Monday, July 7, 2014

Diane Daniels Manning - Almost Perfect - Review & Giveaway

About the Book

An old woman who has given up hope and a boy who believes the impossible wonder if life would be perfect at the Westminster Dog Show.

Seventy-year old Bess Rutledge has dreamed of winning the Westminster Dog Show all her life. Despite her decades-long career as one of America’s top Standard Poodle breeders, she has decided she’s too old to hold on to her foolish dream. She sells off all the dogs in her once famous kennel except for the aging champion McCreery and his mischievous, handsome son Breaker. Part of her senses they might have been the ones to take her to Westminster, if only she’d dared to try.

Bess meets Benny, a teenager with mild autism who attends a therapeutic special school, and learns he has a dream of his own: to impress his self-absorbed mother. Benny is drawn into the world of dog shows and becomes convinced he has found the perfect way to win his mother’s attention. If he can win Westminster with either McCreery or Breaker, he just knows she will finally be proud of him. Getting Bess to go along with his plan, however, is not going to be so easy. . .

Up to 100% of the author’s profits will be donated to charities serving animals and children.

Video Trailer

My Review

Looking at the warm and fuzzy puppy on the cover, I never expected the characters inside to be so heartbreakingly real. They're just like you and me, flawed, prone to mistakes, yearning for love. This isn't a fluffy animal tale. It deals with family issues, societal pressures and genuine emotions within the context of what it means to be a dog lover. Daniels Manning doesn't go about making her characters perfect, instead she lets them be 'almost perfect,' and in so doing makes them a whole lot more relatable.

Bess and Benny don't necessarily start out being exceptionally likable, and they're not supposed to be. In order to show their growth throughout the novel, Daniels Manning has the guts to hold a mirror up to reality. She doesn't try and sugarcoat their bad behavior, instead she shines a spotlight on it.

In the beginning, Bess is a crotchety old lady. She gives up on her dream in a very dramatic way by having her award-winning kennel bulldozed to the ground. She's done with breeding her signature line of Umpawaug poodles. She's calling it quits. Her state of mind isn't good. She's depressed, miserable, heartsick. Even after all she's accomplished in her life, she still feels like a failure because she never won the big one, best in show at Westminster.

Benny is an overweight, prepubescent boy with autism. He has a hard time sticking with any one thing. He can't seem to focus on anything besides eating. His one goal in life is to make his mother proud, and he'll do anything to get her attention. He lacks any form of self-motivation, obtaining her approval is the only thing that matters to him.

The cast also includes those of the four-legged variety and they're as fully developed as their human counterparts even if they don't utter a word of dialogue. McCreery, Bess's championship sire, and Breaker, his prodigal pup, work together, drawing their reclusive owner and her adolescent neighbor into a reluctant, yet beneficial, partnership.

Benny doesn't think poodles are 'real' dogs, while Bess feels that she's the only one capable of showing her dogs in the ring. Yet through the influence of Bess's son, David, the two start to break down each other's barriers and begin to trust each other. Bess lets Benny become Breaker's handler on the dog show circuit and being around Benny forces Bess to reexamine her strained relationship with David.

The hardest thing for characters to admit is when they're wrong. It's a challenging feat for an author to pull off in order to make the transformation authentic and believable, but Daniels Manning does it twice with skill and grace. She nails their humanity, showing what a proficient student she is in watching and observing people and figuring out what makes them tick. The reasons behind her characters' actions make sense because they come from the heart.

Bess and Benny are struggling with the same problem. They're both unknowingly sabotaging their own success. Bess is subconsciously consumed with the guilt of being an absentee mother to David while he was growing up, keeping herself too busy to realize just how much he needed her. While Benny is on the flip side of the equation, deluding himself into thinking that if his mother could just love him, everything would be all right. He doesn't think he's good enough, because his mother doesn't think he's good enough.

It's only when Bess and Benny find the strength within themselves, with a little help from the unconditional love that McCreery and Breaker provide, that they begin to see just how much they were missing out on by not believing in, and ultimately forgiving, themselves.


Almost Perfect can be purchased at:

Prices/Formats: $3.99 ebook, $8.99 paperback
Pages: 330
Genre: Pet Fiction
Release: January 29, 2014
Publisher: Beltor
ISBN: 9780578136394
Click to add to your Goodreads list.

About the Author

Diane Daniels Manning is the co-founder and director of The New School in the Heights, a therapeutic school in Houston, Texas which helps children dealing with social-emotional challenges find success in school and life. She has a Ph.D. in Education and a post-doctoral M.P.H from Harvard and is a practicing child psychoanalyst certified by the American Psychoanalytic Association. Formerly, she was the Director of the Reading and Learning Disabilities Clinic at Tufts University, Lecturer and Research Associate in the Department of Behavioral Sciences at Harvard, and Chair of the Department of Education at Tulane University. She learned the inner workings of dog show kennels by writing an authorized oral history of a lifetime President of the Poodle of Club of America. Her writing awards include the Faulkner-Wisdom Novella Prize and the Women in Film and Television Short Script Competition.

Links to connect with Diane:
Web Site
Blog Tour Site

About the Giveaway

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  1. I'm glad you enjoyed the growth and change that Bess and Benny experienced with a little help from McCreery and Breaker! Thanks for the review, Connie :)

    1. I'm a sucker for a doggie novel.

    2. Thanks for wanting to read my book. Let me know how you like it!

    3. I enjoyed it very much indeed :)

  2. This sounds like a story that will touch my heart.

    1. I hope you will write and let me know. Meanwhile, have an almost perfect day.

  3. This blog really touched me. Thank you, Connie. I wrote on Monday immediately to let you know how much I appreciated it, only somehow my comment disappeared into the Great Beyond. I don't know if I will ever master the internet. I never knew publishing a book was 10% about writing and 90% about marketing, but I'm learning. Today I learned how to set up a gmail account, so hopefully this comment will not be lost. I thought the 4 I already had was sufficient!!

    I can't tell you how gratifying it is to a writer for someone to understand what one is trying to say. I have always thought of ALMOST PERFECT as more of a "people book" than a "dog book." The dogs are important because the people love them and are connected to each other by them, and vice versa, as comes out in the plot.
    Connie, you are a great writer, too. Thank you for capturing the essence of what I hoped to convey in my novel.

    1. Diane, it was my honor and my pleasure! The relationship between a reader reading an author's work on the page is such a special one and I really connected with your characters. You have a winner here!