Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Girls of Atomic City by Denise Kiernan


The Girls of Atomic City
The untold story of the women who helped win World War II.
2013
*****
5 stars - thought provoking and very readable
ALR Blue - all people, no animals



I don't often read non-fiction because (a) I have trouble keeping track of people and dates and (b) my brain gets so stretched out of shape by work that I don't typically have the bandwidth to learn anything new during reading time. So I will start by saying The Girls of Atomic City will stretch the brain a bit, but it is so well written (and contains a character reference) that it was easy for me to read and enjoy.

The Girls of Atomic City focuses on the women working at the uranium enrichment plant in Oak Ridge, Tennessee during World War II. The very fact of Oak Ridge was a revelation to me. I never knew.

Constructed on land the government confiscated from farmers (often with only a few weeks notice to vacate and questionable compensation), Oak Ridge was selected in 1942 as the likeliest location to carry out a massive (and secret) government project. At the height of operation, it housed over 70,000 workers, mostly women.

People were recruited from various walks of life and the word of the day was "keep your mouth shut." Each worker was provided with only enough information to do his or her specific task. No more. And woe be to anybody who attempted to find out more.

Locked in by armed guards and barbed wire, residents lived in slapdash housing units. Some single family, some dormitories. Spies were planted in the community to make sure everybody kept their traps shut. People disappeared without explanation. And nobody knew what was going on. Even chemists were kept focused on tasks isolated enough from what came before or after that they couldn't know the ultimate goal (except some sort of did as evidenced by the reference to uranium opening quite handily in the encyclopedia at the Oak Ridge library).

The whole enterprise was a bit chilling and it had an effect on the residents. A psychiatrist was eventually put on staff to manage the inevitable stress, depression, and anxiety that comes when even husbands and wives cannot have a "how was your day" chat. Information in and out was censored. Letters to home became almost indecipherable after the censors finished blacking out the most mundane items (like weather which could provide a hint of location).

Beyond the main topic, there is a wrenching portrayal of the treatment of blacks in America at the time. While white married partners could live together at Oak Ridge, black partners could not. Black residents lived in the worst of the housing and were banned from all activities such as dances and movie theaters. Separate cafeterias. Separate washrooms. They were also given the bottom of the barrel tasks like janitorial work. But even at that, the pay at Oak Ridge was generous enough to make it worthwhile for people to go there.

At least one black resident was used, unknowingly, as a Guinea pig by receiving radioactive injections rather than getting his broken bones set after he is injured in an automobile accident.

The entire book, while fascinating, was also very unsettling. Maybe because I did know where things were headed. They were headed towards the most horrific act of war ever perpetrated. Indeed, as the ultimate goal of Oak Ridge is at hand, Ms. Kiernan shares with us some of the anguish and indecision of scientists and politicians regarding use of the atom bomb. 

The discovery of atomic power was inevitable. Research papers had already discussed the powerful reactions possible as early as the late 1930's. The use of atomic power as a weapon of war might also have been inevitable as the Germans were quite close to building their own bomb right up until their defeat.

The Girls of Atomic City is worth reading for many reasons. It brings to life the people of the time and what their lives were like. It discusses the power of the government to keep secrets and touches on the willingness of people to put aside curiosity and ethical questions when they feel they are striving towards a cause of riotousness (and being paid well for same). It also questions the use of the bomb to end World War II. 

Now, a brief note on how I came upon this book. I was recently introduced to a book site called Bas Bleu. It's a quirky little bookstore that happens to have a book of the month club. I was intrigued as the titles all looked interesting and I had heard of none of the authors. I thought about doing the book a month thing, but they offered a discount for buying them all at once, so I did. I know, crazy. I didn't even check the library network first. Sometimes I'm just wild that way.

Friday, December 27, 2013

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

The Thirteenth Tale
by Diane Setterfield
2006
*****
5 stars - captivating

ALR Green - minor cat character who wanders about and gets patted



How long did I sit on the stairs after reading the letter? I don't know. For I was spellbound. There is something about words. In expert hands, manipulated deftly, they take you prisoner. Wind themselves around your limbs like spider silk, and when you are so enthralled you cannot move, they pierce your skin, enter your blood, numb your thoughts. Inside you they work their magic.

Margaret Lea lives a quiet life surrounded by books, surrounded by words. Her days are spent inside her father's bookshop where she and her father wile away the hours reading every sort of book available. She even has "reading time" set aside each night when, for hours, she will lose herself in the pages of a tale. Yeah, I liked Margaret from the start.

Here and there, Margaret's father acquires old journals of people long dead and Margaret dabbles in biography by writing short essays on the lives of those whose words are available to her. It is through these writings that the great author, Vida Winters, is made aware of Margaret's existence.

Miss Winters writes to Margaret, inviting her to listen to the tale she has to tell, her life's story. Now Miss Winters is known for spinning stories about her life and every prior "biographical" sketch has had a completely different life described.

All children mythologize their birth. It is a universal trait. You want to know someone? Heart, mind, and soul? Ask him to tell you about when he was born. What you get won't be the truth; it will be a story. And nothing is more telling than a story.

The Thirteenth Tale is a rich, wonderfully crafted exploration of Miss Winters life. Part Gothic mystery, part tragedy, all told with a prose that is absolutely enthralling. Of course all the basic elements are present; decaying mansion, madness, passion. From the dust cover "It is a tale of Gothic strangeness featuring the Angelfield family, including the beautiful and willful Isabelle, the feral twins Adeline and Emmeline, a ghost, a governess, a topiary garden, and a devastating fire."

Seriously. A topiary garden. You just know that foretells trouble.

In the center of it all is Margaret, the biographer. The descriptions of Margaret's love affair with books was as compelling to me as the central story. The writing is rich, the story complex, yet it dances successfully around the edge of the cliff of overwrought without ever plunging over.

Had I the leisure, I believe I would have read The Thirteenth Tale in a single, indulgent sitting.

As a postscript, at one point, Margaret remarks on the folly of starting one book too quickly after the last one. I'm guilty of that. Turning the last page of a book and immediately opening to the first page of the next. It creates a dizzying effect as your brain continues to churn over one story, half expecting the characters to appear in the pages you are currently reading, regardless of how incongruous that might be. Does that ever happen to you?

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A Bell for Adano by John Hersey


A Bell for Adano
by John Hersey
1944
1945 Pulitzer Prize
***
3 stars - pleasant

ALR Green - a mule is killed in the beginning of the story and it's a sad scene, but no other danger passages.


