Category: Book Review

Beautiful Joe: A Dog’s Story

An amazing Christmas present …

I received this wonderful book as a Christmas present when I was a young boy and loved it, reading it many times over the years. The copy I received as a present had the older cover shown near the bottom of this post.

I have read many dog stories over the years including Juneau the Sleigh Dog, White Fang, Call of the Wild, Old Yeller, Where the Red Fern Grows, Frosty, and, of course, Beautiful Joe, which was always one of my favorites.

I guess I have recently had a resurgence of interest in dog stories because a dog plays a key role in my book Serpents Underfoot and its upcoming sequel, Montagnard.

I tried to order a copy with the same cover as the edition I originally was given, but could only find it through ABE Books, and the seller wanted $275 for it. So, I settled for a newer edition from Amazon. But, how I wish I still had my original copy!

A truly wonderful tale …

beautiful joe

This is indeed one of the most beloved stories in the English language

Originally published as a novel in 1894, “Beautiful Joe” is based on the true story of a real dog from the town of Meaford in southern Ontario. Written by Margaret Marshall Saunders in 1893, this wonderful, heartwarming book was the first Canadian book to sell one million copies and it was the winning entry in a literary contest sponsored by the American Humane Education Society.

Margaret Saunders originally heard the tale of this dog, who had actually been abused and then rescued as depicted in the story, from her sister-in-law, Louise Moore and it was Louise’s father, Walter Moore, who had rescued the dog on which this tale is based in 1890.

About Beautiful Joe

The real Beautiful Joe was an Airedale-type dog. He was medium-sized, brown, and described as likely being part bull terrier and part fox terrier. He was also described as a mongrel, a cur, and a mutt.

The town of Meaford now has a park and statue honoring the real Beautiful Joe and, in 1994, a private heritage society was created to preserve the Moore home and establish a museum.

The story is told as an autobiography from the dog’s point of view and recounts his earliest memories of his mother, their cruel owner, and his rescue after being horribly abused, as well as his wonderful life with the “Morris” family. Beautiful Joe is inspired to tell his life’s story in the belief that it will please his mistress.

And indeed, Saunders’s story immediately makes reference to the story of Black Beauty in her story, Beautiful Joe. Saunders does not refer to the book by name but instead, writes (from Joe’s perspective) “I have seen my mistress laughing and crying over a little book that she says is a story of a horse’s life”.

Joe goes on to explain that he will write the story of a dog’s life, to similarly please his owner. Within the narrative of this story, Beautiful Joe is directly inspired to tell his tale by the story of Black Beauty.

Saunders bases her fictionalized version of the story in a small town in Maine, and recounts the many wonderful adventures of Joe and the other animals and people in and around the “Morris” family farm. The farm, it’s little barn and barnyard are the scene for many delightful tales that will warm your heart, make you chuckle, and even perhaps bring a tear to your eye.

Perhaps most importantly, hidden within “Beautiful Joe,” is a powerful call to end cruelty to animals. And, it is a message the author delivers effectively through the vehicle of a narrative that can be enjoyed and loved by generations of readers, both young and old.

beautiful joe
The cover of my original edition of Beautiful Joe

My thoughts …

It was a real pleasure to read Joe’s story again. I thoroughly enjoyed it. So much so, that I think I may re-read some of the other dog tales mentioned above. And, I guess as I do, I will review them here.

I give this book an easy Five Out of Five Stars for readers of all ages. Margaret Marshall Saunders’ tale clearly illustrates why dogs have earned their reputation for being man’s best friend..

Blood Eye: A Novel

by Giles Kristian

Blood Eye

In a thrilling adventure of brotherhood, warfare, and treachery, Giles Kristian takes us into ninth-century England, a world of darkness, epic conflict, and an unforgiving God served by powerful priests. On ships shaped like dragons, bristling with oars and armor, Jarl Sigurd and his fierce Norsemen have come in search of riches. And riches they are promised, by an English ruler who sends Sigurd and his wolves to steal a holy manuscript from another kingdom. Osric, an orphan boy, sees beyond the terror of these warriors, and somehow knows the heathens’ tongue. Renamed Raven, rechristened in blood, he will join them. They are his people. And they will be his fate.

