Sunday, February 23, 2014

Book Review: House of War

House of War by Hamilton Wende has a number of story threads running through it: British academic Sebastian Burke’s life-long quest to find the lost Royal Diaries of Alexander the Great, detailing his life with Roxane, slave bride and love of his life; Claire Finch, an independent American documentary producer, who has her own dark secrets to resolve; the murder of two American servicemen by terrorists in a hotel bar in Tashkent. Add to that the various goals and ambitions of lesser characters involved with Sebastian’s quest. The setting is Afghanistan, the ultimate destination being the city of Ay Khanoum, specifically the Temple of Ares now in ruins and guarded by a militant warlord, hoping to claim his place in history. Woven into this story is Sebastian’s anguish over the death of his brother in Rhodesia, when Sebastian was just a boy.

I’m a sucker for anything to do with ancient history and archaeology. Alexander the Great is also one of my favourite characters. A quest, both internal and external, an archaeological dig, politics, romance, what could any reader want more than this exciting mix? Author Hamilton Wende has created a compelling, spell-binding read, and the main question that will possibly rear in readers’ minds is: do the Royal Diaries actually exist, and will Sebastian find them? Apart from this overriding theme is another, darker theme underpinning the entire book. The theme of obsession, coupled with that of war. Characters, both modern and historical, are beset with obsessions and surrounded by war. Alexander’s obsession to conquer took him on a path of rampant war and destruction. His inner insecurity and turmoil within his soul turned him at times into a monster. Sebastian wrestles with the demons of his past, the background of the war in Rhodesia, and his inability to accept things about himself. Claire, too, has issues that will not go away. Their background is war-torn Afghanistan and the physical dangers surrounding their journey.

Alexander fighting King Darius III of Persia at the battle of Issus.
The characters are interesting but, in many places, overshadowed by Alexander. He looms large over everything. The author cleverly intersperses snippets from Sebastian’s manuscript about the Royal Diaries into the text, following the path of the modern-day protagonists as they get nearer the dig site. Such tiny teasers told me so much about Alexander, a giant among men, prone to violent rages, overweening pride, and terrible cruelty, and yet capable of great compassion, tenderness, kindness, and generosity. A compelling, charismatic leader whose personal magnetism drew people to his side and kept them there. In fact, I was delighted when, at the end of the book, the author indicates the full manuscript is available on his website. I urge readers to take the time to hop over there. It is well worth it.

Alexander is the subject of the book and, whether by accident or design, he tends to cast the others into the shade. Sebastian comes across many times as weak, indecisive, and filled with self-pity; Claire starts out with an abrasive domineering attitude that is often annoying. The other players in the game of war engineer some interesting plot twists, and of course several are not who they appear to be. Political enthusiasts will have plenty to chew over regarding the 2002 Iraqi invasion, an added angle that has its place here. There is a wonderful shoot-out ending that was the only possible resolution to this fascinating story. The only part I did not really like was the romance between Sebastian and Claire. For me it was as if two broken people had drifted together out of desperation. And yet, real people are imperfect, indecisive, torn with unresolved issues, and perhaps this is what makes these characters work well within the context of this story. This is a fascinating read and I am busy with the author’s next book about Sebastian Burke.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Champ Interviews Pawthor Byron Tinker

Since Champ has become a Pawthor, he is keen to review books by other Pawthors, and also conduct interviews. Champ was so captivated by Byron Tinker's book, Tortoise Soup, that he couldn't wait to interview this amazing tortie. I couldn't wait to share the amazing interaction between these two animals on my blog. I hope you enjoy it. Over to Champ!
Hi Byron and welcome. I just loved your book Tortoise Soup. It was such an incredible adventure that I’m sure readers are as curious as I am about you and your amazing life. If anyone missed my review, here it is.
How did you come to live with Pawthor Nick Holland and has he been very helpful in getting your book written and out there for readers?

Hi Champ! It's a big honour for me to speak to such a famous dog! My human, the Pawthor Nick Holland, read your story to me and it was very moving! He bought me from a tortoise breeder called Brian. Us torties and turtles make great pets, but it's better to get us from specialist tortoise & turtle breeders, because some people try to sell torties that have been snatched from the wild! My mum and dad were from Russia! They were being illegally smuggled into England. The airport people spotted them and passed them onto Brian, who takes really good care of them.
Phew! Your Mum and Dad were lucky they got rescued. What made you decide to write Tortoise Soup?

