My smile for the week is this pic of my daughter and son-in-law’s doggos. You may remember Rory, their golden retriever, and joining her now is Lily, a corgi and shiba inu mix. Diane and Sam brought Lily home on Saturday, and within a few hours she and Rory were happily romping around together. (Contrast this with our finicky cats who took 6 months to merely tolerate each other.)
Lily is only 7 months old and I can’t wait to meet her in person at Thanksgiving! And of course see my daughter too, etc.
No, not the city in New York! I reviewed a couple of Neil Plakcy’s doggie mysteries in my quickie reviews, but I want to go into a bit more depth now that I’ve finished all 12 available Rochester novels. Obviously, I enjoyed them overall or I wouldn’t have read so many, but there are some negatives I want to explore too, and I think some of us can relate, especially those who self-publish. There may be spoilers mixed in, so read at your own risk.
The premise is that Steve Levitan, a divorced, childless 40ish dude, has returned to his hometown in Buck’s County, PA, where he’s inherited a townhouse from his deceased father, and creates a fresh start, but in a location he’s familiar with. Steve has had some troubles, including a stint in a prison in California, and now he desires a calm lifestyle where he can focus on putting some sort of career back together. He is bitter over the fact that his wife divorced him while he was incarcerated, has remarried, and now has a baby (she had miscarried the babies they conceived together). He is also resentful of having to report to a parole officer who tracks his computer activity, since Steve’s crime was hacking into credit bureaus to stop his ex-wife from spending money like a maniac. But a quiet life is not in the cards for our hero ever since he discovers his neighbor has been murdered, ends up adopting her golden retriever Rochester, and helps his old buddy Rick (now a cop) solve the crime. Each book has a murder that Rochester gets involved in, and by extension Steve, except for No. 8, which is a fun collection of short stories to fill in the time between other books. It’s a cool idea to do that.
I’m really glad I read these books one after the other without breaking to read different novels in between because it enabled me to pay close attention to detail. I really admire the way Plakcy created his protagonist, who has plenty of good qualities, but is also flawed, and his character develops in the stories. I’ve compared this series to Lawrence Sander’s McNally mysteries, and there are many similarities, but Archie McNally never evolves from his playboy ways, while Steve does break out of his initial gloom. He changes during the stories and gradually loses the chip on his shoulder. He stops bitching about his ex-wife and the unfairness that he was made an example of by the court system (apparently he was handed a stiffer penalty for hacking than expected, which would have been probation). But you have to read several of the books to appreciate the way Steve slowly changes over time. A huge part of his progress involves having Rochester to love and care for because the dog ownership responsibilities force him out of his constant navel-gazing. Also, knowing that he is a good dad to Rochester, and the doggie loves and trusts him in return, makes Steve feel worthy of love and trust. After a while, he begins to date again, though very cautiously. I thought this was all portrayed excellently.
But I also have some criticisms. There were a lot of typos in these books, which is a big problem with self-pub, in my opinion. We all feel we know what we’re doing and can proofread our own work, but that’s incorrect. I have cringed to find egregious errors in my own books when I glance back at them years later. What happens is that we decide to change something, a paragraph, a sentence, or just one word, and then don’t bother reading the whole page again, or we skim it too quickly. We’re so familiar with our own text that when we “proofread” our eyes glaze over the pages. That’s how mistakes end up sticking to the published work. In the old days, publishing houses had actual proofreaders, so you didn’t find mistakes of tense or grammar in printed books. We need “fresh eyes” to go over our material. Why are typos bad? Because they distract a reader from the story and anything that pulls the reader out of the action is a bad thing.
And speaking of this, Plakcy has a bizarre, annoying habit of giving side characters “funny” names. It’s absolutely a stopping point, since now that I know his names sometimes sound like actual phrases (“Ike Arumba”) I must pause and say each one aloud to see if it’s anything. WHY does he do this??? I guess it’s one of those “darlings” that an editor would have killed the first time it happened, but we no longer have editors. Honestly, it’s self-indulgent silliness and extremely irritating. That’s my biggest criticism of these books, and it is not a minor thing since it pushes the reader out of the story.
