Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Beneath the Shadows, by Sara Foster

Minotaur Books, ISBN 9780312643365, June 2012

This is a really engaging contemporary Gothic, set in Yorkshire, and with characters I truly wanted to spend the time with.

Grace Lockwood's husband Adam inherits a cottage from his grandparents, in a tiny Yorkshire village, and persuades her to move there with him and their new daughter, Millie. Grace isn't enthusiastic at first, but she's settling in and warming to the setting and the close-knit community when, quite abruptly, Adam disappears, leaving Millie in her stroller on the cottage porch. When the ensuing search turns up no trace of Adam, not of accident, or of foul play, or of Adam himself, the police gently suggest that he may have simply chosen to disappear. Grace doesn't believe that, but the alternative isn't any more attractive. It's a devastating loss, and she leaves the village. She's not ready to return to her life in London, but instead spends most of the next year with her parents, in the south of France.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

It's Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the Politics of Extremism, by Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein

Basic Books, ISBN 9780465031337, May 2012

This is a scary book.

First, it needs to be said that Ornstein and Mann are not "liberals" in any sense. They are, at most, center-right conservatives. They are respected and popular pundits "inside the Beltway" and frequent guests on the Sunday political talk shows.

At least, before they published this book.

We're all aware that our politics in recent years have been unusually broken, with gridlock and partisan obstructionism preventing even basic government functions from being carried out properly. Conventional, mainstream media wisdom says that this is equally the fault of both sides, that Democrats and Republicans both have become more extreme in recent years.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Bring on the Blessings, by Beverly Jenkins

Avon, ISBN 0061688401, January 2009

On her fifty-second birthday, Bernadine Brown catches her husband cheating with his secretary. This frees her from a marriage that has become dead, and with the help of a good lawyer, she gets out with $275 million. Free to do anything she wants, she spends some time indulging herself, but also looking for a purpose--because to whom much is given, from them much is expected. In time, she finds one--the town of Henry Adams, an historic all-black town in Kansas, founded by members of the Black Exodus in the 1870s, is broke, and is offering itself for sale.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

New York to Dallas (In Death #33), by J.D. Robb (Nora Roberts)

Putnam Adult, ISBN 9780339157783, September 2011

Eve Dallas' past comes back to bite her in some very painful ways in this book, but this is Dallas, and ant it's always a mistake to bite her.

The first blast from her past is a serial killer she arrested twelve years ago, when she was still a uniformed patrol officer. She stumbled onto the man while looking for possible witnesses in another case, realized there was something hinky, and wound up bagging the killer and rescuing the girls who were his current crop of victims. The killer was locked up, and his victims returned to their families.

Twelve years later, he has escaped from prison, victimized a young couple, and sent Dallas a message.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

A Planet of Viruses, by Carl Zimmer

University of Chicago Press, ISBN 9780226983332, April 2011

This slim volume is an excellent and highly readable introduction to the subject of viruses for the interested layperson. Written as a series of essays for the Science Education Partnership Award, to help support outreach to students, it covers in compact form an amazing array of basic information about what viruses are, how they affect our lives for good and ill, and the important role they have played in the evolution of life.

Viruses are the smallest life form there is, and there is even dispute over whether they technically qualify as "alive," since they cannot reproduce without hijacking the reproductive capacity of fully developed cells.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Fuzzy Nation, by John Scalzi

Tor Science Fiction, ISBN 9780765328540, March 2012

Half a century ago, H. Beam Piper gave us the wonderful story, Little Fuzzy. Delightful as it still is, in some ways its age shows. John Scalzi, one of the many who loved Piper's Little Fuzzy, rather more recently set himself to writing an updated, 21st century story of the Fuzzies, originally just as a writing exercise for his own edification and pleasure. It couldn't end there, of course, and after book contract negotiations somewhat more complex than average, you can now read Fuzzy Nation.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Betty's (Little Basement) Garden, by Laurel Dewey

The Story Plant, ISBN 97816118, June 2012

Betty Craven is in her late fifties, elegant, classy, a perfectionist, and a gardener with a prize-winning garden. She's the embodiment of Colorado respectability.

She's also a widow with a limited income, an unsaleable house in disrepair, a dead son whom she grieves far more than her late husband, and a steadily worsening pain in her neck. She invested the money from her husband in starting a gourmet chocolate shop--in 2009. It did not survive, and all she has left is her chocolate-making equipment. And because she is driven to maintain the image of perfection and respectability, she doesn't even have anyone to confide in. Betty is even quietly selling off the antiques and artwork she and her husband collected over the course of their marriage, just to pay the bills and do the most basic of repairs to the house.

