Sleeps with Dogs: Confessions of an Animal Nanny in Over Her Head

20893966by Lindsey Grant
3 of 5 stars

I became familiar with the author thanks to NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month)—a nonprofit program that encourages anyone to write 50,000 words in 30 days. When I found it in 2009 it was still pretty small—their annual fundraising goal was somewhere around $100K, I think (today it’s $1.4 million). Although one of the founders had produced a book, I was a bit surprised that year after year, none of them mentioned getting something published (oh, how naïve I was, thinking that just because you worked on something for years that meant someone would buy it). So when Grant—the former program director—happily declared she’d gotten a deal, and her book was coming out last fall, I was very excited!

Although this isn’t exactly what I expected, I enjoyed reading it, especially after the first few anecdotes. I hesitate to call them “chapters”—they aren’t numbered, but they are organized chronologically for the most part. Having uprooted our lives to come to Colorado for something different, I found her dream of starting her life in San Francisco familiar in both the good and bad aspects. The lifestyle is everything you dreamed of—if only you could afford it. You have so much in common with the people! At least, you think you would, if you had time do anything besides work and take care of your pet. Your family is convinced you’ve made a mistake but they try to support you as you insist that everything is fine, don’t worry. This is a set of stories gained from chasing a dream, discovering it isn’t quite what you thought, but using the experience as your next jumping off point to do what you want to do in life.

I liked this more the further I got in the narrative, and anyone who has ever worked a service job will appreciate the level of detail devoted to these anecdotes.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Sleeps with Dogs is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!

Similar reads:

  • The Unsavvy Traveler: Women’s Comic Tales of Catastrophe by Rosemary Caperton (editor) – This collection of travel memoirs from various women describes the hilarious and trying circumstances they faced when traveling around the world. A series of “how did I get here?” moments that is very fun to read.
  • The Sweet Life in Paris: Delicious Adventures in the World’s Most Glorious – and Perplexing – City by David Lebovitz – I love this book! Aside from explaining how I managed to offend every Parisian I encountered during my brief weekend, it contains delicious recipes, especially for desserts.
  • Summer at Tiffany by Marjorie Hart – This is a cute find I stumbled upon at my library! NYC – 1945 – Marjorie and her best friend Marty arrive in the Big Apple fresh out of college and determined to make their way independently. They become the first two women hired to the Tiffany and Co. sales floor to assist with all kinds of errands. Her stories from that summer are amazing snapshots of what that time was like in America.

Backlist Bonus: The Fault in Our Stars

11870085by John Green
YA Contemporary
4 of 5 stars

It was nearly impossible to avoid the hype of this book once it was slated for the big screen. “You will laugh! You will cry! SO MANY FEELINGS,” etc. Well, I didn’t cry when I read it (I guess I’m a robot?) but I did enjoy it. This book isn’t revolutionary—it follows the standard John Green Formula with standard characters falling in love for the first time, standard banter included. But Hazel Grace Lancaster (unlike Alaska Young and Margo Roth Spiegelman) feels a bit more solid and real. Maybe because she doesn’t have to be the epitome of femininity for Augustus Waters (Green really has a thing for full names) to love her.

Hazel has terminal cancer—she doesn’t have long flowing hair, crazy adventures to talk about, or a substance abuse problem. She is physically weak, her looks distorted from medications, and her closest friends are her parents. She is sharp and pragmatic about this, which I really loved about her. Her friendship with Gus grows from opposite opinions on nearly everything and his stubborn refusal to agree to her philosophy of having no relationships because her early death will end them.

There is plenty of dark humor as the characters (all of which come from a support group for teens with cancer) grapple with pain and issues that most people their age can’t begin to imagine. Questions that many people put off until their golden years to consider are shoved in their faces each time they look in the mirror. What is the purpose of life? What happens after you die? Combined with these are the questions no less pressing to teens: will I ever find anyone who understands me? Who are my real friends?

As with other Green novels, there is a slight feel of the pretentious but he has a knack for creating characters that can push that aside so you can enjoy the story. After his first novel, this one is my favorite. There are some truly beautiful lines that will stick with you.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, The Fault in Our Stars is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!

