The Dog Doesn’t Die

Book reviews & random thoughts

Does the Dog Die? A Brief Review of The New Yorkers, by Cathleen Schine

This book was such fun to read! Cathleen Schine has written a number of books, and I don’t recall how I stumbled across this one, but I really liked it and plan to read more of her work. The New Yorkers fits well into the theme of this blog, since some of the characters are dogs.

In fact, there are many characters in this story about a small group of New Yorkers who live on the city’s Upper West Side, and one of the things I liked was that Schine spooled them out slowly enough and made them different enough that I was able to keep track of them easily. The dogs change their owners’ lives. For example, Jody is a middle-aged music teacher whose pit bull brings new joy to her life and opens her up to falling in love after a long drought. There’s also Everett, the aforementioned love interest, who is a nice but non-perfect guy; George, a young waiter who moves in with his sister Polly, who in turn adopts a puppy; Simon, a somewhat self-absorbed bureaucrat; Jamie, the gay restaurant owner who makes everyone feel at home, even the dogs; and Doris, the dog-hating but comical villain with political aspirations. These people each have their own stories, they keep bumping into each other, and their lives slowly improve or change, so by the end it seems that everyone, including Doris, is where they ought to be in their emotional lives, with a big boost from the dogs. It’s all very endearing, sweet, and normal, giving us a window on ordinary lives and reminding us of the joys therein.

As for the fate of the animals, well, there is some drama and some sadness, because not all of our pets live as long as we do. But there is nothing awful like abuse or neglect that would truly upset an animal lover.

So I am recommending this book – enjoy!

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October 31, 2011 Posted by | animals, beach book, Book Reviews, dogs, food, friendship, humor, pets, Uncategorized | , | Leave a comment

Does the Dog Die? A Brief Review of Dogs and Goddesses

Dogs and Goddesses is by no means great literature, but it’s a fun read if you’re at the beach, sitting on an airplane, or just trying to decompress from a busy day. As with all books in which Jennifer Crusie has a hand, it is lively and fast-paced. If the premise is too much – goddesses from the ancient past plotting a return to power, plus talking dogs – then you may have trouble with it. But I suggest just rolling with it. Crusie and co-authors Anne Stuart and Lucy March clearly had a lot of fun putting the story together, and as a reader, you should probably just jump right in and join them.

I once read a first draft of a book that was ultimately self-published, in which 9 seemingly ordinary women took on the identities of 9 other beings from the past, and each of the 9 women was also associated with a man who also had a dual identity. We’re talking 36 different names here, folks, all presented up front and without a cheat sheet. That’s way too much to keep track of. Crusie, Stuart, and March set themselves up with a similar challenge – 7 women, each with dual identities and at least one talking dog each, plus a few men and assorted other characters – but they spool it out in such a way that it’s easier to follow. I did have to use the Kindle search feature a few times to sort out Abby and Daisy and which of them went with which dog, but otherwise the names were easy to manage. (Putting in a plug for e-readers: you can search for character names – and anything else – which is useful if you put the book down for a couple of days.)

Also on the topic of characters, I like that one of the goddesses was a late-middle-aged woman who had as much of a sex life (sometimes more) as the younger ones. Life, love, and sex don’t end at 40. Or 50.

So… the plot, such as it is. Against her mother’s protests, Abby moves from California to Ohio after her grandmother dies and leaves her a coffeehouse in a university town. She takes her dog. Daisy lives there already and is stuck dogsitting her mother’s dog. Shar is a professor who, you guessed it, owns a dog, . There are other dog owners, for a total of seven women with seven dogs all somehow attending a very strange dog-training class, where they are given this potion. Talking dogs, strange compulsions, and new lovers result, along with a frantic race to understand what the bleep is going on here and ultimately save the world from the clutches of an evil goddess.

It’s highly amusing. It’s entertaining. It’s moderately engrossing and not to be taken seriously. The ending – the very last bit – is hysterically funny, but only if you’ve read the whole book. After I stopped laughing, I began hoping for a sequel based on those 2-3 pages alone. It’s not Jennifer Crusie’s very best effort, but it’s solidly mid-pack. (I’m not very familiar with Stuart and March at this point.) Buy this book for next time you need to de-stress with something light that doesn’t ask too much of you. It’s a beach book, an airplane book, an I-had-a-crappy-week-and-want-to-veg-out-this-weekend book.

