Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Book Review - Following Atticus


Following Atticus by Tom Ryan
HarperCollins, August 7, 2012

Format - oversized paperback

Source - TLC Book Tours - ***While I was provided a complimentary copy of Following Atticus from the publisher via TLC Book Tours, the opinions expressed below are my own.
Why? If you've been around my blog even just a time or two, you can't have missed the fact that I love animals.  I've been around animals all my life and truly enjoy their companionship, variety of personalities and the experiences they have all added to my life.  Two dogs have affected my life more than any others, Honey (Chow Chow) and Layla (German Shepherd).  "Saving" them actually "saved" me more.  Offer me a story about an animal who touches a person's life so deeply and I'm all over it.

What Now?  Boy, is this one ever a keeper...not just for the story but also the writing.  Tom Ryan embeds classical literature and naturalistic poetry of Twain, Frost, Thoreau, Emerson, Whitman and others within his descriptive narrative of his life changing adventures with his little dog with the big spirit, Atticus.  I'll also be joining Tom and Atticus's Facebook page so that I can keep up with them even more :)

Golden Lines

I knew the moment I looked from Atticus to the surrounding mountains that I'd never forget that day.  My life had changed.

The basic process of climbing a moutain was therapeutic, almost cathartic.  There was the simple act of walking into the woods and away from the world.  Then there was the climb itself, where the body worked: muscles flexed and released, lungs rose and fell, the heart beat.  It was as if the complications of my life were breaking down and the only thing I cared about was the next place I'd put my foot or finding something to hold to pull myself up.

There is a point in climbing when you get quiet and are enveloped by the solitude.  The hike turns into a walking meditation and becomes Zen-like.  You stop trying so hard, and your stride falls into place with your heart and lungs.  Your mind follows suit.

As much as people worried about me, the way I saw it, I had an advantage over most.  There were many days where I might have hiked if I were on my own, but I wouldn't expose Atticus to storms, high winds, frigid temperatures, or trailes that were icy or too deep with new snow to make our way through.   Be refusing to subject Atticus to less-than-favorable conditions, I kept myself safe.

The journey across the Carters and the 'Cats was more than fifteen miles long, with six thousand feet of elevation gain - at truly rugged test.  In the end, however, it didn't seem like that big of a deal considering all those people we were walking for, the people who loved them, the battles fought, lost, and won, and what they'd been through.

Life is funny.  I set out to be nothing like the man I both loved and disliked, but I ended up becoming a newspaperman, reading the same authors he admired, becoming a big political fish in a little pond, and even climbing his mountains.  Somewhere in my efforts to get as far away from my father as possible, I had adopted his dreams as my own.  I had become his son.

 It's the natural world that heals the soul.
Summary

As editor of the indpendently owned newspaper, the Undertoad, Tom Ryan exposed small town politics for what it truly was, underhanded and sneaky.  In  Newburyport, Massachusetts his editorial style won him many friends but also some pretty serious enemies. 
Floundering alone in life, trying to come to terms with a less than ideal childhood, the premature death of his mother, a loveless relationship with his father, and the death of a close friend from cancer, Tom Ryan accidentally begins to discover himself and the joys in life through first an aged and homeless Miniature Schnauzer named Max, later his own puppy Atticus and the White Mountains of New Hampshire.

What I Liked

While Tom Ryan's journey is a spiritual one, he doesn't leave anyone out by pinpointing a specific religious belief as the impetus for his journey.  Ryan is still working some of his beliefs out, but the way he handles faith opens his story up to many, including those with strong beliefs already intact as well as those who are searching or don't even realize they are searching.

Atticus wears Muttluks and a K9 Top Coat while hiking higher up in the mountains once the temperature dropped.  While I'm well aware of companies that keep our dogs in gear for camping and traveling, the idea that there is enough need for heavy hiking gear for dogs made me smile.  I know people who don't like dogs and/or afraid of them...Atticus's adventures and the venues, vets, friends who look after him simply reinforce for me the love dogs bring us.  I'm even more convinced that those who don't have dogs are really missing out on something special.

