"A Baseball Story" by Richard Torrey

c.2012, Kane Miller $10.99 / $12.95 Canada 36 pages

This time of year, it’s hard to sit still while you’re in school.

Warm weather is calling you, but that’s not all. Now’s the time for ice cream trucks, swimming lessons, and riding your bike around. Best of all, now’s the season for baseball – which is something you’ve been looking forward to for months! And you’re not alone, as you’ll see in "A Baseball Story" by Richard Torrey.

Other kids in the neighborhood listen for the jingly sound of the ice cream truck, but who has time for that? It’s baseball season, and you’ve got to get ready to play.

Before the game starts, you’ll need to suit up because all the players wear identical hats and jerseys, which tells everybody that you’re a team. You’ll also put on "bumpy shoes called cleats," so you can run like the wind. Once you’re dressed, take a look at yourself in a mirror. You look like a real baseball player!

But no real baseball player is without his glove, so don’t forget that. Mmmmm, baseball gloves smell soooo good…

All good baseball teams have a coach. Before the game, your coach might remind you that baseball players always have to be ready, so you practice throwing and catching with your teammates. You’ll have to be ready on the field, too, in case you’ll need to catch a ball and get an out.

When it’s your turn to bat, you’ll wear a special helmet so you don’t get hurt. Everybody will be watching while you’re batting – even Mom and Dad but if they wave at you, don’t wave back. Baseball players don’t wave; they need to be ready to RUN as soon as they get a hit. Getting a hit is almost like having a birthday.

And when the game is over, you’ll shake hands with the other team. Win or lose, you’ll tell them, "Good game!" because sportsmanship is important and so is having fun. Yep, baseball players have to be ready for that… and a whole lot more.

So you’ve got a future Hall of Famer in the house? Your little one truly lives for the words "PLAY BALL!"? Then you’ve absolutely got to have "A Baseball Story" sitting at home base.

This time of year, of course, there could be a hundred books about our favorite summer pastime on the shelves, but author Richard Torrey adds something really unusual to his baseball book. One part of the story here consists of a good narrative that practically begs to be read aloud. The other part of the story is made up of conversation bubbles, so kids can follow along with the things that are said to and by its young hero. It’s almost two tales in one, and I thought that was enormously fun.

Older Little Leaguers may get a quick kick out of this book, but I really think it’s meant for their younger brothers and sisters. So if your 4-to-7-year-old loves to go batty this time of year, "A Baseball Story" will be outta the park.

"The Patron Saint of Lost Dogs" by Nick Trout

c.2013, Hyperion $14.99 / $16.50 Canada 341 pages

The package was wrapped so nicely.

The paper was festive, the colors zesty with frou-frou ribbon and a shiny bow on top. Surely, if it was possible for someone to make a career out of wrapping gifts, it was such a person who wrapped this one.

Too bad it was a gift you never wanted.

Yes, we’ve all had them: odd presents, awkward presents, thought-that-counts things. And in the new book "The Patron Saint of Lost Dogs" by Nick Trout, this unwanted gift was a big one…

If his life hadn’t fallen apart back in South Carolina, veterinary pathologist Dr. Cyrus Mills would never have returned to Eden Falls, Vermont.

There was nothing in Vermont for him anymore, really. His mother was dead. His father had only recently taken his last breath, although Bill Cobb had been dead to Cyrus for fifteen years. And with no family there and only bad memories, Cyrus couldn’t see any reason to return.

But there was no reason to stay in Charleston, either: Cyrus’ medical license had been recently suspended in a not-quite-resolved scandal and he was near-penniless. So when he learned that he’d inherited his father’s veterinary practice, Cyrus knew where he could get the money to clear his name.

But he was wrong.

The Bedside Manor for Sick Animals was very sick itself. As hard-hearted as Cobb was to his son, he was a beloved doctor but a poor bill-collector, and a softie for his patients and their owners. Many Eden Falls residents owed Bedside Manor money. Vendors had cancelled contracts. Equipment was outdated and supplies were low. The clinic needed emergency treatment.

All Cyrus wanted was to sell it off, but he learned that it wouldn’t be easy, especially since many people, including the clinic’s few employees, relied on Bedside Manor in many ways. He hated what the business represented – an absent, distant, uncaring father – but he wasn’t just going to give it away.

He’d have to muddle through – as long as someone didn’t give away his secret…

So you say you’re in the mood for something light, maybe a little romantic with a pinch of mystery. You want fiction, but some authenticity would be welcome. And that’s why you want "The Patron Saint of Lost Dogs."

It’s no accident that realism lies in the pages of this debut novel: author Nick Trout is also a veterinarian, so the knowledge of his esoteric-fact-loving main character is legitimate as well as entertaining. I loved the geekiness of Trout’s Cyrus Mills, in fact, and I loved the Bedford-Falls-like neighbors and clients he had – which is not to diminish the roles of the various pets, all equal cast members in this sweetly gentle book.

This is the kind of novel you can hand to your grandmother, loan to your teen, share with your friends, and recommend to your book group. It’s Cute with a capital "C," and you should read it. For anyone who loves a pet and a good novel, "The Patron Saint of Lost Dogs" is the total package.

(The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. Terri has been reading since she was 3 years old and she never goes anywhere without a book. She lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 12,000 books.)