One of the things I love about fiction books is that they open up worlds that I either am fearful of or just don't have much knowledge. (Dogs fall into the first category, and the daily reality of blindness is in the second -- and to be honest, the first category as well!). Yet books often can be too heavy on the information and plod along as if they were a non-fiction tome, losing their sense of story. Not this one, however. Suzanne Woods Fisher's latest book, For the Love of Dogs, is a delight, and I absolutely could not put it down!
This multi-faceted story of Samantha Christiansen, a young woman who is rapidly losing her sight, is heartwarming and drew me in on so many levels. First and foremost, of course, is Samantha's journey. Managing Running Deer Ranch, her family's burgeoning olive orchards which produce their cutting-edge and award-winning olive oil, is a huge responsibility in itself. Then there's the adjustment to her encroaching blindness. She had been "making do" with a cane, but she finally, albeit reluctantly, allows her family to convince her to get a guide dog. During the ensuing month at the California Canine Academy for the Blind, Samantha learns as much about herself as she does about Azure, her new companion. Of course, her instructor and new neighbor, Jack, seems to know her better than she knows herself, which can be highly annoying! Especially since he's got a whole set of baggage himself. But doggone it, he's fun to be with too! Finally, Sam's family issues also weigh on her - her beloved grandmother's increasingly unusual behavior (a personal touch from the author's experience with her own dad's Alzheimer's Disease), her feisty yet troubled twin sister, and her AWOL parents, whose devotion to their missionary work and seeming indifference to their daughter has deeply wounded Sam and left her with a fractured faith and scars of rejection that are still not healed.
Woven throughout the story are wonderful details and life lessons about guide dogs and blindness. I even learned a bit about olive oil! Yet Suzanne Woods Fisher expertly makes it all flow together seamlessly into a beautiful story of trust and love.
This heartwarming and humorous tale begins on a summer day in 1969 when the astronauts land on the moon. Samantha Christiansen is a young woman who is capable, confident, good at her job of managing the family's olive oil ranch...and is going blind. Gently pushed by her family to get a guide dog, Samantha is partnered with Azure, a yellow lab with infinite patience. Samantha and Azure are assigned to Jack Shaw, an instructor known for bringing out the best in his students...even those with absolutely no experience with dogs, like Samantha. Jack understands how difficult it can be to trust the unseen. A former professional football player, he lost everything-his career and his family-through a costly mistake. Jack is determined to make the rest of his life count for something. He knows he can help Samantha, if only she'll let him. Fiercely independent, Samantha is reluctant to depend on anyone or anything, even a guide dog that is trained to enhance her independence. While at the guide dog school, Samantha is faced with discovering a new way of seeing: trusting in what, or whom, she cannot see.
Suzanne Woods Fisher is the award-winning author of Copper Star, Copper Fire, and Grit for the Oyster: 250 Pearls of Wisdom for Aspiring Writers. For this book, she interviewed many visually impaired people to create an accurate picture of what Samantha experienced -- both in going blind and in being paired with a guide dog. Suzanne is a puppy raiser for Guide Dogs for the Blind, and she is donating all royalties from this book to that organization. I always enjoy Suzanne's blog, which contains her reflections on life and faith, and she also contributes to the writer's blog Grit for the Oyster. She and her family live in the San Francisco Bay Area.
I highly recommend this book, which you can purchase here!
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