Of course, there's dog stuff to learn in Ryan's book.  One of the most interesting tidbits happened when Tom and Atticus plowed through some serious wind and snow.  Instead of just hunkering down and waiting things out, Tom had to keep going...while Tom's body could keep itself warm for a while, Atticus's small body would freeze if he sat still for too long...how bout that for an impetus for peseverence?  I also liked the fact that Atticus's breeder recommended that Tom take Atticus everywhere he went during the first month.  I liked this for the simple fact that some people believe that dogs are either good or bad, and while Atticus is indeed a very special dog, Tom Ryan devoted some serious time to him in the beginning, took time to understand him, didn't try to turn him into something he was not, and worked WITH him consistently and lovingly.  It's important for readers to understand that they can't just go get a Miniature Schnauzer or any other kind of dog and expect him to be an Atticus.

The photos of Atticus are a perfect addition to Tom Ryan's written descriptions of his "Little Buddha." Atticus always seemed to know the way, never questioned whether or not to press on and always remembered to stop at the summit and take in the breathtaking views from the top.

Both Atticus and Tom Ryan experience trials throughout the narrative...things are never "hunky dory" nor made to seem that way.  Thank goodness for that because a life that has no challenges or turns out all rosy with a few quick fixes is a lie. 

I'm not a mountain climber, but I never felt left out on Tom and Atticus's hikes.  The descriptions of the various mountains, their trails, the markers, the ground cover, the weather, the equipment, the adjustments and eventually the summits made me feel as if I was right there with them. 

Not only does Tom discover his own self through hiking with Atticus, but he also learns to give back.  Through his Winter Quest for a cure and the 2nd Winter Quest for Angell Animal Medical Center, Tom and Atticus are able to share their joy

What I Didn't Like
Honestly, there wasn't really anything I disliked about this book.  If I had to choose one thing, one time that I was confused a little, it would be the first chapter.  The first chapter is about Atticus's predecessor, Max.  I didn't really see the connections of Max at first and wondered why the author spent the first couple of chapters writing about a dog that wasn't the focus of the book.  Once I finished, however, I realized that it's necessary for the reader to connect with Tom Ryan, where he was in his life when he accidentally got Max, Max's effect on his life and his subsequent decision to get Atticus in order to bring the story full swing.

Atticus has a couple of pretty serious challenges...and these parts are sad and made my heartbeat speed up as if I was climbing the mountains myself...I won't say more about these bc of spoilers but both Tom and Atticus's attitudes toward serious setbacks are enough on their own to make readers think twice about giving up when the going gets rough.

Overall Recommendation

While dog lovers will certainly appreciate this books as much as I did, I believe nature lovers, particularly those who love the woods, mountains, etc, including walkers, hikers, and runners will appreciate Ryan's spiritual journey as he hikes the peaks of the White Mountains with his best buddy Atticus.


Author Info



Tom Ryan's blog, Facebook and Twitter links.

Other Stops on the Tour

Wednesday, August 8th: Peppermint PhD
Thursday, August 9th: Tiffany’s Bookshelf
Tuesday, August 14th: BookNAround
Thursday, August 16th: The Book Garden
Monday, August 20th: Wordsmithonia
Tuesday, August 21st: My Tail Hurts From Wagging So Much
Wednesday, August 22nd: Miss Remmers’ Review
Thursday, August 23rd: Book Dilettante
Monday, August 27th: 4 The Love of Animals
Tuesday, August 28th: Champion of My Heart
Wednesday, August 29th: My Bookshelf
Thursday, August 30th: Something Wagging This Way Comes
Thursday, August 30th: StephTheBookworm
Monday, September 3rd: No Dog About It
Tuesday, September 4th: Book Club Classics
Wednesday, September 5th: Crazy For Books
TBD: A Musing Reviews




57 comments:

  1. I loved this book too. It really made me want to go to the mountains they climbed, Ryan made them sound so beautiful. I would love to see them for myself!