And yes, I said that I was going to handle animals a bit differently from now on. So… this book has a bunch of animal characters, all of which are dogs. Prominent among them are Bowser, Abby’s thoughtful Newfoundland; Bailey, Daisy’s mother’s hyper Jack Russell terrier (yes, I realize that “hyper” and “Jack Russell terrier” are redundant); Wolfie, Shar’s protective long-haired dachshund; Milton, a puppy acquired along the way; and Squash, a Doberman-beagle mix who appears in the most touching scene in the entire book. All of these dogs are loved and well-cared for. So this is a great book for animal lovers who aren’t put off by talking dogs and who want a good piece of fiction to escape into for a few hours. Enjoy!

August 30, 2011 Posted by | animals, beach book, Book Reviews, dogs, fantasy | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Does the Dog Die? A Brief Review of Over the Edge: Death in Grand Canyon, by Michael Ghiglieri and Thomas Myers

I so love this book! In fact, I love it so much that I’ve read it three times now.

When I’ve mentioned Over the Edge to friends, they’ve asked if it isn’t gruesome reading about death. Like mysteries and thrillers aren’t? Actually, I find Over the Edge to be instructive, especially since a) the authors include a fair number of rescue stories in the text and b) I’m a Grand Canyon hiker and have seen some of the hazards they discuss.

But in addition to presenting case histories to illustrate some of the dangers lurking in the Canyon, Over the Edge is entertaining. The format of describing anecdotes about deaths and rescues could have resulted in a jerky, overly episodic book with no flow, but the authors skillfully weave the stories together so that they lead almost seamlessly from one to the other. And, like I said, it’s instructive. Here are some of the main things that can kill you in the Grand Canyon:

  • Being a young male (the young part fixes itself eventually; the male part is a bit more complicated)
  • Hiking in the summer when it’s beastly hot and there are flash floods
  • Trying to do too much with too little water
  • Hiking solo
  • Getting off the trail
  • Flying on the wrong airplane
  • Playing along the edge of the rim and not taking the guard rails seriously
  • Swimming or otherwise stupidly goofing around in the Colorado River

You notice I did not mention scorpion bites or rattlesnake bites. No one has died from a scorpion bite in the Canyon, nor a rattlesnake bite. People have been bitten, yes, and they’ve been in pain and had some problems. This is the one thing people worry about disproportionately to the reality, according to the authors. Note that the longest chapter has to do with people dying in the river. Rafting the Colorado is on my anti-bucket list: I don’t want to do it, ever. Much of this attitude comes from the fact that I am a lousy swimmer. Over the Edge has reinforced this desire.

My only problem with the book is that it hasn’t been updated since its original publishing date of 2001. I get that that would be a major pain, and expensive. But there have been a lot of accidents and incidents in the Canyon since then…  Still, I’m recommending this book, and I think it should be mandatory reading for anyone headed to Grand Canyon National Park for more than a quick look.

As for animals, there are no real animal characters as such, though there are some incidents involving animals. One woman got lost in the Canyon (never hike solo, never go off the trail, etc.) accompanied by her little dog, Cocoa Gin. Poor little Cocoa Gin wandered off, starving and disoriented, but she was rescued and served as a valuable clue to her owner’s disappearance. There were some pack mules and horses that fell off trails, a couple of “misplaced” rattlesnakes, and livestock not surviving a swim across the Colorado (don’t swim in the Colorado River!). But there is nothing in the book that would keep an animal lover awake at night, so I am declaring Over the Edge SAFE for animal lovers.

Enjoy!