For a while, it annoyed me that Plakcy repeats so much from book to book, such as the way he describes Rochester and the humans too. But then I decided I liked it as it gave a sense of continuity. I think there are other repetitions that Plakcy does not intend, such as describing so many things as “bright green” or “bright blue” ~ again, an editor would have probably fixed this. In one of my quickie reviews, I complained about the “fade to black” regarding Steve’s sex life, but I decided that was OK too. I don’t necessarily want to read graphic descriptions of sex in a doggie detective story, but at first the fade seemed abrupt and puzzling, given the amount of detail used for everything else, including physical descriptions, scenery, and even eating a pizza. I knew Plakcy was capable of writing the romantic scenes, so I did some investigative work myself. Plakcy is gay and has written gay erotica, which imo explains everything. Just as I would have trouble writing gay sex scenes (I have done it, but they aren’t very good), Plakcy was probably all ewwww gross hetero sex. That’s my conclusion anyway, and after I figured this out, I accepted the fade.
I did enjoy the slow romance between Steve and Lili; I thought it was super well-done, considering what we know about both characters. It would have been unrealistic for this “older” couple to plunge right into commitment and declarations of forever, given their past disappointments. I find it interesting that the problems between them are not dismissed as nothingburgers, but instead explored and sometimes just left hanging. It would not surprise me if they break up somewhere down the line, even though they love each other. Often, that simply is not enough. I can imagine that Lili will have an overwhelming desire to travel again, as a single woman, and become bored with a homey, doggie lifestyle. Steve is young enough to become a father with a 30-something woman, as men do ALL THE FREAKING TIME, so it’s weird for him to keep announcing that he’s “too old.” Anyway, I can imagine that he’ll have a moment of enlightenment in the next book or so and go whoa I am not actually too old, duh. It’s clear throughout that he would really love to be a dad (or stepdad) of actual human children. There is one really bad error in the last book (or maybe it was book 11, I forget), where Plakcy screws up their ages. The series begins when Steve is 42, and Lili is a few years older. This remains consistent throughout, as it should, except in one instance where Steve mentions that she turned 40 during their relationship. WHAT?!?! Terrible mistake.
OK, so it’s pretty clear that I am way into these Rochester books, kinda like I was with the Game of Thrones TV show. I will definitely keep reading them until everyone gets burnt up to bits by a dragon, or whatever.
Photo is of my granddog Rory because she’s also a gorgeous golden like Rochester. I bet they’d get along great!
Welcome to my quick reviews of books and/or movies, now accompanied by a random picture from my image library. Actually, my granddog Rory is relevant here because I’m reviewing another Rochester story, who is a golden retriever detective doggo. Please note that my reviews sometimes contain spoilers, so proceed at your own risk.
1. The Kingdom of Dog by Neil S. Plakcy. Last sesh, I reviewed the first Rochester novel In God We Trust, which I enjoyed immensely, so I immediately grabbed more stories from Kindle Unlimited about this doggo. TKOD is the second book in the series and I didn’t like it as much. First, I disliked the way the romance was handled. I don’t mind “fade to black” sometimes, but here it was simply too abrupt. In his Archy McNally books, Lawrence Sanders (RIP) does the fade too, but it’s funny and fine. In TKOD it was meh. Neil is funny and does wordplay ~ I wonder if he actually was inspired by Sanders because there are a lot of similarities, especially with the goofy names of side chars such as “Ike Arumba” – ay caramba! But this became distracting as I’d stop at each new one to see if their name translated into some phrase when said aloud. (Sanders’ names were weird too, but they didn’t translate into phrases.) Moving on. I felt the plot was farfetched with the motivation for murder too much of a stretch. There was also too much repetition of stuff from the first book. I did enjoy the growth of the protag Steve however. In book one, he mostly was angry and bitter toward his ex-wife, but in this book he’s learning to be at peace with the past. This book wasn’t as well-edited as the first doggo mystery though and had several annoying errors, the worst being the usage of “flaunt” when he meant “flout.” I gave TKOD three stars and will probably try the third one to see if things improve. Not saying this book was bad or anything, just not as good as the first one.
2. You, Me and Dupree, 2006 comedy starring Owen Wilson, Kate Hudson, Matt Dillon, Seth Rogen, and Michael Douglas. This movie is HILARIOUS and I totally recommend it to anyone with a sense of humor. I have loved every movie I’ve seen with Kate Hudson; either she only chooses great movies, or I’m in love with her, or something, idk what. But this film is no exception. The ending absolutely rocks (mocking all the self-help crap books out there). I watched it on Prime.
