Monday, August 9, 2010

The Blessings of the Animals by Katrina Kittle — 464 pgs

Book CoverWhen Cami Anderson, a successful veterinarian, discovers that her husband is leaving her, her carefully balanced world begins to fall apart. Though her husband has been moody and distant for a long while, his abandonment has come as a complete surprise to her. Between the layers of disappointment and sadness, Cami has other things to deal with. Her brother and his life partner are mired in an attempt to adopt a baby of their own, her sister-in-law is planning her long anticipated and elaborate wedding, and her teenage daughter is having romance troubles that seem to stem from her parents' separation. As Cami navigates all of these difficult situations, she begins to ask herself some fundamental questions about marriage and relationships, a situation that is further confused and complicated by the three men who are newly vying for her attention. Meanwhile, Cami ministers to the animals who need her help and comes to rely on the peace and comfort that they bring her, knowing that they are helping her just as much as she is helping them. Both thought provoking and compulsively readable, The Blessings of the Animals is a wonderful work of women's fiction that will not only entertain, but one that will make you think about the relationships in your life as well.

I am fast becoming a lover of women's fiction. Though I have only sampled a few offerings, I am really surprised and pleased to discover how much I enjoy it. Maybe it's just the point of life I'm at, but I find it really interesting to read about women who are at some of the same stages I am, and have found out that if the story is written engagingly enough, I find lots to admire about these types of books. I don't think I'd like a steady diet of them, but they kind of fill the space in my life left by chick-lit, which I was much enamored of in my twenties. When I need something a little distracting and personal, I head towards these types of reads. They also make really nice beach or poolside reads, and while you can't really call them high literature, they do have an attraction all their own.

One of the things I think I liked best about this book was the split focus between Cami's situation and her treatment of the animals. The animal sections weren't just a plot highlight. Instead they provided a lot of drama and pathos in their own right and seemed to balance out the more personal of Cami's dramas very nicely. Part of the book deals with Cami's volunteer work with the humane society. She would sometimes go out to investigate claims of animal abuse or overpopulation, and invariably, after doing her work, another animal would follow her home to the huge farm she lives on. The animals surrounding Cami were not only therapeutic to her, they all had personalities in their own right. Some of the animal rescues were very sad and I think in this portrayal, Kittle was doing her own work of educating a bit about some of the terrible things that people could do to animals. Most of these stories had a happy ending but I think it was very clever for Kittle to highlight the little talked about issues of abused animals.

This book was paced very tightly and I noticed this story was not overly detailed in its discussion of things that were not integral to the plot. This made everything seem like it moved along at a pretty exciting speed and kept me flipping pages quickly. I think this story could have really been bogged down had it been written a little differently but Kittle has a great command of both her subject and her characters, and because of that I became invested in rather quickly. Certain chapters are narrated by other characters in the book, and while this certainly doesn't work in most cases, in this book I felt it kept things fresh and was well done. There was a great mix of comedy in this story as well, which was very unexpected but welcome. It's not often that a book dealing with such serious issues can make you laugh, but this one did. I really identified with Cami's perspective and that was one of the things that enabled me to really get close to her. Both the quality of her characters and the life in the writing of this book made it irresistible to me.

The main theme I saw running through this book were some of the questions that most women ask themselves at some point. Is marriage ever really necessary? Is it better to be alone and not have to compromise your life, or to have a sub-par marriage in order to meet the status quo? These are questions that pepper the narrative and are taken on by almost all of the characters in these pages. They are all living different lives and in very different relationships, but these issues are things that pertain to all of them. When is it okay to give up a dream that's not working? What level of compromise is acceptable in a relationship between partners? I think Kittle does a wonderful job making these questions relevant both to her readers and in her characters' lives. There are many examples of relationships and marriage in this book, both of the healthy and not so healthy variety, and I think it's interesting to think about which relationship would speak to each individual reader. I liked that there wasn't a lot of judgement in this book. Kittle seems to be saying that people are different and what works for one wouldn't necessarily work for another. It was a really mature viewpoint to champion and one that made a lot of sense.

I also liked that things didn't feel predictable in this book. It wasn't a book where you could spot the plot points coming a mile away, which I think can be a pitfall in this genre. Things were always unexpected and it all felt original. Even the ending wasn't tied up in a nice pretty package, leaving me to speculate on just what happened to the characters once this story was over. I think giving the reader all the information is sometimes a simple solution. It's far more complex to leave things just so and force your reader to think and make their own conclusions, which Kittle does beautifully.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and finished it rather quickly. I think it's one of the better examples of the genre and that it would be a winner for lots of different types of readers. If you enjoy women's fiction, I would definitely steer you towards this book. I also think if books about animals appeal to you, you'd love it. It would make a great summer read as well. I am really anxious to read another of Kittle's books, and I have heard the The Kindness of Strangers is a great place to move on to next. It was a really fun book to spend some time with, recommended!

