Escape by Barbara Delinsky

What would you do if one day you woke up and realized that the life you were living was not the life that you wanted for yourself? Walking into work and having that one bad day, that one interaction, that pushes you over the edge? How would you handle it? Would you try to work through it? Talk to your significant other? Would you take a much needed vacation? Quit your job? Start all over in another city with another job and another family? All of these are questions that Barbara Delinsky tackles in her novel, Escape.

Escape tells the story of Manhattan lawyer Emily Aulenbach. She is 32 years old and has been married to another lawyer, James, for the last seven years. Emily has become increasingly frustrated with her life, both professionally and personally. In law school, she dreamed of representing victims of corporate abuse and campaigning for the little guy. Always the idealist, she hoped to brighten the world. Now she sits in a cubicle alongside hundreds of other lawyers in their tiny cubicles, a headset plastered to her ear, talking to victims of tainted bottled water. You’d think that this would partly be Emily’s dream, except for the major fact that she is on the bottler’s side, NOT the victims.

After a particularly devastating interaction with a victim, Emily has had enough. She packs up, leaves town, and just drives. Looking for a purpose in her life and an escape, she meanders aimlessly and eventually ends up in the place that gave her great joy ten years ago. This small New Hampshire town is rife with good and bad memories. Emily has to find a way to deal with both, interact with the people from her past, and convince her husband and family that she’s okay and not crazy. By putting her happiness first, Emily’s selfishness reverberates throughout all the lives of the people that she knows. She must work to find her center and to decide what she actually wants. Add in an animal refuge, a former lover, and someone in desperate need of legal advice and Emily’s escape brings up some dilemmas that she cannot run away from.

This book did not go the direction that I thought that it would, for which I am very grateful. I have read too many novels where the main character decides that she needs a complete do-over and throws her entire life into shambles trying to find herself. Delinsky goes another route of self-discovery that still hits all of the necessary emotional highs and lows, but thankfully misses all of the predictable actions. This was my first Delinsky read and I am quite ready to pick up another! There was nothing that didn’t delight me within this novel.


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We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Fowler

For me, this was an ideal book-on-cd. We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves  by Karen Fowler was an optimum balance between fascinating exposition – about animal behavior, the ethics of scientific theory and experiments – in and out of the lab, and novelistic appeal. Rosemary, the narrator, is an interesting mix of reliable (she addresses the reader and seems to be candid) but also unreliable (memories are faulty especially when critical parts of the story take place in early childhood).

I love to be lectured to, not in the you’ve-done-something-wrong sense, but in the academic sense, where you are given information in a logical and well-thought-out way. I learned a lot about psychology, and  primate and human behavior, as well as memory.

Sometimes this was difficult to listen to – Fowler does an amazing job of showing us our ability to minimize the pain of confusion of animals. The human and animal characters in this story are not abstractions; they are unique and complicated beings, and their pain is our pain. The humans behave in ways that are understandable but not always very likeable.

It’s also a mystery. Early in the book, Rosemary says that she’s lost two siblings. Little by little, she reveals who went missing and why. Even the title is a bit of a mystery, and there’s an a-ha! moment when you realize it’s significance. There’s so much to think about, and to talk about; I’m dying to discuss!

Zoo Tycoon

zoo tycoonWhen I was younger, the Tycoon series of games was really popular. Everyone seemed to be playing them and after several months of begging, I was finally able to convince my mother to purchase a copy of Rollercoaster Tycoon. As I was looking over the videogame section at the library, imagine my happiness when I found Zoo Tycoon, a build-your-own-zoo game put out by Microsoft Studios for the Xbox 360 in 2013.

Looking online and also talking to other gamers results in a wide variety of definitions for the term “tycoon games”. In tycoon games, instead of just controlling one character, you are acting instead like “the manager” who is in control of a wide variety of people or animals, as well as the place where all of the activity is happening. That is very true in Zoo Tycoon. Here the game offers you tutorials, so you aren’t flying blind into how to operate and run your zoo. As the over-seer of the whole zoo, you need to remember to play smart because the guests who visit your zoo, as well as the animals, will ultimately decide just how well you are doing as a zoo tycoon.

This interactive game lets you design your zoo, build, and then manage it to make sure more and more guests keep coming and visiting. Once you build your zoo, you then get to have face time with all of your animals. You are allowed to adopt and care for your animals with the ultimate decision for you to then release them into the wild.

This game was interactive for me and definitely brought back memories of the older tycoon games that I had played. Check it out and let me know what you think!

Pet Pals: Animal Doctor

pet pals animal doctorAll throughout college, my teachers told me that the best way to entice a child to learn was to make learning fun. You’d also get bonus points as a teacher if you could trick kids into learning without them even knowing it. One of the best ways that I have found to do this is to slip that learning to them in the form of a video game or even a classic novel that has been re-done as an illustrated graphic novel.