March 2, 2011 Posted by | animals, Book Reviews, history, national parks, nonfiction, travel | , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Does the Dog Die? A Brief Review of Nose Down, Eyes Up by Merrill Markoe

This is the second talking-dog book I’ve read by Merrill Markoe. I will now deeply blush and say “[expletive], I can’t believe I just wrote that sentence.” If I were Gil, the protagonist of Markoe’s book “Nose Down, Eyes Up,” I’d then swear even more, declare the time as “beer-thirty,” and make an insincere declaration of love. And after all that, I’d cuddle a dog or four.

But I’m a cat person. And last I checked, I was real, not fictitious.

Gil is a 47-year-old Malibu handyman constantly at war with his inner 22-year-old. That inner raunchy kid is Gil’s main enemy, while his saving grace is Jimmy, his dog. There are three other dogs — Dink, Fruity, and Cheney — but Jimmy is Gil’s boy. All four dogs talk, and that leads to one of Gil’s many problems: Jimmy is devastated when he learns that Gil is not his biological father. As Jimmy explains it, he thought doghood was a phase he’d grow out of, and that some day he’d shed all the hair and start walking upright like Gil.

So Gil, who’s in a doomed relationship with a nice girl named Sara, takes Jimmy to visit his birth mom and two siblings — who just happen to be owned by Gil’s over-sexed flake of an ex-wife, Eden. Although Gil is more emotionally fragile than he’d ever admit to himself, Jimmy’s stated (because he’s a talking dog, remember) preference for his birth family is a crushing blow. So while he tries to juggle a dismayed maybe/maybe-not girlfriend, an ex-wife who wants to cheat on her current husband with Gil, work issues, housing issues, financial issues, and the emotional needs of the three remaining dogs, Gil misses Jimmy. Just how much is part of the climax of the book.

So yes, I recommend this book. I give it two dew claws up, in fact. I will say that, having read several books by Markoe, this is the least humorous. It’s funny, but she’s had me giggling nonstop, and this book isn’t like that. And that’s okay. I only mention it in case you’ve read any of her other books and have expectations.

Now for the hard part of this review: I can’t really tell you if this book is safe for animal lovers. In my book reviews, I always mention whether or not the book could upset someone who doesn’t like to read about bad things happening to animals. There is a scary part in this novel, so if you are a tender soul who can’t bear the thought of an animal in peril, this is NOT the book for you. I can’t tell you how it turns out without spoiling it for you, though. All I can say is that I liked it.

February 20, 2011 Posted by | animals, beach book, Book Reviews, dogs, families, humor, pets, satire | , | Leave a comment

Does the Dog Die? A Brief Review of Did I Really Make Breakfast? by Fabio Viviani

Already the co-author of a traditional cookbook, Cafe Firenze Cookbook, Top Chef: All Stars contestant (eliminated last night) and Season 5 fan favorite Fabio Viviani recently came out with a short and delightful ebook full of inventive yet easy recipes for breakfast. Did I Really Make Breakfast? is available on Amazon for the Kindle for $2.99.

Fabio writes like he talks: with a distinctive Italian accent and a great sense of humor. In one of the recipes calling for ground prosciutto, for example, he says “ask the person at the Deli counter to ground that for you or use your meat grinder is sitting in the cabinet for the past few years anyway, right?” Absolutely! When I was a small child, my mom and I used her meat grinder to make sandwich spreads from leftovers. Have I used it in the 10+ years since I brought it here from Mom’s house? No. Has Fabio guilted me into dragging it out of the cabinet and grinding some prosciutto? Quite possibly.

As for the recipes, here are some that I want to try: a couple of different savory pancakes with ingredients like Italian sausage and fresh rosemary, a cheddar and onion pie, cheesy biscuits, cinnamon bread, and more.  But because a cookbook is only as good as its recipes, I made the Pear and Parmesan Muffins on a recent Sunday morning. Dave and I agreed that they tasted more strongly of cheese than pear, and that was great, because there aren’t enough savory muffins in this world.

In my book reviews, I always mention whether the book is “safe” for animal lovers who don’t want to read about bad things happening to animals. Well, this is a cookbook. If you’re a vegan, you might not consider it safe. Otherwise, it’s fine. But I do want to note Fabio’s credentials as a fellow animal lover. He has a pet turtle, and she has been featured on Top Chef: All Stars, as well as in this video in which he talks about his turtle with fellow All Star chef Richard Blais. Apparently, Fabio has now named her and has tweeted that she eats sushi.

