Book Review: Tarnished by Kate Jarvik Birch

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Mourning Vivian


Vivian, December 2013

Vivian, December 2013


Yesterday, my daughter, Annie, and I took my four-footed sweet baby, Vivian, to the vet for her last visit. Those of us who are pet moms and dads dread having to do this but we owe it to take care of our “kids” to the very end.

Vivian was special. Yes, I know, everyone’s pets are special ;-). It’s true, though, that Vivian was different from most cats if only because she and her sister, Giselle, have openly loved us and have shown it over and over since they came home with me just before Christmas 2013.


Vivian, February 2014

Vivian, February 2014


We don’t know much about Vivian’s early life; she and Giselle were raised by an unknown woman in a motel for their first six years and then she disappeared one day. The motel owner called animal control and the Ginger Twins, as we called them, ended up at the SPCA. When we first saw them, they had been there four months and had limited prospects of being adopted. The biggest problems?

1. At seven years old, they were considered seniors.

2. There were two of them and the SPCA wouldn’t let them be separated.

3. Vivian was a mammary cancer survivor but her long-term outlook was not good.

Many of our local shelters, including the SPCA, are no-kill so Vivian and Giselle were not in danger but I couldn’t get them out of my mind. They were meant to come home with me so Annie and I went back to get them.

The twins were rarely far apart and were happiest when they snuggled together. Both loved looking out the windows and loved playing with the laser pointer and dangly ribbons, preferably the shiny kind. They loved to eat and they put on a few pounds but that was OK—they were a little on the lean side at the shelter.

Vivian & Giselle, February 2014

Vivian & Giselle, February 2014

The twins had not been spayed before arriving at the shelter and that’s when Vivian’s cancer was discovered. Mammary cancer is especially virulent and survival time is limited. When we took the girls to our vet for their first visit, he said it was not a matter of “if” it would recur but “when”. Two months later, the cancer was back and she had a second extensive surgery. That was in March and, a couple of months later, she was showing signs that something might be wrong again. At that time, I decided not to put her through all the diagnostic tests and possible surgery a third time.

A week ago, it became obvious that Vivian was in distress so we took her in on Friday. As it turns out, the mammary cancer was not evident again but it had metastasized to her lungs. There really is no coming back from that. Vivian came home for a last weekend and we had some really good quality time with her, knowing we’d have to take her back on Monday because, despite any rallies she might have, she was in pain and it was the right thing to do for her.

Giselle & Vivian, August 2014

Giselle & Vivian, August 2014

My heart hurts for Giselle. There’s no doubt she knows and she has been velcroed to my side for hours. She and everyone who knew Vivian will miss her terribly and I’m so very thankful she was in our lives for the past eight months.

Vivian has brought us all a lot of tears but also so MUCH joy. The rewards of rescuing seniors outweighs all of the heartache and I’ll do it again when the time is right.

Vivian, August 25, 2014

Vivian, August 25, 2014

Rest in peace, my sweet Vivian.

Book Review: Perfected by Kate Jarvik Birch

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Title: Perfected
Author: Kate Jarvik Birch
Publisher: Entangled Teen
Release Date: 07/01/14



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Kate Jarvik Birch
Entangled Teen, July 2014
ISBN 978-1-62266-268-5

From the publisher—

Perfection comes at a price.

As soon as the government passed legislation allowing humans to be genetically engineered and sold as pets, the rich and powerful rushed to own beautiful girls like Ella. Trained from birth to be graceful, demure, and above all, perfect, these “family companions” enter their masters’ homes prepared to live a life of idle luxury.

Ella is happy with her new role as playmate for a congressman’s bubbly young daughter, but she doesn’t expect Penn, the congressman’s handsome and rebellious son. He’s the only person who sees beyond the perfect exterior to the girl within. Falling for him goes against every rule she knows…and the freedom she finds with him is intoxicating.

But when Ella is kidnapped and thrust into the dark underworld lurking beneath her pampered life, she’s faced with an unthinkable choice. Because the only thing more dangerous than staying with Penn’s family is leaving…and if she’s unsuccessful, she’ll face a fate far worse than death.