Similar reads:

  • Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell – The counterpart to Green’s emotional writing, this is the story of a boy and a girl who fall in love despite knowing that first loves don’t last. See my review here.
  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky – Charlie’s freshman year chronicles his ups and downs as he tries to make friends and deal with traumatic events from his past. See my review here.
  • Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson – A moving story about two best friends competing to be the skinniest girl in their class. But when Cassie dies, Lia is feels haunted by her spirit and by the voice in her head whispering that if she can lose a few more pounds, everything will be all right again. See my review here.

Backlist Bonus: Tithe

titheby Holly Black
YA Fantasy / Paranormal Fantasy
4 of 5 stars
Debut novel: October 1, 2002

I tend to love the author’s worlds and writing style, but her books have polarizing reviews, so if you like one you’ll probably love them all–if not, well, maybe try something else. She typically has a semi-creepy hook with magic in a modern setting and her characters are brash and brave by turns.

Her debut novel features traditional faery mythology set in New Jersey as Kaye has a chance encounter with a faery in the woods. By unintentional cleverness, she claims the faery’s name for saving his life, not realizing the power she now holds over him. To make matters more complicated, the faery’s new ties to Kaye make the faery queen jealous, and she sets her sights on Kaye completing an ancient and deadly faery ritual to give her power over both the Seelie and Unseelie courts. Kaye would be concerned if she wasn’t dealing with the sudden appearance of wings on her back and her skin turning green…

It’s a fast-paced novel that’s a bit rough around the edges but shines with the story and the clear evidence of the author’s talent. This is a fun place to start with Black’s work, but I always like seeing an author’s debut work to compare with their current books. If you enjoy faery mythology you should give this a try.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Tithe is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!

Similar reads:

  • The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black – I feel like this is the story that Black was trying to write when she wrote Tithe. They’re very similar but this one is better and shows off her signature style. See my review here.
  • Lament: The Faerie Queen’s Deception by Maggie Stiefvater – Deirdre discovers her musical talent is drawing the attention of mischievous (and possibly malevolent) faeries. See my review here.
  • The Named by Marianne Curley – A group of teens and adults named in a prophecy struggle to keep the timeline as it should be when the Order of Chaos seeks to disrupt historical events. Time-travel adventures and plenty of drama as well, super fun!
  • The Girl at Midnight by Melissa Grey – Although not the most original urban fantasy, the characters are great and the fast-paced mystery to find the Firebird had me enthralled. Echo is a runaway thief in New York living among the Avicen, who are at war with the Darkharin, and she decides to steal the Firebird–the ultimate weapon to end the war. I can’t wait for the sequel! See my review here.
  • The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman – Probably closest in writing style in my mind, this creepy novella takes magic in our world to the next level. See my review here.

The Mysterious Affair at Styles

stylesby Agatha Christie
3 of 5 stars
Debut novel: October, 1920

I went through a huge Agatha Christie phase when I was around fifteen, and I decided to revisit her first book as my classic read this month. This was fun! What I found most intriguing was the sparse, simple narrative that disguised such an intricate plot. I expected it to sound complicated as part of the misdirection, but I should have known better. Christie didn’t need to use cheap tricks to fool you–she just leads you through a maze of clues and red herrings, teasingly coy the entire time.

Hercule Poirot, her fastidious little Belgian detective, enters as an older man, his past exploits preceding him via his friend Hastings, our narrator. Hastings is visiting his friend John in the country, and the small group of family and staff is a bit tense from the remarriage of John’s mother to a much younger man. Everyone suspects he’s a gold-digger–so when Emily Inglethorp is murdered one night, it’s an open-and-shut case. But Hastings mentions it to Poirot, and Poirot reveals nothing is as it seems.

It’s a traditional format–the introduction to the people staying at the house, the crime, the investigation, the suspicions, the reveal–and it’s a fun read for the most part. Bits of it get repetitive, but that might have been Christie attempting to play fair with her readers. Even knowing her reputation–even on my guard against the false trails–I failed to guess the murderer (though I did figure out some side twists). I recommend this for anyone wanting a brain teaser or a dip into a wide variety of murder mysteries!

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, The Mysterious Affair at Styles is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!