From Wikipedia:

The novel is set during the Allied occupation of the Italian coastal town of Adano in 1943. The main character, Major Victor Joppolo, is the temporary administrator of the town during the occupation, and is often referred to by the people of Adano as Mister Major. Joppolo is an idealistic Italian-American who wants to bring justice and compassion to Adano, which has been hardened by the authoritarian Fascist regime of Benito Mussolini.
When Major Joppolo arrives at Adano, he immediately asks the people of the town what they need the most. The first spokesman of the town tells Joppolo that they are in great need of food for some people have not eaten in days. The second spokesman of the town argues that the town's immediate necessity is a new bell. Joppolo is touched by the story of a 700 year old bell that was taken away from the town by the Fascists. Mussolini had ordered that the bell be removed from the town and be melted to make weapons for the war. The people were greatly attached to the bell. To them, the bell was a source of pride and unity. Joppolo immediately sees the importance of the bell and makes persistent attempts to locate the bell.


Well, it's a pleasant little story and a quick read, but I wasn't overly excited by it. 

What the reader does get is an honest depiction of the good and bad of soldiers. Some override orders or make intentional errors to do what is right, some are fools who unintentionally do harm, some pigs with no respect for the people they are protecting, while others still are hard headed and malicious.

Who can say which soldier is the best (refer to A Few Good Men)? 

I will say that stylistically, this was a nice change of pace from the typical Pulitzer. For starters, the setting wasn't the Midwest (oh, have mercy). In addition, the story was kept simple and direct. 

I would, however, put this on a high school reading list. Why? Because there are a lot of good examples of how kindness to others is more than repaid. 

But overall... meh.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Dogtripping by David Rsoenfelt


Dogtripping
by David Rosenfelt
2013
*****
5 stars - a wonderful celebration of dogs

ALR Green - Yes, this book is about dog rescue, but the author focuses exclusively on stories with happy endings, so don't fret.


First and foremost this is a dog book written by an actual author. What does that mean? The writing is wonderful. Oh thank you, Mr. Rosenfelt. 

David Rosenfelt and his wife, Debbie are dog rescuers extraordinaire. They have the resources and compassion to take in large numbers of dogs and their household count of rescues runs between 20-30 dogs. They primarily rescue larger dogs (80+ pounds) and older dogs (8+ years) which makes them the best doggie retirement community ever.

The book is centered around their trip from California to Maine. A trip which requires transport of 25 dogs. Yikes! He alternates chapters of the chronicles of the trip with stories about their various dogs and how they came to live at their estate. 

Throughout, Mr. Rosenfelt brings the same dry humor that has made his Andy Carpenter mysteries so enjoyable. He doesn't ever get on his high horse and tells some endearing tales of his inability to deal rationally with "situations" such as a snake in the driveway or attempting to enjoy fine dining with 25 sets of hungry eyes upon him.

Dog lovers are well aware of the dark side of rescue. I'm sure you've all read far too many stories of horrible abuse, tragic endings. Thank you, Mr. Rosenfelt for sparing your readers more of that. Thank you for being a certifiable dog lunatic.

Now then, I do want to commit a bit on the notion of having such an incredibly large number of dogs. At Dexter's daycare, the number of guests runs between 20-30 dogs per day. Miraculously, they all get along (well, almost all because some dogs, like my Mango, are justifiably given the boot). Part of that is when you get enough dogs in a group, the whole dynamic changes and frequently naughty behaviors are left behind as they jostle to find a way to fit in. My Raja was a perfect example. A highly reactive, 190 pound mastiff, woe be to any dog that set foot on our property (our fence still bears pronounced indentations from her repeated attempts to consume the dog next door). But at daycare, no worries. She loved watching the action from the laps of the attendees and would give a shout out to doggies who were being too rambunctious (thus her title of "fun police").

So a word of caution to would be dog adopters. If you are considering a dog from a foster home with more than three residents, keep in mind that the dog might show very different behaviors once he or she is left alone without peers to check in with. Mr. Rosenfelt not only keeps dogs, but he adopts out many. When interviewing potential owners, he takes the dog to neutral territory. That's important. Let the dog stand on his or her own. 

For me, I've always found two dogs to be ideal (Dexter, however, is an only dog as that seems to be his preference). Even if they aren't best pals, in general, dogs like having a doggie buddy. The most dogs I ever had at once was three. That was too many. They were very different, requiring different kinds of interaction from me, and I had to accept that one (my beloved Airedale, Angus) was going to be low dog on the totem pole. The moral? Know your limits.

Yeah, kind of got off topic there, what about the book? Just read it. It's a super happy and fun story. 

Saturday, December 21, 2013

The Witch Diggers by Jessamyn West

The Witch Diggers
by Jessamyn West
1951
1952 National Book Award Finalist
***
3 stars - would have been 4, but really bogged down in the last third

ALR Yellow - virtually no animals, but a barn fire towards the end of the book rattled me



The Witch Diggers takes place over a span of about eight months. It starts on Christmas Eve, 1899, and ends in August, 1900. The setting is Indiana.

Christie Fraser is making his way as an insurance salesman. After his mother's death, he's invited to visit with his Uncle and Cousin. During that time, he attends a party where he meets Cate Conboy. He is smitten. At the time of their meeting, he inquires after her father's line of business to which she replies "He's the head of an institution."

Here we get the first of many examples of what I found to be surprisingly modern writing:

Must be a prison, Christie decided, she's so touchy about it. I wonder what she does to help her father? Probably sits outside the gate with a shot-gun and shoots escaping prisoners.

As it turns out, Link Conboy, Cate's father, runs a poor house. Christie is invited for a visit and the reader is introduced to Cate's family, mother, father, sister, brother, and the residents of the poor house. Let's focus on the first two thirds of the story.

The writing is neither burdensome nor terse. I was surprised at how openly the author dealt with family dysfunction. She gets to the heart of all the complex interplay of married life as well as the ways in which our beliefs about good and bad, proper and repugnant, shape our children in often perplexing ways. Sex, nudity, and desire are particularly problematic for all concerned. Cate and her little sister, Em, sniff around the corners of the forbidden topics and, lacking sound guidance, often find themselves in a state of confusion over their own actions and desires.

The marriage between Link and Lib Conboy is discussed at length, primarily through the eyes of Lib. The author's observations are frank, sometimes discouraging, sometimes delightful. 

