Enzo Races in the Rain! by Garth Stein, Illustrated by R.W. Alley

Source: Purchased
Hardcover, 40 pgs
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Enzo Races in the Rain! by Garth Stein introduces children to a younger Enzo of The Art of Racing in the Rain fame.  R.W. Alley’s illustrations will make young readers easily identify with Enzo, with his open face and enthusiasm for the outdoors, running, and exploring.  Reading this book aloud to a young girl and an aging grandmother, it was good to see them both smile, and whether they were both smiling at Enzo or one another, it did not matter because in that moment, they were sharing the joy of Stein’s writing.

Living on a farm, Enzo is surrounded by animals and people, and the cars that whiz by on the road. What’s frustrating for this pup is that he not only doesn’t have a name, but that he also is not understood by humans.  It is not until he meets a young girl, Zoe, and finds his place with her family that Enzo begins to learn what it means to be home.

Enzo is a curious and fun pup, who is bound to get into a little bit of trouble, even when he finally has a family and a home.  Enzo Races in the Rain! by Garth Stein, illustrated by R.W. Alley, well illustrated and told, packing a twofold punch for young readers, showing them what it means to have a family who will always love and miss you and a home that you can always return to as long as you remember the way.

About the Author:

Garth Stein is the author of four novels: the New York Times bestselling gothic/historical/coming-of-age/ghost story, “A Sudden Light“; the internationally bestselling “The Art of Racing in the Rain“; the PNBA Book Award winner, “How Evan Broke His Head and Other Secrets“; and the magically realistic “Raven Stole the Moon.” He is also the author of the stage play “Brother Jones.” He has a dog, he’s raced a few cars, climbed a bunch of really tall trees, made a few documentary films, and he lives in Seattle with his family. He’s co-founder of Seattle7Writers.org, a non-profit collective of 74 Northwest authors working together to energize the reading and writing public.

About the Illustrator:

R.W. Alley has illustrated more than one hundred children’s books, including the popular Paddington Bear books by Michael Bond.

In 2010, he received a Theodor Seuss Geisel Honor Award for Pearl and Wagner One Funny Day by Kate McMullan. In 2008, There’s a Wolf at the Door by Zoë B. Alley was selected as a Washington Post Best Book of the Year.

Island Fog by John Vanderslice

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Source: TLC Book Tours
Paperback, 288 pgs
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Island Fog by John Vanderslice is a collection of short stories placed in chronological order beginning in 1795 on Nantucket, Mass., through 2005.  These stories are dark and oppressive, and one of the most harrowing is “Taste,” which is likely to have some readers’ stomachs churning.

“Physical assault is a vaporous threat that gravitates around his being like the afternoon fog infecting the harbor.  A threat that, unlike the fog, never actually takes body.” (from “Guilty Look”, pg. 18)

“More than that, William said he could not live trapped in a nuthouse anymore.  ‘This island,’ he said to you, and you were not to take this personally, ‘feels like some mad doctor’s lab experiment.'”  (from “How Long Will You Tarry?”, pg 124)

Vanderslice weaves in the economic and social history of Nantucket to demonstrate the insular nature of an island and how dynamic it can be, despite that isolation.  The tension between Congregationalists and Quakers in colonial times is vibrant and engaging, as are the struggles of a young wife whose husband is lost at sea, but the overall collection is a mixed bag.  While the author strives to depict the disappointing pasts of characters on the island and their desires and hopes, the overall feel of the collection is one of a harsh island life that sometimes can feel like a prison to those who are native to the land and those who are merely visitors.

Island Fog by John Vanderslice is about peeling back the shroud of our neighbors lives and engaging with their personal lives in ways that many of us never expect.  The secret desires we harbor and the past transgressions we hide from even ourselves are revealed in these short stories, but beneath the fog is the desire to hope, the need to reach for something better than we have — even if in the end it is disappointing.  The collection would generate lively discussions in a book club.

About the Author:

John Vanderslice teaches in the MFA program at the University of Central Arkansas, where he also serves as associate editor of Toad Suck Review magazine. His fiction, poetry, essays, and one-act plays have appeared in Seattle ReviewLaurel Review, Sou’wester, CrazyhorseSouthern Humanities Review1966, Exquisite Corpse, and dozens of other journals. He has also published short stories in several fiction anthologies, including Appalachian Voice, Redacted StoryChick for a DayThe Best of the First Line: Editors Picks 2002-2006, and Tartts: Incisive Fiction from Emerging Writers.  His new book of short stories, Island Fog, published by Lavender Ink, is a linked collection, with every story set on Nantucket Island, Massachusetts.

Joy Street by Laura Foley

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Source: TLC Book Tours
Paperback, 46 pgs
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Joy Street by Laura Foley is a slim collection of poems that sometimes use a blunt edge to carve out the truth, while others use needle-like precision to get at the harsh realities of life.  However, despite these sometimes sad topics, there is a light, a sense of hope in many of them that things can be better.  In “Near Miss,” she evokes the stabbing pain of heartache that accompanies the loss of family or a spouse in a way that equates it to death even as it passes her by.  There is a sense that the narrator would rather she be the one to die than her loved one, but at the same time is relieved that she is not dying.

Drift (pg. 26)

I eye-roll Aunt Lizzie, who can’t see me over the phone, tell her I’m
dating a woman now, but at ninety she’s adrift in uncharted seas, till I
say we may marry—and she crests the wave, her kind old voice
soothing: Oh, but Laura, you’re still attractive to men, grasping the rudder
with practices hands.

In “Hindsight,” she looks at the photo of her emaciated father after his internment by the Japanese as a POW after WWII and identifies how different he looked, but her partner is quick to point to their similarities — the eyes of a survivor.  The narrator’s relationship with her father is clearly not as close as she would prefer, but there are ways to connect with a distant father and seek out the things that connect them.

Many of these poems are about making connections, either to family or lovers and potential lovers.  “Voyeur” is a testament to desire and the human need for connection with those we love, even from a distance.  But beyond these intimate connections, there is a connection that we feel with the earth and growth.  In addition to these connections, we all want to be remembered, like in “On Sense.”

Joy Street by Laura Foley is about the joy we can find in interaction and by living. Despite the challenges we face — a relative who doesn’t understand our lifestyles and choices — we can find enjoyment and amusement in these interactions and rise above the darkness of hatred and oppression.  We need to search for the light in any darkness, because that is what makes living worth it in the end.

***Enter to win a copy of Laura Foley’s collection by leaving a comment by Jan. 14, 2015, at 11:59 PM EST. Must be U.S./Canadian resident***

About the Poet:

Laura Foley is the author of four poetry collections. The Glass Tree won the Foreword Book of the Year Award, Silver, and was a Finalist for the New Hampshire Writer’s Project, Outstanding Book of Poetry. Her poems have appeared in journals and magazines including Valparaiso Poetry Review, Inquiring Mind, Pulse Magazine, Poetry Nook, Lavender Review, and in the anthology, In the Arms of Words: Poems for Disaster Relief. She won Harpur Palate’s Milton Kessler Memorial Poetry Award and the Grand Prize for theAtlanta Review’s International Poetry Contest. She lives on a woody hill in South Pomfret, Vermont with her partner Clara Gimenez and their three dogs. Please visit her website for book information or more poems.