Blog Tour | Review: Canine Confessions, Bernadette Griffin

17861818There’s something about the perspective of dogs that fascinate many readers. Many stories with dog narrators are certainly heartwarming treats, testaments to the unconditional love and devotion dogs have towards their owners. Bernadette Griffin’s Canine Confessions is no exception. Daisy is a lovely and endearing narrator, a posh cocker spaniel who thinks that with her blood and her beauty, she should have been named after Queen Elizabeth or Helen of Troy rather than Blondie and Dagwood Bumstead’s far more common pet dog. She lives with Monique and her husband Harry and children Matthew, Mark and Kathleen, and while she is ostensibly Matthew and Mark’s dog, she bonds the most with Monique, who takes care of her.

Unlike some other books with dog narrator, such as Garth Stein’s Art of Racing in the Rain and W. Bruce Cameron’s A Dog’s Journey, Canine Confessions appears to be more about Monique and her family, and Daisy’s observations of their story, rather than about Daisy herself. Monique is a captivating character — a feminist in 1970s Montreal who doesn’t enjoy sex and fears her husband is cheating on her. Through Daisy’s eyes, we see Monique’s emotional journey, and like Daisy, we want her to find happiness. Monique’s son Mark is also a mysterious, complex figure — clearly troubled and with a drinking problem. There’s a lot going on with this family, a lot of emotions they keep hidden from each other, but that eventually come to light, and through Daisy’s eyes, we see a lot of it unfold as the human characters cannot.

As a narrator, Daisy is a delight. Her standard dignified, almost snooty tone contrasts with her sheer exuberance when she (temporarily) escapes Monique’s house. I love her desire for freedom, and her awareness that the captivity of her species is rather unjustly seen by society as normal. She yearns for her species’ past, partly for the freedom, but more for the dignity that freedom afforded. When she is spayed, the moment is heart-wrenching — we recall an earlier chapter where she longs to meet a male dog, and later, when listening to Monique and Harry’s forced intimacy, she reflects bitterly on her own missed opportunity. Yet she doesn’t take this dissatisfaction out on her owners — her affection for them is genuine, and Monique especially relies on her for comfort.

Canine Confessions is an interesting look at a family in 1970s Montreal, from the point of view of their dog. While the dog is the narrator, the focus is much more on the family, with the dog perhaps sounding almost human herself, and part of me wonders how much would be lost if Daisy were not narrating the tale. Still, it’s a lovely, breezy read, with characters to root for, and a lyricism in the language that reflects the author’s musical background.

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Thank you to Laskin Publishing for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Blog Tour: Review | Hidden, Catherine McKenzie

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Catherine McKenzie’s Hidden is a wonderfully nuanced portrait of infidelity. When Jeff Manning is killed in a car accident, he leaves behind his grieving wife Claire and his grieving co-worker and girlfriend Tish. In such a story, it is all too easy to demonize one of the women, or to portray one as the man’s “true love.” McKenzie stays clear of that trap and in so doing, succeeds in crafting a complex, realistic tale of adult relationships, and the way people make them work.

McKenzie tells the story from all three perspectives, which makes each character come even more vividly to life. We see Jeff fall in love with Claire, and we understand the cause of his jealousy over her past relationship with his brother. We also see his first couple of encounters with Tish, and how they form an immediate connection. I love how his connection with Tish, despite the instant chemistry, was mostly more friendly than romantic, and I especially love how this connection in no way detracted from his feelings for Claire.

9781443411929Claire and Tish themselves were fully fleshed out characters. Claire is a former lawyer who now runs a daycare, and the reasons behind her switch in plans gives an idea of how important family is to her. Her son’s grief over his father’s death is deeply felt as well, and his vulnerability when reading the eulogy at the funeral is palpable.

