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!


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

Bronco Busting in Downtown DC

Yes, he was drunk. Very drunk. We could smell it on his breath as he talked to us, and he wasn’t that close. I’m guessing it was cheap vodka with a hint of unidentifiable fruit.

We’d just outsmarted ourselves attempting to return home on Metro and finally, after a wait of 20+ minutes, found two seats together with the handicapped seats immediately in front of us at a right angle. Two or three stops later, he stumbled on and took one of those seats. His clothes were mostly clean, his black jeans were baggy and somewhat frayed at the bottom, and his hands were washed, though with what appeared to be dirt ground into some calluses on his hands. (My dad, the publisher of a small-town weekly newspaper, had hands like that.) The guy wore a straw hat that looked new, and a jaunty dark purple vest over a lavender shirt. Not your typical Washington workaholic, but someone who could have passed as a regular guy.

Could have, but didn’t.

We’ll call him Larry, because I’ve never met a normal Larry even though I’m sure they exist.

First up was the phone. Not everyone owns a smartphone. I don’t, Dave doesn’t, along with other people who don’t use a phone much in the first place. So Larry holding a flip phone to his ear was no big deal. Except, at about 11:10 at night he was saying something like the following:

“Hi, it’s me, the boss, the one that gives the orders. I want you to fire those three immediately. And set up two interviews for tomorrow at 10 a.m.”

This was a very strange and not at all credible conversation for someone to be having on Metro at 11:10 p.m. That, and the fact that his flip phone was not open. Yes, Larry gave his imperial orders on a closed cellphone.

Next, he tried to engage us in conversation. Dave, being a friendly guy who’d scoped out the situation, asked Larry if he’d come from the ball game. No, Larry said, he’d been bronco busting.

There is no bronco busting in downtown Washington DC.  Think what you will about the place in this age of cynicism, but we don’t have cowboys and ornery horses.  Trust me on this.

On further questioning, Larry said he’d been in Prince William County, which is some distance away and rural. Okay, then, he could have been at a county fair or something. But then why did he come into DC to get into the cheap vodka, which we were now smelling on his breath as he continued talking, something about growing up wealthy in Aspen, Colorado, moving from there to a big place outside Kalispell, Montana, and his stepfather, nicknamed “the Redneck,” being the last Marlboro man. He described the last Marlboro ad shoot in their backyard “in 1971, the year they stopped advertising on TV.”  (Who remembers that?)

I don’t remember precisely when Larry rolled into our laps, but it was around this time. Dave and I just pushed him back up into his seat as if we did this every day.

Larry then began rambling on about how rich he was, his little sister worth $500 million, his Mercedes, Cadillac, and SUV, and his three girlfriends. Apparently one was the main girlfriend, and she was unhappy about the other two. No talk about tiger blood, goddesses, or “Winning!!!”, however. You can only borrow so much from Charlie Sheen, I guess.

Larry told us that he was getting off at the Crystal City stop. The young man sitting next to him stood up and started pointing to the exit with his eyes. I assume he was indicating that if I needed to get off to get away from this guy, he’d protect me. Or maybe he was trying to pick me up, though I was old enough to be his mother. It was just another layer of weird.

Finally, we reached Crystal City. And Larry made no move to leave. So we started urging him: “This is your stop!” and “Here you are, enjoy the rest of your evening!”, etc. Anything to make sure he didn’t get off at our stop and try to follow us home. At the very last minute, Larry stood, barely keeping his pants up, and stumbled off the train. I don’t know where he was going, and maybe he didn’t either, though there was little to indicate he was homeless.

He was just another talkative character taking Metro home at night.

(Thanks to Dave for fleshing out some of the detail on this.)

August 19, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Things Are Changing Here

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted a book review.

Yes, I was busy and did some traveling as well. But I also needed a break and an opportunity to reflect on what I’m doing here.

As a result of the reflection, I’ll be doing the book reviews somewhat differently now. They’ll be more in my own voice, which means they could also be more succinct – or longer. It depends on the book.

I’m also going to handle the animal treatment differently, without the Safe/Not Safe warning. That’s going to be descriptive now, and I’ll focus on animal characters and whether there’s anything particularly off-putting about the way animals are described or portrayed. For example, a dog named Molly who features prominently as a character will be noted; an unnamed dog that follows the narrator briefly will not. Or an unnamed horse that dies on the battlefield in a gruesome death that’s described will be noted; an unnamed horse that dies on the battlefield with a mention but no description will not warrant space. And that’s all subject to change, depending on what I feel is important after reading the book.

August 18, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

2011: Phantom Ranch

Our stay at Phantom Ranch was the best part of the trip. Our overall approach to Phantom Ranch was unusual, at least compared to others we’ve met down there. What did we do? We turned it into a destination in and of itself, instead of a place to land during a multi-day hike. We were there for 4 nights and 3 full days. People who just use it as a rest stop ask us what on earth there is to do at Phantom Ranch. The answer is, plenty!

