Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Monday, December 21, 2015

For Love Of A Dog #15

The call of the West has been sounding in my ears for decades.  It was not until a year and a half ago; life opened the door of opportunity.   My one huge hesitation to go forward was my sweet Xena.  Her fourteenth birthday was only three months away.

After repeated conversations with her vet, I decided to make a trip to Montana in June to see how we would like it.  You could have not asked for a better travel companion than this chocolate Labrador retriever. She thoroughly enjoyed hiking in the local parks, taking in all the new sights and smells.  Unfortunately, our home in Michigan did not sell.

In the spring of 2015 we re-listed with a new agent.  Our walks in the neighborhood were shorter, maybe a half mile or a few blocks at a time.  Sometimes we only took a couple of spins around the yard.  Weather permitting we spent entire days outside, Xena sitting or sleeping in the yard as I gardened, read and wrote on my laptop.  In the middle of August we finally got a solid offer on the house.  This year she was days away from her fifteenth birthday.  Again I had conversations with her vet.

Within the span of thirty days we made three journeys back and forth between Michigan and Montana by car.  On each of those trips, comfort and a place for Xena to walk were foremost in my mind.  With every rest stop, hotel stay and hours spent on the road, my love for her grew.  Her strength in the face of this enormous change was a marvel to see.   (To read about our western travels, Xena and I wrote these blog posts, Westward Ho!, Blowing in the Wind-Changes, and Blowing in the Wind-Changes Part II.)

For two months after we arrived in Montana she enjoyed hours sitting or sleeping outside unless it was too cold.  We finally had a fenced-in back yard with easy access to keep her safe.  She carefully watched deer move cautiously on the other side of the fences and squirrels leap from tree branch to tree branch.  Like the matriarch she was, she took note of the dogs living next door to us on either side but only gave them a nod.  Her nose would lift in the air over and over again.  She was inhaling all life had to offer.

Shortly after the final trip to Montana a long anticipated ARC, Fenway and Hattie (G. P. Putnam's Sons, an imprint of Penguin Random House, February 9, 2016) written by Victoria J. Coe, made its way into my possession.  It was previously my honor to host Fenway and Hattie Cover Reveal, Canine Capers in Suburbia on July 15, 2015.  With marvelous insight and humor Victoria J. Coe introduces us to two new characters, a Jack Russell terrier and his girl.

As soon as we get off the elevator, I know something is wrong.  Our apartment has no mat in front.  The muddy boots and fake flowers are gone.  The doorway looks empty.  Abandoned.  Like nobody lives here.

Fetch Man, Food Lady and Hattie, Fenway's human family, are finishing their packing for moving day.  The city with its familiar sights, sounds, sidewalks and a large dog park is being left for a quieter world in the suburbs.  All Fenway knows is some Evil Humans smelling of sweat and coffee have stolen everything while Fetch Man, Food Lady and Hattie watch.  He ferociously tries to warn them of the danger but is placed instead behind The Gate.

A sigh of relief and equal measure of excitement permeate his body when he discovers he is going on a car ride. A long, long time later they all arrive at a house which can only be filled with extraordinary things as the humans are brimming with anticipation. The smells inside and outside are not very interesting but inside there is a Perfect Running Surface and .......Whoa! Ouch! a Wicked Floor covers the entire Eating Place.  This can't be good.  And to make matters worse the Evil Humans have found them here.

In a heartbeat this scenario changes when Hattie opens a door.  It's a Dog Park. There are no other dogs romping or barking, a giant water dish for splashing or jumping benches but there is an expanse of grass surrounded by a fence with a large tree in the center.  Two dogs, Goldie and Patches, in an adjacent dog park attempt to set Fenway straight but it's not until he hears Hattie calling to him from the squirrel house up in the tree that Fenway is not so sure about his place.  Evil Squirrels?  Hattie going where he can't follow?

