My Favorite 2018 (Fictional) Dogs

In one of the lightest moments of Robert B. Parker’s Valediction (just before one of the darker), Spenser describes his reservation about the first two Star Wars movies: “No horses . . . I don’t like a movie without horses.” After watching Return of the Jedi, he comments that it was a silly movie, but “Horses would have saved it.” Which makes me wonder what he’d have thought about The Last Jedi. Horses aren’t my thing, it’s dogs. I’m not quite as bad as Spenser is about them — I like books without dogs. But occasionally a good dog would save a book for me — or make a good book even better. I got to thinking about this a few weeks back when I realized just how many books I’d read last year that featured great dogs — and then I counted those books and couldn’t believe it. I tried to stick to 10 (because that’s de rigueur), but I failed. I also tried to leave it with books that I read for the first time in 2018 — but I couldn’t cut two of my re-reads.

So, here are my favorite dogs from 2018 — they added something to their novels that made me like them more, usually they played big roles in the books (but not always).

(in alphabetical order by author)

  • Edgar from The Puppet Show by M. W. Craven (my post about the book) — Edgar has a pretty small role in the book, really. But there’s something about him that made me like Washington Poe a little more — and he made Tilly Bradshaw pretty happy, and that makes Edgar a winner in my book.
  • Kenji from Smoke Eaters by Sean Grigsby (my post about the book) — The moment that Grigsby introduced Kenji to the novel, it locked in my appreciation for it. I’m not sure I can explain it, but the added detail of robot dogs — at once a trivial notion, and yet it says so much about the culture Cole Brannigan lives in. Also, he was a pretty fun dog.
  • Rutherford from The TV Detective by Simon Hall (my post about the book) — Dan Groves’ German Shepherd is a great character. He provides Dan with companionship, a sounding board, a reason to leave the house — a way to bond with the ladies. Dan just felt more like a real person with Rutherford in his life. Yeah, he’s never integral to the plot (at least in the first two books of the series), but the books wouldn’t work quite as well without him.
  • Oberon from Scourged by Kevin Hearne (my post about the book) — Everyone’s favorite Irish Wolfhound doesn’t get to do much in this book, because Atticus is so focused on keeping him safe (as he should be). But when he’s “on screen,” he makes it count. He brings almost all of the laughs and has one of the best ideas in the novel.
  • Mouse from Brief Cases by Jim Butcher (my post about the book) — From the moment we read, “My name is Mouse and I am a Good Dog. Everyone says so,” a good novella becomes a great one. As the series has progressed, Mouse consistently (and increasingly) steals scenes from his friend, Harry Dresden, and anyone else who might be around. But here where we get a story (in part) from his perspective, Mouse takes the scene stealing to a whole new level. He’s brave, he’s wise, he’s scary, he’s loyal — he’s a very good dog.
  • Ruffin from Wrecked by Joe Ide (my post about the book) — Without Isaiah Quintabe’s dog opening up conversation between IQ and Grace, most of this book wouldn’t have happened — so it’s good for Grace’s sake that Ruffin was around. And that case is made even more from the way that Ruffin is a support for Grace. He also is a fantastic guard dog and saves lives. His presence is a great addition to this book.
  • Dog from An Obvious Fact by Craig Johnson (my post about the book) — I might have been able to talk myself into ignoring re-reads if I hadn’t listened to this audiobook (or any of the series, come to think of it) last year — or if Dog had been around in last year’s novel. Dog’s a looming presence, sometimes comic relief (or at least a mood-lightener), sometimes a force of nature. Dog probably gets to do more for Walt in this book — he helps Walt capture some, he attacks others, just being around acts as a deterrent for many who’d want to make things rough on Walt. Walt couldn’t ask for a better partner.
  • Trogdor from The Frame-Up by Meghan Scott Molin (my post about the book) — Honestly, Trogdor probably has the least impact on the book than any of the dogs on this list. But, come on, a Corgi names Trodgor? The idea is cute enough to justify inclusion here. He’s a good pet, a fitting companion for MG — not unlike Dan’s Rutherford. He just adds a little something to the mix that helps ground and flesh-out his human companion.
  • Mingus from The Drifter by Nicholas Petrie (my post about the book) — Like Trogdor, a great name. Like Mouse and Dog, a great weapon. He’s really a combination of the two of them (just lacking Mouse’s magical nature). He’s vital in many different ways to the plot and the safety of those we readers care about. Petrie made a good move when he added this beast of a dog to the novel.
  • Chet from Dog On It by Spencer Quinn (my posts about Chet) — If I couldn’t cut Dog, I couldn’t cut Chet. Listening to this audiobook (my 4th or 5th time through the novel, I believe) reminded me how much I love and miss Chet — and how eager I am for his return this year. This Police Academy reject is almost as good a detective as his partner, Bernie, is. Chet will make you laugh, he’ll warm your heart, he’ll make you want a dog of your own (actually, all of these dogs will)
  • Zoey from Deck the Hounds by David Rosenfelt (my post about the book) — how do I not invoke Tara when discussing an Andy Carpenter book? Good question. It’s Zoey that brings Andy into the story, it’s Zoey that helps Don to cope with his own issues, it’s Zoey that defends Don and saves him (in many ways). Sure, Tara’s the best dog in New Jersey, but Zoey comes close to challenging her status in this book.
  • Lopside from Voyage of the Dogs by Greg van Eekhout (my post about the book) — It almost feels like cheating to bring in a dog from a novel about dogs — conversely, it’s hard to limit it to just one dog from this book. But Lopside the Barkonaut would demand a place here if he was the only dog among a bunch of humans — or if he was surrounded by more dogs. He’s brave, he’s self-sacrificing, he’s a hero. He’ll charm you and get you to rooting for these abandoned canines in record time.
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Pub Day Repost: The Right Side by Spencer Quinn