The Story …

Set in England during the late 800s, “Blood Eye” is the story of Osric, a fifteen-year-old carpenter’s apprentice in the village of Abbotsend. Osric has no memory of anything before the Saxon villagers found him left for dead near a burial mound with a bone-handled pagan knife hanging around his neck. To make matters worse, Osri’s left eye is blood red (probably from an injury), so the Christian priest accuse him of being a servant of the devil. This makes Osric’s life in Abbotsend difficult. Things change dramatically when two Viking long-ships arrive on shore.

The Vikings are led by Jarl Sigurd who claims to have come peace to trade, However, the village priest attempts to poison Sigurd with mead laced with hemlock. Osric cannot simply standby and let this happen, so he warns Sigurd about the priest’s treachery. The Vikings take their revenge, and leave, taking Osric and the old carpenter with them. Sigurd believes Osric’s “blood eye” is a sign from Odin. Osric soon discovers he has much more in common with Sigurd and his men than with the English who adopted him.

Sigurd renames Osric “Raven,” and the boy finds himself admiring the Norseman and their way of life. He has discovered he can speak their language, and with the pagan knife, this presents a clue to his forgotten past.

The story begins to take off when a Wessex Ealdorman offers Sigurd a fortune in silver to steal a book, a bejeweled Gospel of Saint Jerome, kept in the fortress of the king of Merica. The Norseman agree and set off on this mission accompanied by a fierce Wessexman named Mauger and an Christian priest named Father Egfrith.

In Mercia, Raven helps save a young woman named Cynethryth, who becomes Raven’s love interest for the remainder of the tale. While there exists a thread of romance, this is not a romance novel. It is a Viking saga of honor, courage, battle, and blood. It is the story of Raven and his return to his origins, and discovering himself in the company of Viking warriors.

My thoughts …

The story moves at a fast pace from one exciting battle scene to the next. It includes several good plot twists and a large dose of a betrayal and comeuppance.

Giles Kristian ends his tale in a way that sets up the sequel, Sons of Thunder perfectly, and I look forward to reading that tale next.

The interesting thing for me is that I read the Rise of Sigurd series previously, which is clearly a prequel to this Raven series, and was written a few years later.

As a new author myself, it was interesting to see how Giles Kristian has grown as an author over time. It looks like there were about three years between the release of Blood Eye (Raven 1) and God of Vengeance (Sigurd 1). The growth of Kristian as a writer between the two works is readily apparent. God of Vengeance is much smoother and better written.

I find that inspirational because it means there may actually be hope for me as a writer. And, indeed, I learned a great deal writing my first novel, Serpents Underfoot and already see differences as I continue working on its sequel, Montagnard.

I found “Blood Eye” to be a very worthy read, and I do recommend it (with the understandings mentioned above) as a very good read. It think it would be interesting to re-read them in the order they were released, and enjoy the great stories while seeing Kristian’s evolution from good new author to excellent seasoned author unfold.

To read additional blog posts and book reviews by D.C. Gilbert, click here!

Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend

by Susan Orlean


A Little Rin Tin Tin History

rin tin tin

On Sept. 15, 1918, an American soldier named Lee Duncan discovered a litter of German Shepherd puppies in the wreckage of a recently shelled German WW I encampment. He kept two of the young puppies, naming them Rin Tin Tin and Nanette, and managed to get them onboard when he shipped back to the United States from France at the end of the War.

I felt there was something about their lives that reminded me of my own life,” Duncan later wrote of the puppies. “They had crept right into a lonesome place in my life and had become a part of me.

Lee Duncan

The lonesomeness in Lee Duncan developed because he’d spent part of his young life in an orphanage in Oakland when his father abandoned his mother and his young mother simply could not feed or support Lee and his sister.

Lee loved his dogs and seemed to have quite a knack for training them. The thought entered his mind that perhaps, his dogs could become canine movie stars. He always thought Nanette was the smarter of the two, but there was something about Rin Tin Tin.

After the war, Duncan pursued his dream, taking Rin Tin Tin to California, where the dog got a big Hollywood break when one of his spectacular 12 foot jumps was caught on film at a dog show. Rin Tin Tin’s first part was a small one in a 1922 sled-dog picture. Then in 1923, “Where the North Begins,” based on a story written by Lee Duncan, gained the dog national attention.

rin tin tin

And as they say, the rest is history! I can still remember those Rin Tin Tin TV shows! Much better than Lassie …

Now, about the book …

I must admit, however, I was a little disappointed in Orlean’s book, Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend. Her book actually has very little about the dog, Rin Tin TIn, or the training techniques that produced the original Rin Tin Tin’s amazing skills and feats.