Then there are the residents of the poor farm. Orphans, the elderly, simpletons, and drunkards. All with their own baggage. 

Ms. West's descriptions of people and places are filled with vivid and delightful images.

Ordinarily, the Commissioners' Room smelled of stale tobacco, brass spittoons, damp leather, and some other uncertain odor: a urine-like smell, perhaps the smell left by the grief of old men, for the tears they shed there were rheumy and yellow. There was a political smell in the room too; the smell of country lawyers and their impatient sweat at the tedium and insignificance of Poor Farm happenings which nevertheless required their bored and exasperated presence.

Surprising and interesting vignettes abound. Like the witless Poor House resident who takes seriously the advice to treat a dose of the clap with the application of turpentine or the discussion of the bewildering world of women's fashion.

The plot, too, takes many unexpected paths.

Alas, I fear Ms. West felt the need to turn her writing to a more traditional style as the book neared its end. What had heretofore been a wonderful (if sometimes disturbing) character study slowed down to almost a halt as the reader was suddenly assaulted with long, philosophical observations from the minds of her characters.

I anticipated several ways for the story to end, but she chose an ending which I hadn't considered. Too bad. One of the things I liked about the book was how well it showed the multitude of experience that goes into being human without the need for dramatic events. But the ending was a dramatic event and instead of being left to mull over human nature, the reader was knocked about the head with symbolism and grand plan notions.

Oh well.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Elysium


Elysium
2013
starring Matt Damon and Jodie Foster
written and directed by Neill Blomkamp
**
2 stars - horribly, delightfully, absurdly bad

ALR Blue - no animals save some pigs in a cart


Yeah, this review will contain spoilers, but since the plot is so painfully obvious from the start, I doubt it will hurt your "enjoyment" at all.

Here's the setup. Rich people move to a space station. Poor people get left behind on a polluted planet. Rich people bad. Poor people good.

It's worth watching if you like special effects and beautiful cinematography. It is lovely and the robots and space ships are way cool.

Matt Damon is an ex-con who gets a lethal dose of radiation and has to get to Elysium or die. He makes a deal with a shady dude to get a false passport to Elysium provided he performs one final act of mayhem. Jodie Foster is the evil head of Homeland Security up on Elysium. Yes, they are called Homeland Security. It is that transparent.

So, like, duh. We see poor people trying to reach the promised land while the evil rich people protect themselves by shooting down the life rafts, er, I mean space ships used as transport. 

The last time I was so anxious for a leading character (Matt Damon) to die was when it took Leonardo Dicaprio about 87 minutes to finally let go of the stupid piece of drift wood and drown already in Titanic (another sorry excuse for a movie that interrupted awesome special effects with a mind numbing plot).

Are you ready? Here's all the totally over the top, OMG how could you be so dumb, moments in Elysium (OK, not all, but my favorites).

  1. Matt Damon gets an exoskeleton to make him strong for his mission. That wasn't dumb. What was dumb was that the surgery was preformed THROUGH HIS T-SHIRT. Yup. Like, guess he's never taking that shirt off again. So he runs around for the rest of the movie in his skanky t-shirt with little blood stains all over it where they drilled into his bones. Hello?
  2. Jodie Foster's accent. WTF woman? You can't be evil ice queen in a normal voice? Some sort of cross between BBC bad guy and Merna Loy.
  3. The radiation chamber. Oh no! Don't go in, Matt, because, you might get.... AHHHHH! Funny how when old Matt was operating it he pushed one button to close and a different button to fire it up but once he was trapped inside the thing just fired up on its own.
  4. And why did the robots need to get radiated anyway?
  5. Was that a voodoo doll they implanted in his head? 
  6. If the downloaded data was in the voodoo doll, why did it suck out Matt Damon's entire brain when the data was recovered? How did they manage just to download the secret codes and not Mr. Bad Guy's entire life anyway?
  7. Jodie Foster's change of heart as her life's blood pumps ridiculously slowly out of a severed artery. No way! Bad to the bone, right? "Let me go." As if!
  8. Big fight scene. Seriously?
  9. All those hospital ships going to Earth in the end and the big stampede of sick and messed up people? ME FIRST! ME FIRST! Yeah, that's going to go well, I'm sure. NOT!
You know what movie they should have made? How about get the whole Matt Damon saves the world stuff out of the way in the first half hour and then show us what happens five years down the line. How much you want to bet the world is divided again in to the haves and have nots and good old Elysium has got the border patrol up and running again. Then, maybe we would have had something to think about.


OK, glad I got that off my chest. I feel better now. Thank goodness I still have about 8700 episodes of Dr. Who to go. Nothing like the Doctor to cleanse one's viewing palette. 

Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Redeemer by Jo Nesbo


The Redeemer
by Jo Nesbo
2005
2009 translation by Don Bartlett
****
4 stars - dark and engrossing

ALR Green - one dog who meets a swift, but untimely death


After reading this book, Norway is moving way down on the list of places to retire to. The novel takes place during the long, dark Norwegian winter. Damn, it's so cold there that I needed a blanket just to read the story.

But I digress.

Great mystery, wonderful characters. This is the sort of book where even characters with only one brief scene get a bit of a back story. I love that.

From the dust jacket:

Two young Christmas shoppers stop to hear a Salvation Army concert on a crowded Oslo street. An explosion cuts through the music and the bitter cold: one of the singers falls dead, shot in the head at point-blank range. Harry Hole - the Oslo Police Department's best investigator and worst civil servant - has little to work with: no suspect, no weapon, and no motive. But Harry's troubles will multiply. As the search closes in, the killer becomes increasingly desperate, and Harry's chase takes him to the most forbidden corners of the former Yugoslavia.

The Redemption mentioned in the title comes in many layers. Redemption for horrific wrongs of the past, redemption for smaller sins of the soul in the present. Harry is a wonderful character. He struggles with alcoholism, struggles with his co-workers, struggles with his conscience. 

While Jo Nesbo is an author whose works I've read before (and will again), he doesn't write the sort of books to be consumed in rapid succession. His characters are a bit draining, his plots emotional exhausting.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Ravenmocker by Jean Hager


Ravenmocker
by Jean Hager
1992
***
3 stars - a perfect cozy

ALR Green - Nice Golden Retriever dog who gets patted and car rides


This is a formulaic and enjoyable cozy. Everything you're looking for. We have a likable heroine, an interesting mystery, no violence (although two people do die), and even a dog.