The Right SideThe Right Side

by Spencer Quinn
eARC, 336 pg.
Atria Books, 2017
Read: May 11 – 12, 2017

Okay, since I first opened the pages of Dog On It 8 years ago, I’ve been a Spencer Quinn fan — it probably took me two chapters to consider myself one. So it’s kind of a given that I’d like this book — but only “kind of.” This was so far from a Bowser & Birdie or Chet & Bernie book that they could be written by different people.

Sgt. LeAnne Hogan was an excellent athlete in her childhood and teen years, and then she joined the Army (deciding her West Point plans would take too long — an oversimplification that’ll do for now) and became an excellent soldier, serving multiple tours in combat zones. During her last sting in Afghanistan — as part of a team working to build intelligence sources among Afghan women — she is involved in an attack that leaves some dead and her injured — physically and mentally.

Her memories of that fateful day are vague and dim at best, but the scars will not leave. Not only that, she lost an eye, her confidence, her future plans, and career. She slowly befriends a woman who lost part of her leg to an IED in Iraq who shares a room with LeAnne in Walter Reed. Marci dies suddenly and unexpectedly — and that is too much for LeAnne. She leaves the hospital immediately and sets off on a drive across the country, she really doesn’t have a plan, but she needs to be somewhere else.

It’s pretty clear that LeAnne is suffering from PTSD on top of everything else — as you’d expect. She comes across as angry and rude to almost everyone she runs across and exchanges more than a few words with. She eventually finds herself in Marci’s hometown — where her daughter has gone missing. For the first time since the day everything changed, LeAnne has a purpose — bring her friend’s daughter home. Along the way, she LeAnne gets adopted by a large dog who will prove an invaluable aid in this challenge.

LeAnne is a great character — not a perfect person by any means, but you can see where a lot of writers (novelists or journalists) would try to paint her as one. She has huge flaws — some of which are easier to see after the injury (and some of them are new after it, too). There are some other good characters, too — even if you don’t necessarily like them (LeAnne’s mother would be an example of this — she’s trying to do the right thing, but the reader can sense LeAnne’s apprehensions toward her — and will likely share them). The people in Marci’s hometown (particularly those that are related to her) are the best drawn in the book — and I’d be willing to read a sequel or two just in this city to spend more time with them. Not everyone gets what LeAnne’s going through — some don’t know how to react to her — but those that come close will endear themselves to you.

The dog, Goody, isn’t Chet, he isn’t Bowser — he’s a typical dog, no more (or less) intelligent than any other. Goody won’t be serving as the narrator in a story any time — he will drink from the toilet bowl and ignore a lot of what LeAnne wants him to do.

Like I said, I’m a Quinn fan — but I didn’t think he had this in him. Funny mysteries with dogs? Sure, he’s great at those. But sensitive explorations of veterans dealing with the aftermath of life-altering injuries? I wouldn’t have guessed it. But man . . . he really got this flawed character, this incredibly human character, right. There’s a couple of moments that didn’t work as well as they should’ve — a couple of moments that were hard to believe in a book as grounded in reality as this book was. But you know what? You forgive them easily, because so much is right with this book — so much just works, that you’ll accept the things that don’t. It wasn’t all dark and moody — there’s some hope, some chuckles, a lot that is somber and sad, too. While not a “feel good” read by any means, you will feel pretty good about who things end up.