Tish has a more unusual family situation, with a highly intelligent doctor husband and a genius-level poet daughter. Their accomplishments are in stark contrast to Tish’s own lack of ambition, and despite her natural talent at golf and poetry, she is mostly content to coast. Her connection with Jeff, and the intensity of her feelings towards him, are therefore a significant step forward, and his death forces her even further out of her comfort zone.

Complex relationships form this book, but strong characterization makes it work. We are drawn to all three characters; they feel like people we know, and even though we already know it ultimately ends in tragedy, we still want to see how it progresses. Knowledge of Jeff’s impending death add poignancy to the flashbacks of his chapters, and reading about Claire and Tish’s grief interspersed with Jeff’s story just enhances the nuance.

Hidden is a captivating read, and a compelling portrayal of three people whose lives are inextricably intertwined. A mature, richly drawn narrative that is ultimately more about relationships, and making them work.

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Thank you to the author for the invitation to join the blog tour, and thank you as well for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Blog Tour: Author Q & A | Tanya J. Peterson, Leave of Absence

9781592998838 cov.inddFrom the publisher’s description:

In this insightful and evocative novel, Tanya J. Peterson delves deeply into the world of post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and schizophrenia. When Oliver Graham’s suicide attempt fails, he is admitted to Airhaven Behavioral Health Center. Unable to cope with the traumatic loss of his beloved wife and son, he finds a single thread of attachment to life in Penelope, a fellow patient wrestling with schizophrenia and its devastating impact on her once happy and successful life. They both struggle to discover a reason to live while Penelope’s fiancé William strives to convince her that she is worth loving. As Oliver and Penelope try to achieve emotional stability, face others who have been part of their lives, and function in the “real world,” they discover that human connection may be reason enough to go on.

Publisher Inkwater Press and author Tanya J. Peterson generously offered me the opportunity to speak with the author and learn a bit more about her process in writing this book.

Q & A with Tanya Peterson

1. In Leave of Absence, Oliver has PTSD and Penelope is schizophrenic. Why did you choose to focus on these mental illnesses in particular?

My goal in writing Leave of Absence was to help increase understanding of mental illness.  There are many negative stereotypes associated with mental illness in general.  Schizophrenia in particular is one of the most negatively stereotyped and misunderstood of all mental illnesses.  Likewise, there is a lot of mention about PTSD in the news, but many people don’t fully understand it.  Both schizophrenia and PTSD are often feared and associated with violence.  This is sad, because violence is not inherently a part of either.  Leave of Absence shows what schizophrenia, PTSD, and depression (both Penelope and Oliver have depression) are like for those who experience them.

2. How did your experience as a teacher and counselor inform the writing of this story?

I drew on much from my background in writing Leave of Absence.  Having a graduate degree in counseling and being a Nationally Certified Counselor were definitely helpful in contributing to the factual base of the story.  Working closely with people, whether through teaching or counseling, has helped me understand people – the humanity behind the illness.  Additionally, I have personal experience of my own that was helpful in creating a realistic, albeit fictional, story.  I’ve been a patient myself, and I’ve even spent time in a behavioral health center such as Airhaven in Leave of Absence.  It was there that I was diagnosed with bipolar I disorder.

3. I’m intrigued by Penelope’s fiancée, who remains loyal even when Penelope feels herself undeserving of his love. In your experience, what are the biggest challenges facing those with loved ones who are mentally ill?

Everyone’s experience is unique, of course, so it can be a bit difficult to generalize.  Some difficulties often experienced, though, are a distancing between the loved one and the caregiver, such as what happens to William with Penelope.  There can be a sense of guilt from both sides:  someone with a mental illness can feel that they are burdening their loved one or inhibiting their lifestyle (Penelope feels that she is ruining William’s life); likewise, a caregiver can feel as though he/she isn’t doing enough to help the one they love.  There are also difficulties that are associated with the specific mental illness involved.  Each one has its own unique thoughts and behaviors associated with it that bring challenges to the person experiencing the illness as well as the people who care about them.