Similar reads:

  • The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – One of his longer stories featuring the world-famous detective Sherlock Holmes and his sidekick Dr. Watson. They investigate a family in the English countryside convinced they are cursed and haunted by a giant ghostly dog.
  • The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith – The start of a sharp, funny, dark series featuring the curmudgeon detective Cormoran Strike and his charming (if a bit naive) assistant Robin. They investigate a high-profile celebrity murder together. An excellent throwback to noir detective TV.
  • Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn – The thriller that took the country by storm a few years ago. Nick’s wife Amy disappears under highly suspicious circumstances. Soon, Nick is charged with her murder, despite his certainty that she isn’t dead.
  • And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie – If what you really want is another Christie mystery, this is widely regarded as one of her best. Put ten people with dark secrets on an island and watch them start dying off. Who is the killer?


Backlist Bonus: Looking for Alaska

16167989by John Green
YA Contemporary
4 of 5 stars
Debut novel: March 3, 2005

This was my first exposure to John Green and remains my favorite. He’s become known for a few of his own clichés (the manic-pixie-dream-girl, the awkward guy with a weird hobby who falls for her, the side-kick friends…) but this is his first book and I think that’s what makes this story feel the freshest.

Understandably, Green is a popular and thus polarizing author, but for whatever it’s worth, I think if you like one of his books you’ll probably like all of them. And if you find one isn’t your cup of tea…well, then I wouldn’t read the rest of them!

Miles “Pudge” Halter has led a dull life to this point. We find him at Culver Creek Boarding School, hoping for some adventure. What he finds is Alaska Young—the most beautiful, interesting, sexy, screwed-up girl he’s ever met—and what happens after that is not something he could ever predict.

This is a quintessential coming-of-age novel with all the required elements: boarding school, teen angst, first love, drinking, sex, happiness and heartbreak and finding yourself. Miles and Alaska are endearing characters and I enjoyed following their crazy adventures as they build a friendship that could be something more. They blunder their way through all the questions we face in high school, the ones that aren’t in text books, that aren’t covered in class. It has that Mood that happens when you follow high school’s important and mundane moments, and it addresses the fact that sometimes you don’t get a formal resolution. It’s just the right length and the characters’ dialogue is what keeps it moving. Definitely put this on your list if you’re exploring older YA.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Looking for Alaska is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!

Similar reads:

  • Mosquitoland by David Arnold – Mim is not happy with her father’s re-marriage or their move. When she hears her mother is sick, she decides to go on a solo road trip to visit her. See my review here.
  • Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews – Greg lays out the hazards of befriending a girl in class solely because she has cancer. An interesting take on high school relationships. See my review here.
  • Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell – The highs and lows of first love, especially when you know first love isn’t meant to last. See my review here.
  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky – Probably the only YA novel more quintessentially coming of age than Green’s work. Charlie has never fit in but now he’s a freshman and determined to change that. See my review here.

Backlist Bonus: Alanna – The First Adventure

alannaby Tamora Pierce
YA Fantasy
4 of 5 stars
Debut novel: September 1, 1983

My childhood followed many predictable phases. The I-must-own-a-horse phase. The unicorns-are-better-than-horses phase. The (ongoing) Harry Potter phase. This book began my (ongoing) girls-who-kick-ass phase. Even if I was not allowed to say “ass” at the time!

Alanna and her twin brother want each other’s jobs, so Thom goes to sorcery school pretending to be a girl, while Alanna pretends to be a boy and goes to the king to become a knight. (Come to think of it, I don’t remember what happened when the nuns discovered Thom’s identity…) Alanna disguises herself and goes through all the grueling training, bullying, and lessons of knighthood. She makes a lot of enemies, but a few good friends too, and her no-holds-barred attitude towards achieving her goal was so awesome to me as a kid. Alanna became my standard for Coolest Characters Ever. Then along came Sabriel, Lyra from The Golden Compass, Aerin from The Hero and the Crown, Hermione…and I’ve never looked back!

Although the quartet starts almost middle-grade it transitions to YA by the second book. Alanna’s trials for knighthood are interwoven with a sinister plot for the king’s throne and interesting encounters with George, the King of Thieves, who quickly realizes “Alan” has a secret. Alanna has to figure out who to trust and how to save the king, even as her own secret identity and dreams are at stake. This quartet is classic fantasy and Pierce’s characters are well-drawn and lovable. It was very progressive for its time and the first two books especially hold a dear place in my heart. Visit Tortall for a few hours—the books are short and worth it!

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Alanna: The First Adventure is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!