This is probably categorized as a Thriller, as that’s where Quinn’s readers are — but I can see a case for this being labeled General Fiction (or whatever synonym your local shop uses), it’s flexible that way. This is Spencer Quinn operating on a whole new level with a character we need more like — such a great read.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Atria Books via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this.

—–

4 1/2 Stars

The Right Side by Spencer Quinn

The Right SideThe Right Side

by Spencer Quinn

eARC, 336 pg.
Atria Books, 2017

Read: May 11 – 12, 2017


Okay, since I first opened the pages of Dog On It 8 years ago, I’ve been a Spencer Quinn fan — it probably took me two chapters to consider myself one. So it’s kind of a given that I’d like this book — but only “kind of.” This was so far from a Bowser & Birdie or Chet & Bernie book that they could be written by different people.

Sgt. LeAnne Hogan was an excellent athlete in her childhood and teen years, and then she joined the Army (deciding her West Point plans would take too long — an oversimplification that’ll do for now) and became an excellent soldier, serving multiple tours in combat zones. During her last sting in Afghanistan — as part of a team working to build intelligence sources among Afghan women — she is involved in an attack that leaves some dead and her injured — physically and mentally.

Her memories of that fateful day are vague and dim at best, but the scars will not leave. Not only that, she lost an eye, her confidence, her future plans, and career. She slowly befriends a woman who lost part of her leg to an IED in Iraq who shares a room with LeAnne in Walter Reed. Marci dies suddenly and unexpectedly — and that is too much for LeAnne. She leaves the hospital immediately and sets off on a drive across the country, she really doesn’t have a plan, but she needs to be somewhere else.

It’s pretty clear that LeAnne is suffering from PTSD on top of everything else — as you’d expect. She comes across as angry and rude to almost everyone she runs across and exchanges more than a few words with. She eventually finds herself in Marci’s hometown — where her daughter has gone missing. For the first time since the day everything changed, LeAnne has a purpose — bring her friend’s daughter home. Along the way, she LeAnne gets adopted by a large dog who will prove an invaluable aid in this challenge.

LeAnne is a great character — not a perfect person by any means, but you can see where a lot of writers (novelists or journalists) would try to paint her as one. She has huge flaws — some of which are easier to see after the injury (and some of them are new after it, too). There are some other good characters, too — even if you don’t necessarily like them (LeAnne’s mother would be an example of this — she’s trying to do the right thing, but the reader can sense LeAnne’s apprehensions toward her — and will likely share them). The people in Marci’s hometown (particularly those that are related to her) are the best drawn in the book — and I’d be willing to read a sequel or two just in this city to spend more time with them. Not everyone gets what LeAnne’s going through — some don’t know how to react to her — but those that come close will endear themselves to you.

The dog, Goody, isn’t Chet, he isn’t Bowser — he’s a typical dog, no more (or less) intelligent than any other. Goody won’t be serving as the narrator in a story any time — he will drink from the toilet bowl and ignore a lot of what LeAnne wants him to do.

Like I said, I’m a Quinn fan — but I didn’t think he had this in him. Funny mysteries with dogs? Sure, he’s great at those. But sensitive explorations of veterans dealing with the aftermath of life-altering injuries? I wouldn’t have guessed it. But man . . . he really got this flawed character, this incredibly human character, right. There’s a couple of moments that didn’t work as well as they should’ve — a couple of moments that were hard to believe in a book as grounded in reality as this book was. But you know what? You forgive them easily, because so much is right with this book — so much just works, that you’ll accept the things that don’t. It wasn’t all dark and moody — there’s some hope, some chuckles, a lot that is somber and sad, too. While not a “feel good” read by any means, you will feel pretty good about who things end up.

This is probably categorized as a Thriller, as that’s where Quinn’s readers are — but I can see a case for this being labeled General Fiction (or whatever synonym your local shop uses), it’s flexible that way. This is Spencer Quinn operating on a whole new level with a character we need more like — such a great read.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Atria Books via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this.