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    1. me too, Anne!! I don't think I'm up for hiking in the snow though...I get a little whiney when I get too uncomfortable ;) We went on a couple of little hikes in the Smoky Mountains at the beginning of the summer and I was just so in my element. I love to be outside and see the world :)

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  2. My heart is a big puddle of mush when it comes to animals. If they die, I can't handle it though. I am fragile.

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    1. I think you can easily find out via Tom's FB page that Atticus is still alive and kicking, so I'm not spoiling anything here :) I understand completely because to I this day I can't watch the movie Old Yeller past the point where the wolf attacks him and gives him rabies.

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    2. Sandy, as Peppermint Ph.D. writes above, Atticus is alive and kicking. Well, not right now. He's alive and sleepign next to me in our room at a charming inn here in Connecticut on the second day of our book tour. Hopefully he's remain alive and well for the next fifty years or so. (But we all know that's too good to be true so I appreciate whatever time we have together.)

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  3. I loved this book. Seriously loved it. I live near Newburyport and New Hampshire, and have been hiking and camping in the White Mountains many times. It is just as beautiful as they describe. But the relationship between this man and this dog is amazing.

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    1. Oh Sarah! I'm so jealous! I looked on the Newburyport website and it looks like such a pretty little town! This is definitely an amazing story! :)

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  4. I really want to read this one. I have, ever since I saw the trailer. It looks like a very sweet story.

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    1. It's very sweet but also very in depth sweetness...if that makes any sense. I honestly don't know if a person has to be an animal lover to take away something from this book...it's that good :)

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    2. Ti, thank you for your comment. I'm so proud of the book trailer. I personally chose Joe Cartr, a friend who does wonders with his camera, to film it and he didn't disappoint as we took a ten mile hike along the Moat Range in New Hampshire.

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  5. I try to stay away from dog books because they make me so sad, but this one sounds like it might be uplifting, in a way. So glad to have read your opinion and to hear that this one was so good!

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    1. This one is definitely uplifting...keeps you moving and motivated to persevere against all odds and to keep your eyes open for friends and family even in the least expected places :)

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    2. I will second Peppermint's comment. This is an amazing story that inspires, encourages, and touches the heart.

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  6. Peppermint Ph.D., what a great format for a book review. It's unique to any others I've seen over the past year; and quite effective, I think.

    Thank you for taking the time to review our story. I will link to it so that our Facebook followers can read it. I'm sure they will be thrilled with it.

    We're on the second day of our paperback tour. We've left the quiet of the mountains behind for (thankfully) crowded bookstores. There were 100 people last night at R.J. Julia's in Madison, CT and today we have two events: lunch at Bank Square Books in Mystic; and a church event tonight in New Milford, CT.

    Once again, thank you for reviewing our story. I'm grateful that you "get it". Not every book is for everyone. Heck, not every good book is for everyone. So as a writer I appreciate it when a connection is made to a reader. It's all the more special when that connection comes with someone like you who shares with others.

    I'll continue to read your blog long for I too and a reader. I look forward to the books you will introduce me to.

    Onward, by all means,
    Tom Ryan (& Atticus M. Finch)

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    1. Thanks so much, Tom!! It's great having you here! I'm loving all the attention from your FB family and am happy to be a part of it from this point on. I'm Patti Smith on FB :)

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  7. What a terrific review. I have read the book and am a follower of Following Atticus. I appreciate YOUR style of writing. But, I especially like the comment that you make about not being able to get a miniature schnauzer and expect him/her to be Atticus. I have learned a lot about a better way to interact with Max, a mini schnauzer who lives with me, as a result of Tom's sharing the way he communicates with Atticus. As you say, there is a lot more in the book than a dog story, although that would have been okay with me!

