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 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

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

Cats and Catastrophes

Let’s do the fun part first: I adopted two new cats. Sasha and Paris are 13 months old, I’ve had them for 4 weeks, and while I still miss Eddie (and Priscilla, and Hillary and Rabbit), they are just what I wanted and I am completely smitten.

Paris is quite shy, so he hangs out under the bed a lot:

His sister, Sasha, is making herself right at home:

As kittens, they were rescued from a feral colony and socialized, so they’re a bit more timid than most cats, but Sasha certainly has come around, and Paris is starting to warm up to me as well. I got them from the rescue group I volunteer with, Four Paws. They have some great cats available, and I wish I could adopt more.

Now, as for catastrophes: I live in Alexandria, Virginia, and last week we were hit by a very intense wind storm, with 80 mph gusts that knocked down trees and power lines. I was without power for 2 days, which was manageable since I had another place to stay and could park some of my refrigerated food in someone else’s fridge. Here are some pictures of the clean-up operations:

This wasn’t even the worst damage, it was just what was within 4 blocks of my house. I’ll happily not repeat this experience. But no one was killed, and the tree surgeons are making lots of money, and we still have a nice, dense tree cover in my lovely community. So, like the big snow last winter, it’s turning into a source of stories.

August 10, 2010 Posted by | animals, cats, pets, photography, random thoughts, weather | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Does the Dog Die? A Brief Review of The Tenth Muse, by Judith Jones

One of my college history professors — a man — once said that too much of what passes for history is the history of wars. Being a wise and thoughtful man, he gave us novels and memoirs written during the timeframe we were studying. It’s his line of thinking that I carry over when tagging this memoir as “history.” If we look at American culture over the last 60 years, we have been going through an almost constant state of revolution in our attitudes towards food. If Julia Child was the Jefferson (or Karl Marx) of that revolution, Judith Jones was the Washington (or Lenin). Both made a huge and enduring impact on the way we cook, thereby having a huge economic impact on the restaurant business, grocery stores, agriculture, the import/export sector, publishing, and other elements of our world. Will they be included in traditional history books? No. And that’s an oversight, and a problem with the way we perceive history. So, with my little rant behind me, let’s move on to the book review of The Tenth Muse: My Life in Food, which is Judith Jones’ autobiography.

I loved it, but I think that was inevitable. I already gave her recent cookbook, Cooking for One, a rave review. With the Tenth Muse, Jones, who turns 86 this year, begins by telling about her normal childhood in a home that served the bland pre-WWII  food that was typical of the American diet at that time. It was life in post-WWII Paris that liberated Jones. She threw herself into cooking, met the man who would become her husband, and came back to the U.S. desperately in need of a cookbook that didn’t yet exist — the cookbook that Julia Child was just starting to write. After fighting to get Mastering the Art of French Cooking published, Jones went on to shepherd through any number of now-famous cookbook authors, like Edna Lewis, Lidia Bastianach, Madhur Jaffrey, and many others.

Jones includes about 50 of her favorite recipes at the back of the book, but really, you read this for her engaging storytelling ability and her light and direct writing style. I strongly recommend this book.

As for animal lovers who don’t want to read about bad things happening to animals, this book is MOSTLY SAFE. If you are really squeamish at the merest mention of something bad happening to an animal, you won’t like this book. That seems to be typical of memoirs by food-oriented people, by the way. They always recount something a bit squicky. Towards the end of the book, Jones mentions in passing that she has always owned a dog, and she names several in the course of her story, but these pets aren’t really much of a presence in the book. And there’s the infamous beaver incident, which is noted but not shown. But overall, I think animal lovers should be able to read this excellent memoir for what it is. Enjoy!

March 4, 2010 Posted by | autobiography, beach book, biography, Book Reviews, dogs, food, history, nonfiction, pets, recipes | , , , | Leave a comment

Does the Dog Die? A Brief Review of The Danish Girl, by David Ebershoff

The Danish Girl is based on the true story of Einar Wegener/Lili Elbe and Gerda Gottlieb, two Denmark- and Paris-based artists from the 1910s and 1920s. David Ebershoff’s book is a fictionalized version of their lives, and changes a few of the facts. But he sticks with the general sense of what happened in their lives, which is a rich and entertaining story.

Einar and Greta (Gerda’s fictitious counterpart) are a young married couple living in Copenhagen. He is a successful artist; she is still searching for her creative identity. One day, Greta asks the rather slight Einar to model another woman’s shoes and hose for a picture. From that incident was born Lili. The Danish Girl is the fascinating story of how Einar slowly vanished, with Lili taking his place. The impact of this change on Einar’s marriage and art, and Greta’s courage and love in adapting to this unusual situation, are at the core of the story. Ultimately, Lili had sex reassignment surgery to better match her possibly hermaphroditic body to her identity as a woman — despite claims to the contrary a few decades later, this was the first such surgery ever attempted.

I am giving this book a mostly positive review, and I think most people are likely to enjoy it, but I do have one major misgiving: I did not like Einar/Lili. Sure, I admired the courage necessary to go through the difficult process of discovery. But beyond the story of gender identity and Einar’s struggle to become his true self as Lili, I found Lili, especially, to be weak, self-centered, and dull. She offers nothing. She even stops painting and takes a job selling gloves at a department store. Once Lili becomes Lili and not Einar, there is nothing interesting about her. She shows no interest in others except in terms of what they can do for her.

