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August 8, 2011

Angelo is a border collie, living in a remote area of Colorado’s San Luis Valley. Angelo’s Journey tells the story of when he went missing for more than five weeks in 2010. Here is our book review.

A high-concept, 86-page novella, Angelo’s Journey mixes some known and many imagined adventures from those 40 days Angelo spent away from Leland Dirks — part hermit, part blogger (aka, part border collie worshiper.

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Lilly takes her dog book review work seriously. I could not, for the life of me, get her to smile.


Book Review: Angelo’s Journey

Through raw vignettes into the lives of people he encounters along the way, Angelo serves as witness, confidante, victim, and even priest to an actual priest before a watchful UPS driver (like Charlie, the one we had here in our valley for many years … before he retired) spotted Angelo and alerted Dirks to his whereabouts.

Dirks has taken some criticism for the brutal second chapter. You see, many dog book readers have come to expect sappy canine antics and anecdotes with highly sanitized, affluent human characters. Angelo’s Journey is much grittier than that.

For me, it wasn’t the plot details but the stark narrative jump from Dirk’s own mind to that of Angelo’s suspected abductor that threw me for a bit. It wasn’t until I read a few more chapters that I got the rhythm of the book and recognized the literary construct for what it was. So, if you read Angelo’s Journey (and I recommend that you do), simply know that each chapter features a separate narrator / character and that “The Man” and “The WildMan” are not the same person … as I first worried.

You should know that it takes a LOT to throw me. I’m a big fan of Toni Morrison, and if you know her work, you know it is anything BUT simple timelines or single narrators. All these years later, I still contend that the final two pages of Beloved are the best two pages of prose written in the 20th century. And, there is a scene in Jazz, where a pet bird makes a devastating emotional discovery that haunts me decades later.

Angelo’s Journey has a bit of that feeling to it. It’s rather haunting. And, yet, it’s funny and uplifting in the ways those of us who live in rural areas, who work from home in anything but 9-to-5 careers, who spend more time with dogs than with people will understand.

As I lounged in my camping chair with footrest under our aspen trees a couple Saturdays ago, I looked up from the book and at my amazing, smiling girl … again and again … and felt nothing but gratitude and awe for everything she is. All thanks to who Angelo is.

In many ways, Angelo’s encounters with people remind me of the time Lilly met a woman while we were out shopping before the holidays in town. Lilly seemed particularly drawn to this woman, which is unusual for our fearful girl. So, I allowed it, and before she left the local shop, the woman told me (with tears in her eyes), that I’d never know how much it meant to her.

My only real note on the writing itself is that in several spots Dirks continues by just one too many sentences. Rather than leave the moment humming, the narrators sometimes “tell” when the story itself had already “shown” it perfectly. So, if I was in Dirks’ writing critique group, I’d have him really LOOK at the last sentences of future scenes or chapters with a machete in his eye.

Then, again, I’m FAMOUS for simply ending where I want to end, and I’m forever having editors tell me, “This needs a conclusion.” So, maybe that’s my baggage.


FTC Disclosure

Angelo’s Journey is available for e-readers. However, since I do not have one, Leland Dirks was nice enough to mail me a printed copy of the book for free. Otherwise, I was in no way compensated for this review.


About the Author Roxanne Hawn

Trained as a traditional journalist and based in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, USA, I'm a full-time freelance writer for magazines, websites, and private clients. My areas of specialty include everything in the lifestyles arena, including health and home, personal finance and other consumer interests, relationships and trends, people and business profiles ... and, of course, all things pet related.

I don't just love dogs. I need them in my life. Seriously.

  1. I also enjoyed Angelo’s Journey. I didn’t have a problem reading the second chapter (although I hurt for poor Angelo), except like you, I was confused thinking it was the same narrator as in the first chapter. Once I figured out the narrator shifts, I was engaged. I think the concept is brilliant…everyone whose pet has ever gone missing wishes their dog could tell them where they’d been and what happened. I love that in the story, Angelo touched lives along the way.

    1. Thanks, Peggy! I think there was a writing deficiency in clueing in the reader to those point of view shifts…. I’m happy to report that the NEXT book is all told from one point of view, so there won’t be that sort of confusion! Thanks again for the kind words…

    2. I agree, Peggy. I love the narrative construct, with all the different voices telling the story. Hence my comparison to my fav Nobel and Pulitzer Prize winner. ;o) And, I’m glad to hear it wasn’t just my own distractions that caused my initial confusion. Truly, heading into year #3 with pretty much everyone in my live sick and/or dying, I can admit that my reading comprehension is lower than usual. Honestly, I think just a few tiny shifts in word choices would keep me on track. My first thought was that perhaps WildMan was a flashback of Man … since flashbacks are the most common literary shift we see in books. Either way, I figured it out and truly loved the stories inside Angelo’s Journey.

  2. Angelo and I are very grateful for your review! Just to make sure everyone understands, the book is available in both paperback and Kindle editions through the link you provided to Amazon,, and it’s also available in paperback through many fine independent bookstores. This link will help folks find an indie bookstore close to them:
    Thanks again for your review… Angelo sends happy tail wags to Lilly!

    1. Yes, thanks Leland. I’m a dork when it comes to how e-books work and all that. I wasn’t sure how to word it since … I don’t even know if a Kindle version can be read on a Nook or an iPad, or whatever. But, let’s be clear … there is a print version available too for peeps like me.

      1. You hardly strike me as a dork, but the eBook market IS confusing… you can read a Kindle edition book on a PC or a Mac, iPads, touch iPods, and most smart phones in addition to the actual Kindle device… but you can’t read a Kindle edition on a nook. Nook books can be read on PCs, Macs, iPads, and most smart phones (not sure about touch iPods) as well as the Nook, but not on a Kindle. Then one more layer of confusion, there’s now a GoogleBooks application… I’ll just stop there… so, let’s be glad that we can still offer paperback books, and just enjoy the book, without worrying about technology!

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