British Blogger Finds D&B “…works so well…”

Dog and Butterfly: Letters Home by John Philip Riffice
Posted on July 31, 2013 by roxploration

First Published: 2013 by Bella Media Management
My copy: Supplied to me free of charge by the author, in return for an honest review

Memorable quote: “Taped to my closet door, though, was the very first note he ever left me. It was short, only two words in all, and I don’t think I’ll ever forget it.
Character counts, he wrote.”
Thoughts:
“What did YOU do in the war, Daddy?” The phrase was introduced on a British propaganda poster by the parliamentary recruiting commission during World War 1, and has since become a cultural cliché. Yet the familiarity of the question belies the difficulty experienced by many men discussing their memories, not just of the First World War, but of any major conflict. However brave or heroic their actions, war is a world apart from the rest of daily life and for some veterans to discuss it not only risks reopening old wounds but also requires facing a language barrier of almost alien proportions. This novel works so well because it examines this important theme by grounding it so convincingly in the homely, everyday experiences of its characters’ lives in rural Oklahoma. For me, as a reader from the UK who has never been to the US, this setting felt like a world apart too, but one that could be adequately expressed; and, though simple and generally free from poetic embellishments, Riffice’s language, domestic detail and convincingly colloquial dialogue really transported me there.
The story concerns young Jimmy Freeland and his relationship with his Uncle Cam. Fallen upon hard times, Jimmy’s widowed mother is forced to accept her brother-in-law’s hospitality. Cam, who has never married, quickly becomes a surrogate father figure for Jimmy but even as he grows close to the boy he also maintains an air of reserve, rarely speaking about his past. It is only gradually that Cam’s story emerges: Jimmy’s first experience of a relationship breakup prompts Cam to remember the girl that first broke his own heart, while it is a speech at a sports-related social event that first reveals him to be a decorated hero of World War Two. The book is split in two: the first half, comprised of Jimmy’s experiences and the memories Cam reluctantly shares with him, raises a number of tantalising questions about Cam’s past, which the conclusion goes on to answer more directly as Jimmy finally gets to read the letters his uncle wrote from Europe during his years of deployment.
A lot of books have been written inspired by events in the Second World War and while I didn’t feel this one added anything especially unexpected to the genre, I did find Dog and Butterfly to be a consistently engaging read. There are a few stand out descriptions of haunting beauty – such as the moment Cam and his fellow soldiers surface from a foxhole amidst freshly swirling snow after an interlude of heavy shelling. But overall, it is not the language but the development of the characters that kept me reading. Riffice certainly understands the words of wisdom that Cam tapes to Jimmy’s wardrobe: “Character is important” and this book is really carried by the personalities of Jimmy and Cam, both likeable and believably rounded creations. The first section, seen though the eyes of a young Jimmy, is particularly successful for the way in which Jimmy’s social inexperience makes him miss certain things – such as the true reason his mother dislikes her job – that are obvious to the more mature reader. This nicely parallels the difficulty Cam experiences sharing his war tales with civilians who have been shielded from the horrors of conflict.
The novel also has a lot to say about the theme of fate. The idea that everything happens for a reason is an important one, and in this context I can see how the belief comes to be a crucial survival tactic, helping the men in the book to overcome heartbreak and horror. It is clearly a message that comes from the heart. At times, however, I felt this moral was overstated – and in a work that is so driven by a sense of everyday lived experience the more overt paragraphs of philosophising actually felt too much like authorial insertions and were unnecessary since the action speaks for itself and conveys this message powerfully enough already. This is a minor quibble however, and overall this is a breezy, enjoyable read that manages to pack an emotional punch without being cloying or overly sentimental. Certainly worth a look.

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Reviewer Grady Harp Likens D&B Author John Riffice to Steinbeck!

Dog And Butterfly: Letters Home

by John Philip Riffice
Edition: Paperback
Price: $12.34
`You always want most what you can’t seem to have’, July 8, 2013

This review is from: Dog And Butterfly: Letters Home (Paperback)
John Phillip Riffice has a gift for selecting the manner in which he presents a story in the language of the period and the colloquialisms of an area of the country that gives the reader the feeling as though we were stepping alongside the narrator (or narrators, in this case). DOG AND BUTTERFLY: LETTERS HOME takes place in rural Oklahoma and the language and description of natural events is as accurate as any author writing about that state since John Steinbeck explored the Dust Bowl days. The conversational language is peppered with phrases and foods and cultural aspects of middle America that make the backdrop for his story not only more credible but more honest.

