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Home » Books & writing

Book Review + Giveaway: Kate Atkinson’s STARTED EARLY, TOOK MY DOG

Submitted by on March 22, 2011 – 3:01 am 45 Comments

Though Started Early, Took My Dog is Kate Atkinson’s fourth book featuring private eye Jackson Brodie, it’s the first one I’ve read so I actually started late. But late is better than never and I’m happy to have finally met the investigator introduced in Case Histories.

Brodie is only one of the main characters in Started Early, with the others being a retired policewoman named Tracy Waterhouse who instinctively buys a four-year-old child from a woman she believes is abusing the little girl, and an older soap actress named Tilly who’s slowly losing her memory. The story moves between their separate points of view and different time frames—it begins in 1975 and alternates between then and the present—until the characters’ paths finally converge. The buildup is a little slow—Tracy’s backstory is important while Tilly’s past could have been abbreviated—but the pace accelerates once their storylines finally intersect.

Brodie, tracking down the biological roots of a client who had been adopted, is an immensely likable companion as he takes the reader through the countryside with him and his dog, which Brodie rescues from an abusive owner. How can you resist a dog described thusly?

[Jackson] spent some time drilling his new recruit on the beach—sit, stay, heel, come. The dog was pretty good. At sit its haunches dropped as if its back legs had been taken from beneath it. When Jackson said stay and walked away the dog might as well have been glued to the sand, its whole body quivering with the effort of not hurtling after Jackson. And when Jackson found a stick of driftwood and held it above the dog’s head, the dog not only stood on its hind legs but even walked a few steps. What next? Talking?

Atkinson’s wit is matched by her ability to squeeze the reader’s heart with observations like the following, as Tracy warns the little girl to watch out for people who might want to snatch her back:

“Keep an eye out for a gray car,” [Tracy] said to Courtney. Did kids her age know all the colors? Could the kid sing the whole rainbow? “Do you know what color gray is?”

“It’s the color of the sky,” Courtney offered.

Tracy sighed. Therapist would have a field day with this kid.

And Courtney’s not the only child in peril in this book. “Started early” isn’t just part of the title, it could be a comment on how early we can encounter misery in life, or how far back into the past we have to delve in order to understand our present. Though Atkinson leaves a few questions unanswered, this is a novel full of sharp observations about human nature and how it’s never too late to do the right thing.

I’m definitely going to read the other Brodie books now and you can, too,* since the generous folks at Hachette are letting me give away five sets of the Brodie titles. Each prize package will include:

  • Case Histories (Trade)
  • One Good Turn (Trade)
  • When Will There be Good News (Trade)
  • Started Early, Took my Dog (Hardcover)

How cool is that? To enter:

  • leave a comment telling me what habit you started at an early age (mine is reading)
  • be a U.S./Canada resident (no P.O. boxes, per Hachette’s request)

Giveaway ends next Wednesday, March 30 at 5 p.m. PST. Five winners will be randomly selected via then announced here, on Twitter and Facebook. Winners will have 48 hours to claim prizes before alternate name(s) are chosen so make sure you check back!

* I never felt lost reading this book but have a feeling it contains minor spoilers from previous cases.

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  • DarcyO says:

    Mine would also be reading. Love it! Thanks for the fabulous giveaway!

  • Jann says:

    Oh, definately reading! I was addicted as a child and remain so today…the week I read 12 novels was chalked up as my favorite vacation ever.

  • I have not read any of Kate Atkinson’s books yet – but this prize pack is certainly an incentive to try. Loved your review!

    Oh, what habit I started early? Singing to the radio – LOUDLY. It’s a habit my two sons have picked up from me. Unfortunately for my husband, none of us can carry a tune! 🙂

    (My reading habit came later in life – I was 25 when I picked up Little Women for the first time and after that, I was hooked.)

  • Novelwhore says:

    Me me me!!! I read CASE HISTORIES this year and have since forced it upon my roommate and boyfriend and have been DYING TO READ THE REST!!!!!!!!!!! And as you can imagine by sharing a pb, it’s not in the best condition so I’d love a whole new collection!

