The Dog Doesn’t Die

Book reviews & random thoughts

Micro-Reviews

Life has kept me from blogging, and I have close to 70 books I want to review. Yeah, like that’s going to happen. So I’m going to do some really fast little reviews, just a bit more than a thumbs up/thumbs down.

So here goes:

Would It Kill You to Stop Doing That? by Henry Alford: A semi-serious, semi-flip guide to manners. Alford is funny sometimes, has a few good points, and illustrates why being an etiquette columnist is harder than it seems. No depictions of harm to animals, not that you would expect it in such a book. I recommend it, despite Alford not addressing the real “would it kill you to stop doing that?” behavior: bouncy legs. I need to  know how to stop people next to me from bouncing their restless legs. It’s grounds for murder, not that I’ve actually gone that far yet. Mostly, I fantasize reaching over and smacking the person on the leg as hard as I can. This is probably impolite. Henry? You need to answer this question.

The Red Thread by Ann Hood: A fictionalized version of Hood’s process of adopting a daughter from China. The author shows several families and individuals as they get ready to bring their new daughters home. It’s well-written, the characters are interesting, it’s a tad predictable, and I enjoyed it. No depictions of harm to animals. I recommend it.

Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton: Great fun! Walton, writing in the style of Jane Austen, presents us with a tale in which all the characters are dragons. And this is much better than Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, or that other one. The young female dragons are endearing, the older males are stuffy and pompous, there’s the inevitable smarmy clergyman aspiring to marry a dear young thing, there’s all sorts of standard tropes from the Victorian novel – and it is all charming, charming, charming. Read it, read it, read it!

Well, that kind of worked. I’ll do more of these soon. Once I get the backlog micro-reviewed, I can resume doing full reviews.

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February 6, 2012 Posted by | beach book, Book Reviews, fantasy, humor, nonfiction, women's fiction | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Does the Dog Die? A Brief Review of A Discovery of Witches, by Deborah Harkness

This book featured gallons of tea, buckets of tea, maybe even an overflowing river of tea. Maybe that was the problem – maybe the characters would have been more interesting had they been coffee drinkers. Or if Diana, the wimpy, non-practicing-witch protagonist, had worn something other than black leggings and baggy blue sweaters. And when did it become necessary for every story involving a witch to also include vampires? At least they’re not zombies. I can’t get into zombies at all.

Am I sounding cranky about this book? I actually liked it, for the most part, and just recently recommended it to a friend. It’s not great literature, but it’s good escapism, a classic beach book if you will. I’ll read the sequel. But LET’S JUST STOP WITH THE VAMPIRES ALREADY, OKAY??? I AM SICK AND TIRED OF VAMPIRES!!! I get it, they’re sexy and powerful and mysterious and all that. They’re also over-exposed, and I don’t mean in terms of sunlight. Plus, I like witch books. Can we have more witches without vampires? Please? Look at J. K. Rowling – she did quite well writing a series about witches and wizards, with only the briefest mention of vampires, probably just to shut up the questions about them. It can be done, in other words, and quite successfully.

So I liked A Discovery of Witches, even though it dragged in spots, especially in the middle, which needed to be cut deeply and ruthlessly by an editor with strong opinions about pacing. My favorite characters were Emily (Diana’s Aunt Sarah’s partner) and the Bishop family’s house, which does not talk but is more expressive than 3/4 of the characters who do. I also liked Sophie (the Luna Lovegood equivalent), who comes in very late and is very cute and perceptive. Diana Bishop, though? Eh. Vampire/love-interest Matthew Clairmont? Eh. Matt’s mom, Ysabeau? Eh. The one-dimensional villains? Eh. The ending, which is also the set-up for the next book? Excellent!

So what am I nattering about, anyway? Here’s the plot: Diana Bishop, professor at Yale and last in a long line of extraordinary witches, tries not to use witchcraft for reasons that don’t quite make sense but are eventually spelled out. While doing research at Oxford, she comes across a document that every “creature” – witch, vampire, daemon – seems to know about but her, and they all want it. Since she’s the only one who’s been able to call the document forth, they want her to try again, but she has sent it back to the stacks and there it remains. Only Matthew, Oxford professor and filthy rich vampire, seems to care more about Diana than about what she can do for him. They fall in love, which is expressly forbidden by some agreement made generations ago among the three types of creatures: they won’t date outside of their own kind, if you will. Violating the agreement pisses off both the witches and the vampires – not so much the daemons, who tend to be loose cannons – and unites them against Diana and Matthew. Diana drinks a lot of tea, acts like a wimp, sleeps constantly, fails to make the most basic decisions, and wears black leggings and baggy blue sweaters on most occasions. Eventually I wanted to throttle her, but then the book got interesting again, Diana started communing with ghosts, the mystery of her parents’ gruesome death became a factor, her inability to harness her extraordinary witchcraft powers was explained, and she and Matthew left Ysabeau’s deathly dull French mansion for Sarah and Emily’s delightfully opinionated house in New York. And then the book ended with a set-up for a sequel, which I plan to read despite all the damned vampires that will dilute the presence of my beloved witches.

Speaking of vampires, here’s a question: how did they manage to ride horses before the invention of the automobile? I’ve seen at least a couple of books in which they did, this being one of them. Some vampires fly, which would get around that question. But for those that don’t, how do they avoid chomping down on their live transportation when they go into a feeding frenzy? If the humans they care about are in danger, why aren’t their horses?

Anyway, no gruesome animal stuff happens in this book. Matthew has an entire stable of horses at Ysabeau’s place in France, and they’re fine.

October 24, 2011 Posted by | beach book, Book Reviews, death of a parent, families, fantasy, horses, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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