On a side note, as a German Shepherd owner myself, I was not that surprised to learn that the heroic German shepherd who could leap 12 feet, crashing through plate-glass windows was buried with his squeaky doll! That fits the German Shepherd perfectly!

rin tin tin

But Rin Tin Tin is strangely absent from most of his story. Orlean tracks down loyal fans who now own descendants of the original Rin Tin Tin. She talks to many of Lee Duncan’s family members like ex-wives and or his daughter. She writes about business associates and Rin Tin Tin’s co-stars.

Susan Orlean’s story seems to be more about how family members profited by selling off everything related to Lee Duncan’s dream and his dog. She writes about people looking for some way to capture past glory, or perhaps the means to create new value from an old piece of intellectual property.

Susan Orlean also writes about the many tangled legal disputes such as the one between Daphne Hereford and Bert Leonard, the producer of “The Adventures of Rin-Tin-Tin,” and the confusing story of Lee Aaker, a child actor who played the dog’s TV sidekick, and who might or might not have become a special-needs ski instructor in the Eastern Sierras, but who was once definitely sued for impersonating himself.

You also learn that, since the death of the original Rin Tin Tin, this American canine hero has been played by no less than 20 other dogs.

What became clear to me from reading this book, is that the leap from heroic canine fame to mundane triviality is much shorter than 12 feet.

My thoughts …

rin tin tin

On the whole it is not a bad book, that is … if you want to read about everything surrounding Lee Duncan and his efforts to make a good living with the German Shepherd he trained to do really amazing feats, and how tough that actually was.

Maybe it was naive of me, but I wanted to read about the dog, Rin Tin Tin!

I wanted to read about his movies and his TV shows, and how he was trained, and to have the author paint a picture in my mind of this heroic German Shepherd leaping 12 feat and crashing through a plate-glass window to save the day.

On that, score, I was badly disappointed. And for that reason, I gave this book two stars …

I did love the cover …

The Volunteer: A True Tale of a Courageous Man and Auschwitz

German soldiers crossed the border into Poland on September 1, 1939, triggering the beginning of World War II. In response to the German invasion of Poland, Great Britain and France declared war on Germany. However, it would be several very long years before Poland would see any kind of relief from Allied action.

The Volunteer

The Volunteer: One Man, an Underground Army, and the Secret Mission to Destroy Auschwitz by Jack Fairweather is an almost unfathomable true story of courage and sacrifice. It is a story that would make most of us ask the question of ourselves, “Is there any way I could possibly do what this man did?”

It is an incredible story of a courageous Polish national who volunteered to infiltrate Auschwitz in an attempt to sabotage the camp from the inside, and his extremely dangerous attempt to warn the Allies of Hitler’s “Final Solution.”

Would you volunteer?

In an effort to discover the fate of the thousands of Poles being sent to a mysterious new Nazi “work” camp on the border of the Reich, a thirty-nine-year-old Polish resistance fighter named Witold Pilecki was asked to volunteer for an suicide mission.

That mission involved using a fake identity, intentionally get arrested, and being sent to this new camp. When there, Witold was ordered to report back to the Polish underground on what was really going on within the camp and to organize and execute an uprising from within the camp … where the Germans would least expect it.

The Auschwitz Death Camp

Over the next two and half years, Witold Pilecki established an underground army within the camp called Auschwitz; sabotaging facilities, assassinating Nazi informants and officers, and gathering evidence of the horrific abuse and mass murders. Even as he pieced together the horrifying truth about the camp, Auschwitz began to change; becoming the epicenter for Hitler’s plan to exterminate Europe’s entire Jewish population,.

This was Hitler’s “Final Solution,” a plan organized and overseen by Heinrich Himmler, leader of the SS (Schutzstaffel).

The Volunteer
The Children of Auschwitz

The Allied leaders seemed slow to understand what was happening. This may be partly because they did not believe such horrifying stories could be true. And, partly because they believed the best way to end the horror was simply to defeat Hitler’s forces and end the war. Finally, they didn’t want to give credence to Hitler’s propaganda campaign that the Western Allies were somehow allied with the Jewish people.