The story surveys the progress of development of a youngster named Jimmy whose father Billy died when he was very young and he and his mother Charlotte are invited to move in with Billy’s older brother, Cam Freeland – Jimmy’s uncle and Charlotte’s brother in law – a kind and generous man who survived WW II and sustained injuries that aborted his career as a potential Big League football player. Cam has never married, does not discuss the war, and is a very private though loving person, highly respected in his little town. Cam serves as uncle and as father to Jimmy as well as a supportive male figure in Charlotte’s life. But there is something about Cam that keeps him at a certain distance: Cam has secrets that we discover only towards book’s end, secrets that help to shape even further the life of Jimmy.

There is a strong emphasis on the theme of fate and how it determines how the pieces of our lives are assembled into a complete picture. The title of the book refers to an instance where Ellis, the dog that belongs to the extended family, is unsuccessfully chasing butterflies and as explained in Cam’s words: `It’s kind of crazy though, really how people always want most what fate is determined to let them have least,. I think it might just be fate that keeps them apart….It’s kind of like Ellis and the butterflies he never seems to catch….somethin’ that’s just not meant to be, I think….sometimes fate brings people together and other times it tears them apart.’ And Charlotte adds, `It’s only by time moving along that a person can look back and put it all together and see how the pieces fit. That’s all life is…just a series of events that when they’re all pieced together tell a story.’ And that is what this at times rambling story is all about – how Cam’s life events were influenced by circumstances unexpected such as alcohol abuse, events in the European war front that included a change in Cam’s view of the act of soldiering, the motivation for his becoming member of the armed forces in the first place, the specific hidden wound that altered his life expectations, all related in private letters Jimmy uncovers some time after Cam as an older man succumbs to lung cancer. Jimmy’s need to understand the `letters home’, written by Cam from the battlefront to his thwarted love Keely, that encourages the now adult Jimmy to retrace Cam’s steps in the European landscape in order to better understand his uncle’s life. It is there the secrets of Cam’s dark closet are revealed and understood and the manner in which that discovery affects Jimmy is clarified.

The book is divided into three parts, the second of which being basically the long letters Cam wrote while in battle during the Second World War. This portion of the book is a history of WW II condensed by the soldiers who fought it: it is moving and realistic. But equally important is the manner in which it underlines the solid bonding and mutual influences that occur between Cam and Jimmy. As author Riffice has said, `Fate brings us together and often tears us apart. What we do, when and how we do it… it’s all part and parcel of a grand plan, one which essentially lies beyond any mortal ability to change to our liking. In the end, though, the pieces of our lives all fit together like a thousand little tiles which make up life’s mosaic. And it’s only then, only after each tile is set in place, that we can look back and see how the pieces fit and just exactly how one event has to happen just so the next thing can.
 John Riffice has succeed in opening another window into our history and our understanding of our place on earth.
Grady Harp, July 13

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Steve from Kentucky comments on D&B letters home

Dog and Butterfly, June 20, 2013
By
Steve W.
This review is from: Dog And Butterfly: Letters Home (Paperback)
The author has the unique ability to bond the reader with the characters in the story. The characters will come to life in your mind, heart and soul. Each chapter of Dog and Butterfly had me anticipating the next…I couldn’t put it down.

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Reader Shiela says DOG AND BUTTERFLY is…

Dog and Butterfly by John Riffice, August 16, 2013
By
Sheila Bilow
This review is from: Dog And Butterfly: Letters Home (Paperback)
I enjoyed the book very much. I couldn’t put it down when I starting reading it. The letters home were very believable. I will mention this book and his other book (Waiting for Pops) as well. It’s nice to see a local artist being recognized. Thank you from Plainfield, Il.

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DOG AND BUTTERFLY: Wonderful Insight!

Wonderful insight book about the twists and turns of life and the role of fate and destiny. July 11, 2013
By
Ramond Chiaramonte
This review is from: Dog And Butterfly: Letters Home (Paperback)
I totally enjoyed this book. John Riffice is an awesome writer who knows how to build depth into his characters and keep you guessing till the end what the outcome is. When you are done you want more! He paints such a great picture of two time periods and the effect of WWII on two generations tied together. It makes me now want to go back and find out where exactly my father and uncles were during the war and what they might have experienced and how that have affected their lives and maybe mine too. Many of life’s ironies are explored with the message that things often happen for a reason that we don’t understand until the end of our own life and maybe not even then, the true left to next generation. If you are interested in human relationships and the twists and turns of life’s journey and have some interest in the word “fate” you will love this book.