For fans of Keira Cass’s Selection series and Lauren DeStefano’s Chemical Garden series, Perfected is a chilling look at what it means to be human, and a stunning celebration of the power of love to set us free, wrapped in a glamorous—and dangerous—bow.

Sometimes you come across a book whose theme stops you in your tracks. Perfected is just such a book. We’ve seen many interpretations of humans controlling and manipulating other humans, usually young girls, but breeding them to be pets is something else entirely. Most of us love animals and think of our pets as part of the family but what if some of those pets were actually human?

So much about Ella’s world is so wrong from the day these girls are born (and isn’t it telling that they’re apparently all girls?). To be born into a kennel and raised in caged conditions before going into training is horrendous but the actual training is worse. Only the education that’s necessary to make them docile and beautiful and appealing is offered; no thought is given to teaching them to read or to giving them more than the most rudimentary knowledge of life. They are, indeed, viewed as nothing more than dogs or cats or whatever we might keep as pets.

Ella is a striking character with her naivete and her fear of displeasing her owner and her dismay as she learns what she doesn’t know, like how to swim or how to read. Her curiosity is somewhat limited, though, and I think that might be the most telling thing about her, giving us insight into how being under other people’s control for so long can damage the natural curiosity we all have.  Her developing relationship with Penn, a truly nice guy, is unforced and quite believable and what he’s willing to do for Ella makes him a real hero in my eyes. As for the rest of the family, they’re all so well-drawn, likeable or not, that they seem very real. The congressman, of course, makes a truly unpleasant villain, especially since he sees nothing wrong with keeping people in luxurious slavery.

Ms. Birch does a really nice job of depicting the world of pets with humans substituted and, in all honesty, there are shades of questioning the validity of our keeping pets at all as well as very subtle comparisons to slavery. Really, my only quibbles with the story have to do with worldbuilding because there is almost none. We don’t know when this takes place although there are many hints that it’s intended to be the very near future as there are still television, normal cars, gas stations, border patrols, etc.  We also don’t know how it came about that Congress could possibly pass such legislation, no real evidence of what the government is like. I’d like to know so much more to get the full effect of the story.

Now, about the ending…I honestly don’t know whether it was intended to be a humdinger of a cliffhanger that will be resolved in future books or simply an invitation for readers to use their own imaginations about what will happen next. Either is acceptable to me but I’m selfishly hoping there are going to be more books 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2014.

About the Author


Kate Jarvik BirchKate Jarvik Birch is a visual artist, author, playwright, daydreamer, and professional procrastinator. As a child, she wanted to grow up to be either a unicorn or mermaid. Luckily, being a writer turned out to be just as magical. Her essays and short stories have been published in literary journals including Indiana Review and Saint Ann’s Review. She lives in Salt Lake City, Utah with her husband and three kids. To learn more visit


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Book Reviews: Lost by S. J. Bolton, Murder Is a Piece of Cake by Elaine Viets, and The Boyfriend by Thomas Perry

S. J. Bolton
Minotaur Books, June 2013
ISBN:  978-1-250-02856-3

The current obsession of Barney Roberts, a bright young boy with OCD, is something with which many in London are currently preoccupied:  Five boys his age had disappeared in the last five weeks in South London, where Barney himself lives, their bodies turning up soon afterwards with their throats cut.  And as the book opens, the bodies are being found more and more quickly, the killer seemingly escalating.  Barney’s den is covered with posters, maps and photographs about each boy, his kidnapping, and his death.

The police investigation is headed up by D.I. Dana Tulloch, of Lewisham’s Major Investigation Team.  Sure of only one thing, that the killings will continue, they have no clues.  And someone, perhaps the killer, is taunting them online.  On the periphery of the investigation is D.C. Lacey Flint, still recovering from the horrific event of her last case, in the aftermath of which she is still seeing a psychiatrist twice a week, fighting her own demons, unsure of whether or not still wants to remain a policewoman.

Barney is the youngest of a small group of kids (five boys and one girl) who are brave, and foolhardy, enough to do some investigating of their own.  He also happens to live next door to Lacey Flint.  One day he works up the nerve to ask her to help him find his mother, who apparently left several years ago, when he was four years old, and he is determined to track her down, going so far as to use all his meager wages working for a newsagent to run anonymous classified ads in very methodically and geographically plotted newspapers in London and beyond.