All of that sounds pretty grim, I know. But that's just the background, and this is a fun book.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Get Fluffy, by Sparkle Abbey

Bell Bridge Books, ISBN 9781611941210, March 2012

This is the second of the "Pampered Pets" mystery series from the "Sparkle Abbey" team of Mary Lee Woods and Anita Carter. This one features Caro Lamont's cousin, Mel Langston, as the pet-oriented businesswoman who gets caught up in a murder investigation.

Mel is the owner of Bow Wow Boutique, is clashing with one of her customers, Mona Michaels, owner of the canine daytime tv star, Fluffy. Despite their differences, Mona finds it convenient to use Mel's shop as the exchange point when her ex, Craig, has his visitation with Fluffy. So when Mona drops off Fluffy and leaves, Mel assumes that Craig will be along before closing time. He isn't, and when Mel finally closes up, she heads off to Mona's house to return her dog.

She finds the door unlocked, and Mona dead from a blow to the head--with Fluffy's daytime Emmy.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Desperate Housedogs, by Sparkle Abbey

Bell Bridge Books, ISBN 9781611940508, October 2011

"Sparkle Abbey" is the pen name for collaborators Mary Lee Woods and Anita Carter, who have joined forces to write a series of mystery novels featuring cousins Caro Lamont (pet therapist) and Mel Langston (pet boutique owner) in Laguna Beach, CA.

In this first entry, it's Caro who has a murder mystery land in her lap. She's been getting a lot of calls from clients in an exclusive, gated-community section of Laguna Beach, where the dogs are suddenly all very nervous and watchful. Shortly after her visit to one of these clients, Kevin Blackstone, and his two German Shepherds, Kevin is murdered.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Alienation (C.H.A.O.S. #2), by Jon S. Lewis

Thomas Nelson, ISBN 9781595547545, January 2012

This is the second volume in a fun little series about teenagers who are The Only Hope for Earth's resistance to alien invasion. No, that doesn't make much sense, but, really, it doesn't have to. Lewis gives us an engaging group of teenage friends, a secret government agency that's supposed to be the main line of defense but may be compromised, secret heroes and villains, and a fast pace with neat stuff happening on nearly every page.

The intended audience is young adult readers, but if you can let go and enjoy the ride, it's entertaining for older readers, too.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows: An Introduction to Carnism: The Belief System That Enables Us to Eat Some Animals and Not Others, by Melanie Joy, Ph.D.

Conan Press, ISBN 9781573244619, November 2009

Melanie Joy is the leading researcher in the field of carnism, a field she invented. If that sounds a tad catty, sorry, but I'm laboring under the burden of having actually read her book.

Dr. Joy purports to give us a thoroughly researched discussion of the psychology of why we eat meat, and why we eat some animals and not other animals. This book has gotten a lot of praise, for it's fairness and respectful attitude towards people who eat meat. I'm honestly mystified by that praise. The assumption of the moral superiority of veganism is quite clear. It's true she does assume that us carnists are doing it because we're bad people. No, she assumes it's because we don't know any better, are ignorant, brainwashed, and perhaps not very bright. This book is poorly researched, poorly reasoned, and overall pretty silly.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

In a Dog's Heart: What Our Dogs Need, Want, and Deserve--and the Gifts We Can Expect in Return, by Jennifer Arnold (author, reader)

Random House Audio, ISBN 9780307938985, October 2011

This is Arnold's second book, the training-oriented book that I had expected Through a Dog's Eyes to be. I had really looked forward to this, and I'm sorry to say I have mixed feelings about the result.

Arnold builds the book around her experiences in building and running Canine Assistants, and that's a fascinating and rewarding tale in itself. She covers every aspect of dog care, including both training and feeding. As a trainer, she's knowledgeable, practical, and positive-oriented. She makes excellent use of both her Canine Assistants experience and her experiences with Golden Retriever rescue to tell stories illustrating both how well dogs can be trained with positive methods to perform even very complex behaviors and to exercise judgment and choice, and the negative effects correction-based methods (used incorrectly) and a failure to understand the dog's point of view and the dog's body language can do to a normal, healthy dog. One interesting point is that Arnold is strongly in favor of changing the name of an adopted dog. The old name may have negative associations, and the new name can be a fresh start. I can certainly see her point, and I know from my own experience that a dog will quickly learn a new name if it's associated with fun and positive things.