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    1. Always appreciate your insight and comments, maxmom15 (Linda). You're one of many who make our Facebook page and blog so special.

      Enjoyed your comments here this morning, too.

      Thank you.

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    2. I consider myself a responsible pet owner, Maxmom, but I think there are a lot out there who don't really "get" what it means to bring a pet into your life. I'm a German Shepherd lover and I've seen a lot of people get them bc they think they're oh, so cute as a puppy, but then they get really really big. Smart dogs thrive on your attention and guidance or they can be the worst dog you've ever had bc of neglect. I believe the "let's get one and sit it on the shelf" attitude of some pet owners is why there are so many dogs in our shelters today :( It makes me very sad :(

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  8. As a schnauzer lover & a White Mts visitor, I couldn't wait to read this book... and I wasn't disappointed. Tom Bryan's prose is beautiful, descriptive & insightful. His journey is engaging & I wished I were hiking every mountain with him & Atticus. The book is inspirational but not " preachy" & a joy to read. Loved your review, as well.

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    1. Thank you, Janet. Such nice words for a writer to read.

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    2. I agree, Janet! I wanted to hike with them as well...but only in the Spring...I'm from MS so Winter is not something we deal with very well...we usually don't have much of one at all ;)

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  9. I adore the book! Atticus is a character sans pareil, and the relationship between him and Tom is just amazing. I really like your review, too; you captured the essence of not only the book, but also Tom and Atticus.

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    1. Thanks so much! Tom Ryan's writing style is a pleasure to read. He makes you feel as if you are there and knows just which details to include so that you can connect with him and Atticus. I hope he'll write more :)

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  10. I had the recent pleasure of meeting Tom & Atticus. Now, I'm hooked on following them on facebook. I have been anxiously awaiting the paperback release, and am saving this excellent read for my Amtrak trip to Philadelphia to attend my daughter's wedding. My family passes well loved books on to each other with inscriptions inside and I'm confident this will be the book hidden in Karla's honeymoon bag.

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    1. Lamblady, after I joined on FB, when the first post popped up, I was soo excited! I love it when the story comes to life :):) So fantastic!!

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  11. I absolutely adore this book, and confess that I am something of an Atticus groupie. I think what I enjoy so much about this book as a reader is that Tom opens up his own story to us in such a way that the reader becomes a part of it. We don't just observe Tom's journey, he takes us with him. His observations about life, his insights echoed through writing and poetry, are all woven together with the incredible relationship with Atticus in a way that helped me to feel whole while I accompanied them. I encourage everyone I know to read this book.

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    1. Silvia G. Soos-KazelAugust 9, 2012 at 6:50 AM

      Altar ego~~I ditto you comments whole heartedly~~beautifully stated!

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    2. Perfectly said, Altar ego! I was going to leave my own comment, but you've taken every word I was going to say and said it for me! I've "spread the word" about the book too. I think that is just part of what reading it oneself makes one do. If you find a treasure, you want to share it. The review here is GREAT, too.

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    3. I also totally agree; I felt as if I was on the moutains with them the entire time...I was shivering in the cold, wanting to turn back even when Atticus trudged forward :p I loved the part about the moose they watched...we had a similar experience in the Smoky Mountains at the beginning of the summer with a bear. Going back to nature is definitely one of the best ways I know to sooth the soul :)

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  12. Silvia G. Soos-KazelAugust 9, 2012 at 6:26 AM

    As a Following Attiucs friend some say I may be bias about the Ryan Family and anything related to FA. Your review, Peppermint Ph.D of the newly released paperback format of this great story of man and his best friend is very thorough, enlightening and enticing for any new comer to this book. Your insights to many aspects of this story are very similar to what I received when first reading this adventure. I now look forward to receiving my newly ordered paperback from the White Birch Book Store and savoring a second read to engulf my imagination of climbing and sharing with my best friends (I also befriend 2 Mini Schnauzers & 1 Beagle Boy). After that it is "onward" with the audio version. Having listened to the last year's trailer for the hardcopy, I find Tom Ryan's voice and reading manner very soothing. Thank you Peppermint Ph.D for your unbiased review of Following Atticus~~you have shared an invitation to a wonderful read!