And because I can’t help myself, here is a link to Fabio’s Facebook page and my favorite photo: Fabio holding kittens. I mean, really, does it get any better than that?

But even if Fabio looked like a troll and spoke in a gutteral mumble, I would highly recommend Did I Really Make Breakfast? based on the recipes alone. So buy it and enjoy!

February 10, 2011 Posted by | animals, Book Reviews, food, pets, reality TV, Top Chef, Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment

Does the Dog Die? A Brief Review of The Stupidest Angel, by Christopher Moore

This is the second book I’ve read on my new Kindle, and the first Kindle book I’ve reviewed.  One thing I like about the Kindle is the annotation feature, which will likely add a whole new  dimension to my book reviews. For example, I can highlight quotes to include in the review. That’s in addition to making notes as I go along, which will reflect better what my thinking while actually reading a book. A couple of sample quotes:

“The bat yelped, opened his leathery wings, and flew to the top of the Christmas tree, where he caught the star, swung halfway around and settled, upside down, hanging there above the room, looking, despite his cheery nature and hot pink sunglasses, a little creepy.”

(I love Christopher Moore in part because he loves bats, as I do. Also, we’re both comma spazzes.)

Or let’s try a line of dialogue from the climactic battle scene: “’Fire a salvo of garlic bread next!’”

Gotta love the an author who writes like that.

Anyway, what’s The Stupidest Angel about, you may wonder? It’s a Christmas tale of love, psychotics, stupid angels, homicidal Santas, a very big Christmas tree, lonely hearts, horny rodents, misunderstandings, lasagna, talking bats, Japanese swords, and the little miniature marshmallows that come in those packets of instant hot cocoa. Among other things. The plot is so convoluted that I can’t possibly begin to summarize it. Moore does good plots, but that’s not why you read his books. This would be a good one to start with if you’ve never read him before, because it includes his usual themes, good-natured hostility, and cartoon violence. He’s funny and irreverent and surprising. I highly recommend this book.

As for animals, the bat is pretty good and has appeared in another book. There’s a dog character, Skinner, and Moore “gets” dogs. There’s also a bat, Roberto, brought over from another book. Moore tosses in an unpleasant image or two, and rodents don’t fare so well, but it’s not revoltingly graphic or gross. So this book is MOSTLY SAFE for animal lovers. Enjoy!

December 31, 2010 Posted by | animals, beach book, Book Reviews, dogs, humor, satire | , , , | Leave a comment

Does the Dog Die? A Brief Review of The Hearts of Horses, by Molly Gloss

I loved Molly Gloss’s subtle storytelling in The Hearts of Horses. Instead of a strong, driving plot, Gloss opts to show a defined period of time — protagonist Martha Lessen’s long winter of 1917, during which she “gentles” some horses in an eastern Oregon county. Gloss slowly reveals the surprisingly complex Martha to us, along with the people she meets and their horses.

The story is also a picture of a time when the West was changing, and right before transportation, agriculture, and American society as a whole transformed into today’s urban, transit-powered times. Ranching was still something for rough young men, but most of those had gone off to fight in World War I. When 19-year-old Martha shows up with her own three horses offering to train ranchers’ wilder horses to saddle, the overwhelmed men who’d stayed behind really had little choice other than to hire her.

Martha was what we think of as a “horse whisperer,” using a calm, steady, and gentle approach to help her equine charges adjust to what was expected of them. She was much more comfortable around horses than people, and as her past is revealed, it becomes clear why this is. Yet she herself is slowly gentled into feeling more comfortable around the new people she meets.

Gloss spools out her tale like a series of vignettes. One of the things I like is that even the villains have dimension, and when one or two of them get their come-uppance, it isn’t a black-and-white situation. Martha’s sort-of-but-not-completely surprise ending is sweet, though it also takes her back to a dark part of her personal history.