Greta is courageous and generous, but we learn little, if anything, about what motivates her, what drives her. Where Lili is boring aside from her drive to match her life to her sexual identity, Greta is mysterious, and not in a good way. I have to fault Ebershoff for not digging deep enough with her, and I have to wonder the extent to which he even tried to look at the situation through her eyes. It’s almost as if he sees her as less of a person than Einar/Lili, while I see her as a much stronger and more intriguing person. My feelings are a bit too tepid to give this book a recommendation.

As for animals, there is a Wegener family dog named Edvard IV who comes to no harm, although he ages. His mother and littermates did not fare so well, though that is mentioned only in passing. There is a Manx cat named Sophie, and Ebershoff makes both benign and unpleasant references to other animals. Because of the latter, I will declare this book MOSTLY SAFE for animal lovers.

January 14, 2010 Posted by | Book Reviews, dogs, families, historical fiction, pets | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Does the Dog Die? A Brief Review of I See You Everywhere, by Julia Glass

This is a good book, and I’m recommending it, but it isn’t at all like Julia Glass’s first two novels, Three Junes and The Whole World Over, both of which I reviewed favorably. I See You Everywhere is much darker, and more serious, than Glass’s previous work. This isn’t a criticism, but it’s important information for anyone who might read this book.

It begins lightly, however, and at first I thought it was going to be one of those novels about sisters that makes me glad I have brothers instead (thanks for not being girls, John and Steve!). With rather unexceptional parents, Louisa is the older daughter who is expected to be good at everything (been there), who wants a more conventional life, and who’s not much of a risk-taker. Clem, short for Clement, is 4 years younger, wilder, uninterested in settling down despite the occasional love interest, and a devoted animal lover. Louisa becomes the editor of an art magazine after giving up on being an artist herself, and Clem makes her career as a field biologist, starting with oceanic mammals and ending up following bears in Wyoming.

So they have interesting lives, they bicker, and they turn to each other for comfort even though they don’t understand each other very well. Eventually, the bickering turns into their way of communicating, and they understand each other all too well. It’s an intriguing psychological journey. It’s also very sad throughout most of the book. Both sisters will break your heart at different times, one more than the other. Books don’t make me cry, but if that’s ever happened to you, it’s entirely possible here. You are warned.

And this is a beautifully written, well-told story with great depth. I strongly recommend it, but not for when you’re already blue or want something light.

As for animals, it’s heartbreaking on that front as well. When I read books for this blog, I stick tape flags on the pages with relevant animal activity. I ran out of tape flags while reading this book. Animals die in I See You. Some are mentioned in passing, a few are characters. And yet there are some lovely passages relating to wildlife, like the injured hawk whose mate was there waiting for her when she was released after wildlife rehabilitators helped her through a broken wing. There are cats, horses, seals, birds, animals grown for food, and bears. One of the few light sequences has to do with foxhounds, a devoted caretaker, and puppies, in which Glass shows her characters’ capacity for warmth and compassion. But the bears — oh, the bears will tear at your soul. That’s not to say they all come to a bad end, but they will break your heart nonetheless. After considerable thought, I am declaring this book MOSTLY UNSAFE for animal lovers. I still recommend it for animal lovers, but go into it with your eyes open. This isn’t a beach book.

November 26, 2009 Posted by | animals, birds, Book Reviews, dogs, families, pets, wildlife | , , , , | Leave a comment

Does the Dog Die? A Brief Review of Autobiography of a Fat Bride, by Laurie Notaro

I’m trying to remember which friend said she loved Laurie Notaro. This is driving me crazy.

And Laurie Notaro has potential to drive a person crazy. She is hilarious and observant, but I think if I ran into her on my annual pilgrimage to Phoenix, I’d say “great book, Laurie” and leave it at that. She’s intense. And that’s not a criticism, but it’s something to keep in mind while reading this book. It’s not a sit-down-and-read-it-all-Saturday-afternoon book, it’s more of a keep-in-your-purse-and-read-a-few-pages-at-a-time-while-in-line book. And it really does lend itself to short spurts of reading, because it’s written as a series of 2 to 6 page essays.

Laurie has an impossible mother, a mind-boggling grandma, a sweet but very languid husband, weird neighbors, sisters (and thanks again to my brothers for being boys instead girls), pets, a job, and a body that might qualify her to be a plus-size model were she so inspired.

At her wedding reception, she ejected the videographer who thought the entire event had been planned just so he could play at being dictator. That alone is reason to love her. And how can you not giggle at someone who writes: “it looks like Stevie Wonder and Bo Derek jumped you in an alley and gang-braided you”? On the other hand, there were a few essays that did not enrich my life, to put it mildly. But most were fun. I would recommend this to anyone except stick-in-the-mud types. You know who you are.

As for animals, there are a very few unpleasant images, but nothing that’s likely to stay with you. And I don’t believe she really forgot to feed her dog – first, dogs don’t let you forget that, and second, she exaggerates so much that I believe she said that for effect. Still, Notaro is outrageous for effect, and the animals fall into her line of sight occasionally. I’m going to declare this book SAFE for animal lovers, but promise not to take her literally, okay?

August 13, 2009 Posted by | animals, beach book, Book Reviews, humor, pets, satire | , , | 1 Comment