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    1. I would also like to listen to the audio! After I remove all of my post it notes from my copy, I know exactly who I'll be passing my copy onto first...she'll have to return it though ;)

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    2. I consider myself part of Atti's Army, too, and I think your review was well written and I love the format! I read the book first and then listened to the audio version. Like the book, which I couldn't stop reading, I couldn't stop listening to the audio version. Tom brings a whole new dimension to his story with his voice. It wouldn't have been the same if someone else read the copy for the audio book. You will love the story even more. Thank you for sharing your review with us.

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  13. Peppermint Ph.D,
    What a wonderful review of a fantastic book! I have read and enjoyed “Following Atticus” too. I live in Georgetown, MA which is not too far away from Newburyport and love to travel north to visit the wonderful White Mountains of New Hampshire. This book has so many good points: great for dog lovers, lovers of hiking, lovers of the White Mountains and lovers of stories about friendship. Everyone needs to read “Following Atticus!” I will admit that I am an Atticus follower on Facebook and have also been to a couple of book events. Atticus is a very special dog and one I loved meeting. I have my own autographed/pawgraphed copy of the book in hard cover and it is one that I will NOT share with anyone for fear of not getting it back. I will also add that this is a great book for any student (middle or high school) who might still need to read something for their summer reading list.

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    1. I'll have to have the hardcover for my keeper shelves as well. I LOVE the Boston area and hope to be able to travel more in that direction. My family hiked one of the easier trails in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee this summer and it turned out to be an incredible experience for all of us. We might just make the White Mountains our next stop :)

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  14. You have now joined a group of people who have been privileged enough to get a glimpse of these two remarkable characters. I follow their story every day, because like you, it is comforting to meet so many others who love animals and recognize how special this is.

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    1. Judy, I was thrilled with the first post this morning...it's as if the story is not over after all :)

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  15. Peppermint Ph.D so glad you found "Following Atticus" as it is truly an uplifting journey on so many levels, as you so beautifully pointed out.

    True there are definite hardships encountered but as with anyone, they reinforce the bond, perseverance and provide an insight to the essence of the person, and in this case, four-legged companion as well.

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    1. Hazel, I think hardship is necessary for us to fully develop into the people we are to become...heart and soul as well as mind. The challenges we face also lead us to a true appreciation of the world around us :) Those who don't appreciate animals have never really had the experience of being with one who loves you just as much, if not more, than you love him/her :)

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  16. Excellent review! I like the format, and you hit on many of the great things about this book. I'm a bit of a "Following Atticus" groupie myself, but I passed your review on to someone who I'm trying to convince to read the book. I am also a former college professor, and I enjoy what I've read so far on your blog. I think I'll stick around here, too. Thanks!

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    1. Thanks, Wendi! I'd love to have you! :) I can so see myself jumping on this groupie wagon :)

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    2. Also, any blog that has a big black cat at the top is a blog for me! Black cats are SO special.

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  17. Loved the book as well! I have given it as a gift to as many people as I can and everyone can relate to the aspect of companionship. Even if you're not a dog lover. My favorite part is how honest and real the book feels, I'll continue to spread the word and enjoy!

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    1. I think Tom's honesty is exactly what makes this book so genuine...and I really don't think a person would have to be a dog lover to appreciate this book either...although it certainly adds to the joy :)

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  18. What a lovely review of a really wonderful book. I listened to the audio book and it became exciting to jump in the car and start listening to Tom regale his adventures with Atticus and invite us into his life and thoughts. It was, oddly enough, a very personal experience due to Tom Ryan's honesty in sharing his most intimate journeys, both physically and mentally. As his writings have done for so many others, I have been inspired, motivated and my soul awakened. Brilliant book - and I encourage everyone to get lost in the story. And continue to follow Atticus and Tom's (and Will!) adventures on Facebook and their blog site.
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    And now to explore further this quaint little blog site of "Peppermint Ph.D." - looks like some good reading ahead!

