The Dog Doesn’t Die

Book reviews & random thoughts

Does the Dog Die? A Brief Review of Domestic Violets, by Matthew Norman

Despite some quibbles – Norman is a first-time novelist, so of course there will be a few – I absolutely loved this book. It had emotional depth, humor, some realistic portrayals of men, and a parent/adult-child tension that rang true in many ways. At the same time, the female characters weren’t fleshed out well enough, the emotionally-satisfying ending was not entirely plausible, and Norman has silly definitions of “middle-aged” and “old.” Those aren’t deal killers, though. It’s a good book, a strong first effort, and I trust Norman to do better with his women next time.

In the story, protagonist Tom Violet (an “old” 35 or 36) has a lovely wife, an adorable child, a cute dog, a prestigious job, and a wealthy father. But this is not as good as it seems. He and Anna are having any number of problems, chief among them being a complete failure to communicate when that’s what they need more than anything. He loves Allie, his daughter, who at times is his main reason for hanging in there with his family. The dog is neurotic, the job is soul-sucking, and the father, Curtis, is a famous author who just won the Pulitzer Prize, while Tom has struggled for years to put together a first novel worth showing to anyone. Add a “work crush” to all of this, and Tom’s life is a mess.

But it’s an entertaining mess, and Tom is endearing in his attempts to always do what’s right without selling out any further than he already has at the job. By staying true to himself, Tom begins to take steps to sort through everything, and that is the journey of the book.

Sounds simple. It is and it isn’t. Tom makes any number of mistakes, but his self-deprecating humor and honesty made me cheer him on. He is wickedly funny. So I’m recommending this book.

If you follow this blog because you’re an animal lover, rest assured that nothing bad happens to the dog.

November 14, 2011 Posted by | beach book, Book Reviews, dogs, families, humor | , , , | Leave a comment

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!

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 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 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

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 Walking in Circles Before Lying Down, by Merrill Markoe

I love Merrill Markoe. I think she is one of the funniest, most compassionate writers alive. And Merrill Markoe loves dogs. Like we all do, her characters talk to their pets. In Walking in Circles Before Lying Down, they talk back. Literally. In English.

Well, it’s either that, or Dawn Tarnauer is hallucinating the voices, which are not revoltingly cute because Markoe is a better writer than that. Regardless of the source, Dawn hears all of the dogs around her, though the dialogue is mainly with Chuck, the pit-bull mix she rescued from the pound. Chuck is confident, assertive, and generally a good judge of the people in Dawn’s life, although he does tend to use a dog’s criteria instead of a human’s. Now, any pet owner will likely say that our animals understand better than we do when a person isn’t worth our time. But on a quite hilarious walk along the beach, Chuck recommends that she take up with a range of men, including married men, old men, and children. Dawn is horrified at some of these suggestions, but Chuck, being a dog, disdains her for being too picky. So the disconnect in values must be overcome.

Yet Chuck is the one being in Dawn’s life that she can count on. He’s certainly more reliable than her flaky sister, her self-absorbed mother, and her ne’er-do-well father. And don’t get me started on the on-and-off boyfriend, Paxton. Chuck should have just bitten him and gotten it over with, in my opinion. But who would get in trouble for that? The dog, of course.

You definitely want to read this book. Chuck is adorable, and Dawn is kind of cute, too.

As for animals … I can’t really tell what happens in this book without spoiling a lot of it. I will say that Chuck fills the vacancy left by a dog who dies of old age early in the book. There are some sad but brief images, a bad owner, and some alarming twists and turns. But it won’t make you cry and maybe you’ll come to love Merrill Markoe like I do. So I am recommending this book as SAFE (and even especially enjoyable!) for animal lovers.

September 20, 2010 Posted by | animals, beach book, Book Reviews, dogs, humor, pets | , | Leave a comment

Does the Dog Die? A Brief Review of The 19th Wife, by David Ebershoff

This is the second of David Ebershoff’s books I’ve read, and it is a classic example of why a reader shouldn’t give up on an author. For as much as I disliked The Danish Girl, I loved The 19th Wife. And I really did love this book a lot.