    My habit I started at an early age is also reading. My nephew just turned two, so of course I got him books for his birthday (duh). But then after I mailed them (my favorite being “Penguin’s Snowy Day”) I got worried and called my mom, because I was thinking they might have been UNDER his reading level. My mom paused, and said “Lyd, he’s two.” To which I replied well obviously, but I was reading chapter books at two so I thought he might think the Penguin book was too easy.

    Sigh. My mom informed me I wasn’t reading at two, but I can’t believe there was ever a time I wasn’t! Growing up I would sneak reading late in to the night by my very dim nightlight – which I think is why I need reading glasses today.

  • I almost – almost – bought this last night at Murder by the Book. But I was already buying one hardcover and 3 paperbacks (one for my dad, one for a giveaway, one for me) so I refrained. This cover just really draws me.

    Anyway, my habits – reading is the good one. Biting my nails is the bad one. I just had fake nails put on because no matter what or how hard I try, I can’t quit. Yeck.

    I am definitely crossing my fingers for this one. Thanks.

    • Pop Culture Nerd says:

      Your Spidey sense knew this giveaway was coming and told you to refrain from buying!

      Do you ever have the urge to bite your fake nails?

      • It was totally my Spidey sense. Now I’m going to go around my night class and tell me students I know all – it’s the Spidey sense.

        You know – oddly enough, no. It’s the disorder of nails I can’t stand. They never get longer than my finger naturally, but it’s the jaggedness and hangnails that drive me batty. Most of the time I wouldn’t even realize I was doing it. I have some anxiety issues, though (breathing, mainly), so I’ll blame it on that.

  • Carol M says:

    It would be reading for me, too! As soon as I learned to read I was taking out every book in the school library and then I had my mom take me to the public library. I was thrilled when I got my first library card!

  • Rena says:

    Yes I would have to say reading for me too – as early as I can remember – and my kids are all following in my footsteps too!


  • EIREGO says:

    Count me in as one of the many who started the habit of reading at a very early age. Another one is that I compulsively write down song lyrics when I am bored and have nothing to read which might be something for my own therapist.

    Love the title of this book! Like Jenn the Picky Girl, I almost bought this book the other day as well.

    • Pop Culture Nerd says:

      I used to write down song lyrics as a way of learning English. Often, they weren’t even close to the real lyrics.

      I love the umbrella on the cover. Could use one like that with all the rain we’re having.

  • I loved When Will There Be Good News? – thanks for hosting this giveaway!

    Reading and collecting my favorite books (which I would squirrel away in my room) is a habit that I started early as well.

    Another early habit is biting my fingernails – though nail biting is much less helpful and attractive.

    Thanks again!

  • Christine says:

    Y’know, we read CASE HISTORIES for one of my Sisters in Crime meetings. It was the first book EVER that I did not read entirely. So many story lines that weren’t coming together and Jackson wasn’t even introduced until page 70-something, I think. I got to page 90 then skipped to skim the last 40 pages just to see how it ended. As I recall, it was also a bit too depressing for me. Maybe it was just a bad time for me to read it. Too bad really, because I thought I’d really like Jackson Brodie. No need to put me in the drawing. 😉

    The one good habit that I’ve maintained since pre-teen is my photography. Always need a camera with me. My dad gave me his old 35mm Petri that had been given to him when he was 13 or 14 while he and his parents were stationed in Japan. It’s also a wee bit of a bad habit because I become so busy trying to capture the event/moment/landscape in photos that I’m not enjoying or participating IN the moment.

    Thanks for this review, Elyse!

    • Pop Culture Nerd says:

      Wow, a Petri! Can you develop your own film? I took photography classes in college and had a hard time doing that film transfer maneuver where you stick your hands inside the black bag.

      I know what you mean about capturing a memory for the future vs. experiencing the moment as it happens. I’ve only gotten better at finding the right balance in recent years.