I love books, but there weren't enough about us tortoises.  People think we are slow, but we can do lots and lots! I decided to write a book myself, though I had to get my pet human to type it all up for me.
This is a secret question – is everything that happened in the book true?

It all happened! Or was it a dream? After all, having adventures in our mind is almost as much fun as having them in real life. Don't tell anyone though, Champ, but it was all true!
I knew it must be all true! Did you feel sick when you were flying with the wild crane, trying to get back to Ruby? I ask this question because in my book, when I had to fly with the pigeons, my stomach kept going round and round.
I did feel sick at first, and it was very cold up there. But I was so excited that I soon forgot how sick I felt.

Byron eating his annual strawberry!
I noticed in your book you had a hard time getting exactly the kind of food you like and are accustomed to eating. So, what’s your very favourite food in the whole world?
Definitely strawberries! But too many would make me feel sick, so I only get two a year. One at Christmas and one on my birthday (July 20th!). It's a very special treat. I also love big yellow dandelion flowers!

Hmm, strawberries? I've never tasted one but they sound interesting. You were very brave during your adventure, even when that Miss Scratbakk nearly got you with the big machine. Truthfully, were you ever so scared you thought you couldn’t go on?
I was! I was so scared I could have put my head in my shell and never come out again. But sometimes you have to hide how scared you are. It doesn't matter how little you are, if you have a big heart then you can achieve big things!

Do you believe in the Anjil for Aminals (that’s who helped save me from abuse)?
I definitely believe in the Anjil for Aminals! I think somebody up there in the sky is looking out for us all. That's why we should all say a prayer for our anipals who need her help.

Has being a world-famous Pawthor changed you in any way? Has it changed your life? Do you feel you still have all four paws on the ground?
I get fan emails from across the world, which I love! But I try not to get too big headed, or I wouldn't fit in my shell any more. I got my picture in the local paper as well, but it wasn't on the front page where I should have been. Oops, my head is getting bigger again!

What’s a typical day for you?
Byron charging around the garden!
I wake up and exercise, up down, up down, twenty times. And then my other eyelid. It's hard work keeping in top shell condition. Then I have a bath in a plastic tub with warm water in it. When I come out my human has put my food out. I gobble it up and then snooze under my sun lamp. While I snooze, I'm thinking up ideas for new books. At midday, my human lets me out of my home (my tortoise table) and I stomp around the house and watch television. Then it's back to snoozing until supper time, lots of nice weeds for me to eat, with a bit of lettuce. If it's summer time, I go outside and charge around the garden – I like that! But I can't stand the cold, so I spend my winters indoors. I love climbing over things, knocking things over and digging in the soil. Maybe I should be a tortoise marine? Then when it gets dark, I go to sleep. Another fun filled day will be waiting in the morning.

Two books in one here!
Now that you’re a Pawthor with two books (Shellebration and Tortoise Soup), what’s next on the writing agenda?
I think I should be the first tortoise in space. I'm planning on stowing away on a rocket and blasting into space with my special human friend Ruby! I want to find out if the moon is made of cheese or lettuce? When I get back, I will write all about it.

If you had One Big Wish that was guaranteed to come true, what would you wish for?
I would wish that all anipals would be happy and healthy, and there would be no more cruelty out there. Because we all have a lot of love to give, and we only want a little love in return.

I totally agree with you, Byron! What’s your message for other aspiring Pawthors out there?
Don't let anyone stop you writing your story! People might try to put you off, but they're just jealous because you can write a book and they can't. Once you've done it, then you'll be a Pawthor for life, and nobody can ever take that away from you. And maybe your book will make people happy, and that's the bestest gift of all!

Thanks so much for sharing details of your life and career with us today. I am sure this will inspire many Pawthors to put paw to paper and get their stories out to eager readers.
Thank you Champ! I loved talking to you, I hope I wasn't too slow!

Not at all! I’m reading Shellebration right now and hope to post a review very soon.

Byron on a dandelion hunt!
For new readers, Byron lives in the United Kingdom which is a long way from where Champ lives in California. His guardian is Nick Holland, who is also a Pawthor. I think he helped Byron with some big words and spelling. You can follow Byron on Twitter @ByronTinker. You can also buy his books on Amazon, and don’t forget to leave a review.

