and begin to heal again.  Highly recommended.

Review: Huck by Janet Elder

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Broadway; Reprint edition (October 4, 2011)
  • ISBN-10: 0767931351
  • Source: Publisher

Michael was a preschooler when the pleas for a  dog began.  He went as far as creating a PowerPoint presentation covering the reasons why he needed a dog.  Despite his incessant begging, his parents Rich & Janet stood strong. They simply couldn’t juggle what is required to do to own a dog with their already crazy lives. Living in New York City made things harder; walking a dog wasn’t as simple as letting the dog out back or taking a quick walk around the park. It required leaving their small apartment, venturing down dozens of floors & venturing out into the busy city streets.

The pleading continued into Michael’s youth and young teen years.  It wasn’t until a life-altering event changed the family’s life that Janet decided: We need to get Michael a dog.  The new puppy would bring happiness and contentment back into their lives.

Over Thanksgiving weekend, The Elders welcome Huck, a red-haired toy poodle, into their lives.  He was full of energy and life, instantly winning the hearts of the entire family.

A few months later, Michael & his parents decide to head to baseball spring training.  They leave Huck with Janet’s sister, a family used to owning and caring for pets.

It’s not until a few days into the trip that they receive the phone call: Huck slipped through a space in their fence and escaped.  Not only is Huck in an unfamiliar area, Michael and his parents are hundreds of miles away.

It is within these first few moments that the Elders start to feel the true power of human kindness.  It doesn’t stop there. Once they get home, throughout their search of Huck, they meet dozens of people, willing to devote their free time & energy to help find Huck.  From random people on the road to police officers, the Elders are given a glimpse of the human kindness that still prevails in today’s world.

Let it be known that I typically don’t review “pet books.”  Books about animals of any sort usually have me sobbing within minutes.  I have a special place in my heart for dogs (and cats!). Yet for some reason, perhaps it was Huck’s adorable image on the book cover, I said yes.

Even before Huck is introduced to the family I had a vested interest in this family.  They were a strong family, one that continued to stand strong despite the tests forced upon them. When Huck came around, he provided their lives with a love they’ve never felt before.  When he ran away, they were forced to deal with yet another heart-breaking blow.  Yet, they continued to stay strong, powered by the generosity of complete strangers, and they trudged on.
Huck is a truly heartwarming book, a perfect read for this time of year when everyone is reflecting on the gifts they have in life. I read it in an afternoon, on almost one sitting (I did have to get up and walk my own dog, Jack, a few times.) Highly recommended for all pet-lovers, those overcoming breast cancer, or simply someone just looking for a heartwarming, hopeful read.

The publisher has provided me three copies of HUCK to give away! To enter, please fill out the form below. Open to US & Canadian residents only. Good luck to all who enter!