Molly Bearpaw is an investigator for the Native American Advocacy League. When one of the residents of the local nursing home dies under mysterious circumstances, his son asks Molly to look into things. He isn't happy with the dismissive diagnosis of the nursing home doctor.

Then another resident dies and Molly joins forces with local law enforcement (in the guise of the requisite cozy love interest) to get to the bottom of things.

If you're looking for something safe and entertaining to fill an afternoon, look no further. The mystery is compelling and there are enough clues that you can figure it out right along with Molly.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Under the Dome by Stephen King (TV series and book)



Under the Dome
TV series
2013
**
2 stars - barf

ALR Green - a cow gets cut in half and moos when the dome comes down (and the producers were so enamored with that special effect they show it EVERY time the credits run). One doggie runs around and sniffs out stuff and sometimes barks.





Here's the setup. One day, a big dome comes down over a small town in Maine. Residents are trapped inside, stuff happens.

You know how sometimes you're watching a TV show or movie and there are some inconsistencies but you overlook them because the story is so darn good? Well, not this time, so let's begin with those, shall we?

  1. Check out the artwork above. Aw, the doggie is outside the dome and wants his master. Except that in the series, that doggie is INSIDE the dome. Sheesh. At least get a different actor dog.
  2. Whisper quiet, indoor friendly generators. I want one of those! All the generators I've ever seen make a racket and if you don't run them outside, the exhaust will kill you.
  3. Regenerating landscape. The government tries to nuke the dome. Dome is intact but everything outside of it turns into a charred landscape. Well, for about one episode, then the outside scenery is all green and lush and beautiful again.
  4. Wonder woman Angie running the diner on her own. Yup, she's cook, bottle washer, and hostess all in one. Food in front of everybody, diner is spotless, and she does all of that while spending most of her time at the counter jabbering with the locals and making goo goo eyes.
  5. Lights on, folks, burn that propane! Who cares if the power is out, leave the lights burning 24x7.
  6. A drug kingpin who shoots somebody at point blank range and doesn't kill them? Um, hello?
  7. Love the short wave radio (or whatever) where all you have to do is spin the dial and you'll stumble across the right transmissions at the right time. And why spin the dial anyway? Is the government changing their frequencies that often?
Lazy, lazy, lazy. No excuse for that sort of thing and none of it adds to the plot.

Well, I could go on and on, but let's get to the "story." The longer I watched the more I thought "that Stephen King is losing it." Smarmy, stupid, tripe. It started out OK. You've got Big Jim Rennie going all power hungry and preying on people's fear to get them to turn on one another. Yup.

But what's up with the baby born named Alice when conveniently politically correct lesbian Alice dies? Oh, big circle of life, I suppose. Stupid egg. Stupid teenagers saving the town by making out when the bomb hits. Stupid Angie, like really incredibly stupid Angie. Blerg.

Then I realized about 2/3 of the way through that this was going into another season. NOOOOOO!

So I checked the book out of the library.


Under the Dome
by Stephen King
2009
*****
5 stars - Booyah!

ALR Yellow - kind of dark yellow. Nothing happens to any animals that doesn't happen to humans and in fact the animals are all spared the more gruesome stuff, but this is Stephen King, after all. There are three doggie characters. Only two survive.





Except for the fact of the dome, the names of the characters, and Big Jim as the bad guy, there is NO resemblance here to the TV series. NONE, I mean it! Because this, my friends, is a wicked good book. No kidding.

Uh oh, here comes the dome. Trapped like rats. Now what? Now what indeed? This is a plausible dome. You can talk through it, electronic communications work, but no escape. Oh goodie. Now for some of Stephen King's observations about human nature. Very real, very scary.

The scariest thing in the book is how quickly people start acting like cattle and follow the voice that speaks the loudest. It isn't long before Big Jim has the majority of people supporting him and woe be to anybody that questions his decisions. He's no fool. He creates a new police department populated by the most dangerous species on the face of the earth - teenage boys. EEEEEE!

The story is something of a call to arms as well. When you see something bad going down, you have to find the courage to fight it. And that doesn't mean you are going to get a parade down main street. It means you might die, but if nobody stands up, if nobody is willing to say "this is wrong" then we all go down the crapper together. Too many sheep being herded along by the fear peddlers in the good old USA for my taste these days.

I was relieved to see that all of the stupid stuff in the TV series just plain didn't happen in the book. Characters, plot lines, gone. There is no benevolent higher power talking to the kids. Bad people are really bad. People don't always die pretty. And it being Maine, you don't have the requisite politically correct mix of people. You have Maine people. Not a bad sort, but fairly homogeneous.

Don't want to say too much. You might read the book, right? Don't be put off by the size of it (over 1000 pages). You'll find it engrossing. Don't be too scared by the bad stuff. It's real and it's scary, but there is a lot of good stuff too. Heroes, bad guys, and everything in between.

All books end at some point and the more I like a book the more it is impossible for the author to stop in a way that satisfies me. The ending here was good enough. I was sorry it was over, but out of all the ways to finish, Mr. King selected one that was palatable. Poor old Stephen King tells us in a postscript that the book was actually trimmed down quite a bit. I would have read the expanded version. It's all good.

Now then, for you animal lovers out there. Here's the low down. Some stuff happens and animals get frightened and they die and that was hard for me to read. As I said above, there are three doggies, two of them die. But all the doggies are good sorts, well loved by their humans, and the two that die have a swift and painless death.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Journey in the Dark by Martin Flavin


Journey in the Dark
by Martin Flavin
1943
1944 Pulitzer Prize
****
4 stars - what a nice book
ALR Blue - no pets, just the odd horse pulling a carriage, a cow to milk here and there



At last, a good book from that pesky Pulitzer Prize committee. 

Journey in the Dark tells the story of Sam Braden. His childhood takes place in poverty during the late nineteenth century. Sam is the youngest of four children. His family lives squarely on the wrong side of the tracks. Trapped in a limited existence of which young Sam is blissfully unaware until the year he realizes that he didn't get a sled for Christmas because his family is poor. 

He determines that he will not perpetuate poverty. His ambition is not to be rich and powerful, but to be comfortable. To rise above the circumstances of his youth and he sets about achieving that goal in a methodical fashion. He works hard, he takes risks, and eventually becomes a successful businessman.

Sam is decidedly human, flawed. His heart is often his undoing and his life is not without frustration and sadness. 

