Thursday, May 17, 2018

All About Books: Author Chris Bohjalian


I am a mystery addict, but I also enjoy an engaging novel from time to time.  The works of Chris Bohjalian fall into that second category.  When I began to think about which of his novels I’d read, I was surprised that I’d read four of his twenty books.

Three of his novels have been made into televisions movies—“Secrets of Eden,” “Past the Bleachers,” and “Midwives”—and another three are in development.

I first discovered Bohjalian when “Double Bind” came out in 2007. I was probably hooked by the references to the “Great Gatsby” in the reviews.  “Double Bind” ranks up there as one of the most intriguing books I’ve read. The lines blur between Gatsby’s tale on Long Island and this story that takes place in Vermont. I was kept guessing until the very end, and even then I questioned what had really happened. 

When I went to Amazon to get a bit of info for this column, I was shocked to see the book’s average review rating was a mere 3.6 out of 5. I guess it’s not to everyone’s taste, but I couldn’t put it down. One review described the novel as evoking Fitzgerald and also channeling Hitchcock.  I think of it as literary fiction.

I enjoyed it so much that I went on to read “Skeletons at the Feast,” a love story set in Germany during WWII. In the book, people are trying to escape from Germany and reach the Allies. The cast of characters includes an aristocratic Prussian teen, a Scottish POW, and an escapee from a train on its way to Auschwitz.  I think it was while reading this novel that I came to realize how fluid the borders were in Eastern Europe in the 1800s and 1900s.  It’s hard to imagine what it must have been like to be Prussian one year and German the next. Reading novels like this one makes me realize just how fortunate we are here in the US.

Off and on through the years, I’ve read quite a few novels set in Europe during WWII, but none set in Italy until I read “Light in the Ruins.” It begins in Tuscany in 1943 with another aristocratic family.  They don’t try to leave Italy, but they do seek to escape entanglement with either side. The story moves between the war and 1955 as it reveals the story of the Rosatis. It’s as much a story of family as it is of the war.

Bohjalian returns to modern times and Vermont in “The Sleepwalker.  I’m not giving anything away when I tell you that the sleepwalker, Annalee Ahlberg, disappears one night.  The plot describes how her disappearance and her sleepwalking play out in the family dynamics. The story kept me guessing.  Was she alive somewhere?  Had she died? 

I suspect I’ll pick up another of his books again one day.  “Sandcastle Girls” has been on my list for a bit.  For some reason, the plot of his latest book, “Flight Attendant,” doesn’t grab me, though it’s getting rave reviews.  Perhaps I’m attracted to his books because they provide not only character studies, but also mysteries.  Whether you’re a mystery fan or a fan of well-written novels, I don’t think you can go wrong with a Bohjalian book.



Sunday, May 6, 2018

DogSpeak: There's so much to learn about dogs


As a Royal Pooch,  it’s incumbent upon me to understand dogs so that I can relate to my subjects. I asked Mum to help me with my education, and we started with some light reading from the Sunday paper.


On Sunday mornings, Mum and Dad lounge around in their PJs, read the paper, and drink coffee, and I recline on my royal bed.  Sometimes Mum reads aloud to Dad and me, and we two guys got a chuckle out of a Parade Magazine story about dog owners. 

It seems we dogs are hugely popular.  Did you know that 48% of Americans own dogs and that lots of dog owners let their four-legged kids sleep in the bed with them?  Mum is the one who read this to me; why doesn’t she get the hint about the bed? Why people even have birthday parties for their dogs.  I’m talking dog birthday cakes, party hats, biscuits for the guests, all kinds of things. 

I get enough adoration at my book signings, so I can do without an extra party, but I do think Mum and Dad should write me into the will.  Yup, that’s another thing that dog owners do. I know Mum’s sister Aunt Pam has made provisions for her Great Dane and all of her cats.  I’d hate for anything to happen to Mum and Dad, but I sure hope they’ve willed me to a loving family. My first vote would be to live with Miss Beverly or Nurse SarahAnne, two of my fave critter sitters, and I know they’d love to have me.

Mum said that lots of dog parents travel with their dogs.  Now, Mum and Dad have taken me on several road trips, but I don’t get to go everywhere with them. Frankly, I think it’s preposterous that some hotels and B & Bs don’t allow dogs. It seems to me that Mum and Dad should boycott those establishments rather than leave me behind. Yes, sometimes they fly, and I hear that because of my majestic size, I’d have to fly in the baggage compartment, instead of in first class where a Royal Pooch belongs. If airlines are that ridiculous, I’ll just stay home when the Royal Parents fly.