4. You mention in your website that you are deeply passionate about ending the stigma surrounding mental illness. How can fiction create that change?

I think that fiction can be a very powerful vehicle in bringing change.  There are many wonderful non-fiction books out there that explain various mental illnesses, and that’s great.  These are important, too, in increasing understanding.  With fiction, though, a wide variety of readers (not just those interested in a specific non-fiction topic), can connect with characters who experience mental illness.  It’s important for everyone to look beyond the mental illness to see the person behind it.  Fiction makes this possible.  Fiction can increase not only factual understanding but empathy, too, and that understanding and empathy can carry over beyond the pages of the book and into the real world.

5. You’ve also written a YA novel Losing Elizabeth. How is writing about mental health for a YA audience different from writing for an adult audience? What are the challenges unique to each genre?

I admire those authors who can write great YA books, because, for me, YA is a difficult genre to write.  While I like the story behind Losing Elizabeth (it’s about a girl who becomes trapped in an emotionally abusive relationship and was inspired by the shockingly large number of students I had across the years who became involved in unhealthy relationships), I don’t really love how I wrote it.  To me, the biggest challenge was creating thoughts and dialog that truly sounded like how teenagers sound.  I’ve worked with adolescents, and I currently have a teenager of my own, but I just don’t feel that I can make my characters sound like teens.  For me, writing for an adult audience comes more naturally.  Each reader, no matter his or her age, has different interests and tastes, and that is a challenge.  That’s absolutely not a bad thing but merely something of which I’m aware as I write.

6. What do you want your readers to walk away with after reading Leave of Absence?

I would love it if readers walked away from the story with a deeper understanding of mental illness and those who experience it.

7. What do you think of how mental illness has been portrayed in books, movies and pop culture? How does Leave of Absence present an alternative view?

So often, mainstream media negatively stereotypes people with mental illness.  A very common depiction is a mentally ill person as a deranged, raging, lunatic who is unpredictable and violent.  Another one is the person who is not “all there,” lacking sound mental faculties and with low intelligence.  Sadly, characterizations like these have been used so often that they are accepted as truths.  Accordingly, a stigma has developed against those with mental illness, and too often, people don’t want to associate with (in the workplace or socially) with someone who experiences mental illness.  I don’t believe that most people would negatively judge people with mental illness if they knew the truth about it.  In Leave of Absence, neither Penelope nor Oliver fits the stereotypes.  Readers will see what schizophrenia, PTSD, depression, and loss are like for them.  In writing Leave of Absence, I have broken away from the misunderstandings and stereotypes to help contribute to deeper understanding and empathy.

Jaclyn, thank you sincerely for interviewing me!  I appreciate the chance to share a little bit about why I wrote what I did.  It was kind of you to invite me onto your wonderful blog.  Thanks, too, to your readers for taking the time to read this interview.  🙂

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Thank you to Tanya for giving such an insightful interview! And thank you as well to Inkwater Press for organizing this!

To learn more about Leave of Absence, check out the author’s website or see the book trailer:

About the Author

TanyaPeterson (2) (571x800) - Copy (424x585)Tanya J. Peterson is a mental health writer and speaker who holds a Bachelor of Science in secondary education, Master of Science in counseling, and is a Nationally Certified Counselor.  She has been a teacher and a counselor in various settings, including a traditional high school and an alternative school for homeless and runaway adolescents, and she has volunteered her services in both schools and communities.  She also has experience with mental illness from the perspective of a patient, as she experiences Bipolar I disorder and struggles with various forms of anxiety.

Her most recent work is the novel Leave of Absence in which she uses fiction as a powerful vehicle for portraying the realities of schizophrenia, depression, and PTSD.  Tanya has given mental health presentations in her home state of Oregon, she is active in her local NAMI, and she will be a featured speaker at the conference of Mothers of Incarcerated Sons Society, Inc. to be held in San Diego in August, 2013.