The appearance of Muffin Lady and her short human, Angel, a strange fetch game with a white ball and leather gloves, the word train-ing, and trouble with getting to his food on the Wicked Floor are everyday occurrences for Fenway.  As if things could not be any more confusing, Fetch Man, Food Lady and Hattie take him to an indoor Dog Park with a One Human present.  There are treats involved but Fenway simply can't comprehend the proper process.

Again and again Fenway tries to protect his best pal, Hattie.  He wants things to be the way they were before the Wicked Floor and the Evil Squirrels.  His attempts to set things right add up to one mistake after another.  What Goldie and Patches are telling him weighs heavily on his doggy soul but this pup is persistent.  His faith in his girl is true.  A Boom-Kaboom night brings out the finest in all.

A deep enduring affection and astute sensitivity for dogs is evident in the writing of Victoria J. Coe.  You have to wonder if they converse with her on a daily basis or come to chat with her as she dreams at night.  Writing this story completely from the viewpoint of Fenway brings us closer through genuine warmth and laughter to knowing how a dog thinks.  We are able to value his perspective while following the growth of Hattie in her relationships with her new friend and parents through his thoughts and the dialogue of the characters, canine personalities included.  Each chapter ends with a wee bit of tension carrying us eagerly to the first sentence on the next page.  Here are some sample passages.

I spring up, furiously pawing the tree, but he's just out of reach.  "You coward!" I bark.  I run in circles around the giant tree, every hackle on my back raised in alarm.
The squirrel turns and creeps down the trunk, tantalizingly close. "Chipper, chatter, squawk!" he screeches again.
I leap and leap, scraping the bark with my claws, "It's called a DOG Park for a reason!" I growl.
But instead of scampering away, he inches closer.  His beady eyes are challenging me.
Does he not know who he's dealing with? I jump higher and higher, my jaws ready to snap!
Finally, he gets the message.  He scrambles way up the trunk.
I watch until he disappears in the rustling and swaying branches.  I am about to bark "Good riddance!" when I spot his flouncy tail shooting through...a window?

The One Human keeps on talking, the humans keep on listening, and the dogs have no idea what's going on.  Do the humans expect us to just hang out and wait patiently?  It's the very definition of impossible. 

Fenway and Hattie written by Victoria J. Coe will captivate readers with the joyful interpretation of life by a dog who is

a professional

at protecting his family and loving his cherished girl.  Chapter by chapter your admiration will grow for this canine cutie and his every effort.  The next book in the series,  Fenway and Hattie and the Evil Bunny Gang, has a teaser which reads:

Fenway thinks nothing can be worse than a gang of Evil Bunnies until he comes face to face with one who is the biggest threat of all.

Victoria J. Coe has graciously offered to answer some more of my questions for this post.

Your insights into a dog’s point of view are astounding.  Did you consult with a dog trainer or dog psychologist or are all your thoughts based upon personal observations and experiences?

Thank you! I based Fenway's point of view on my personal observations and experiences. However since then, I've done a good amount of research that I include in my school visits.

What is Kipper’s favorite dog treat? (Kipper is Victoria's real life canine companion.)

Kipper never met a treat he didn't like! His favorites are anything he finds on the sidewalk or on the ground -  a bit of pizza crust, a bagel, part of a sandwich, you name it! Of course, he also loves dog treats that I buy at the store (and carry in my pockets).

What is your favorite treat?

I'm very partial to sweets. 

What is Kipper’s favorite daily activity?

Without a doubt, Kipper's favorite daily activity is our morning walk. Since we moved, we no longer have a big yard for him to play in, so I take him out for a good five mile walk every day.

What is your favorite daily activity?

You know, I'd have to say our walk is my favorite activity, too! It's a chance to get outside - no matter what the weather - and start off the day getting some perspective on the world. 