3. The Engagement Ring, 2005 romcom starring Patricia Heaton. This was a cute movie, better than I expected. Lainie Kazan, the mom in My Big Fat Greek Wedding, plays pretty much the same mom here as an Italian Catholic, and I’ve also seen her play the same role as a Jewish mom. Funny how that works ~ moms gotta mom. There was a lot of food and wine in this movie, which was fun. If you’re in the mood for a romantic comedy, check it out.
4. Vows of Deception, 1996 drama starring Cheryl Ladd. This was a solidly engaging film, with Cheryl playing a psycho who seems sweet as pie at first and gets darker as the movie progresses. Kept my attention.
5. Inconceivable, 2017 drama starring Nicolas Cage and Gina Gershon. What a weird film! Well, Nic Cage, amirite? Is he ever in anything not weird? I meant to have this on in the background while I did other stuff, but I found myself glued to the screen. It was really good and had shocking twists.
Ya know… sometimes it’s a big chore to find a decent movie on Prime (I don’t tell you about the ones I abandon before the halfway point). Their categories are not helpful, and neither are their suggestions of things I might like. I propose new categories: Movies We Think You’ll Hate, Movies You’ll Dump in the First Five Minutes, Unfunny Comedies, Stupid Christmas Romances in Small Towns or Fake Kingdoms, Movies About Annoying Teenagers, Murder Mysteries Where You Hope Everyone Dies, Musicals You’ve Never Heard Of, Foreign Films that Make No Sense, etc.
Welcome to my quick reviews of books and/or movies! These posts are now accompanied by a random image from my media library that has nothing to do with the subject matter. I’m fond of this blurry sunset pic I took from my car ages ago with an inferior camera phone. It just speaks to me… the colors, the composition, even the blur. I’m trying to avoid uploading new images to WP whenever possible so I won’t have to purchase a more expensive plan. Anyway, I’m not too careful with spoilers, so be warned if you read on.
1. The Stepfather, a 2009 thriller on Prime with Penn Badgley, Dylan Walsh, Amber Heard, et al. I didn’t even realize this was the infamous Amber Heard until I read the credits. She’s very pretty and did a good job here. The plot was a bit predictable, but I mostly enjoyed it except for the ridiculously farfetched ending. The rest was solid though and kept me on the edge of my seat, to use a silly cliché. Actually, I was stretched out on the sofa because my back hurt, but I got a little jittery being alone in the house while watching a scary movie. The killer’s motivation remained a mystery throughout, which was a mistake, in my opinion. We don’t discover anything about his background or what started him down this murderous path of needing to create and then destroy a “perfect” family. Including this nugget of info would have made the film more interesting.
2. Sugar Daddies, 2014, another thriller on Prime, starring Taylor Black and Peter Strauss. I thought I might have to turn this one off when it began with preachy narration by the protagonist Kara, but that stopped soon enough and resumed only at the end. It was unnecessary altogether, as the movie speaks for itself regarding how we can get seduced down a bad path, thinking that the end justifies the means, only to discover that it does not. Not everyone feels this innately; some have to learn it in the real world. Others simply don’t. Once the plot took off, the movie was interesting.
Kara’s moral struggle is clearly portrayed. She’s conflicted the entire time she entertains her sugar daddy, unlike a couple of her friends who have no issues with prostitution, but Kara keeps judging them while behaving similarly. I guess it’s more acceptable if you angst over your actions. The writing isn’t that deep or complex though, and we know it won’t take long for Kara to come to her senses. Unfortunately, before that happens, someone is murdered. I didn’t see that coming and it was fun to be surprised.
3. In Dog We Trust, a 2010 mystery by Neil S. Plakcy. This is a fun read! There’s so much great doggie detective stuff, and Steve, the flawed hero/hacker is extremely likeable. Well, I thought so anyway. I enjoyed his snarky narrative voice and the side characters too. It was adorable how he morphed from being annoyed with Rochester, the golden retriever, to bonding with him and becoming a responsible pet owner.
Unfortunately, I did not think the killer was given enough motivation and one of his/her actions near the end of the story made no sense at all. That was disappointing and knocked a star off my rating. But other than that, I enjoyed this book immensely and have downloaded the next several in the series. There seem to be 12 books starring Rochester and I can’t wait to start the next one.