I laughed when Mum read that some dogs have social media accounts.  I, the Royal Pooch, have my very own Instagram account, @lordbanjotheroyalpooch, though I generously allow Mum to post an occasional pic of my feline sister, Princess Puddin’.  You know, when I review the list of perks that many dogs get, I don’t get all that many:

Birthday parties--NO
Vacations with pet parents--YES
Regular visits to the Grooming Salon--YES
Sleeping in bed with parents--NO
Psychic Readings—NO
Yappy Hours—NO
Doggie Day Care—NO
Dog furniture—NO
Clothes—YES if you count my beautiful purple robe
Instagram account--YES

My, my, dogs across America are well loved—or spoiled—depending on whom you ask.  Now, as Lord Banjo, I could decree that these privileges become the norm at the Royal Abode, but I don’t want them all.  Top of the list would be sleeping with my Royal Parents, and I would adore a dog couch or chair in addition to my dog beds. Psychic Readings? I think that’s plain creepy.  Doggie daycare? No way! I want to learn about my subjects, not spend all day amongst them. The way I see it: I’m Royal; they’re not; end of story.


Lord Banjo lives in Georgia with his Mum, Kathy Manos Penn. Find similar stories in his book, “Lord Banjo the Royal Pooch,” available  on Amazon. Contact him at inkpenn119@gmail.com.



Thursday, April 26, 2018

The Joy of having Royal Critter Sitters


DogSpeak: Reflections from Lord Banjo

Now that the Royal Parents are retired, they travel much more than they used too, and in my opinion, all too often without me. That’s why my Royal Court contains more than one Critter Sitter. Miss Beverly is the Royal Critter Sitter in Charge.  She earned that distinction when she kept me one summer for almost two weeks while my parents went on a river cruise, and I rate her home a five-star pet resort for its location and amenities. She lives in an area with lots of parks, a town square and a downtown area where shops put out water bowls for us dogs. I get to meet lots of people and their canine companions on our walks.

I am completely miserable in the extreme summer heat, so Miss Beverly took me on early morning walks before the temps were unbearable. Then she let me nap in the cool, dark living room with two fans blowing on me. I must say the Royal Parents could learn a thing or two from Miss Beverly. Only after the temps cooled down in the evening, did she, or sometimes her daughter SarahAnne take me on a second walk. Between the two of them, I regularly got two long walks a day. Why SarahAnne even taught me tricks. That’s one reason I dubbed her Camp Counselor SarahAnne.

Since she’s graduated from Nursing school, SarahAnne’s kept me a few times at her house. I’d say she’s easily in the running to become Royal Critter Sitter in Charge should Miss Beverly wish to retire. With roommates coming and going, a boyfriend who’s in and out with his dog, and out of town friends who visit, there’s always plenty of action at her house.

Possibly the best-ever time I’ve had with her was the weekend her college friend Grace visited with Max, the golden retriever. Nurse SarahAnne lives in a dog-friendly walkable part of town too, so we had lots of adventures. 

One afternoon, we walked and barhopped along the Beltline in Atlanta with Max and Grace. The Beltline is a very happening place with dogs, joggers, skaters, and cyclists. While she ran errands another afternoon, she dropped me off at her boyfriends’ house, and—don’t tell Mum—he let me sleep in his bed while he worked. Mum has this thing about me getting on the bed, you know. Goodness knows, I needed some rest after trying to keep up with all these millennials, who are way more active than the Royal Parents.

I was fired up when we spent our final day at the park.  There, SarahAnne let me go in the pond and roll in the sand, over and over again.  Max wasn’t keen to go in the water, but I sure was.  I like ponds and lakes any time but especially when it hits the 80s. I even got to chase some ducks.  I slept like a baby that night and was fine with being left behind while the girls went partying. Yes, Nurse SarahAnne has turned into one fine Royal Critter Sitter.

I know I’m one lucky dog to have not only loving Royal Parents—though I do think they travel overly much—but also attentive and caring Royal Critter Sitters. What more could a Royal Pooch ask?

Lord Banjo lives in Georgia with his Mum, Kathy Manos Penn. Find similar stories in his book, “Lord Banjo the Royal Pooch,” available  on Amazon. Contact him at inkpenn119@gmail.com.