There was also clearly evidence of some antisemitic individuals in key positions in Allied governments.

Even Witold was acting to save his home country of Poland. While horrified at the atrocities being committed in Auschwitz against the Jews, his primary motivation was saving Poland. The book notes how he admitted how became desensitized over a period of time, seeing trainload after trainload of Jews from several countries including Holland, France, Poland, and others, and processed through the camp.

During the first 3 years at Auschwitz, 2 million people died; over the next 2 years – 3 million.

Witold Pilecki

Witold finally came to understand that, in order to save the lives of those sent to Auschwitz and Birkenau ( a second camp three kilometers away), he would have to risk his men, his life, and his family to warn the West before all was lost. To do so, meant attempting the impossible. Witold had to escape from Auschwitz itself. His escape was successful.

When Stalin’s army assumed control of Poland after Germany’s capitulation, the new communist government of Poland executed Witold Pilecki following a “show trial.” They simply could not allow such a prolific leader of the Polish underground to turn his attention on them in an effort to regain Polish independence.

Witold Pilecki’s amazing story was completely erased from the historical record by Poland’s post-war Communist government. Pilecki’s heroic undertaking remained unknown to the entire world until recently.

Since the break up of the Soviet Union, access to his previously hidden reports, diaries, and other recently declassified documents, as well as his family and other camp survivor accounts, have allowed Jack Fairweather to create an unblinking portrayal of courage, survival, and betrayal during one of mankind’s most darkest hours.

A Failed Mission?

While uncovering the tragic outcome of Witold Pilecki’s mission, the author reveals to us that Pilecki viewed his mission as a failure. However, as I see it, the failure of Witold’s mission was not his fault. The blame, if there is any, rests on the shoulders of those in London and Washington who failed to understand and act. However, I don’t see it as being that simple. There was way too much at play in this to point the finger of blame at any one person or thing.

My thoughts …

This book was a real page turner and I could not put it down. While a true story and well-documented, The Volunteer reads like a WWII action thriller about a Polish hero who infiltrates a death camp, organizes a rebellion, and then quietly escapes. But, it is so much more than that.

This book squarely confronts the reader with the truth about human nature, a truth that hits hard on so many levels.

First, there is the pure evil that very few among us seem willing to face. An evil so unfathomable, that leaders of the free world could not accept that it even existed … until it was almost too late!

the volunteer

Second, that there are those few among us who are willing to sacrifice their lives, risking torture or a painful death, to protect and serve others … even strangers.

Third, that we, as a free and moral people, need to be forever on guard to ensure nothing like this ever happens again. Fascism, radicalism, and totalitarianism is alive and well in our world, often disguising itself under different or misleading banners such as Communism, Socialism, Antifa, Taliban, ISIS, al Qaeda, or even Islam.

And lastly, to those who are holocaust deniers, anti-Semites, “true racists,” and to those who compare people like the President or law enforcement officers to Nazis, and the crisis on our southern border to concentration camps … all I can say is, “shame on you!” You have not a clue.

Captain Witold Pilecki

The Volunteer
Witold Pilecki

Witold Pilecki went to his death thinking his mission had been a failure. While he brilliantly established an underground resistance in the camp, survived Auschwitz for over two years, and carefully documented and reported the evil atrocities being committed there, he’d been unable to compel action against the camp by the Allies or successfully destroy the camp from within.

He did, however, save many lives and bring about the assassination of many SS officers and Nazi monsters at Auschwitz.

I would argue that his biggest success, and perhaps the most important success of his mission, is his story; a story that might help us find the courage to recognize and face down pure evil when it arises.

Could I volunteer to do what Witold Pilecki did? I cannot answer that question. And, I admit that I hope I never have to find out. However, if I was ever faced with a similar circumstance or decision, I can now say that here is another example of a courageous man, one I can truly admire, who can show me how it is done.

I highly recommend this book to everyone …

A MAGICAL TALE OF TRUE FRIENDSHIP

Can you imagine if there was no longer a Spring, Summer, or Autumn? And, there was only Winter? Well, winter is what the North Wind wants, and why he tries to come between two wonderful friends; the Moon and the Sun.

friendship

Children will love this delightful tale of friendship and magic by Oscar Malenar called The Sun and the Moon Friendship Tale.