Note: it’s weird to remember a time before everyone was on Facebook and someone has to explain what it is. In the early 2000s, we were bopping around on Usenet, MySpace, Friendster (lol), blogs, and some other sites I’ve probably forgotten. Facebook though? That didn’t gobble up everyone until after 2010ish. Now of course it would be bizarre if someone hadn’t heard of it!
Last weekend I drove up to Alameda to spend a few days with my daughter Diane and her hubby Sam, plus their critters Rory and Zizi. I stopped frequently to stretch my legs so my back would not freeze up. Took me more than 8 hours (supposed to be about 6.5), but I was okay with that.
Friday night we ordered a strange pizza with ricotta cheese blobs… Diane and I loved it! Sam, not so much.
On Saturday, we went to a mall in Walnut Creek to mosey around (everyone masked). Then we headed to lunch at Kabab Burgers in Lafayette. Everything was crowded, so we took our lunches to Sam’s parents’ house in Orinda.
Omg so delicious! The food was excellent and it was a beautiful day to dine al fresco. Then, the real adventure began. The lovely Orinda house is secluded in a gorgeous woodsy area, and I asked Sam where this path led I saw from the porch. He said there was a tiny old wooden schoolhouse back in the forest from like 100 years ago. Of course, Diane and I wanted to go see it. Sam led the way…
Turned out there wasn’t much of a path and we had to hack our way through the wilderness like explorers in the Amazon. There were birds and bugs and probably salamanders, toads, and snakes. Bobcats and bears too! Finally, after an arduous 7 minutes or so of intense hiking, we found the schoolhouse.
But two things happened simultaneously. One, we saw that the building had collapsed into a pile of rotting wood. You couldn’t even tell what kind of structure it had been. Sad. Two, I lost my phone somewhere in the jungle. Oh no! Sam said we’d find it and not to worry. He took a pic of Dee and me with his phone.
We began to trace our steps back and search for my phone. Nothing. I looked around and realized what a vast woods it was, teeming with life. An eagle could have already swooped in and taken my phone, or a rattlesnake might have eaten it, or it could have sunk in a pile of quicksand. I was starting to panic in a major way. How would I get home sans GPS? What about my Scrabble games in progress? I’d miss out on all the Messenger chats! But then Dee called my number and it rang. Sam spotted my phone going off in a patch of leaves and handed it to me. Whew! What a relief!
We headed home and proceeded to play board games: Carcassonne, the Castles of Mad King Ludwig, and Ticket to Ride. I lost all of them. I wasn’t too hungry that night because of the big lunch, but I managed to try my pre-birthday cake and pie selections.
There was carrot cake and red velvet cake, both with scrumptious cream cheese frosting, and there was my favorite pie… key lime in a graham cracker crust. So yummy! No movies that night; we all read books on Kindle. Sunday morning I slept in even later and had cookies for breakfast. Lunch was a variety of dim sum (delivered) and later we took a walk with Rory.
We saw lots of ducks and geese on the other side of the island, but it was windy and freezing, so we stayed out only a short time. Warmed up at home with some wine and baked brie, plus two rounds of Catan and two rounds of Lanterns (lost all, keeping my streak going). Doggo was happy to be back in her cozy bed.
Kitty is older and not feeling well, so she mostly stays snuggled in a soft blanket. Poor sweetie. Sunday night came around so quickly… and then Monday morning when I headed back down south. Easy-peasy trip home with little traffic and a bit of drizzle in the middle of the journey. Visits with family are always too short! Already planning to return for Turkey Day. Hopefully I will get a chance to redeem myself at board games… will practice on friends in the meantime.
Last year when I was up north I got to hang out with my sweet little grand-kitty and my energetic grand-puppy. We took Rory to the dog beach, but the tide was all the way in, so we opted for the trail instead of the shore. The trail was full of puddles however, some small ones and some lake-size. The humans and normal doggos naturally avoided the puddles because who wants to get all wet and cold when it’s barely 60 degrees?
A retriever, that’s who! There could be sumpin’ in a puddle to retrieve, and Rory was determined not to leave a single puddle unexplored.
Happy wet and dirty doggo! I don’t have actual splashy pics because Rory liked to jump on us after each puddle foray, so I didn’t have my phone out the whole time.