Friday, May 29, 2015

Book Review: Woof (a girl and her dog solve a mystery in Louisiana in the summer in the bayou)

Woof, A Bowser and Birdie Novel, by Spencer Quinn (Scholastic Press, 2015, 293 pages, $16.99, grades 3-6)

But Can He Write for Kids?

In a word, YES!

Spence Quinn (not his real name) is the best best-selling author of the Chet and Bernie series of who-dun-its for adults told by Chet the Dog, so when I saw Woof, I simply had to grab it.

I was not disappointed - at all. Think of Woof as a Chet novel for grade-schoolers.

Then I found out that Quinn (really Peter Abrahams), writer of crime thrillers, also has a crime thriller series for teens, The Echo Falls Mysteries, starring a girl sleuth! Yippy skippy!

As a matter of fact, nobody knew that Quinn was Abrahams’ pen name until he was ‘outed’ by Sarah Weinman who did some sleuthing of her own once Quinns’ first of seven dog thrillers, Dog on It, became so popular.

Back to Woof

If you love Chet like I do, you will love Bowser, a Poodle-Shepherd-Bernese (probably), adopted straight out of a shelter in Louisiana by 11-year-old Birdie and her Grammy to be in charge of security at 19 Gentilly Lane. If you haven’t met Quinns’ Chet yet, chances are you will want to, after meeting Bowser. I’ll wager even youngsters will start reading the adult Chet and Bernie books – at least until another Bowser and Birdie book comes out, and one will – there are plenty of hints in Woof along with some rather loose ends that could be neatly tied up in a sequel. Or two.

The Voice

Bowser knows he’s happy when his tail begins to wag. He also thinks his Birdie is the coolest thing since ice cubes during a steamy hot Louisiana summer (he says she is ‘off the charts’). He likes to sit on Birdie’s foot, nice and comfortable like.

He compares his teeth, which sometimes get a sudden urge to bite (a bad guy) to the small, dull teeth of humans, and his extraordinary sense of smell to the nearly non-existent sense of smell of humans, despite their big noses. He states it best this way: “With her [Birdie’s] brains and my everything else we were going places.” (p. 237)

Bowser is a lovable canine who just may keep you in stitches. “I trotted over to Birdie. She didn’t turn off the flash[light], instead pointed the beam down at the floor. The shadow of a real big dude stretched across the floor. The fur on my neck rose straight up and stayed that way until I realized the big dude was me.” (p. 100)

Birdie is far from a perfect little girl but she is full of spunk and courage. Yes, she does get into trouble, sometimes at night when she sneaks out of the house to go sleuthing but she always has her sidekick along – big Bowser who helps protect her and also helps solve crimes.

The Plot Thickens

Birdie and Grammy run a bait and tackle shop in the bayou. It is summer. Unfortunately, when the store clerk Snoozy falls asleep on the job, an old stuffed marlin, Black Jack, hanging on the wall is taken. Rumor has it that inside the prize marlin is a treasure map, a real treasure map.

To read more about this rumor and be entertained and educated in the meantime by Bowser, check out Woof at your local library this summer or get it at your independent bookstore.

Woof! It’s ‘off the charts!’

Monday, May 25, 2015

Book Review: Paw and Order (dog, mystery)

Paw and Order (A Chet and Bernie Mystery), by Spencer Quinn* (Atria Books of Simon and Schuster, 2014, 305 pages, $25)

Awww, it is so good to be back with Chet (the Jet), a good dog. A funny dog. A failed police K9 dog turned successful (though not financially so) private investigator dog, part of the dog and man PI team of Chet and Bernie, respectively.

(Read DogEvals’ riveting reviews of the other fabulous Chet and Bernie books here.)

Fun and Suspenseful Beach Read

The Chet and Bernie books are a great friend to return to every so often and Paw and Order is a good one, especially if you live in the Washington, DC, area like I do. I had fun recognizing a couple of touristy spots through the eyes of a dog. (But there are not so many as to bore the never-been-there reader.) I also had fun recognizing the ‘bird’ early on.

Will the Real Chet Please Stand Up?

Six previous books have each given a few additional hints as to what Chet the Dog looks like – big, over a hundred pounds; stand-up ears, one being white (at least in three of the books’ covers though it may be a function of the lighting); Border Collie appearance.

I suspect Chet may be a Border Collie-German Shepherd Dog mix because Border Collies just don’t weigh over a hundred pounds – more like 40. Plus he started life as a K9-in-training (and would have passed, had it not been for that squirrel who just had to be chased - or was it a cat?), an occupation more populated with German Shepherd Dogs than Border Collies.

Crime and Punishment is Their Bread and Butter

Chet and Bernie have a penchant for giving some of their acquaintances new clothes: mostly orange jumpsuits, along with new occupations: breaking big rocks into little rocks. Chet and Bernie are traveling PIs (Chet riding shotgun in their current Porsche), roamers, finding trouble (or, you might say, finding cases) wherever they go.

Based probably in Phoenix, the duo survived a recent adventure in Louisiana before heading east to Washington, DC, where Bernie’s girlfriend-journalist Suzie has taken a job with the Washington Post. On the way, the PIs best a bunch of bikers and relieve one of them of a small pink-handled gun, which becomes implicated in a murder: therefore, Bernie becomes implicated as the main suspect.

But Washington, DC, is also the spy capital of the country, and twists and turns fly fast and furious. You will be on the seat of your pants as, through Chet’s nose and ears, you discover what it takes Bernie a few chapters to discover, from international intrigue to Suzie’s kidnapping to a near proposal.

Paw and Order may not be Spencer Quinn’s best Chet and Bernie tale (tail?), though the suspense does escalate exponentially, but it sure is fun to get back to Chet’s view of things. If you are the kind who doesn’t thrive on canine narrators, however, you might still fall in love with the absent-minded Chet who can count all the way up to two.

Thanks, Chet, for another quick read by a lovable narrator. See you soon! How about in the Pacific Northwest next time?

*Not his real name!

Where can you find Paw and Order? Try your public library or independent bookstore first.