To discover more about Victoria J. Coe please visit her website by following the link attached to her name.  A page has been dedicated to using Fenway and Hattie in the classroom.  Find out more about Victoria J. Coe at The Sweet Sixteens, a site featuring 2016 Young Adult and Middle Grade Debut Authors.  Victoria J. Coe wrote a post at the Nerdy Book Club, How Ribsy Changed My Life (Or It All Depends On Your Point Of View).  You can read the first chapter of Fenway and Hattie at the publisher's website. 

There are two separate giveaways for this final post in memory of my beloved dog Xena who lived her life with me for more than fifteen years.

UPDATE:  February 18, 2016 Guess what people!  There's a new post about Fenway and Hattie describing all the wonderful and not so wonderful things in Fenway's life.  You'll want to read this. Victoria J. Coe truly speaks for dogs.  

UPDATE:  February 22, 2016 There is a classroom guide on Victoria J. Coe's website now. 

UPDATE:  February 25, 2016 There is a brand new fun interview of Victoria J. Coe at Coffee With a Canine.

UPDATE:  February 27, 2016 If you would like to see some of the interior illustrations the artist posted them here

UPDATE:  July 21 2016 Victoria J. Coe is a guest at educator and author Stacy Mozer's site, It's All About the Journey


  1. Wowee! When it comes to reading dog books, Margie, you are truly a professional. Your kind words about Fenway and Hattie mean more to me than I can ever say. Thank you so very much for including it in your amazing tribute to wonderful Xena. I am truly, truly honored.

    1. Thank you Victoria! Fenway and Hattie will be enjoyed by all who read it; which I hope are thousands. You are most welcome.

  2. This fellow lab lover ALWAYS loves a good dog story (RAIN REIGN was my favorite this year). It feels wrong, though, to just read your review about this book, which I am totally looking forward to reading, without acknowledging the loss of your sweet girl. I lost a 15-year-old golden mix almost five years ago. He was my favorite dog ever and I still think of him and look/listen for him all the time. Star, my black lab mix, is snoring beside me as I write…Wishing you a new four-legged friend in the not too distant future.

    1. Once you love a lab you will always love a lab. I am so sorry to hear about the loss of your wonderful dog, Carol. They find a way into our hearts and stay there forever. I am glad though you have sweet Star. There will be a new furry friend in my future but I am waiting. Thank you fellow dog friend.

  3. Great post! And I loved reading about Xena! I agree - this book is wonderful!

    1. Thank you Wendy for your kind words and for reading about my sweet girl.

  4. What a fantastic feature and interview! I am in the middle of reading an Advance Review Copy of FENWAY AND HATTIE at this very moment, and it's mad brilliant!!!

    1. Thank you Bridget! And I totally agree with your assessment of Fenway and Hattie. Victoria must be a dog whisperer.

  5. We are getting a puppy, Golden Retriever, after Christmas. I had planned to name him Finnegan, but now I am leaning toward Fenway. ❤️

    1. Oh my gosh Maureen! That's the best news ever. I think Fenway would be a wonderful name. It is recommended in one of my dog books to give them a name that is two syllables. They appreciate the cadence.

  6. Thanks for yet another wonderful review -- also enjoyed your questions for Victoria. Both of you have an astounding sensitivity and love for and knowledge about dogs. Adding Fenway and Hattie to my TBR list right now.

    And thank you, many times over, for this wonderful series. Loved hearing about all the books, but even more, loved all the Xena stories!

    1. You are welcome. Your kind words certainly are a bright spot in my day. You are going to enjoy Fenway and Hattie. Although it's fiction, it could certainly act as a guide for those people with dogs thinking about a move or bringing a puppy into their home.

      You are welcome. Xena was such a positive presence in my life, I wanted everyone to know.

  7. thank you for sharing these snippets of Xena's life. She was absolutely loved and I can tell she knew it.

    1. You are welcome Michele. It was an honor to have been able to share life with her and then give you all windows into our world.

  8. It seems that you were blessings to each other. Thanks for sharing that loving relationship with all of us.

    1. That is very kind of you to say Crystal. It was a pleasure to share our lives with you. She was a gift.