What delighted me was the style of the story. Nothing heroic, or terribly dramatic (save for the retelling of the sinking of the Titanic by a family friend). Just a life that is plenty dramatic for the person living it. The pacing of the book is brilliant. Just as in life, sometimes years go by with nothing of note going on and other times an event, large or small, will change one's course. So too, we recall our lives out of sequence and the book takes some skips and jumps (but never confusing).

And so, the Pulitzer Prize committee has redeemed itself.

But now, on to the really good stuff. 

The library sent me one of those fancy pants Franklin Library editions. You know the ones I mean. The "own all the greatest books ever written" subscription service. This edition proudly printed in 1978 (limited edition so act now). From the condition of the book, I imagine it might have never even been read. So pristine was it, that I was loath to turn down the corner of even one page (thus no quotes). No notations, no stains on the pages, each one still crisp and new. No old book smell. 

Check it out. Leather cover, gold edged pages, and some sort of silky fabric on the front and back inserts.



Fancy illustrations and what do you know? Even a silky gold book mark.




Makes me almost wish I'd bought that subscription. These books are amazing. I do believe it is the most beautifully bound and printed book I have ever read. I kind of hate to give it up as I suspect it will return to the main circulation shelves, never to venture out again.

It was acquired by the library in 1989. I want to call them and ask if they have the complete collection. I covet that collection.

Sigh.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Man with the Black Dog by Mario Cesare


The Man with the Black Dog
by Mario Cesare
2011
****
4 stars - OK, a literary 3 stars, but it gets an extra star for having so much heart

ALR Yellow - some scary stuff, but the author doesn't dwell on things or sensationalize them and neither did I



This is the tale of Mario Cesare, game reserve manager, ecotourist guide, and all around animal lover, and his beloved dog, Shilo.

After a brief introduction into his pre-Shilo life, Mr. Cesare focuses on the 14 years that he and Shilo worked together and the incredible bond they had. 

I'm oddly at a loss for words even though I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I suppose because the book was, for me, more of a sensation than a story. Mr. Cesare's love for his dog wraps around the reader like a warm blanket. 

Through his various jobs in South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, the reader learns about the magnificent wildlife that is part of Africa. Now I have no doubt that he's seen some pretty terrible things, but while there are some scary moments involving animals, the author doesn't provide gory details and he has omitted any stories that include undue suffering. Rather, he focuses on the times he can put an animal out of its misery or when reckless beasts have close encounters that turn out OK. 

Shilo obviously had to learn a lot in order to survive in the bush. Mr. Cesare trained Shilo using only his own instincts and empathy. Subsequently, he manages to teach Shilo to follow life saving rules without ever having to use force or punishment. He's a natural. 

Interestingly, if you google Mario Cesare, there are few hits save for his book. That made me like him even more. He comes across as a gentle, caring person who is not interested in his own fame, so his low Internet profile reinforced that impression. 

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Dragon's Teeth by Upton Sinclair


Dragon's Teeth
by Upton Sinclair
1942
1943 Pulitzer Prize
no rating


Upton Sinclair has a lot of important stuff to say. Unfortunately, he never seems to say it in a way that doesn't make my head spin. I bailed out after 100 pages and am frustrated that I did so. I just had too much trouble keeping track of people and following the story. Too bad, because I know I would have learned some history and I suspect it's really a great book.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Hello Goodbye Hello by Craig Brown


Hello Goodbye Hello
by Craig Brown
2011
***
3 stars - even though I didn't finish it
ALR Blue - no animals, just people



As noted above, I didn't finish this book, but that doesn't mean it isn't good and I think some people will enjoy it.

Hello Goodbye Hello is a series of vignettes of meetings between the famous and infamous. Well written and well researched, each encounter is a delightful recreation of ordinary encounters made extraordinary by those involved.

I started off strong, but halfway through, a sameness settled in that ultimately robbed me of the desire to finish. That said, I do recommend the book. I can't fault it based on anything other than my own loss of interest.

You do need to know your history as the encounters are between politicians and artists of the early to mid twentieth century.

One gripe. The author goes out of his way to inform the reader that the book is comprised of 101 stories, each 1001 words, making the book 101,101 words long. Hardly. The heavily footnoted chapters tell the truth. Important information was rather randomly chopped and put at the bottom of the page in order to make the text fit the 1001 word format. Tsk, tsk.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

The Strange Children by Caroline Gordon


The Strange Children
by Caroline Gordon
1951
1952 National Book Award Finalist
**
2 stars - oh, come on!

ALR Green - nice little dachshund named Borcke and a brief appearance by a grouchy pony


Lucy Lewis lives with her dilettante parents in Tennessee.

One day, Uncle Tubby, and Kevin and Isabel Reardon come to visit.

The grownups talk a lot. They drink gin. They talk some more.

Lucy wanders around.

Lucy steals a crucifix from Kevin Reardon.

Jenny, the hired lady, gets drunk in the afternoon.

Some people setup for a revival meeting.

More wandering around.

Lots of suggestive looks between Isabel and Tubby.

Lucy gets thrown off a bucking pony.

One of the guys at the revival meeting is bit by a rattlesnake.

Tubby takes off with Mrs. Reardon.

Lucy returns the crucifix. 

We find out (gasp) that Mrs. Reardon is coo coo nutty mental fits and her husband had to sign her out of the loony bin for their big trip to visit Lucy's parents. Oh well.

The end.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Lacey Blue and Friends by Bill Hart


Lacey Blue and Friends
by Bill Hart
2010
*****
5 stars - perfect dog lover's story
ALR Yellow - some tense moments on the order of a Disney movie


This book is intended for young readers. Nevertheless, I loved it and it was certainly the right choice to cleanse my reading pallet after the last unfortunate volume.

Lacey Blue was born to race and she loves doing it. Mr. Hart takes the reader into the mind of the greyhound to show us how thrilling the chase is for these majestic animals. Lacey is owned by a compassionate human, Ryan, who races dogs as long as they love it and are healthy. When his dogs cannot race he either keeps them as couch ornaments or finds good homes for them. 

Difficult to say more without revealing the plot. Per the back cover "... she begins a series of adventures with various owners that will push her to the very limits."

There are a lot of moderately scary scenes, but it was clear from the tone of the book that the main story would have a happy ending. I can readily see reading this as a bedtime story to your favorite young person. I don't think any of the tension is severe enough to cause wakefulness.