What changed? This time out, Ebershoff gave us a pair of compelling protagonists, for starters. The 19th Wife weaves a fictitious version of the true story of Ann Eliza Young — estranged wife of early Mormon prophet Brigham Young — with that of the wholly fictitious Jordon Scott, a young man tossed out of a 21st century polygamist cult in southern Utah. The entire story, which includes a few ancillary narrators, is interesting, but Jordan is the kind of endearing narrator you want to follow, just to make sure he’s going to be okay.

Jordan is tottering on the edge of stability — it’s in sight but not assured — when he learns that his mother, BeckyLyn, has been arrested and charged with the murder of his father. Although BeckyLyn followed the orders of the cult’s prophet and abandoned him on a highway when he was only 14, Jordan doesn’t believe her capable of murder. So he decides to find out what actually did happen, which means re-entering the world of the cult and grappling with the emotions he’s tamped down for the past 6 years.

But this is not a murder mystery. It’s not a coming of age novel. It’s not a historical novel. It’s not a book about LDS. It has elements of all of those, and I’d say it’s mostly about people finding themselves and discovering where they are most comfortable fitting into the world. But it’s more than that. It’s also about love and honesty and integrity and truth, with some greed and hypocrisy tossed in for contrast.

This is a long book because Ebershoff is inventive and has a lot to say. I think it’s brilliant, I was very happy when I was reading it, and I’ll recommend it to anyone and everyone. But I won’t try to wedge it into a category, because that would be wrong. Just read the damned book, okay? I say that despite a few quibbbles about the ease with which Jordan visits his former home. The book is excellent. Highest recommendation and all that.

As for animals, yes, there is a dog, and no, she does not die. Her name is Elektra, and she makes it all the way through the book without any problems. Ebershoff writes Elektra as a real animal character — she’s a dog, not a furry, wise human, and she behaves like a dog. Yet she doesn’t slink into the background and conveniently disappear, either. She needs water, food, affection, opportunities to pee, and interaction with others. Jordan has to find people to watch her when he can’t take her along on his adventures, and he’s careful not to leave her in a hot vehicle. We learn a lot about Jordan through Elektra, but she’s a multi-dimensional character all on her own. Ebershoff thought this through much more than most authors do.

That’s not to say there aren’t a few unpleasant animal images. But they’re very brief and mostly have to do with the Mormon history portion of the story. Another dog, Joey, eventually enters the story, and Ebershoff gives him the same treatment as Elektra. So this book is completely SAFE for animal lovers. Now, go get your hands on a copy and read it!

August 26, 2010 Posted by | animals, beach book, Book Reviews, dogs, historical fiction | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Does the Dog Die? A Brief Review of The Sweetheart Season, by Karen Joy Fowler

This was a pleasant book. I’ve read most of Karen Joy Fowler’s work, and it runs the gamut between pleasant and outstanding. There’s nothing wrong with a pleasant book. You’re just not going to grab someone by the arm and insist they read it, or recommend it to your book group.

The Sweetheart Season started off as a book about the women’s baseball leagues of the 1940s, but then Fowler shifted gears. The book she published is about the narrator’s mother, Irini Doyle, and her late teenaged years in a small town where she worked for a cereal company. Then Irini joined a women’s baseball team, which didn’t really come together for me and made me wish Fowler had written about that alone instead of making it a plot element.

The book is funny and charming, and not a lot happens. The characters are all a bit off, some more than a bit off, and that’s by design. In fact, the characters are the best thing about the book. The Sweetheart Season is pleasant enough. And it would make a great beach book.

As for animals, nothing bad happens to Tweed, Irini’s collie. Tweed is a good and loyal pet with a few brief scenes, and he isn’t imperilled. She’s also not Lassie. There are a some scenes that animal lovers might not like, but they’re brief and mostly insignificant. Still, the book isn’t completely free of such moments. So I am going to declare this book MOSTLY SAFE for animal lovers.

April 21, 2010 Posted by | beach book, Book Reviews, dogs, sports | , , , | Leave a comment