—–

4 1/2 Stars

Santa 365 by Spencer Quinn

Santa 365Santa 365

by Spencer Quinn
Series: Chet and Bernie
Kindle Edition, 47 pg.
Atria Books, 2015

Read: December 15, 2015


There’s not a whole lot to say about this short story, but I’ll give it a whirl. Taking place sometime before The Dog Who Knew Too Much (the duo’s adventures involving a wilderness camp), this is the story of Bernie trying to throw a Christmas party for his friends and, more importantly, his son, Charlie. Naturally, because it’s a Chet and Bernie story, crime ensues, and Bernie’s able to set things right (and take care of another problem at the same time). Sure, given that most of Bernie’s social circle are either cops or perps that he and Chet have busted, there should be a lot more crime in Bernie’s life.

Suzie, and we, get to meet Bernie’s mother, Minerva. Something Bernie’s not too excited about (well, I don’t think he cares about us meeting her, Suzie, on the other hand . . . ). She was amusing, but I think Minerva could become too much very quickly. If she returns in a novel, I hope her appearance has about the same number of words.

I trust it’s because of the size of this story, but wow, this was a shallow and rushed thing. Still, it’s a pleasant read, fun to see Chet’s reaction to a Christmas tree and what not. There are a couple of lines from this story that belong in Quinn’s Top 20 All Time lines (a contested field, I realize), so I’m glad I read it, but I was left wanting a bit more.

—–

3 Stars

Scents and Sensibility by Spencer Quinn

Scents and SensibilityScents and Sensibility

by Spencer Quinn
Series: Chet and Bernie, #8

Hardcover, 305 pg.

Atria Books, 2015

Read: July 16 – 17, 2015Bernie Little is back from his cross-country adventures, not much worse for wear, probably with a little coin in his pocket (knowing Bernie. He gets home to find one of his elderly neighbors in the hospital and her husband being investigated by some overreaching environmental authority. Which gets Bernie’s protective instincts engaged. Oh, yeah, and there’s a hole in Bernie’s wall where a safe used to be. That’s in the mix, too — but it takes a back seat to the Parsons’ plight.

It seems that the Parsons’ son was recently released from prison, making the timing of Mr. Parson’s troubles (and the missing safe), a little suspicious. Bernie starts investigating the son — which leads into looking at the crime that put him away in the first place. Which leads Bernie to cross paths with an old rival. An old rival who may have had something to do with the fact that Bernie is no longer employed by the Phoenix Police Department.

The past and present mingle with the personal and professional for Bernie as the case gets more complicated and dangerous. Which makes this a pretty decent detective novel — then throw in our loyal narrator, Chet with his uniquely irrepressible voice and perspective. That’s a thick layer of icing on a pretty good cake.

Which I guess makes the presence of a young dog who looks and smells like Chet (he’s the source of the latter observation) a nice fondant?

I think the illustration is getting away from me, so I’d better move on.

There are a few certainties in crime fiction, in every novel: a vehicle operated by Stephanie Plum will explode; Nero Wolfe will have beer; Harry Bosch will listen to jazz; and Chet will be separated from Bernie. Sometimes, this annoys me because it seems so forced, but this time it snuck up on me so naturally that I was three or four paragraphs into it before I realized it had happened. There’s some other Ce and Bernie mainstays here: Bernie says something he regrets to Suzie; Bernie’s ex seems to go out of her way to misunderstand Bernie, Chet is spoiled and eats like a goat. Really, it has all the elements of this series, Quinn just uses them better than usual here.

A compelling story, the characters back in their stride, and we learn a little bit more about Bernie — if that’s all this had, I’d jumping with excitement. But when you add those last few paragraphs? Forget it — this is the best thing Quinn’s done since introducing us to this pair.

—–

4 1/2 Stars

Paw and Order by Spencer Quinn

Paw and OrderPaw and Order

by Spencer Quinn
Series: Chet and Bernie, #7

Hardcover, 304 pg.
Atria Books, and 2014
Read: June 7, 2015
On their way home from their adventures in Louisiana, Bernie decides to take a detour through Washington, D. C. to see if he can repair some of the damage done to his relationship with Suzie Sanchez.

I’m not spoiling much to say that Bernie’s romantic gestures and intentions are still only slightly better than his financial moves — making this both the most interesting (and frustrating) part of the book.

Shortly after their arrival, Suzie brings Chet along to help with a story, and they end up finding the body of a friend/source of Suzie’s. Making things more complicated, Bernie’s implicated in the shooting. Despite not being on familiar turf, the trio dives into the investigation and the murky international political waters surrounding the capitol.