For all you crazy, dog loving adults, I recommend this as a safe, short read. Volume two is in the queue.

Now then, I believe the cover dog Miss Blueberry from the Tales and Tails pack.

Loyal readers know that my new books usually go to the library after I've read them. This one is staying. It's calm and soothing, I love gazing at the cover and I look forward to sharing it with my grandchildren.

Here is a link to Bill Hart's web site where you can read more about his greyhound books.

Friday, November 1, 2013

One Death Too Many by Glenn Ickler


One Death Too Many
by Glenn Ickler
2003
*
1 star - just not my cup of tea
ALR Blue - no animals


I met Mr. Ickler at a New England fall fair. He had a booth set up and was selling autographed copies of his Al Jeffery / Mitch Mitchell series. He seemed like a nice guy and it pains me to write an unfavorable review.

The main issue is that he missed what I would consider his target audience. These are cozy mysteries in that they have regular people who make jokes, live life, and happen to be surrounded by murder. Al and Mitch are newspaper journalists. 

Here's why the book didn't work for me (in the 60 pages I read)
  • These guys never seem to work. In fact all they do is take time off from work. I would have expected a sub plot that showed them actually doing their job.
  • There really wasn't any mystery to the mystery (of course I didn't finish so maybe things improved).
  • Cozy mysteries (which this seems to approximate) are usually read by women. That means that sex scenes need to be a bit romantic, not "Like a train gliding into a tunnel, he slipped smoothly into the offered opening..." That's from page one, by the way.
  • Al and Mitch like puns. I'm OK with that, but the conversations with puns don't flow. I couldn't figure out if this was a light hearted romp or a creepy story.

I wish Mr. Ickler all the best and I applaud him for having the tenacity to not only write, but get published, something on the order of 10 books. 

As for me, well, I've got some books waiting at the library for me and right now so I will drop my two autographed Icklers in the library collection and move on.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

From Here to Eternity by James Jones


From Here to Eternity
by James Jones
1951
1952 National Book Award
*****
5 stars - epic

ALR Green - one tense, very brief dog scene, but no dogs injured



I can still tell you the exact location on my mother's book shelves of both The Thin Red Line and From Here to Eternity. I read The Thin Red Line as a teenager but never had the stamina for its predecessor.

First and foremost, forget about that dumb movie. Blech. The epic beach scene? So totally not how things actually went down.

At over 850 pages, reading this novel is a commitment and there were times when I thought to give up. Not because it is bad, but it was very uncomfortable in many sections. The story takes place at an army base on Hawaii in the months leading up to the attack on Pearl Harbor. Mr. Jones, a WW II veteran, draws extensively on his personal experience to provide us with an unflinching account of what went on in the army and how it affected individual soldiers.

I didn't find any characters to like. These are bored, young men, far away from home. They spend a lot of time drunk, they gamble, they visit whore houses, and they perform acts of violence against each other just for sport. 

But make no mistake, you are there. Mr. Jones provides us with details about the thoughts and motivations of the men. These guys struggle with life and sometimes I wanted to just slap some sense into them while others I wanted to air lift them back home where they could enjoy a bit of normalcy.

The depiction of women and homosexuals was hard to stomach. Both groups are relegated to the role of whore in one way or another. The women are desperate, clinging beings who use sex as a tool and the homosexuals are equally needy and willing to pay the soldiers in alcohol just to get company. The soldiers, to a man, use the women and homosexuals to satisfy their own desires without ever considering them anything approaching peers. 

The main characters are all enlisted men. Officers float around the periphery, but they don't play much of a role in the day to day. Mr. Jones apparently spent some time in the stockades himself and while the reader might want to think the stockade scenes are exaggerated, I think not. 

We can watch all the happy, buddy movies about the military we want, but I suggest that From Here to Eternity be required reading for anybody who knows somebody in uniform. Being thrown together with strangers, with no privacy, and few escapes, and subjected daily to a hierarchy that cannot be questioned is unimaginable. The men evolve in many ways through the course of the book and it is apparent how the environment forces them into actions that would never have occurred to them in a more normal setting.

Now to be honest, I doubt I will re-read From Here to Eternity (the normal requirement for a five star rating). So why five stars? It's a freakin' masterpiece of writing, that's why. You might not like what Mr. Jones has to say, but damn if he doesn't say it well.

Early on the novel, when Mr. Jones is describing the day to day in a peace time barracks, he brings up the topic of "fatigue duty." This is the routine of keeping the place cleaned up and is called "fatigue" because of its endlessness. It reminded me of housework.

It is the knowledge of the unendingness and of the repetitious uselessness, the do it up so it can be done again, that makes Fatigue fatigue.

Friday, October 18, 2013

A Shot in the Bark by C.A. Newsome


A Shot in the Bark
by C.A. Newsome
2011
*
1 star - WHERE'S THE CORGI?

ALR Green - dogs run around and get patted


I really did try. I hung in there for 180 out of 221 pages.

First demerit goes to the cover art. Is that or is that not a corgi? Not a corgi in sight in the book. OK, so, that had me fuming, but I at least thought we'd get a nice doggie kind of mystery. Nope. The dogs in the story are all relegated to running around in the dog park, begging for pizza, and getting patted. Not even enough doggie stuff for me to classify it as a dog mystery.

The dog park itself just serves as a convenient place to put all the characters in one place on a regular basis so that they can talk about what's going on.

Bland characters, boring plot. Here's a test. If I moved all the action to the local coffee shop and replaced the dogs with, let's say, donuts, would I have the same book? Yes.

I did skim the ending. Turns out the author leaves the killer (because there is apparently a serial killer on the loose) unknown. Yup, killer gets away to plot and plan another day but all the dorky humans think the case is closed. Sigh.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn


Gone Girl
by Gillian Flynn
2012
*****
5 stars - WOW!

ALR Blue - Technically, there is a cat, but it sits on a doorstep, eats a couple of times, and gets patted once. Not a player.



One of the best books I have ever read. Wow indeed.

How to give you a clue without any spoilers?

On the day of his fifth wedding anniversary, Nick Dunne returns home to find the front door of his house open (and aforementioned cat on the doorstep), the living room in shambles, and his wife... gone. But don't even think you are about to read a "who done it?" Not even close.

Attention focuses on Nick as he struggles to make sense out of his wife's disappearance while simultaneously dealing with the critical eye of the media and the hovering parents of his wife, Amy. During the first part of the book, the author alternates between Nick's present and Amy's past as revealed through her journal entries. But things are not as they seem. So totally very messed up not as they seem at all.