Great news! Katrina Kittle is going to be on Blog Talk Radio with Book Club Girl (actually, with Book Club Girl's co-worker, Erica) on August 26th at 7pm ET! Be sure to listen in to hear what she has to share with her readers!

About the Author

Katrina was born in Illinois but has lived in the Dayton area since first grade. She attended Ohio University and was Outstanding Graduating Senior for both the English and Education departments. She taught high school English and theatre at Centerville High School for five years, and she taught middle school English and theatre at the Miami Valley School for six. She has also worked as a house cleaner, a veterinary assistant, a children’s theatre director, a costumer, and as case management support for the AIDS Resource Center (formerly AIDS Foundation Miami Valley).

Katrina is the author of Traveling Light, Two Truths and a Lie and The Kindness of Strangers. The Kindness of Strangers was a BookSense pick and the winner of the 2006 Great Lakes Book Award for Fiction. Early chapters from that novel earned her grants from both the Ohio Arts Council and Culture Works.

She earned an MFA in Creative Writing from Spalding University in Louisville.

When not writing, Katrina enjoys gardening, cooking, traveling, acting, and time spent in the presence of animals (especially horses). She is the proud aunt of Amy and Nathan, and lives in the Dayton area with her cat and a kickass garden.

Connect with Katrina:

TLC Book Tours A warm thanks to TLC Book Tours for providing this book for me to read and review. Please continue to follow the tour by visiting these other blogs:

Tuesday, August 3rd:Reviews From the Heart
Wednesday, August 4th:Rundpinne
Thursday, August 5th:Chick With Books
Tuesday, August 10th:Raging Bibliomania
Thursday, August 12th:Book Club Classics!
Monday, August 16th:Café of Dreams
Wednesday, August 18th:Jenn’s Bookshelves
Thursday, August 19th:Booksie’s Blog
Tuesday, August 24th:The Little Reader
Wednesday, August 25th:Take Me Away
Thursday, August 26th:Books and Things

This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.


bermudaonion said...

Wow, it sounds like this book gives you a lot to think about. My copy just came today and I look forward to reading it.

Jenny said...

Awesome review!! I can't wait to read this! (I'm on the tour later this month). Katrina Kittle is really a great writer/storyteller. I've read The Kindness of Strangers by her and Two Truths and a Lie (with Traveling Light on my TBR) and both books were fantastic! The way she weaves in the issues about animal abuse and how her animals are therapeutic to her sounds very interesting!

rhapsodyinbooks said...

Very wonderful review! I really want to read this. I love all the themes you talk about!

lisa (the little reader) said...

excellent review! i will be reading this in the next few days and your review just makes me a little giddy about it.

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

This sounds like my kind of book Heather. I do like women's fiction and this sounds like a great choice thanks.!

Sandy Nawrot said...

I believe that animals heal the soul (that should make me pretty healthy with all the furry creatures running around my house). If a book has anything to do with animals, my heart softens. Of course if the animals die, then I can't handle it and I turn into a wreck. Nice review. I'm going to have to keep this author in mind.

Amy said...

I love how different books work for different people. I've said before that a lot of women's fiction doesn't really do it for me right now probably because of where I am in my life, but I have a feeling that I will really love it when I am there.

This book sounds like it deals with a lot, and in a really great manner. The animal side of it really interests me, and really neat how it shows lots of different relationships without the judging. Great review!

Aarti said...

I am glad you reviewed this book because I don't think I'd ever pick it up, otherwise. I really like that it deals with important, relevant questions about women and the choices they make. Great review.

Suko said...

Wonderful review, Heather! As an animal lover AND a fan of women's fiction, I think this would be a perfect book for me to read. Thank you for this intro to Katrina Kittle.

Darlene said...

I wouldn't mind reading this one. I've read a few of Kittle's books and enjoyed them. She's a fantastic writer and this one sounds like another good one from her. I'm also a fan of women's fiction so these kinds of books usually appeal to me.

S. Krishna said...

I really want to read this one, so I'm glad you enjoyed it!

Anonymous said...

Wow, what a fantastic review! It sounds like this book does a great job of balancing Cami's story and the story of the animals while hitting on a variety of the tough questions many of us face. Thanks so much for being a part of the tour and for your thoughtful review.

Literary Feline said...

My coworker (the reformed non-reader) recently read this at his daughter's urging and really liked it. He offered it to me, but I declined, having so much already on my plate. Now I wish I hadn't been so quick to pass on it.

Katrina said...

Many, many thanks for this lovely review and all these great comments. I'm so pleased you enjoyed the book. I'll be floating on your kind words for days!

Melissa said...

I LOVED The Kindness of Strangers and can't wait to read this one.

Post a Comment

Blogger Template by Delicious Design Studio