As for animals, this is a tough one, and it’s made me think I need another rating category. So here it is: NO GRAPHIC DEPICTIONS OF HARM TO ANIMALS. That may evolve a bit. The point is, regarding The Hearts of Horses, there are times when you read of something bad that happened to an animal — a horse is injured, a dog is kicked — and it doesn’t go any further than a few words. Because horses are a significant focus of this book, there are many such instances. But Gloss never shows us much of this. When a horse is injured while in Martha’s care, for example, you mostly see Martha tending to the injury and don’t get the really awful images that will disturb some readers. There is a lot of that kind of thing in this book. There’s also a lot of love and respect and care given to the various animals, again mostly horses. So I’m going to say that this book is MOSTLY SAFE for animal lovers. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

December 5, 2010 Posted by | animals, Book Reviews, historical fiction, horses | | Leave a comment

New Mexico 2010: Animals Other Than Birds

Zoos are not just for children. While it’s always fun to see an animal in the wild, like, say, this tarantula,

Tommy Tarantula

there are not many zebras, gibbons, or giraffes running free in my neck of the woods.

So we went to the Albuquerque Zoo, part of the larger Biopark, after visiting the city’s Botanical Gardens (also part of the Biopark) for most of the day. So, what did we see?

At the Botanical Gardens, we saw fish:

And jellyfish:

Then it was off to the Zoo! Due to limited time, we didn’t take in the whole place, but we did get to the Australia exhibit, the nocturnal animals exhibit, and part of the Africa exhibit. Of course, Australia had a koala:

and the slow loris is a cute nocturnal animal (sorry about the flash, dude):

This small African gazelle was ready to go in for the day but posed prettily nonetheless:

I don’t remember what this is, and it might have been South American, but it was cool:

And I have a place in my heart for giraffes:

Outside of the Biopark, we didn’t see a lot of wildlife aside from the birds I discussed in my previous post. There was this tiny snake outside Bandalier National Monument:

and some mule deer lollygagging on a lawn near Cimarron:

and our B&B hosts’ pets, but that was it. Still, it was a lot.

Next up, against my better instincts, shopping!

November 10, 2010 Posted by | Albuquerque, animals, cats, dogs, national parks, New Mexico, pets, Santa Fe, Taos, travel, wildlife | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Does the Dog Die? A Brief Review of Been Here a Thousand Years, by Mariolina Venezia

This brilliant book, written beautifully by Mariolina Venezia and translated at least as well by Marina Harss, may be the best book I’m not going to recommend based on the animal issues. That is a big part of this blog — the reason for its existence, in fact — and I can’t ignore it. I so wish it hadn’t been an issue.

Been Here has been compared to Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ masterpiece, 100 Years of Solitude. The comparison is apt. Both are family sagas, both have an element of magic and charm. I almost prefer Been Here, which features the women more and which is both gentler and more coherent. This is the story of the Falcone family, stretching from the mid-1800s to 1989, and the tiny southern Italian town of Grottole. Many characters pack the tale, but I never felt as if it was hard to keep up or remember who was whom.

Now … the main purpose of this blog is to provide book reviews for animal lovers. Part of that involves warning potential readers about scenes that may be upsetting because of what happens to the animals. On that basis, this book is COMPLETELY UNSAFE for animal lovers. It’s not that the animal violence permeates the book, but where it happens, it’s bad. Bird lovers are never going to be able to read it. But the scene that really upset me and stayed with me for days involves a pet pig. If you are going to read the book anyway, I suggest skipping pages 115 to 119. It was awful. I read the rest of the book wondering if there was going to be more of that.

I don’t know if I’ll read anything else Venezia writes. Aside from the animal issues, it was a good book. But I was bothered by some of the scenes for days.

October 14, 2010 Posted by | animals, birds, Book Reviews, families, translation | , , , | Leave a comment

Kitty Pictures!

After a cat dies, I am a fast adopter. I still miss Eddie, who was beyond awesome, but I am really enjoying my two new cats, Sasha and Paris. I adopted them 6 weeks after Eddie died, and they are a bonded pair. Here are a few photographs:

Sasha

Sasha

Sasha

Paris

Paris

October 11, 2010 Posted by | animals, cats, photography | Leave a comment