Although the hike down was hellish, the moment I walked into the women’s dorm at Phantom Ranch, things began to turn around, literally. The only bed left was an upper bunk, but someone saw me and said “oh, you need a lower bunk,” and gave me hers! (The lower bunks are usually more desirable.) This 10-bunk dorm was the best ever, populated by friendly women and girls who looked out for each other, shared anecdotes, and respected privacy.

They even had a sense of humor about the buckets. Due to plumbing things I don’t understand, and heavy run-off from winter snow melt, the powers that be at Phantom Ranch decided it was best to turn off the toilets. Instead of flushing, we dragged into the dorm big buckets of water that we filled with a hose outside, poured water from the buckets into the toilets, and … learned that if your toilet ever breaks, you can force stuff down it by pouring a big bucket of water into it. Who knew? Newcomers to the dorm were initially dismayed but eventually laughed about it, as that was the only sane reaction.

Aside from bucket wrangling, we hiked a bit, went to the twice-daily ranger talks, watched wildlife (bighorn sheep, ringtail cats, deer, etc.), chatted up our fellow Ranchers, wrote postcards, read, napped, and ate, all in one of the most beautiful spots in the country, made that much sweeter by the difficulty most people face in reaching it. Here are some pictures:


July 10, 2011 Posted by | Arizona, Grand Canyon, national parks, photography, travel, Uncategorized, wildlife | , , , , | Leave a comment

2011: Hike into the Grand Canyon – A Candidate for “Worst Day of My Life”

On our 13-day trip, there was only one bad day: April 26, the day we hiked down into the Grand Canyon. And it was bad, bad, bad.

We had hiked down Bright Angel Trail to Phantom Ranch twice before. This was our third trip. We are not power hikers or Canyon junkies, but we were not rookies.

Let me be very clear: we had done this previously. We knew what was involved.

So … what went wrong? Two things, primarily. One was our doing and preventable, and the second was completely out of our control.

The mistake was that we decided to eat breakfast on the trail. Before, we started off after a fairly large breakfast, but the thought was that energy bars on the trail would allow us to get an earlier start and earlier arrival. It backfired, and this was my fault. We had a light breakfast, and at 1.5 Mile House, Dave ate energy bars. I changed out of my long underwear (it was cold!) in the restrooms, and decided I wasn’t hungry enough to eat more than a couple of bites of one energy bar. By time we were within sight of 3 Mile House, I had a horrible leg cramp and had to sit alongside the trail and eat something. An English muffin and a cup of coffee are not enough food for 3 miles of difficult hiking. I had been drinking enough, including electrolyte replacement. It was the lack of food that caused the problem. I was rattled and, since I always find the hike down to be difficult, I stayed rattled. But this was the lesser of the two problems.

The big problem, the one completely out of our control, was the wind.

At the time of this hike, the country was being savaged by tornadoes in various regions. The Grand Canyon was beset by high winds, too, though not of a destructive nature. Still, it ruined our hike down, which was difficult to begin with and compounded by my leg cramp. We’re estimating the winds in the Canyon to have been up to 40 miles per hour. Walking into the wind was like pushing against a wall; winds from the side and back affected balance. It was the desert, and the wind dried us out. When exercising, people often breathe through their mouths, and the dry wind just sucked the moisture out of us. As Dave said, it was like walking into a hair dryer. It was an awful, miserable experience, and we soon learned that we weren’t the only ones who felt that way.

And to top it all off, I have balance issues going down. It’s not always obvious where to place my feet. (Going up is fine.) Hiking down, especially on a steep trail, is hard on the joints as well. Dave’s knee was wonky to begin with, so this was also tough for him, in addition to the wind.

So I eventually started unravelling. Part of me, the core part, knew I would complete the hike and be fine. The external part of me was completely miserable and immersed in despair. I think if we had had an additional problem of any sort, we would have been in serious trouble.

And this is why I am never doing this hike again. It taxed us to the extreme the first two times we did it. This third time was just too hard. It wasn’t safe.

I did take pictures on the way down, though not as many as usual:

Next up: Phantom Ranch, where everything immediately became wonderful.

June 25, 2011 Posted by | Arizona, Grand Canyon, national parks, travel, weather | , , , | 2 Comments

2011: South Rim of the Grand Canyon

From Sedona, we headed to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Normally, we drive up to Flagstaff on Route 89, stop for lunch, and take 180 straight to the Canyon. It’s not the fastest route, but it’s by far the most scenic. This time, however, we got back on 89 and took route 64 along the eastern route, also known as the East Rim Drive. We hadn’t done this in many years, and we wanted to see as much of the Canyon as possible. Here’s a map for perspective.

And here are some photos:

We then checked into El Tovar, the historic “luxury” hotel on the South Rim. We’ve stayed there before, and it truly is gorgeous and well-appointed. But this time, we learned just how luxurious it could be. Yes, we were upgraded to a suite. It was huge, just gigantic. And beautiful. The photos in the link don’t do it justice, and leave out a lot of the beautiful interior. So I’m going to include a few of my own, though not enough to really give a sense of the space:

Unfortunately, it was too cold and way too windy to use the balcony. The wind turned out to be a real problem a couple of days later, but that’s for the next post.

June 20, 2011 Posted by | Arizona, Grand Canyon, hotels, photography, travel | , | Leave a comment

A 2011 Southwestern Vacation: Sedona and Jerome, Arizona

We have been to Sedona, Arizona quite a few times, especially for people who live on the East Coast. But each visit is a bit different. This time, the primary reason for visiting was to adjust to the desert environment a bit before going to the Grand Canyon, where we planned to hike down to the Colorado River and stay a few nights at Phantom Ranch — the purpose of our trip. So we didn’t hike much in the Sedona area, even though that could have been a vacation in and of itself. Instead, we relaxed, ate, and shopped.

We also stayed at a new hotel, Kings Ransom. We had been staying at a lovely inn with great breakfasts, but it was pricey, and we felt less at home their as our favorite staff turned over. It just wasn’t worth the extra $120+ per night. By contrast, Kings Ransom had lovely grounds, including a pool and hot tub, a great location within walking distance of the center of the commercial district, and a perfect balance of night-time lighting, so that you could see where you were going but also see the stars very well. Our room had a balcony, king-sized bed, and small refrigerator. Add to that free WiFi, and we were all set.

We ate well, which we always do — I’ll eventually be writing the restaurant reviews on my food blog, I Hate Tomatoes! But I will say that 15.Quince in Jerome, where we had an amazing lunch, was a real find, and that Dahl and DiLuca was our choice for the repeat restaurant when we returned for a 1-night stay in Sedona on our way to Phoenix.

Sedona has changed over the years. When Dave and I first visited in the mid-1990s, it was a funky little town with a bunch of hotels, a few restaurants, some shops, and a lot of breathtaking views. It’s no longer funky, many of the breathtaking views now have homes filling in what was once open space, and the restaurants have gone upscale. The town still rolls up the sidewalks by 9 p.m. — I’m not one for staying out late, but it really does seem to fold up early there. It’s still one of the most beautiful places in the Southwest, but it no longer has that air of being a little undiscovered gem. For a bit of that, you go to the town of Jerome

Granted, Jerome is not exactly undiscovered. But it’s certainly not as slick as Sedona. It’s a bit rougher around the edges, a bit less predictable, and a bit more fun. Set onto a steep hillside and nicknamed “America’s Most Vertical City,” it requires a lot of walking. But around every corner, there’s something different, whether it’s somebody’s deck, an old brothel that’s been turned into a museum, an art gallery, or a bakery. We’re not recreational shoppers, but we are explorers, and we enjoyed checking out Jerome’s various nooks and crannies. That took the better part of a day.

The other day in Sedona … I asked Dave what we did, because I couldn’t remember. And he couldn’t remember, either. I know we didn’t hike. Usually, we’re pretty active, but that day we weren’t. From what I can recall, we ate lunch at a new restaurant. We bought additional hiking gear at Canyon Outfitters, which does not have a website. We read. And we psyched ourselves up for the next phase of the trip: driving to the Grand Canyon.

June 15, 2011 Posted by | Arizona, hotels, Sedona, travel, Uncategorized, weather | , , , | Leave a comment

Grand Canyon 2011: A Glorious Trip Interrupted by the Worst Day of My Life

In April, Dave and I went to Arizona in order to make our third trip down Bright Angel Trail to Phantom Ranch, at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. We’re hikers but not athletes, and this hike tests our limits. This time, I think we found our limits, at least on the way down. But it was still a great trip. I have a few regrets, but they’re all centered on that one day. The rest of the trip was nothing short of glorious.

So I’m going to write a series of blog posts, covering our stays in Sedona and along the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, our various lodgings, the people we met, Phantom Ranch itself, the hike out, some of the beautiful scenery (photos!), and the worst day of my life — April 26, 2011, the day we hiked down. On my food blog, I will also be discussing where and what we ate.


May 28, 2011 Posted by | national parks, travel | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Still Here

So  … I worked 246 hours in March, a bunch of hours at the beginning of April, and then I went on vacation, and now I have a cold.

I have something like 20 books in the queue for review, and I plan on doing a vacation report complete with photos.

I just haven’t done it yet.

May 14, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Life Interferes with Blogging

I haven’t added a new post here for months. Not because I’ve lost interest, but because life events became overwhelming. The “life events” were more work-related than anything — the family is healthy, I’m healthy, etc.

It’s unlikely I’ll be posting anything for 2-3 more weeks, but I just wanted to note that this is still an active site, I’m well, etc., etc.

See you in May.

April 16, 2011 Posted by | random thoughts | , | Leave a comment