      • Christine says:

        Oh, the Petri was retired a long time ago, plus I’ve still got a couple of other 35mm cameras, but all retired. The Petri’s in safekeeping but I want to find a nice display box to have it out. It’s value is purely sentimental. I keep thinking that someday I’m going to get back into film photography, but I can’t imagine what the cost of developing is these days. I never did learn to develop myself. The digital is just such a blessing on so many levels. (Well, except for the fact it’s not unheard of to come back from a trip with 100s of photos to sort through. ;p)

  • Paulette says:

    Well, besides reading, my compulsion for neat writing began at an early age. My writing was described as “wobbly” when I was very young; so offended was I that I began to copy others writing styles if I liked the look of the cursive or printing and eventually addopted it as my own. I still sometimes change the way I write or print a particular letter when I see something different. In grade school I erased all signatures from my autograph book that I thought were ugly and replaced them with my own handwriting! In high school my career as resident forger was firmly established. I have not read this series and would love to take the whole batch to Tanzania this summer!

  • Paulette says:

    heck…it won’t let me edit the colon! needs a semi!

  • Poncho says:

    Oooohhh… these are the times I wish I was american… or canadian (I love Mexico, though). Haven’t read anything by Kate Atkinson, but planing to… Anyway, I’ll answer the poll just for the fun of it…

    Habits I’ve started at an early age… that would be reading… and biting my nails (I know it’s nasty) -specially while reading…

  • Since I was a little kid, I have read a book while I walked. Odd habit, but I see a few other people doing it.

    I love this series. I’m reading Started Early, Took My Dog now and love it. I still want to win because I am always giving these books for gifts.

  • Marilu says:

    This sounds like a book I would enjoy. I have added it to my list of books to read!
    A habit that I started early was reading as well. I can remember being a little girl and going to the used bookstore to buy and/or exchange books with my aunt on Fridays before I went to spend the weekend at her house. She lived “out in the country”, and in the summer we would lounge around either in a lounger on the deck, or on a blanket under a tree and read for hours. In the winter we would each curl up on opposite ends of the couch, or on the floor in front of the fireplace and read. The only downside to that was that other people weren’t reading as quickly as I was or bringing in their children’s book as quickly, because sometimes it was really hard to find enough books that I hadn’t read yet to hold me over until our next visit! I can remember reading Charlotte’s Web at least 10 times the year I was 7!
    Another habit that I started pretty young was one that drives my husband CRAZY- cracking my knuckles!

  • Pop Culture Nerd says:

    Where does your aunt live, Marilu? I’m going over to her house and sitting on that deck! Your summer reading days sound absolutely lovely.

    My sister likes to crack her knuckles, too. They crack so loudly I always think she’s breaking some bones.

  • Marilu says:

    LOL! She actually doesn’t live there anymore. However, she does live in a pretty quite neighbourhood, (in a little town about 30 mins from Niagara Falls)and has a deck surrounding her pool. Maybe you could read there? If you survive a weekend there, and get more than one book read you will be my hero!
    My aunt and I don’t get along nearly as well as we did when I was a kid, and quite honestly pretty much the only conversations we can have without disagreement are about book sales. We can’t even discuss books as we have different tastes, and well, my tastes would be wrong….lol!
    P.S Did my previous comment count as an entry? I would love to win the set, as I do have all the titles on my tbr shelf on goodreads!

    • Pop Culture Nerd says:

      I’d love to sit by her pool on the deck 30 minutes from Niagara Falls! Regarding tastes in reading, as long as people are reading, it’s a good thing. Well, unless they’re reading porn, but I’m sure people can make persuasive arguments for that, too.

      Yes, your comment enters you in the giveaway. I like to ask poll questions that are kind of related to the titles I’m offering to make the entries more interesting to read.

  • Anita Yancey says:

    Mine would be sewing. My mom got me started early on sewing and needle work at the age of 6. This sounds like a wonderful book, and I’d love to read it. Please enter me. Thanks!

  • karenk says:

    i agree w/ ”’reading”’

  • Paulette Feeney says:

    Just finished Started Early last week…I slowed way down as I neared the end. I absolutely loved all four books. Took only the first three to Tanzania and I was so annoyed with self for not humping the extra weight of this book with me. What a delightful treat to win these books in your giveaway. I hope Atkinson gets the next Brodie book out soonest. I hope you have read the first three by now…his relationships with the women will make a little more sense. Her writing takes my breath away. Her descriptions had me nodding along and even sometimes acting along. Come on, admit it; did you or did you not open your hands like starfishes?

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