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Special needs kids who beat the odds give me lots of feelings. Dogs being heroes and saving the day give me lots of feelings. Put those two things together? ALL THE FEELINGS!

4 Paws for Ability is a nonprofit started by Karen Shirk, a woman who was told she was “too disabled” to have a service dog. Encouraged by a warm-hearted nurse, she got her own puppy and trained him herself. Before long, word was out that Karen could train and place service dogs with children and adults turned down by other organizations, and she had a new lease on life.

Melissa Fay Greene tells Karen’s story, as well as the stories of several families whose lives have been transformed by the addition of a 4 Paws service dog. As a former foster parent, I’ve read a decent amount about special needs kids and what life is like for them, but Greene reeeally doesn’t sugarcoat anything here. Some of the families she interviewed were in very desperate straits before gaining a canine companion. It makes for difficult reading here and there, but it also makes the hard-earned happy endings even sweeter.

Greene rounds out the book with sections about animal research, exploring questions like, “Do animals feel emotion?” I could have done without these parts, personally, because as a dog owner, I have years of anecdotal evidence that yes, animals absolutely feel emotion, and feel it keenly, so I didn’t really give a hoot what some scientist somewhere said or how they constructed their experiments. All I have to do is leave the house for too long a stretch, and the pile of shredded tissues that confronts me upon my return is proof enough that my pup is lonely and wants to rebuke me for abandoning him. As far as I’m concerned, animals are more likely to have souls than some humans I know of. It surprises me not one bit that they can help special kids live their lives to the fullest.

Find it at your library!

I love it when books live up to the high expectations I place on them. My library doesn't have a copy of The Hours Count, and I'd never read Jillian Cantor before, but I decided to ask for it for Christmas even though it was kind of an unknown quantity. It just sounded so good! A fictionalized story about Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, told from the perspective of their neighbor lady? I ask you, how could I pass that up?

It was everything I hoped it would be and more. It's been a while since I was able to sit down with a book and just cruise. A lot of my reading in 2015, for whatever reason, felt very effortful. So it was a relief to immerse myself in Millie Stein's life in Knickerbocker Village, which is terribly mundane and housewiferly—until suddenly, it isn't.

The first-person narration is a great choice, even though it drastically limits the flow of information. Millie isn't stupid, but there's so much going on that she doesn't understand. You're wondering who is who, who's on which side, who's guilty of what, and who might be falsely accused. And because Millie is a wife and mother and her days center around caring for her son, there's a really interesting element of family and domestic drama. Highly recommended, especially for fans of historical fiction.