The novel is but the newest of several suspenseful books from this author, and characters, plotting and tension seen in her prior work are fully present here.  The reader is never more than guessing at the possible identity of the killer, as are the detectives whose work is detailed here, knowing that if they do not succeed another boy will die.  Obsession is a constant theme.  This is another winner from S. J. Bolton, and is recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, June 2013.


Murder Is a Piece of CakeMurder is a Piece of Cake
Josie Marcus, Mystery Shopper Series
Elaine Viets
Obsidian, November 2012
ISBN: 978-0-451-23851-1
Mass Market Paperback

The newest book in the Josie Marcus, Mystery Shopper extraordinaire, has Josie tasked by her boss, “Harry the Horrible,” to mystery shop wedding flowers and wedding cakes for a St. Louis wedding website.  The timing couldn’t be better for Josie, who is in the throes of planning her own wedding.  The first of her mystery-shopper sites is Denise’s Dreams, where the sales associate who assists her is a young woman named Molly, who in the ensuing exchange divulges – – well, gushes – – that she is also about to get married.

Josie is a thirty-one-year-old single mom to Amelia, a ‘tween’ with the usual fast-changing sulky-to-“flawless!” mood changes.  Her life is about to undergo major changes, with her upcoming wedding to local veterinarian Dr. Ted, scheduled for the day after Thanksgiving, five weeks away as the story opens.  Their combined pets include Stuart Little, Josie’s shih tzu, her cat Harry, Ted’s cat Marmalade and his black Labrador, Festus.

One week later, shortly after Josie arrives at Ted’s veterinary clinic one morning, a surreal scene unfolds:  the self-same Molly, dressed in all her bridal finery, exits a Bentley and pushes her way into the clinic, claiming she’s there to pick up Ted en route to their wedding.  Clearly delusional, the scene ends with Molly picking up a scalpel and attacking Ted when he insists that he is indeed shortly to be married, but to Josie.  Ted’s mother, also present, disarms her, brandishing the pistol she always carried in her purse.  To cut to the chase, “mad Molly” is arrested and charged with assault.  She is soon released from jail by a sympathetic judge, but the melodrama continues when, continuing to stalk Ted, she is shot to death in her car in the clinic parking lot.  Things only get worse when Ted’s “Boca diva” mother is arrested, as her gun proves to be the murder weapon.

The book was a delightful change of pace for this reader, contrasted with other fare of thrillers and serial killers.  Besides an intriguing murder mystery with several possible culprits, it offers a few mouthwatering culinary tidbits, and culminates in several pages of shopping tips for wedding-related purchases, from flowers for various segments of the Big Day, bling, cakes, etc.  Following which is a peek at the next offering in Ms. Viets’ Dead-End Job Mystery series, Board Stiff, published by Obsidian in May 2013, which I have the good fortune to have in my towering TBR/R pile – – more to come on that soon!

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, May 2013.


The BoyfriendThe Boyfriend
Thomas Perry
The Mysterious Press, March 2013
ISBN 978-0-8021-2606-1

The protagonist and his adversary in this newest terrific, suspenseful read from Thomas Perry have many similarities:  Both Jack Till, retired LAPD homicide detective now working as a private investigator, and the man he nicknames The Boyfriend are both highly intelligent, patient, meticulous, proficient with various kinds of weaponry, and very lethal.  Mostly they are both loners.  Till, however, has a daughter with Down Syndrome of whom he is very protective.  His wife had left them and divorced him shortly after she was diagnosed, unable to cope.  Holly is now 28 years old, employed at a florist shop and living in a group home where she is well looked after.  Till had retired after 23 years as a cop, and now embarks upon a relentless search for a killer.

The man Till is seeking is completely cold-blooded.  He preys upon young, beautiful women, all of a very similar physical type, and all ‘working girls,’ albeit highly-paid escorts earning several thousand dollars a day, as opposed to streetwalkers.  And all very vulnerable to the young, good-looking charmer, to their peril.  He has apparently killed several of them in all different parts of the country.  He has come to Till’s attention when the parents of the latest victim seek his help, when the police have, literally, no clues as to his identity.  He agrees to take the case and undertakes the investigation, and soon uncovers the connection to the other murders.  After 23 years as a cop, he “had an instinctive sense that this man was something he hadn’t seen before.”

