The Dog Doesn’t Die

Book reviews & random thoughts

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!

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

Does the Dog Die? A Brief Review of True Confections: A Novel, by Katharine Weber

What I love most about this book is Weber’s hysterically funny, commpletely unreliable narrator, Alice Tatnall Ziplinsky. Alice is a true find in my fiction reading, and even though the book dragged in a couple of relatively short sections, I hated coming to the end and letting Alice go off into her daft non-existence.

Here is a representative quote:

But my altruism can be misunderstood, whether it takes the form of serving perfectly wholesome beef stew to a malnourished little second grader friend of Jacob’s whose vegan parents were practically starving him, or giving a much-needed haircut to a kindergarten classmate of Julie’s who was over for a playdate. … I have no idea why her silly mother cried like that. It was just hair.

In the story, Alice, aka “Arson Girl,” marries into the Ziplinsky family, owners of Zip’s Candies. Alice may be the smartest person in the bunch, though she’s not the most savvy about personal relationships, and she babbles away with sharp observations about the candy industry, in-laws, children, work, the law, and whatever else she feels like discussing. I did feel sorry for her in a few spots, but Alice is a strong-willed character, and even when she’s noting the personal hurts and slights she’s endured, you know that’s what she’ll always do — endure.

I strongly recommend this book, based on the narrator alone.

As for animals, this book is MOSTLY SAFE for animal lovers. A cat dies early on, and as does a kitten, though the latter is not shown. On the upside, there are two long-lived pet frogs.

Enjoy!

March 12, 2011 Posted by | beach book, Book Reviews, families, food, humor | , , , | 1 Comment

Vampire Smackdown! Harris vs. Harrison

Does Sookie Stackhouse rule? Is it happening in The Hollows? How on earth did I end up reading all these vampire books, anyway?

Let’s answer that last question first, then we’ll get down to the business of comparing the two series. Back in the 1980s and 90s, I read the Anne Rice vampire books until Rice’s storytelling became awful. (Her first books were very good.) So when my now-defunct book group decided to read the first Sookie Stackhouse book, Dead until Dark by Charlaine Harris, I agreed. And I read further into the series, having enjoyed that first book. Later, when I started my food blog, I Hate Tomatoes! , a friend suggested I read Kim Harrison’s series, The Hollows, in which tomatoes are the source of all evil, at least to the human characters. And so I did. And here we are.

And I thought I’d do a vampire smackdown, comparing the two series, since they are both fairly popular. Granted, the protagonist of The Hollows is a witch. But she’s surrounded by vampires, including her business partner, and the Sookie Stackhouse series has non-vampires, so it sort of evens out. Details, details.

Which is my favorite????

The Hollows.

Why? As it so often does with me, it becomes a matter of the characters.

I will say that this is by no means a slam on Harris and her dark little world. I find her to be an imaginative writer with an endearing heroine, and obviously many others agree because of her book sales and the fact that she’s got the HBO series. I also find her to be a more precise writer than Harrison (or she has a better editor).

But The Hollows has more depth, and I find Rachel Morgan to be a more active, more understandable protagonist. Sookie seems very reactive, whereas Rachel’s mind never stops working. I like that. She’s a clever witch whose life moves into increasing shades of grey, as do most people who grasp life’s complexities. She shares her business and her home with Ivy, a lesbian vampire who is her best friend, and Jenks, a pixy with a charming wife (Matalina) and their 54 children.

I stopped reading the Sookie Stackhouse books when I became weary of the frantic action, the violence, and Sookie’s ever-increasing number of enemies, most of whom seem to come from out of nowhere as secondary or even tertiary characters. Plus, Sookie wasn’t very interesting to me.

The Hollows has frantic action and violence, too, but the pacing is better overall, so it doesn’t seem to be a race from one source of chaos to another. Rachel Morgan is a dynamic protagonist who accumulates enemies, friends, and frenemies. And there’s no guessing as to who is going to try to trip her up next. Heroes may become villains and vice-versa, but they’ve all been thoroughly sketched out and presented for us.

So I think Harrison wins the smackdown based on storytelling and characters, but let’s look at the vampires, too.