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1bookloversopinion Blogs About DOG AND BUTTERFLY

Beautifully woven story, August 11, 2013
By
1bookloversopinion “Michelle” (Monroeville PA)
This review is from: Dog and Butterfly: Letters Home (Kindle Edition)
When I began reading this book I thought how did the author come up with such a title. After reading it and seeing the references in the book to the title I totally get it now and it is a good title.

This is a truly heartwarming story about a widow and her young son that go to stay with her brother-in-law “temporarily”, after the death of her husband. The main character Cam is such an all around great guy that you can’t help but love him. When first reading this book you get the idea that Cam was shaped into this wise, caring, loving man by many experiences in his life. I truly enjoyed the authors spin on how he takes you through all the experiences in Cam’s life through Jimmy reading his letters from when he was in the army. These letters are a real treasure for Jimmy since Uncle Cam was a very private person. These letters are written the entire time Cam is in the service and are directed to his one true love Keely. Jimmy begins to read the letters and starts to get a complete picture of the favorite Uncle that shaped him into the man he became. He decides to finish his Uncle’s story by traveling to some of the places that his letters were written so many years ago.
The story is a true testament to the commitment, love and strength of family. Although I felt that it was a bit long and drawn out if you stick with it until the end you are in for a real treat because the author has done a beautiful job of demonstrating how everything in life happens for a reason so that the next thing can happen. Fate is what drives our lives and destiny.

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Reader Marianne Says of DOG AND BUTTERFLY…

Really good story, June 11, 2013
By
Marianne Kellly
This review is from: Dog And Butterfly: Letters Home (Paperback)
This is one of those books that you don’t want to put down. I really liked it because there were lots of surprises along the way that kept me very interested. The story has happy parts and very sad parts, excitement, war, love, a wonderful family and a surprise ending. When I finished the book, I bought four extra copies to give to my friends because I know they’re going to love it.

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Another Reader Loves DOG AND BUTTERFLY

A Heartfelt Story of Family and Lifetime Love, July 7, 2013
By
The Kindle Book Review (Indianapolis, IN)
This review is from: Dog and Butterfly: Letters Home (Kindle Edition)
I liked this Dog and Butterfly: Letters Home for the same reasons I like country music; the story was simple, heartfelt, and easy on the ears (or in this case, the eyes). Like a good country song, it hit on all the major themes of a great American story, from growing up and family to war and long lost love.

The book is the story of Jimmy, the child and then the man, and his relationship to his uncle and father figure Cameron. Through his growing up years, Jimmy shares his heartaches and triumphs with his uncle, who is a man of few words but is fond of leaving bits of sage advice taped to Jimmy’s door while the boy sleeps. But though Jimmy shares all with Cam, there is much about his uncle that he doesn’t know, which he discovers through his uncles letters, written during World War II.
Like country music, the book sometimes relies too heavily on clichés to get its message across. The book’s strength comes in the exposition of the details of small town life, like when Jimmy says of working in a hardware store, “I was familiar with just about every item in the store, from axe handles to zirk fittings, and…that’s about the most important skill a clerk can have because sometimes just finding it can be a pretty tough assignment.” Passages like that ring truer then the books lengthy semi-philosophical musings.

Overall, I enjoy this book. It transported me to a different America than the one I know now, one that may have faded from view altogether in the 21st century, where family was everything and even in war, a man never forgot the small town that he came from.

Lisa R. (The Kindle Book Review)

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A Reader Says: D&B is a beautifully woven story

Beautifully woven story, August 11, 2013
By
Kathie Wamsley (Celebration, Florida)
This review is from: Dog and Butterfly: Letters Home (Kindle Edition)
John Riffice transported me back to an era of decency and integrity in America. I loved everything about this book. A gifted writer who was able to tell a tale without the need to use foul language and explicit scenes. His latest book, Waiting For Pops was equally as enthralling. I can’t wait for another story from this awesome writer.and destiny.

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Reader Comments on DOG AND BUTTERFLY

This was a great book!, August 3, 2013
By
Gale Schock
This review is from: Dog and Butterfly: Letters Home (Kindle Edition)
This author definitely has a unique writing style. He writes like one would talk, with common slang from the 50’s or 60’s. The story is set after WWII and will interest anyone with family values. The “letters home” were written while a solider was in Europe fighting the war. It was an easy read! This author’s first book was also excellent.

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