Thomas Perry is the author, among his 21 previous books, of the wonderful Jane Whitefield series, and his newest is as much a page-turner as were those novels.  He manages an ending that is wonderfully elegant.  This was a terrific read, and is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, July 2013.

Book Review: Bidding on Death by Joyce Harmon

Bidding on DeathBidding on Death
Joyce Harmon
Joyce Harmon, May 2012

From the author—

1998 – On-line auctions are the new craze, and tech writer and vineyard co-owner Cissy Rayburn is joining the frenzy. New friend Amy is teaching Cissy and old friend Julia how to navigate the wonderful world of eBuy. But while the ladies were at Cissy’s house on the computer, someone broke into Amy’s and Julia’s houses.

Could it have something to do with the weekend estate sale they all went to? The other big buyer at the auction was Rose Jackson, retired county government employee and on-line auction shark. Cissy wonders if Rose’s house was broken into as well. But when she stops by Rose’s house, she finds that not only was the house broken into – so was Rose’s head.

Now Cissy is once again hip-deep in a murder investigation, but with the added aggravation of providing a temporary home for Rose’s untrained and obnoxious chihuahua Paco. Both identifying the killer and finding a permanent home for this awful little dog seem like impossible tasks.

Do you remember what the computer world was like back in 1998? I had to stop and think about it and do a little googling (which was not really possible in 1998 as that’s when Google was first incorporated and it was still a garage operation) to see what the primitive “interweebs” were like in those good old days.  Ebay, the barely-hidden online auction site in this novel, started in 1995 and I recall first hearing about it in 1997. By 1998, it was on its way to making financial history.

Online auctioning is at the core of Bidding on Death and makes for a really interesting story. I first met Cissy and her friends in Died on the Vine and was struck then about two things in particular—how much I liked them all and how smart Cissy was. Both of those thoughts are still true. Cissy also reminds me very much of myself the first time I heard about Ebay, completely fascinated. She takes it a step further than me, though, by jumping right in to the new way of making money off stuff just lying around the house.

While Cissy’s learning how to do this, she’s also sniffing around the murder of a woman she barely knew but who had a really long list of potential enemies that might have wanted to do her in. Could it be that it’s all about her auction offerings? And how did Cissy end up with Rose’s nasty little dog, Paco, who seems to have a hate on for the whole world?

Joyce Harmon has once again written a delightful mystery with a handful of red herrings and characters that I enjoy spending time with. I really hope she’ll be coming out with a third book soon.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, February 2013.

Creatures On Tour

Tim Rowland's Creature FeaturesTim Rowland’s Creature Features
Tim Rowland
High Peaks Publishing, October 2012
ISBN 978-0-9761597-3-5
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—


When Tim Rowland’s earlier book of his animal essays, All Pets Are Off, was published, readers immediately clamored for more. Their preference for animal stories over the political columns Tim’s also known for is understandable: animals are way more fun to read about than politicians. Especially now.


So here’s a new volume of over 75 warm and funny essays, from the introduction to the farm of bovines Cleopatra and Heifertiti, the Belted Galloway beauties, to the further antics of Hannah the English Bulldog and Juliet the tiny Siamese, along with assorted donkeys, pigs, goats, horses, chickens, geese-and of course, more of the joyful bouvier des Flandres named Opie-that’s sure to provide loads of smiles and even outright guffaws.


Books that feature animals and their antics are right up my reading alley—in fact, you might say I’m a complete pushover for them. Mention one to me and I’m all over it, maybe because they’re almost always highly entertaining and bring both laughter and tears. I’m glad to say that Tim Rowland’s Creature Features is no exception.