In this wonderful story, the North Wind is unhappy. He does not like warm, sunny days, and green grass and trees. The North Wind longs for a cold, snowy winter that lasts forever. Therefore, he is determined to end the friendship between the Moon and the Sun that keeps the seasons of Winter, Spring, Summer, and Autumn in place. The North Wind has finally hatched a plan to get rid of the Sun!

Will the Moon and Sun fall victim to the North Wind’s plan? Or, is their friendship strong enough to save the day? If the Earth turns cold and stays covered in snow, all the Earth’s people, animals, and birds will suffer. Everyone will become sad and depressed.

But, there is hope. And, that hope lies in a special gift the Sun has given the Moon. Can the Moon come to understand how special that gift is before it is too late?

Read this beautiful story and learn how sometimes even the smallest and most ordinary of things can still be big enough to save the day!

This is a wonderful bedtime tale for children. A story of true friendship and magic with a beautiful ending. Highly recommended for parents with small children they love to read to.

Thank God I Failed by DES

A Collection of True-Life Stories That Will Change Your life

Thank God

Thank God I Failed by Des is a moving, often poignant collection of stories about actual events in her life; events that many of us would not have the courage to share.

From the sometimes painful memories of early childhood through bad relationships, depression, and addiction to forgiveness, acceptance, and peace, this is a story of real Faith. The kind of Faith that can move mountains or simply change one life for the better.

This author courageously shares with her readers her stories of pain, depression, drugs, alcohol, and toxic relationships. She also shares stories about mental illness and even attempted suicide. Her story is one of sinking to the bottom and then, somehow finding the strength to climb up out of the abyss.

Today, Des lives as a happier, healthier, fulfilled woman, living a life about which she previously could only dream. While life may never be perfect, she now lives a life that is truly at peace with who she is and her place in this world.

It was her constantly growing Faith that gave Des the strength to change the course of her life. That same belief provides her with the courage to share her story with her readers in the hope that they too, can transform their lives. The stories contained in this book will touch readers, heart and soul, and they are a real example of the wondrous change true Faith can achieve.

When I read this author’s compelling book, I was struck by the brutal honesty and sincere feelings of pain, despair, hope and compassion in her stories … as well as the valuable life-lessons to be found within them. Des’ story is an amazing tale of redemption, forgiveness, and change driven by a deep belief in a loving God.

I believe this is this author’s first book and therefore it may not be as polished or smooth as something written by a more experienced or professional author. But it is that fact, that allows the author’s honesty and courage to shine through. Her voice has not been edited out of the narrative and because of that, this is not just another dry self-help book. This is her story as told by her. It is that raw, unfiltered honesty that makes this book unique and special, and therefore, very powerful.

Yes! Faith can indeed move mountains. And therefore, it can also transform a life for the better.

Walk a mile or so in Des’ shoes. Take a look into her life and perhaps you will find the hope within yours. You can check out Des’ moving and inspirational story on Amazon!

Honey, That Sweet Golden Liquid

A book by beekeeper Rado Tashkov and the Natural Honey Shop.

I came across the wonderful little children’s book about honey bees and just needed to pass it along. It is such a wonderfully educational little children’s book and fun to read as well. The illustrations are amazing. You really should check it out!

honey

Who doesn’t like honey?

Do you like honey? It is an amazing sweet that many people love! Did you know that honey comes from Bees? They are quite amazing as well.

Wouldn’t it be fun to learn more about Honey Bees? With this great little book written by beekeeper Rado Tashkov, you can.

With this beautifully illustrated children’s book, you will read and learn all about the fascinating lives of the hard-working little Honey Bees. Read about where they live. Learn about the different kinds of Honey Bees and what their different jobs are. You will learn how Bees collect nectar from flowers and use it to make honey. You will come to understand how important Honey Bees are to our planet’s ecosystem.

Best of all, you will learn about all the excellent health benefits of honey. Not only is it delicious! It is also good for us. Honey is a sweet treat parent won’t mind that you eat. There are so many good reasons you should eat honey! Now you can learn what they are.

Both children and parents will enjoy this educational book about industrious little Honey Bees from the Natural Honey Shop. Get your copy now and see just how amazing they are.

Did you know how healthy honey is?

I thought I did. But there are many more health benefits to eating honey than I was ever aware of. So, I learned a great deal from the great little children’s book. If you have children, you should definitely read this book with them. You will both have a great time!

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