As for the vampires, Harris has a cadre of erotic mischief-makers, while Harrison’s vampires make me think of the Mafia, Hollywood-style. Harris’s stories are rooted in the human community, while Harrison writes of humans as the inferior majority who are pitied for their inability to appreciate ketchup and their lack of … let’s call it perspective and skills.

I’ve left off both series with both heroines having pissed off a whole bunch of werewolves. I didn’t want to read any more about Sookie Stackhouse, and I ordered the next book in Harrison’s series. So … The Hollows wins the smackdown.

And soon, I will pit Harrison against a mystery author who also writes about the supernatural, including witches and vampires. But for now, she’s the champ!

As for animals, we’re talking about series here, and each book is going to be different. Harris, for example, can have one book that is completely fine for animal lovers followed by another that has a lot of woodland creatures that seem to have died painfully. And in her books, you never know if an animal is really an animal or a shapeshifter or what. A dog is not always a dog, etc.

Harrison has animal characters, on the other hand, and she’s kind to them. Four books in, and I’m still waiting for Mr. Fish to do something other than sit in his bowl on her kitchen windowsill. (I am convinced that Mr. Fish will have some significance, but I am probably wrong.) There’s the rat fight in the first book, but that has a twist. In the fourth book, a kitten comes into the picture.

I am not going to declare a level of safety on these two series. You have my descriptions, and that should tell you enough.

So, Harrison wins the smackdown. Yay, Kim Harrison!

But who does she take on in the next round? (Not that twirpy Twilight series, that’s for sure.)

March 7, 2011 Posted by | beach book, Book Reviews, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , | 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 The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, by Katherine Howe

Killer concept, isn’t it? Young woman with untapped witchcraft ability finds herself seeking more information about Salem witches? It just didn’t work for me, though.

Connie Godwin’s flaky mother insists that the overburdened Harvard grad student move into her late grandmother’s abandoned house and get it ready for sale. And Connie comes across a mysterious scrap of paper and a key, and ends up tracking down the story of Deliverance Dane and the Salem witch trials. I do like the woo-woo, supernatural detective stories, and I enjoyed this one while I was reading it, but it didn’t really make much of an impression. It was almost as if Howe was writing from a checklist instead of an outline. It wasn’t bad, but I wish it had been better.

As for animals, Connie’s “familiar” is a dog, as a change from the usual cat. Arlo comes to no harm and plays a role in the mystery. So this book is SAFE for animal lovers.

February 25, 2011 Posted by | beach book, Book Reviews, families, Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment

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 Dirty Secret, by Jessie Sholl

George Carlin had a routine about “stuff” that always made me laugh, but also pointed out the absurdity of excessive acquisition. Like, how much “stuff” do we actually need? Probably a lot less than we’ve got.

While that applies to most of us, there’s a subset of people who get carried away with their stuff. Compulsive hoarding, according to Wikipedia, involves not only excessive acquisition, but also failure to discard. On the “hoarder shows,” the hoarders will often declare an item to be useful, failing to recognize that while it might be useful to someone, somewhere, it’s not likely to be useful to the hoarder.

So what’s it like to be related to a hoarder? On the hour-long TV shows, we’ll often hear a few comments from the children of hoarders. But, as Jessie Sholl demonstrates in her compassionate and poignant book about her own mother’s hoarding, there is much, much more to it than the sound bites selected by the editors at the A&E and TLC channels.

Sholl’s mother, Helen, was badly abused as a child and, possibly as a result, comes across as being sort of “flat”. I feel like the autism spectrum is over-used these days, but there’s something not right in the way she perceives and reacts to things.  She teases Sholl mercilessly about snakes, which she fears terribly, for example. And she’s a hoarder. Fortunately, Sholl’s father and stepmother were good, supportive parents with a normal household.

Sholl and her husband manage to keep Helen’s “situation” with the hoarding and the odd behavior and judgment at a manageable length for a while. But then Helen comes down with cancer, and the nightmare of dealing with the incredible volume of junk in her house begins in earnest. Although she denies it, Helen has blown her retirement savings on boxes of goods she never even opens. And there are other problems with the house that I will leave for the reader to uncover.