Please share this post and spread Champ's message to stand up against animal abuse, and to teach people to love animals worldwide.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Book Review: Nobody's Poodle by Gizmo

Gizmo looking cute!
Since I became Champ's biodographer (Champ: My Story of Survival) , I've been helping Champ review books by other Pawthors. It has been an enlightening experience, to say the least. Champ's latest foray into book reviews led me to read Nobody's Poodle by Gizmo. What a story, and what an adventure. Gizmo was abandoned in Tenerife when he was just a year old and spent some time in a refuge. Gizmo was found by Nikki and Richard Attree (looking to fill the big sad gap left when their beloved Basil went to the Rainbow Bridge) and his life went from rags to riches. Gizmo is such a clever dog that it wasn’t long before the Attrees and Gizmo had penned his experiences and produced a book.

The story starts with a great adventure—Gizmo and his people (Sharon, Trev and young Tracey) move from England to Tenerife, which is an island in the Atlantic. It sounded great: sun, sea, sand, a new Woof lingo, new places to explore, and new faces to meet. But things didn’t turn out so well when Gizmo’s family ran out of money. He was abandoned when Trev didn’t come back for him on the day they left the apartment. Gizmo had to fend for himself on the mean streets, and he soon learned that life in Tenerife is very harsh for an abandoned pooch. He made friends with other dogs in similar situations and wondered if he would ever find a Fur-ever Family again. Then the most terrible thing happened. Gizmo was caught by horrible people that make dogs fight each other. He was shoved into a dreadful dark place, given hardly any food, and met other suffering dogs with sad tales to tell. His one consolation was meeting a dog that had been on the same plane ride with him from England to Tenerife: Rambo the Rottweiler who is all soft inside of a fierce outside. Luckily, when they were taken to a dog fight, the police arrived, and in the confusion of all those people being arrested, Rambo and Gizmo escaped. Somehow they ended up at the same rescue shelter, where kind people looked after them. Some of Gizmo’s street friends and acquaintances also ended up there, and soon found loving homes. Gizmo waited … and waited … and then one day Nikki and Richard walked into the shelter, and Gizmo’s life changed overnight!

What I Think: I actually wept when I read this book and I think Gizmo was very brave to survive all his real-life traumas. It is so sad that many dogs are abandoned in Tenerife because their owners can’t afford them any longer, or don’t want them. The dog fighting was also very distressing. I can just imagine how all those poor dogs felt, locked in cages, and thinking there was no way out for them. A lovely message in the book was when Gizmo spoke about love and communication between dogs and humans, and how much dogs understand humans, even more than humans could ever know. Another very nice ending to Gizmo’s sad tale is that Gizmo’s terrible experiences also ended up helping other pooches in a strange way.  His new Fur-ever Family are dedicated to helping stray and abandoned dogs in Tenerife. Gizmo’s writing expertise also attracted attention and before you could say, “give a dog a bone,” Island Connections newspaper signed him up to be their intrepid news hound, doggedly sniffing out the breaking news and giving the pooch perspective in his regular column: ‘Life According to Gizmo (It’s a Dog’s Life).’ If you love dogs (and any animals) you will really enjoy Nobody’s Poodle. Gizmo is hilarious and his sayings made me laugh. He is also quite philosophical about life and has some wise words for humans and canines. There are also very cute drawings by a talented artist called Annie Chapman. Hop over to Amazon and get a copy. Just purchasing the book will help other needy dogs because some of the profits from Nobody’s Poodle will be donated to help the animal rescue shelters in Tenerife.

Gizmo doing a bit of swotting on dog stuff.
About the Pawthors:
Nikki’s website is dedicated to finding homes for the island’s abandoned dogs, as well as being a mine of information and an insight into the canine world. Gizmo is the Spokes-Mutt for Tenerife Dogs, following in the paw steps of the late, great Basil, who was the first ambassador for Tenerife Dogs. One of Gizmo’s first tasks was to be the poster pooch for Accion-del-Sol’s educational program. This is the refuge that took Gizmo in and cared for him. Gizmo’s role involves visiting local schools, telling the children about the plight of stray mutts in Tenerife, and teaching them how to look after their pets properly. You can read more about Nobody’s Poodle here.  Besides his many other accomplishments Gizmo is an expert in woofing, sniffing, digging, chasing cats, siestas, and looking cute.