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 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 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

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 Handling Sin, by Michael Malone

I want Mingo Sheffield to be a character in every book I read from here on out. I seriously loved him by the end of this book, even though I started off finding him annoying. Handling Sin is 671 pages long, but just about every page contained a laugh or a moment of joy, so it is definitely worth putting in the time to read it.

Mingo was not the protagonist, by the way. Raleigh Hayes, one of Mingo’s few friends, is. And Raleigh’s elderly father, who is in poor health on top of it all, runs off from the hospital with a young woman, leaving Raleigh with a long list of tasks he must complete if he ever wants to see any of his inheritance. Motivated more by concern for his evidently crazy father, Raleigh sets off on this mission, reluctantly taking Mingo along, and thereby stars in one of the most delightful books I have ever read.

The journey is wild. Raleigh has to deal with criminals of many different sorts, pregnant women and babies, stubborn people, eager people, gullible and naive people, angry people, the KKK, and his own crazy family. This includes Gates, his half brother and an adept liar, as well as his well-traveled aunt, Victoria Anna. Here are a couple of representative quotes:

Victoria sighed. “I stepped on a plate of deviled eggs last time I was here.”

“Oh, gollee, what a happy morning!” Mingo threw his arm back around Raleigh. “Look at everybody’s new clothes! Look at those daffodils!”

This is a funny, intricately plotted, happy, ramble of a book, and as long as it was, I was sad to see it end. I give it a very strong recommendation.

As for animals, there are some references to a few unpleasantries, including some farm animal butcherings, and a few funny moments. So I will say the book is MOSTLY SAFE for animal lovers. Enjoy!

January 18, 2011 Posted by | Book Reviews, death of a parent, families, humor, travel | | 1 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 Maybe This Time, by Jennifer Crusie

Once again, work has interfered with blogging. But enough about that. Jennifer Crusie has a fun new novel out, and you should read it!

As she so often does, Crusie writes partly from her own formula and partly in a new form. This time, she takes on the Gothic novel. Yes, she’s got the usual 30-something heroine who isn’t quite over an old love, and she’s incorporates a music theme and hot but not explicit sex scenes. But, having read almost everything she’s written, it appears that the Gothic genre is new territory for Crusie. Of course, she nails it. And of course, I am recommending this book.

In the story, Andie Miller is persuaded by her ex-husband, North, to visit a property he owns in the wilds of Ohio, and find out what is going on with two orphans he is guardian to. Reluctantly — in part because she needs the big pile of money North has thrown at her — Andie heads off to meet Carter and Alice, and the housekeeper from Hell. Of course, a nosy journalist and North’s younger brother, South (of course), intrude, along with Andie’s erstwhile fiance and ex-mother-in-law. Oh, and a couple of ghosts. More than a couple, actually. Hilarity ensues, along with touching moments and sex. And ghosts. The ghosts are what’s new to Crusie, and she handles them quite well. The book is a light read that doesn’t make you feel like you just wasted time with pointless brain candy.

As for animals, there are none. So this book is perfectly SAFE for animal lovers. Enjoy!

December 23, 2010 Posted by | beach book, Book Reviews, humor | , , | Leave a comment

Does the Dog Die? A Brief Review of Mennonite in a Little Black Dress, by Rhoda Janzen

I loved this book. Rhoda Janzen’s warm, funny, and insightful chronicle of living with her parents while she recovered from both a divorce and a devastating car crash completely delighted me.

Oh, by the way, about the divorce? Janzen’s husband of 15 years ditched her for a guy named Bob, whom he met on Gay.com. This is a major plot point in the memoir, something that Janzen mentions about 200 times. I get the impression she’d have preferred being ditched for someone from Blondebimbos.com. But really, if she were going to be ditched, it should have been for someone on Mywifeistoosmartandfunnyforme.com.

(And now that I’ve written the above paragraph with those website names, my blog is going to be so spammed. Totally spammed. Fortunately, WordPress has a strong spam catcher. But still.)

So that’s the set-up. To recover from her physical and psychic wounds, Janzen, a 40-year-old college professor, takes leave and retreats to her parents’ home. Her parents happen to be Mennonites, however (think sorta kinda Amish but with electricity and cars), which is quite a change from the world she’s been living in. Right off the bat, Janzen’s mother suggests that she date her cousin, who is available and has the added attraction of owning a tractor. And while Janzen’s parents are awesome, her academic don’t quite fly in the Mennonite community, where educating girls is viewed as a waste.

Lovingly, with a light sense of humor combined with the cold eye of someone whose decision to leave has been reinforced, Janzen lets us into her family’s world. She also takes us into the guts of her destroyed marriage. She re-enters the dating world, even with Mennonite men! And at the end, she provides recipes from her family. They’re pretty heavy and high-fat for my tastes, but they’re from another culture.

I loved this book and give it my highest recommendation.

As for animals, there’s nothing to worry about here. Janzen had (maybe still has) a cat. And birds fly. Cows moo. That kind of thing. So this book is perfectly SAFE for animal lovers. Enjoy!

October 2, 2010 Posted by | autobiography, beach book, Book Reviews, families, humor, memoir, nonfiction, recipes | , , , , | Leave a comment

Does the Dog Die? A Brief Review of Fool, By Christopher Moore

Christopher Moore and Shakespeare — does it get any better than this? Maybe, but not by much.

Moore is one of my favorite humorists, but in this book he is also delightfully inventive, retelling Shakespeare’s tragedy, King Lear, from the point of view of the Fool. Those who are familiar with the play might recall that after the storm scene, Shakespeare’s Fool vanishes. In Moore’s book, there are about 100 pages to go at that point. And with the Fool (aka Pocket) as narrator, Moore sets quite a task for himself. Happily, he is equal to that task.

As Lear does, Pocket favors Cordelia most of the three sisters. And he’s had his “moments” with Regan and Goneril, although in general he would be happy living without them. Unlike the befuddled Lear, he sees the machinations of the various players and has a very different view on who is and isn’t trustworthy. And so he uses his access and the fact that he’s ignored and under-estimated to manipulate the proceedings, right down to the very end.

He has help from a ghost, by the way. There’s always a ghost.

And while Moore generally sticks to the storyline of King Lear, he also brings in Macbeth’s three witches. Why? Because he needs them. And it’s his book. Since, under the circumstances, he really does stick pretty closely to the original story, I’m inclined to let that go. Plus, Moore is going to do what he wants anyway and not worry about what the rest of us think. Poorly hidden under Moore’s bawdy sense of humor and occasional whimsy, his heroes and heroines always have a strong sense of justice and a need to follow it through. In addition, he’s not big on loose ends. That may have been part of what attracted him to the part of the missing Fool in King Lear.

So. I highly recommend this book. I think anyone interested in Shakespeare will enjoy it, and Christopher Moore is a delight to read under any circumstances.

As for animals, Moore describes the medieval life events, including some brief  and non-descriptive mentions of “dinner preparations” and hunts. Cats roam around, and Fool rescues a kitten for Cordelia. There are ravens flapping around being ominous. Really, there’s nothing that would upset anyone. So I’m going to declare this book SAFE for animal lovers. Enjoy!

September 28, 2010 Posted by | animals, beach book, Book Reviews, humor, satire, Uncategorized | , , , | 1 Comment