Sholl’s memoir has been described as the first memoir by the child of a hoarder. I’d like to see another, because I imagine there are hoarders who present different problems than Helen’s. I thought Sholl was incredibly fair to her mother, giving her the benefit of the doubt until it became almost insane to do so. She writes well, without hyperbole or excessive emotion or editorializing. Therefore, I am recommending this book.

As for animals, there are a couple of sad scenes. Sholl tries to get past her mother-induced fear of snakes by raising one as a baby, but that doesn’t work. She learns that the dog that she and her husband adopted may have had a sad beginning. And her mother, with the usual “flat aspect,” doesn’t seem to have cared for the dog she once had, although that dog may have gone on to a better environment. The first two situations were a more upsetting than I’m describing, so I will call this book PARTLY SAFE for animal lovers.

February 15, 2011 Posted by | autobiography, Book Reviews, dogs, families, memoir, nonfiction | , , , , , , | 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 Family Album, by Penelope Lively

I loved this book, but I don’t have a lot to say about it. Part of the problem is that there is a big twist, which I believe most readers will figure out, and assorted smaller twists. Together, they prevent much discussion of the plot.

However, the plot is not the driver in this book. Rather, it’s the characters. And they raise many,  many questions. Charles and Allison are parents to six adult children, five of whom either moved as far away as possible and/or never visit. Then there’s the nanny-for-life, Ingrid, who is still around despite the absence of children or grandchildren. So Allison may prattle on all she wants about family and how she adores little ones, but something went wrong if they never visit. Right?

Here’s a representative quote:

“[W]hen this spring morning gets up momentum there are nine at Allersmead, none of them more than a yard or two from someone else, but all poles apart within their heads, their hearts.”

Sounds like a dysfunctional family to me! It quickly becomes clear that Charles is only a sperm donor/financial support type of father, and I spent the entire book trying to figure out what he and Allison might have ever had in common beyond procreation. Their Christmas gifts are ridiculously inappropriate, further proof they don’t know each other at all.

Lively somehow manages to give each of the six children a distinct personality, so that I quickly felt like I knew them. Most of them take a turn at narration, which could be distracting but which Lively manages splendidly.

As for animals, there are dogs (the book is set in England, of course there are dogs) and small children in the flashbacks aren’t always kind to spiders and the like. But overall, this book is SAFE for animal lovers. Enjoy!

February 5, 2011 Posted by | beach book, Book Reviews, families, Uncategorized | | Leave a comment

Does the Dog Die? Reviews of Two Books by Philippa Gregory: The Red Queen, and The White Queen

One reason I am a fan of Philippa Gregory is that she takes history and makes it accessible. I say this as someone who majored in history in college. Sure, I can find my way through a straight history book, and much of the nonfiction I read is exactly that: history. But authors who fictionalize history well often fill in the blanks for us with dialogue and what they imagine to be likely actions where the historical record contains gaps. Philippa Gregory is a master at this, and she also focuses on female figures who are considered secondary or tertiary by mainstream historians.

In “The White Queen” and “The Red Queen,” Gregory examines two significant women from the War of the Roses, in which England’s Lancaster and York houses of the Plantagenet family fought for 30 years in the mid-1400s. In The White Queen, Gregory writes from the point of view of the beautiful Elizabeth Woodville, the young widow who captured the heart of York’s King Edward IV. Woodville was also the mother of the two young princes whose disappearance from the Tower of London has perplexed historians for centuries. Gregory provides a plausible scenario to account for the boys.

Both women were ambitious but, as portrayed by Gregory, Margaret Beaufort was consumed by her ambitions. And, because she was not married to a king or in a direct line herself, her insistence that her son would become king of England seemed absurd at times. Gregory paints Beaufort as particularly serious and even grim, only satisfied once Henry VII was on the throne.

Gregory is a solid writer whose pacing sometimes gets bogged down in repetition or portrayal of worried characters. She’s also a damned fine storyteller, and the War of the Roses is a damned fine story. I recommend both of these books, with a slight preference for The White Queen.

Regarding animals, there wasn’t much. Gregory doesn’t go for that kind of thing as a rule. There is a brief pig slaughter description in The White Queen, and a bit of horses-in-battle stuff in The Red Queen. But I am declaring both books MOSTLY SAFE for animal lovers. Enjoy!

January 31, 2011 Posted by | biography, Book Reviews, families, historical fiction, history, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment