The Dog Doesn’t Die

Book reviews & random thoughts

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 The Secret Papers of Madame Olivetti, by Annie Vanderbilt

This is another one of those books that came to me by means I don’t recall, though I suspect it was when I was looking for another book. I read so much that I have to follow these odd little paths off to the side.

Madame Olivetti is a typewriter. So really, this book is about Lily, a middle-aged widow who travels to a home in France that she inherited through her late husband’s family. There, Lily writes her family history, including light and frothy parts, serious parts, and everything in between. The stories are more serious than the cute cover and Lily herself would lead a reader to believe. Vanderbilt has written a series of linked vignettes, including two of Lily’s lost loves, infidelity, death, the joys and frustrations of marriage, and thwarted ambition. There’s also a fair amount of sex and, to my great annoyance, several characters with the same names. Like I’m going to read this in one sitting so I can tell which Paul is which, or I’m not going to have to reread a paragraph to determine which Justine Vanderbilt is talking about? Vanderbilt doesn’t even go with “old Justine” or “young Paul” or nicknames. This was an entertaining book, but it wasn’t compelling, and the name issue put my nose a bit out of joint. So I’m going to give this a provisional recommendation: it’s a good beach book if you want something light but not completely frivolous, and if the name overlapping doesn’t bother you as much as it bothers me.

As for animals, there is a cat character, Alonso, who catches and eats birds (referred to, not shown), and who Lily worries about at the end. Her late husband, one of the Pauls, raised cattle. There are wild birds, a cooked rooster, the occasional dog, horses, elk, mice, and insects. The book is UNSAFE for bird lovers, but probably SAFE for other animal lovers.

January 23, 2010 Posted by | animals, beach book, birds, Book Reviews, cats, dogs, families | , | 1 Comment

Does the Dog Die? A Brief Review of The Widow Clicquot, by Tilar J. Mazzeo

I really enjoyed this short book on the life of Barbe-Nicole Clicquot, the woman who, in the early 1800s, turned the Clicquot-Ponsardin winery from a small business to an international champagne powerhouse. As she explains several times throughout the book (we get it, really, we do), author Tilar Mazzeo had very little to work with in the way of a historical record. Barbe-Nicole put in 14-hour days at the business and didn’t have time to write letters or journal entries. So the fact that there is anything here at all is a testament to Mazzeo’s persistence and tenacity.

And in fact, the story is interesting and Mazzeo is a good writer. What more do you want? Barbe-Nicole faced one daunting challenge after another, to the point where you wonder why she didn’t just give up. And these barriers went beyond the fact that women were discouraged from entering business in the Napoleanic era. Everything from political forces to fragile glass to bad crops worked against her. Plus, there was the layabout son-in-law whom she doted on and who apparently thought he was a sure thing to inherit Barbe-Nicole’s empire. And still, she prevailed. As she wrote in a letter to her one surviving great-grandchild, “[Audacity] is a precious quality that has been very useful to me in the course of my long life. … I can be bolder than you realize.”

This is an excellent book, and I recommend it highly.

As for animals, they’re not a factor, so this book is SAFE for animal lovers. Enjoy!

January 20, 2010 Posted by | Book Reviews, history, wine | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Does the Dog Die? A Brief Review of My Life in France, by Julia Child

This book was a delight! Although it is less than a comprehensive autobiography, it does encompass Child’s life in beyond her time in France, extending to the success of her TV show here in the United States. And Julia Child is so … endearing, without pretense except in those instances where she is trying to give the benefit of the doubt to someone with whom she has been at odds.

Child and her husband, Paul, went to France as newlyweds in 1948. She had never been there before, while he had lived there in his 20s and was returning to work for the U.S. Information Service. At that point, she was an amateur in the kitchen and seemed rather adrift in her life, other than having found a partner in Paul and playing hostess to their many visiting friends and family members. As she explored Paris, she fell into cooking, taking classes at Cordon Bleu, talking to local chefs, and allying herself with two Frenchwomen with whom she taught French cooking to English-speaking ex-pats. She and Simone Beck went on to write the innovative cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, taking wildly different approaches to recipes, getting dumped by their first would-be publisher, and maintaining a strong friendship despite the tension these situations created. All along, Child took time to smell the sea air of the Meditteranean, follow Paul to postings in Germany and Norway, and become America’s first celebrity chef.

She was also a cat lover, and among Paul’s many photographs illustrating the book is a photo of their first cat, Minette. There is also a memorable French quote that translates to: “A house without a cat is like life without sunshine.” I could not agree more! As far as animal incidents, there are a couple of negative images, but nothing that keeps this book from being SAFE for animal lovers. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

January 30, 2009 Posted by | animals, Book Reviews, cats, food | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Does the Dog Die? A Brief Review of Me Talk Pretty One Day, by David Sedaris

This book was fun to read! And yet I’d resisted it for several years, in part because I didn’t really care for a more recent book by Sedaris, Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim. Me Talk Pretty One Day was much better, and I wish I’d picked it up sooner. Oh, well. Better to read it late than not at all.

“Me Talk” is a series of humorous essays, some of which first appeared in the New Yorker, Esquire, and other magazines, as well as on National Public Radio. Part One of the book is about Sedaris’s family and his adult life B.H. — Before Hugh, the partner who literally led Sedaris to France. And France is the setting for Part Deux, where Sedaris struggles with the French language, discovers the best way to watch American movies, and visits a local fair where hostile cattle are unleashed during a soccer game.

Generally, humor makes me smirk. It’s quite hard to get me beyond the smirk to the laugh-out-loud state, but Sedaris succeeded several times. His droll wit, his stranger-in-a-strange-land outlook (even while living in the U.S.), and his refusal to pretend to be anyone other than himself — fantasy life aside — add up to endearing comedy. For a sample of something from the book, go to this NPR site and click on The Sex of French Nouns. It’s 7 minutes long and hilarious.

From an animal lover’s perspective, this book is Mostly Safe. In an episode from Hugh’s childhood, a piglet is killed. On the other hand, when they lived in Africa, Hugh’s family had a pet monkey who went on vacations with them. Sedaris also recounts the lives and deaths of his family’s many pets in the sweet but sad essay entitled “Youth in Asia,” which you may want to skip if you still get weepy about having had to put down a pet.

One of the best chapters, both in general and from an animal lover’s perspective, is “I Almost Saw This Girl Get Killed.” First of all, no one dies, and second, that’s the chapter about the cantankerous cattle and the soccer game. The cattle, from a breed called “vachette,” were taken to various small-town fairs in Spain and France, where they were displayed in what was essentially a reverse bull-fight. Volunteers did a variety of strange activities — the aforementioned soccer game, stacking inner tubes, etc. — and the vachette attacked these defenseless individuals, sending a few off in an ambulance. Whether they were attempting to avenge their bull-fighting brethren or just attacking for the fun of it, the vachette were certainly diligent in their efforts, and the whole scene perplexed Sedaris to no end. In and of itself, this chapter is worth the price of the book. Enjoy!

January 3, 2009 Posted by | animals, Book Reviews, humor, pets, satire, travel | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Does the Dog Die? A Brief Review of Sarah’s Key, by Tatiana de Rosnay

This book was promoted as challenging, haunting, sad, intriguing, etc., with comparisons to Sophie’s Choice. Despite my skepticism at such high praise, I found it to be all of those things. The story begins in a Paris apartment in July 1942, as the French police, in an effort to please the Nazis, go beyond what was requested in rounding up Jews for deportation. As in all Holocaust novels, difficult decisions are made quickly, and sometimes those decisions turn out to be mistakes. In this case, the difficult decision that shapes the book is made by a child, 10-year-old Sarah. Decades later, American transplant Julia Jarmond researches the round-up and uncovers a link to Sarah, a link that she pursues despite interference from her odious French husband.

 

The book moves quickly, and it’s hard to write a review without giving away too much. I found some of the situations to be more plausible than others, but aside from one huge coincidence, there were no distractions. Some of the characters were well-drawn and other (like the loathesome husband) were too one-dimensional. But these are quibbles rather than substantive criticisms. The book held my interest from beginning to end, and I had a hard time putting it down. On that basis, I will recommend it.

 

As for animals, a few pets are mentioned, including a dog who barks out a couple of well-timed and essential warnings. None of these pets come to harm, making this book SAFE for animal lovers.

December 18, 2008 Posted by | Book Reviews | , , , , , | 4 Comments