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    1. Thanks, Marv :) I like the "soul awakening" part of your comment. One of the things I appreciated most about Tom's honesty is that it never felt "whiney"...Tom never takes on a "poor pitiful me" voice. Instead, he takes the road less traveled where everyone's lives have hardships, and some of those difficulties are never completely resolved. But, life goes on, and we are ultimately responsible for our own happiness or unhappiness. I like that because in this world where so very quickly we can feel out of control, it is nice to be reminded that we decide whether to roll with the punches or crawl into a ball.

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  19. Ok, now I am going to purchase this right away for my kindle. We rescued a black lab mix with hook worms and mange left by the side of the road with her mother and brother. Luckily a good Samaritan stopped and picked them up. She then delivered them to my vet who cleaned them up and adopted them out for a minimal fee to cover her spay fees. Our vet went even further and took care of the mange every week free of charge as well as the hook worms. Our Trixie is the best dog we could ask for. She thinks my kids are her responsibility so she stays within a radius while they are outside. I look forward to this uplifting story as animals bring out the best in us.

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    1. Pam, they truly do save us more than we save them, I think :) I have 3 dogs and 3 cats and each of them adds to my life in their own special ways.

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  20. What an excellent review of an equally excellent book! Love your presentation, 'Peppermint Ph.D'; quite unique! Wish I could say I am a follower of Following Atticus' Face Book page; but, alas, I have been banned from the page along with 7 other very staunch supporters for reasons none of us can quite fathom. Tom Ryan can be a difficult person to comprehend at times, to say the least!!! None the less, the book is a true treasure, along with Atticus and Will, and I will continue to promote it to family, friends, aquaintances and even strangers. I will also be following your blog after reading this enjoyable and stylish review.

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  22. P.S. for all the dog lovers out there, if you haven't read "Oogy, The Dog Only a Family Could Love", go grab a copy - it's an awesome story. I "read" this via audio book, I greatly enjoyed being read to! A little lengthy in parts but it all adds to the story and the dynamics of the wonderful family that brought this beautiful dog into their lives.

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  23. Great review. I just reviewed today, and I, like you and so many others, simply adored this book. As someone with dogs in our family, I was easily able to relate to Tom and Atticus' relationship, and I personally thought the writing was superb!

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    1. Absolutely, Tiffany! Tom Ryan's writing just naturally flows for me. Sometimes I think writers just try too hard and I wonder if that's more of a characteristic of writers who've been "trained" to write? I never felt that way with Tom's writing; I never got bogged down and it flowed seamlessly for me :)

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  24. As so with most of the other comments I too loved the book, the review, and also Tiffany Harkleroad's review too. I am a quiet Following Atticus facebook follower. I like to get the update daily of Tom and Atticus and Will. Occasionally I add a comment, when moved by Tom's comments. I try not to get consumed with his business, just enjoy the day with them. I found Following Atticus book onboard a Cruise i was on, in Feb of this year. Almost the best part of the cruise was reading Following Atticus. I have purchased a few copies, to have in my various homes, north and south, and am about to order one for my kindle, to take on our own boat, as I also love to hear the sound of Tom's narration voice. Looking forward to his next book, hopefully it will have just as much insight for us all to glean.

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    1. I'm looking forward to the audio for my first re-read. To me Tom's book is one that can be read in portions later when you're looking for a particular uplifting passage. The poetry and literature quotes are worth remembering as well, especially if you're ever able to get outside and remember them as you are looking at the incredible natural world that so many of us miss bc of racing through life these days :)

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  25. I am definitely a dog person (we're actually getting a 2nd dog this week) so this is MY KIND OF BOOK!

    Glad you enjoyed it so much! Thanks for being on the tour.

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