Mr. Rowland’s stories revolve around the small farm he and his wife had in Maryland and it’s clear this farm was just like the one I have always secretly wanted, a handful of animals that might be found on any farm. In this case, though, the farm animals are clearly part of the family, much like the pets that live in the house. I loved reading about Juliet, the long-suffering cat, and her canine companions, Hannah and Opie, but I was every bit as entertained by the antics of the trio of perpetually loud and bad-tempered geese and Magellan, the easy-to-please pig who’s probably the only really sane one of the bunch and is the answer to the question of what to do with the overwhelming homegrown crops of zucchini.

Then there’s the tyrannical miniature horse, Doodlebug, and Cappy, the very large horse who believes a paricular fruit is out to get her. A pair of very likeable heifers who view a visiting bull with disdain and a few alpacas who spend their time spitting add to the fun but I think my favorite of all is Chuckles, the rooster who came up with a very clever way of escaping the freezer.

Little Farm by the Creek is a place I would have been delighted to visit but, failing that, the author’s stories are the next best thing. This is a collection I’ll be re-reading frequently. My daughter and her two cats share my house with me and my cat; two days ago, Sassy, my daughter’s 18-year-old kitty, passed away and Tim Rowland’s Creature Features has brought a good deal of comfort at such a sad time.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, February 2013.


Tim RowlandAbout Tim Rowland:

Tim Rowland is an award-winning columnist at Herald-Mail Media in Hagerstown, Maryland. He has written for numerous history and outdoor magazines and news syndicates nationwide.

He has also authored several books, most recentlyStrange and Obscure Stories of the Civil War and including All Pets are Off: A Collection of Hairy Columns, Petrified Fact: Stories of Bizarre Behavior that Really Happened, Mostly, Earth to Hagerstown, High Peaks: A History of Hiking the Adirondacks from Noah to Neoprene andMaryland’s Appalachian Highlands: Massacres, Moonshine & Mountaineering

Tim is also keeper and lackey for a wide assortment of mostly non-useful, freeloading critters, aided as always by his trusty (well, mostly trusty) companion Opie.

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Book Review: Giant George by Dave Nasser with Lynne Barrett-Lee

Giant George
Life with the World’s Biggest Dog

Dave Nasser with Lynne Barrett-Lee
Grand Central Life & Style, April 2012
ISBN 978-1-4555-1145-7
Also available in hardcover

From the publisher—

With his big blue eyes and soulful expression, George was the irresistible runt of the litter. But Dave and Christie Nasser’s “baby” ended up being almost five feet tall, seven feet long, and 245 pounds. Eager to play, and boisterous to the point of causing chaos, this big Great Dane was scared of water, scared of dogs a fraction of his size and, most of all, scared of being alone.

Giant George is the charming story of how this precocious puppy won Dave and Christie’s hearts and along the way became a doggie superstar. In 2010, George was named by Guinness World Records as the Tallest Dog in the World-ever. He appeared on Oprah, and even has his own global fan club. But to Dave and Christie, this extraordinary animal is still their beloved pet, the one who has made them laugh, made them cry, and continues to make them incredibly happy.

What can I say about a book that is full of laughter and joy and even a few sniffles of sheer happiness as well as human heartache now and then? This tale of a very large dog made me want one (until I came to my senses) and I defy other readers to claim they don’t end up feeling the same way.

Imagine a runt who gains a pound a day, grows up to weigh 245 pounds, stands 43 inches at the shoulder and measures 7 feet in  length. George’s dad got a little uneasy early on, wondering if he and his wife were the right people for him but, thankfully, he just couldn’t let George go. Life has never been quite the same since for George’s family and friends. After all, who would expect to have to provide a queen-sized mattress for a dog to sleep on or that an enormous dog would be afraid of being alone or that he’d refuse to step in snow?

The anecdotes told by Dave Nasser are funny and sniffly and awe-inspiring, all at the same time, and there’s something new and entertaining to read about in every chapter. Even at a time when Dave and Christie are faced with heartbreak, George makes things a little bit easier.  Each time I tell friends about George, I find myself smiling and laughing and, after all, making us love them is what dogs are all about, isn’t it?

Giant George is pure pleasure from beginning to end and it’s one I’m sure to re-read, something I rarely do. If you love animals and want a heartwarming story, you can’t go wrong with this one. In the meantime, you can find George on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter as well as on his own website.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2012.