Similar reads:

  • Wild Magic by Tamora Pierce – Set in the same world, Daine’s gift with horses gets her a job in the royal stables. But Daine slowly realizes the gift she tries to hide is actually magical, and to control it she must face her past. (I know, the only thing better than having your own horse as a girl is being able to magically speak to the horse. You’re welcome, every horse-loving girl out there!)
  • Truthwitch by Susan Dennard – The world-building and tone of this YA book strongly reminds me of Pierce’s work. Safi and Iseult are fierce friends facing a lot of trouble. Safi’s ability to tell truth from lies has her wanted by everyone who suspects her secret. Iseult’s inability to master her Threadwitch apprenticeship makes her a threat to her tribe. When the girls’ pasts begin to catch up with them, mayhem ensues. See my review here.
  • The Chronicles of Chrestomanci Vol. 1 by Diana Wynne Jones – Jones and Pierce are inextricably intertwined in my mind. They are both amazing fantasy writers with vivid worlds and complex systems of magic that have enthralled me for years. This features two stories about the Chrestomanci (the sorcerer with 9 lives entrusted with keeping order and balance within the Twelve Related Worlds). Both of these manage to be amusing and dark in equal parts and aren’t to be missed.


13206828by Marissa Meyer
YA Fantasy / Science Fiction
3 of 5 stars
Third in a quartet

I feel like the last person to read Winter since it came out…four months ago? But I wanted to re-read the entire series first so I spent all of February doing just that! At first, I debated whether I’d even read Cress again (I know) because I felt so pressed for time and I didn’t remember enjoying it all that much the first time I read it. It felt slower, I didn’t connect to Cress as much as I did with Cinder or Scarlet, and if I skipped its 550 pages I’d be reading Winter that much sooner! But thanks to Erin’s encouragement and Kiwi’s review, I picked up a paperback and gave it a second chance. I’m so glad I did! I actually changed my rating on Goodreads (something I’ve never done before) from 2 stars to 3 stars. It’s still my least favorite in the series so far, but the writing is good and this story has none of the errors warranting 2 stars on my rating scale. Unfair rating – overturned!

Cress has spent the last seven years living on a Lunar satellite spying on Earth (particularly Prince Kai and the Commonwealth) for Queen Levana. And secretly protecting Earth and subverting Luna whenever she could. Her skills with hacking and programming are top-notch, which is great, because Cinder’s team needs to stay hidden. When they rescue Cress from her satellite, she thinks her fairy tale dreams are about to come true—until she and Thorne crash-land in the desert, separated from the rest of the crew.

The break-neck speed of the first two books doesn’t last in this one. The pacing loses any sense of urgency as we meander from satellite to desert to final mission. I understand Cress is experiencing the world for the first time, but her lengthy observations and constant emotional assessments drag the action to a gentle walk. Despite all the time we spend in her head, she never feels as concrete as Cinder, Scarlet, or the rest of the crew. She’s understandably coping with issues from her extreme isolation and abusive upbringing, and although this is realistic and well-done, it means her point of view lacks some focus and depth.

However, there’s still plenty of wry humor, laugh out loud moments, and adventure. Kai and Cinder’s complicated relationship gets more time in this book, and Iko is hilarious. Definitely one of the stronger YA series on the market, and I can’t wait to see how it ends!

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Cress is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!

Similar reads:

  • Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo – I feel like Carswell Thorne and Nikolai would get along famously or tear each other apart. This remains one of my favorite “middle books” in a series due to all the action and the fantastic characters. Alina can’t leave her identity as the Sun Summoner or her past with the Darkling behind no matter how far she runs. New allies, new enemies, more dark magic. Alina must make sacrifices to save her country from the Darkling’s rule.
  • Crown of Midnight by Sarah J. Maas – The second in the series finds King’s Assassin Celaena Sardothien surrounded by potential allies and enemies in the court. A greater destiny is calling her that won’t be put off by her petty attempts to undermine the King’s rule. See my review here.
  • A Long, Long Sleep by Anna Sheehan – Rosalinda Fitzroy awakens from 62 years of statis to find that everyone she loved is dead, and she is the missing heir to her parents’ interplanetary empire. Rose just wants to pick up the pieces of her life, but not everyone is happy to see her again. This is a dark Sleeping Beauty retelling with an amazing character arc.


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