From the dust jacket:

Gone Girl's toxic mix of sharp-edged wit and deliciously chilling prose creates a nerve-fraying thriller that confounds you at every turn.

Now then, Pulitzer Prize committee. Why is this not one of your top choices for an award? It is by an American author and it is most certainly about American life. Principally about life in an overly connected era where public image is everything and trial by FaceBook is a matter of routine. Poor nervous Nick, on the day of his wife's disappearance is standing before the cameras, stunned, and instinctively gives a small smile (don't we all smile for the camera?). Immediately "HE DID IT!" 

So this certainly qualifies for a Pulitzer as far as content goes. Writing style? Are you kidding? You KNOW these characters and sweat and pull your hair out along with them. The sentences are precise, not a wasted word, yet colorful enough to paint complete scenes. It's all so real that it is hard to remember it's a novel. 

Ms. Gillian is known for her ability to portray convincingly some of the less savory human characteristics and she does that brilliantly in Gone Girl. I heard an interview with her on the radio. She sounded like a nice, normal person. Who knows where her books come from? Maybe she's just like totally over the top talented. 

I am definitely going to read the rest of her books. But first my brain needs a break because Gone Girl left me feeling a bit done in. Exhausting.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Sightless in Seattle by Claire Anderson


Sightless in Seattle
by Claire Anderson
2012
***
3 stars - good story, so so writing

ALR Green - Happy dogs doing good work


Claire Anderson gives us some wonderful anecdotes about guide dog boot camp and the challenges of being legally blind. However the writing is painfully terse and one only gets glimpses of what I imagine are fascinating stories.

I particularly liked her recitation of a "day in the life" of living with a guide dog. Made me feel a bit abashed that I don't brush Dexter often enough and certainly am lacking when it comes to brushing his teeth.

I totally see a TV series here. So much so that I sent the author an email encouraging her to look into it. 

Oh, and I also asked her to solve for me the mystery of poop collection. While she did share how poop depositing in a controlled fashion is achieved, well, inquiring minds want to know.

Friday, October 11, 2013

The Curse of the Scarab by H.Y. Hanna


The Curse of the Scarab
by H.Y. Hanna
2013
****
4 stars - dark, scary, fun

ALR Yellow - because it's dark and scary (see above)


This is the first in a series of adventure / mystery stories for young people featuring Honey the Great Dane. 

From the back cover

Honey the Great Dane enjoyed a pretty peaceful life: walking her human, checking Peemail at the park... until the arrival of a puppy named Bean turns her life upside down. But when Bean goes missing - together with other neighborhood pups - Honey sets out on a dangerous quest to find them.

The book is written from Honey's perspective. Along with her best pals from the dog park, Honey is determined to find those puppies. Her sidekicks, a husky, a beagle, and a mixed breed, are all wonderful. Ms. Hanna has really captured the quirks of the different kinds of dogs. And of course Honey herself. Absurdly large, slobbery, and with a heart of gold.

But the story is no lark. Evil is afoot and Honey and her pals find themselves in some very scary situations. There is a lot of drama packed into this short volume. I think that as an adult I was more scared than I would have been had I read this when I was an official young person. I suspect youngsters will fall completely in with the dogs and not be fretting about how long they spend away from home or what all that stuff the beagle is eating will do to his digestion.

I'd put the drama about par with a classic Disney movie. Think Bambi or 101 Dalmatians. Those movies had some pretty intense scenes and so does Curse of the Scarab. In fact I was about two thirds through and it was getting time to go to work and I was late to work because I had to finish. I couldn't take the stress of not knowing how things worked out (and, boy does she ratchet up the action in the end).

This would be a great book to read aloud to whatever child you have at hand. Plenty of opportunity to use different voices and, more importantly, lots to talk about. The moral lessons aren't in your face, but there are some important messages about always helping those who are suffering and not letting stereotypes get in the way of making new friends.

Now then, on a different note, I hope Ms. Hanna will forgive me some humor at the expense of one of her characters. That being the dog Newbie. From the moment he started speaking, all I could imagine was Carmen Ghia from The Producers. If you haven't seen the movie, watch the clip below (starting at 30 seconds).

"Yessssssssss..."


Thursday, October 10, 2013

Dog Days by Elsa Watson


Dog Days
by Elsa Watson
2012
****
4 stars - a delightful, happy making read

ALR Green - Folks like me, who tend to be totally besotted with dogs, might have a few yellow moments and shed those happy sad tears, but it's all good.


Jessica Sheldon, co-owner of the Glimmerglass cafe is preparing for the big Woofinstock canine festival. Too bad she just plain doesn't like dogs. In fact she is terrified of them and even spotting one across at a distance sends images of carnage through her brain.

But she's trying and she knows being a good dog lover is part and parcel of being a member of the Madrona community, so when she sees a lost and frightened dog about to be scooped up by the evil dog catcher, she surprises herself by stepping in and pretending the dog is hers.

How is her good deed repaid? A bolt of lightening causes Jessica and white dog Zoe to switch bodies. Yup, BANG, and then Jessica is a dog and Zoe is a human. 

Each retains, what I'll call the "hard wired" aspects of their new hosts. That's a good thing because it enables dog, now human, Zoe to use speech to communicate and human Jessica, now dog, to smell and hear things with ultra keen awareness.

This could have gone downhill fast, but I was delighted that Ms. Watson avoided overly anthropomorphizing things and before long she really had me convinced that these two were existing in each other's bodies. 

What's so cool about the book is that it's light and entertaining, but there is also a lot of stuff snuck in there about how humans can be their own worst enemies when it comes to over analyzing things and being generally up tight. It also highlights dogs as loving, sentient beings who enjoy the moment and just want to be part of a family. In fact I kind of did that happy sad cry thing, almost, well maybe a little, at parts.

In the interest of full disclosure, nutty dog ladies are going to get anxious during the opening scene when Zoe is lost and scared as well as some other points in the story. Stick with it. If you think things are getting too dark, just look at the cover art. You get my drift? No book with a cover like that is going to have anything super icky in it. 

Note that the publisher has classified this book as a "romance." Huh? Yeah, well there is Hot Max and there is a lot of patting and rubbing going on, but I wouldn't put it in the romance section. I'd put it in the "damn I love dogs and this book is for me" section.