As I was searching for new titles to intrigue the kids I know, I stumbled upon Pet Pals: Animal Doctor, a game available for the Wii. It allows players to pretend they are a veterinarian and perform surgeries using the Wii remote. What I found most interesting about this game is that the level of learning is high. More than thirty medical cases, that are based on real events, are presented within this game with mini- and micro-games that allow players to play, feed, and clean the animals and to also perform some specialized procedures. Players will be able to operate and interact with a variety of animals that range from the familiar to the exotic. This game won the Editor’s Choice Award of Excellence from the Children’s Technology Review and also the Parents’ Choice Silver Award.

The Soul of All Living Creatures by Vint Virga

soul all living creaturesBased on the author’s twenty-five years of experience as a veterinarian and veterinary behaviorist, The Soul of All Living Creatures delves into the inner lives of animals – from whales, wolves, and leopards to mice, dogs, and cats – and explores the relationships we forge with them.

As an emergency room clinician four years out of veterinary school, Dr. Vint Virga had a life-changing experience: he witnessed the power of simple human contact and compassion to affect the recovery of a dog struggling to survive after being hit by a car. Observing firsthand the remarkably strong connection between humans and animals inspired him to explore the world from the viewpoint of animals and taught him to respect the kinship that connects us. With The Soul of All Living Creatures, Virga draws from his decades in veterinary practice to reveal how, by striving to perceive the world as animals do, we can enrich our own appreciation of life, enhance our character, nurture our relationships, improve our communication with others, reorder our values, and deepen our grasp of spirituality. Virga discerningly illuminates basic traits shared by both humans and animals and makes animal behavior meaningful, relevant, and easy to understand.

Insightful and eloquent, The Soul of All Living Creatures offers an intimate journey into the lives of our fellow creatures and a thought-provoking promise of what we can learn from spending time with them. (description from publisher)

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

ivanThe 2013 Newbery award winner, Katherine Applegate’s The One and Only Ivan, is everything you might expect it to be, plus a little extra. Ivan is a silverback gorilla, a natural-born protector and warrior of the animal kingdom; as the narrator, his stream-of-consciousness thoughts and memories make up the novel. After poachers pluck the infant Ivan away from his home in the jungle, his domain of 27 years is a run-down circus, and his only friends are the other few animals there. But with the arrival of Ruby, a baby elephant, Ivan suddenly has someone to protect, and he sets off on a course to change all their lives for the better.

Like other winners, Applegate tackles a delicate, powerful subject and makes it accessible to children. Also like others, the writing is elegant and spare, made accessible to a young audience but no less sophisticated for it. There’s humor and heartbreak, but they don’t exactly balance each other – if you can’t handle sad animal stories you will have to stay far, far away from Ivan. Despite a hopeful, happy, neatly-wound-up ending, the grim tone of this book and its experimental structure make it an unusual book for children, but one that I’d recommend to them as wholeheartedly as I would recommend it to an adult. It’s a story of friendship and adventure and creativity, and a great addition to the list of Newbery winners.

Re-reads: All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot

I’m going to cheat a little. All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot would be my choice, but I love all four in the “All Creatures” series.

The story begins with the author’s arrival in Yorkshire during the Depression when veterinary jobs were scarce. A city boy, James has to quickly learn how to care for horses and cows in very primitive conditions.

He soon learns to love the beauty of the Dales and his eccentric clients. His tales of caring for beloved pets as well as farm animals can be heartwrenching as the patient doesn’t always survive.

There is plenty of humor in his hilarious descriptions of the Yorkshire dialect, way of life, and diet, as well as his volatile boss Siegfried and Siegfried’s irresponsible yet charming brother Tristan.

Not only are the books laugh-out-loud funny but you come to know the village of Darrowby, James, Siegfried and Tristan so well that you never want to leave the little world that Herriot has created.

Soul of a Dog by Jon Katz

Soul of a DogDo animals have souls? Jon Katz grapples with this question, which has intrigued philosophers through the ages, in his newest book Soul of a Dog. Katz studies the animals on his Bedlam Farm, especially the dogs but also the sheep and donkeys, Mother the cat, Elvis the Snickers-eating steer, hens and goats. Katz comes to see each of them as unique individuals, capable of great feeling and understanding.

Katz’s stories about animals are a joy to read – humourous, thoughtful, unsentimental. Each animals’ personality shines through without anthromorphization. They are complete as they are, they support their humans and allow them to live their fullest life. There is Rose, the single-minded work dog, Izzy, who visits the local hospice, bringing smiles and peace to troubled minds, Fly the rescue dog who nearly died, and Lenore who is all about love and affection. A keen observer, Katz notes how his animals interact with each other and with humans and finds self-awareness and admirable qualities again and again.

For anyone who has owned a pet or loved an animal, this book is a must-read.