If you ask me, the solution to the mystery is a bit too easily found. And, thanks to Chet’s comprehension of human beings (and lack of exposure to all the evidence), I felt like I had to fill in more blanks than I’m used to with the series. You may differ, but it left a bad taste in my mouth. But even if I didn’t like the destination, taking the trip with Chet’s narration was as pleasant as usual.

We get a bit more detail about Bernie’s military past than we did before — building nicely on The Sound and the Furry, and obviously, there’s movement on the relationship front. Which, for this series, is plenty of character development. Chet remains Chet — not sure what character growth would look like with him, nor that I’d want to see it, anyway. Oh, wait — there’s a new trick that Bernie does with him.

Honestly, this was probably the least of the series — I’m not sure if Quinn was over-reaching, or just didn’t have enough to flesh this out. He seems enough of a pro that I have trouble believing either. I’m not going to take the time to make the case (either way), because I don’t think it’s worth it. There was enough to enjoy here, and while there were plenty of negatives, I don’t think they outweighed what was enjoyable. Just hoping for a good rebound with the upcoming Scents and Sensibility.

—–

3 Stars

Woof by Spencer Quinn

WoofWoof

by Spencer Quinn
Series:Bowser and Birdie, #1

Hardcover, 293 pg.
Scholastic Press, 2015
Read: May 14 – 15, 2015

One quick sniff and I knew that BLTs were in that basket. BLTs were an odd human invention, sandwiches filled with weird tasteless stuff no one in their right mind would be interested in — except for the bacon. In case you missed that, I’ll mention it again: bacon!

This is just cute. That’s all there is to it. A cute MG novel, featuring a nice little girl with a lot of spunk and her new dog, Bowser. A fun mystery novel with a lot of heart.

Birdie Gaux is an 11-year-old mix of Flavia De Luce, Izzy Spellman, and Inspector Gadget’s niece Penny (from the original cartoon, natch). Fiery, spunky, determined, far too curious and independent, a little too comfortable with shading the truth/outright lying, with a clever dog friend. While her mother works on an offshore oil rig for months at a time, Birdie lives with her grandmother and helps in the family’s struggling bait shop. She doesn’t remember much about her father, a police detective killed in the line of duty when she was very young.

After getting Birdie her late birthday gift, our new friend Bowser, Grammy and Birdie stop at the bait shop to discover they’ve been robbed, while the comic relief employee napped a bit. The only thing taken was Grammy’s stuffed marlin — a family heirloom passed down from her father after his return from World War II. The adults — Grammy, the Sheriff, and the napper are ready to write the marlin off as a lost cause, but Birdie’s not.

Birdie and Bowser are galvanized into action — she’s sure she smells cigar smoke in the shop, and Bowser finds the remains of a cigar nearby for her, convincing Birdie that she’s right. The Sheriff is a nice enough guy, who’s more than willing to listen to Birdie’s thoughts about the case (listen — not really act upon) — but he’s not going to invest too much energy into investigating the theft of a dead fish, no matter the sentimental value. So Birdie, with the help of some friends (including the Sheriff’s son) and a nice — and easily confused — woman from the local retirement home, sets about hunting for the missing marlin (and some secrets that may be hidden within).

There’s a little danger, peril and excitement along the way, but nothing inappropriate for the age group. Bowser gets the worst of it, honestly, while Birdie is mostly safe. There’s some hints of problems looming for Grammy, some dark events in Bowser’s past, and that sort of thing. The sharper young readers will catch that, others won’t — it’ll either add some nuance and flavoring to the experience or it won’t — nothing that will affect the understanding of the story.

Quinn is much beloved around here for his series of novels about Bernie, the P. I., and his partner Chet the Dog — narrated, as this book is, by Chet. For the sake of diversity, I was hoping that Bowser wouldn’t narrate the novel in Chet’s voice. But he does — which is mildly disappointing for me, because I’d rather get the original. But as for attracting new readers — particularly a new demographic? It’s perfect. And while sure, I grumbled occasionally while reading — and here — about Bowser being Chet without the Police Dog Training, it’s still a fun voice. One that you have little trouble imagining would belong to a dog.

Not the most demanding of reads, nor the most complex of mysteries, Woof is a pleasant introduction to a new series that I hope will be around quite awhile, I look forward to getting to know Birdie, her dog, her friends and family a lot better. I imagine that soon enough, I won’t be alone, and that Quinn has found himself a whole new fan-base.

—–

3 Stars