Oh, and one last thing. I had to actually (gasp) buy this book because after waiting a year for my library network to produce a copy, I just couldn't wait any longer. Members of the Minuteman Library Network take heart. There will soon be a copy in circulation for your reading pleasure.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The Man with the Golden Arm by Nelson Algren

The Man with the Golden Arm
by Nelson Algren
1949
1950 National Book Award
no rating



I splurged and bought a box full of books from Amazon. I'd just lost patience with waiting and waiting for one of the institutions in the library network to obtain just a single edition of books that had been languishing in my reading queue (some for over a year).

When the box arrived, I kept reading The Man with the Golden Arm for all of a day before I allowed myself to mark my spot and try "just one" of the bounty now sitting in a pile on my reading table. 

The thing is, as I read my newly discovered treasure, the golden arm guy started losing a lot of his luster and I finally conceded that I would not be returning to it.

Doesn't mean it's a bad book. In fact it's a great book in a depressing hopeless poverty stricken drug addict kind of way. Because that's what this book is about. So without knowing how things play out in the story, I can give this one a thumbs up for those keen to pursue great literature. Sadly, I have reading rules and a book, once discarded, has it's bookmark removed and is placed on the outbound pile.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Outsourced by Dave Zeltserman

Outsourced
by Dave Zeltserman
2010
***
3 stars - better than watching the grass grow... just
ALR Blue - not an animal in sight, not even a bird in a tree



From the back cover

Dan, Shrini, Joel, and Gordon were all software engineers. Now they're out of work thanks to outsourcing. They might not have any job prospects but they have a plan. Desperate, and seeing their middle class lives crumbling apart, they come up with a fail safe way to use their computing skills to knock over a bank. But not even a systems analyst can foresee every eventuality, especially when the Russian Mafia in involved.

So I'm thinking, yeah, that looks pretty good. It will be all about what happens to middle aged folks when their jobs go away and have some possibly plausible stuff about software. Nope. So wrong.

First off, these big cry babies went through a failed start up. Boo hoo. If all the startups I worked at had succeeded I'd be a gazillion-aire. I know lots of good engineers who lose their jobs late in their careers and never get work in their field again, so just the fact of that isn't enough to make me jump on board with the characters in the book. 

I disliked everybody from the start. Dan, the mastermind, is pissed off about his job prospects so when he lands a contracting gig to oversee a bank project where the code is written in India, he takes it upon himself to add a backdoor silent alarm shutdown to the code. Did you hear that? We aren't talking about taking advantage of poorly written code, we're talking about an alleged professional intentionally putting bugs in a piece of SW he is being paid to manage. BEEP! One point down.

Next he seems to have a perfectly clear conscience regarding the peripheral damage from his little bank job. Does it not occur to him that the folks in India who wrote the code could lose their jobs? Folks who are just doing their job and actually did it correctly. How about the bank manager? Oh yeah, he's all kinds of mad at the bank manager for sending the work to India, but he doesn't pause to think that the manager might be operating under impossible constraints. BEEP! Two points down.

Then there are his fellow disenchanted crew who are certainly not like any SW engineers that I know and are, to a man, total creeps. BEEP BEEP! Double point deduction for misrepresenting nerds.

And how the heck do you even write a book where there is not a squirrel or bird or tree or grass or any kind of scenery at all? BEEP! Um, hello?

About now, you're asking yourself, "Hey, Mango Momma, you sound pretty mad at the book, so why even three stars?"

Well, if you forget about the false hook of the title and teaser, then it isn't bad as a fast read, everybody gets screwed, bank heist kind of story. 

Saturday, October 5, 2013

The Sound and the Furry by Spencer Quinn



The Sound and the Furry
by Spencer Quinn
2013
****
4 stars - oh what fun!

ALR Yellow - but in a good way (see review)



How much do I like Spencer Quinn's Chet and Bernie series? So much that not only did I actually buy this book, I pre-ordered it on Amazon. In hardcover! Yes, indeed. 

In case you haven't heard of Chet and Bernie, Chet's the dog, Bernie's the master and together they form the Little Detective Agency. Got it? But the cool part is that all the books are written by Chet (that would be Chet the dog).

Chet knows his job is helping Bernie solve mysteries, but he's also, well, a dog.

I'd seen worse. The kitchen, which was where we ended up, was kind of nice. It had one of those old stoves you sometimes see that stand on little feet, with space underneath, and in that space, would you believe it? Practically a whole strip of bacon, presently - but not for long, amigo - getting gnawed on by a nervous-eyed mouse. The little guy split in a hurry - and tried to abscond with the goods, abscond with the goods being cop talk for making off with the bacon. In the end, he barely absconded with himself. As for the bacon? Delish, and not really that old at all. Still plenty of crunch left, which is how we like our bacon, me and Bernie. This case, whatever it was about exactly, couldn't have been going more smoothly.

That's the way Chet rolls. He does his best to help Bernie crack cases, but he gets distracted and confused easily. Heck, he's a dog.

This particular book concerns a missing person search in Louisiana. Nice chance for Chet to sample a new venue, full of different delights... and perils.

Which brings us to the yellow rating. Chet is, after all, a detective. And detectives get into trouble. Sometimes scary trouble. Sometimes trouble where you wish Mr. Quinn didn't have such a good handle on doggie thoughts.

Does Chet pull through? Well, let's see. This is the sixth book in a wildly successful series, so you figure it out.

The mystery itself is, once again, fairly apparent to the reader. But that's OK and I will tell you why. The thing of it is that Chet, with his superior canine snooter, picks up lots of clues that Bernie misses. The problem is that Chet isn't a deep thinker, so he doesn't always put two and two together and even when he does, communicating with Bernie can be, well, challenging when one is limited to doggie vocalizations and tail postures. It's all good.

Chet and Bernie remain, for me, the penultimate in doggie mysteries. 

Dog on It - 2009
Thereby Hangs a Tail - 2010
To Fetch a Thief - 2011
The Dog Who Knew Too Much - 2012
A Fistful of Collars - 2013

I'm hoping that Chet takes on an apprentice soon. My guess is he was around two when he met up with Bernie which would make him six now. He'll be slowing down in a year or so and needs to start training up another doggie so that Mr. Quinn can keep pumping out these way cool awesome books.

Oh, and hey, Spenser Quinn, if you are reading this, I'm still waiting for a mastiff to be featured in an upcoming mystery. You just let me know if you need help with the voice because I am totally all over that action, oh yeah!