Where Arnold and I part company is on feeding. She's strongly convinced that the only really safe choice is major, name-brand commercial dog food. She's sure that raw feeding or home cooking is just too hard for the average person to get right, and should only be attempted with the assistance of a veterinary nutritionist. That's not really a surprise. I know too many people who successfully raw feed or home cook for their dogs who have happy, healthy animals to agree, but it's hardly an unusual or out-there opinion.

More surprising is the fact that she regards high-end "holistic," "natural," or "super-premium" foods perhaps even more negatively. This is based on a highly negative experience she had, in  the earlier years of Canine Assistants, of receiving a "donation" of a high-end, holistic dog food for the Canine Assistants dogs. Suddenly her dogs were all getting sick, vomiting, having diarrhea. After some investigation, in proved to be the food, which was rancid. Being the cynical person that I am, I leap to the suspicion that the "donation" consisted of food past its use-by date. Arnold, on the other hand, leaped to the conclusion that all these high-end, "holistic" foods aren't safe and you should stick with major brands. I'd be less irritated and annoyed by her insistence on that point if this book hadn't been published in late 2011, over four years after the pet food poisonings and recalls of 2007. Foods at every price point and in every category--the major, standard brands, the really cheap foods, the expensive brands of "natural," "holistic," and "super-premium" foods--there were recalls. Thousands of dogs and cats sickened and died. We spent the entire spring and early summer waiting for the latest Friday night dump-and-run recall announcements, which were always preceded by Friday afternoon FDA announcements that all the foods still on the store shelves were safe.

It literally didn't matter what you were feeding, how you approached the question of "how to feed the dog and cat;" if you were feeding a commercial food of any kind, you couldn't rest easy that spring that you weren't poisoning your pets with melamine every time you fed them. And yes, Hill's and Iams, two of the most respected major brands, were heavily affected by these recalls.

I'm amazed and distressed that, four years after that horrible spring, Jennifer Arnold has no hesitation about saying "feed major brands only," condemning anything that isn't a major brand, and telling people they can't risk home cooking or raw cooking because they'll make their pets sick. What we learned in the spring of 2007 is that, however you are feeding your pets, you need to be careful, you need to be alert, and you cannot blindly trust any food source--not even, as some home cookers and raw feeders would have it, the human food sources because there are not two food supplies.

So while I definitely recommend this book for its perspective on training and its great stories about Arnold's experience, I would say get your food advice elsewhere, and whatever you are feeding, don't blindly trust any source. Be alert, follow the pet food news online, and watch your pets for any unusual reactions to whatever you are feeding them.

I borrowed this book from a friend.

Click on the cover image to purchase this book from Amazon.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

No Buddy Left Behind: Bringing US Troops' Dogs and Cats Safely Home From the Combat Zone, by Terri Crisp (author), Nicole Vilencia (reader), Cynthia Hurn (collaborator)

Blackstone Audio, ISBN 9781455121630, October 2011

Terri Crisp creates an organization to US troops' pets home Iraq almost by accident; it starts with responding to one plea from one soldier who has adopted an Iraqi dog and has realized that a)the dog has no chance if left behind when he's rotated home, and b)there is absolutely no existing legal mechanism for getting his pet out of Iraq. After months of contacting every American rescue group he can find, he reaches Terri and her group--and she decides they're going to try. Just this once, just this one dog.

Of course, the whole undertaking proves enormously complex, requiring Terri to build contacts and relationships with US, Iraqi, and Kuwaiti military officers, government officials, airline employees, and transport companies. Once those relationships are in place, there's always another dog or cat, or three, or a dozen, dearly loved by American soldiers who've put their lives on the line for this country, and desperate need of private rescue because there's no way for the soldiers to take them out on military transports.

It isn't just the complexity. The Iraqi end of the effort is actively dangerous for everyone involved, for the pets, the soldiers, the Iraqis who help them, and Terri and anyone else who accompanies her into Iraq to pick up the animals. Even after they are out of Iraqi airspace, the animals aren't truly safe until they are on American soil. It's an exhausting, frequently terrifying, emotionally draining, but ultimately emotionally rewarding undertaking. Terri Crisp tells her story beautifully, and Nicole Vilencia narrates it beautifully, too.

Highly recommended.

I borrowed this book from a friend.

Click the cover image to buy this book on Amazon.