Book Review

Dogs and Goddesses by J. Crusie, A. Stuart, and L.D. Rich

C-

Title: Dogs and Goddesses
Author: Jennifer, Anne, Lani Diane Crusie, Stuart, Rich
Publication Info: St. Martin's 2009
ISBN: 0312944373
Genre: Contemporary Romance

Book CoverI was looking forward to this book and was eager to read my copy when it arrived because if there’s one thing I enjoy about these authors’ writing, it’s the undergarments of their fiction. While some stories are pretty straightforward and consist of one layer, whether that layer is brocade or linen, books featuring Crusie, Stuart, and Rich as authors are different. These writers usually dress their stories in multiple layers, and the undergarments are key. The undergarments are usually, forgive me, rich and complex, with themes threaded through that only appear intermittently, but ultimately influence the whole of the story. Once I can identify the undergarment, the story takes on a whole new and more complex meaning. With Agnes and the Hitman, the undergarment was evil, gender, and the definition of family, for example.

Dogs and Goddesses began with promises of a fun and thorough analysis of concepts not usually examined in romance fiction: obedience, worship, dependence, control, and emotional and power balance between women and men. The authors played with concepts of family versus pack, of choosing a community of caring people over the people to whom you were born or raised, and of defining what care and caretaking mean. The promise of that collected exploration, particularly the one that dealt with obedience and women in and of power, was a heady plot theme in the first two-thirds of the book. Ultimately, though, that promise was not fulfilled for me.

Abby, Shar, and Daisy are drawn together in a small Ohio town. Shar is a professor at the local college, Abby has just inherited a coffee shop and apartment building from her grandmother, and Daisy, who is methodical and careful, has been assigned care of her mother’s chaotic dog. They meet when unconsciously drawn to a dog obedience course – though Daisy is the only one who seems to need the course, as her dog is totally spastic. The women are really being summoned for obedience: the instructor is a risen goddess, Kammani Gula , a Mesopotamian goddess who disappeared from history thousand of years prior. The women’s connection to Kammani is revealed slowly as they learn that they are the priestesses of the goddess, and that this goddess is pretty much determined to rule the world.

The villainy in the story is complex and human: while a lot of fiction involving goddesses is all about ruling the world with big heaping piles of magic powers that no human could hope to battle, Kammani has an ambition problem, a temper problem, and a cruelty problem. Combine that with goddess powers and Daisy, Shar, and Abby decide she is Up To No Good and they agree to work together because She Must Be Stopped.

But, unfortunately, their powers and identities were largely ambiguous, leaving me with more questions than answers. Are they or are they not goddesses in the end? What happens to the other two of the seven priestesses, who were easily dismissed as vapid silly idiots except for the glimpses of fascinating awareness and wisdom they showed? The two young women were deft twists of stock bubble headed girl character tropes, and their absence in the final resolution was notable. Their marginalization was disappointing as well. What about the characters, old and new, at the end – how will they be incorporated into a family? I have so many questions about the happy ending that I’m not sure it was happy. Or an ending.  There is so much unresolved in my mind that I flipped pages at the end looking for an epilogue or a “But wait! There’s more!”

The development of individual heroines seemed, forgive the bad pun, sacrificed for complexity of the story. At times I couldn’t tell the women apart because their reactions and actions were so often homogeneous. Further, the men were unique, but underdeveloped. Any one of the couples would have been plenty, with additional backstory and emotional development of the hero and heroine, for a stand-alone romance. One book for each of the three pairs would have been some fab reading. Combined, I couldn’t keep track of them all, and had to assign nicknames to the women based on which job they did in the story – not the solution they would have preferred, seeing as their story and their power was very woman-centric and not at all reliant on the males or the professional status in their lives.

Abby was the magic Cookie-cooking one. Daisy was the Web one (can we stop capitalizing “web” for crying out loud?!) and Shar was the professor. The aspects of their talents as goddesses, with the sword and the bowl and the something or other were fascinating but didn’t seem as woven into the overall story as other facets of their new identities. They intuitively knew so much of who to do the magic woo-woo stuff that I often felt they were tools at the hands of the story, rather than the story developing through them. Suddenly Abby makes cookies instinctively. Suddenly all three of them handle copious amounts of battle magic intuitively. Magic is awesome but as a reader I felt woefully uneducated and left out. 

I keep using the word “develop.” Really, that’s my impression of this book a few days after finishing it and pondering why I have been feeling so dissatisfied. The potential was so strong, and the finish didn’t meet that potential. It’s like an overexposed photograph. There could have been so much more detail and texture to the story and it ended up pale and washed out instead of vibrant and powerful.

The writing is sharp and fast, and the humor is ample, from jokes woven in from old movies to canine comedy. I sometimes got the feeling that there was additional meaning to a scene and I was missing it, almost like not being in on a joke that’s sort of evident but not obvious, but the characters were quirky enough that anything odd I could ascribe to their offbeat funkiness.

The best part, however, for me, was the dogs. Hands down. I could go on and on about how fantabulous the dogs are. It’s a tricky thing to make a pet a character, let alone an entire cast of pets. I’ve laughed aloud at the idea of books told from the perspective of a cat, a dog, even at one point a bird, I think, but when the dogs started talking in this book, that was the dialogue, which was marked by a change in typeface in my reader’s copy, that I looked for eagerly.
Bowser the Newfoundland, Bailey the Jack! Russell! Terrier! Bounce! Bounce! Bounce! And Wolfie the dachshund were the best part of the book for me. Every character was paired with a dog, and the dog wasn’t a foil or a shadow complimenting a weakness or highlighting a strength. The dogs were characters. What could have been cutesy and molar-hurtin’ sweet was instead a collection of wonderful individuals with unique personalities and limited but expressive dialogue. Seriously. From the beginning when they’re comrades and companions to the heroines to the middle when they start talking to the end when they’re part of a large and growing source of power and community, the dogs are awesome.

One thing about the dogs totally cracked me up: the fantasy of dog ownership for the heroines, particularly Abby. For example,  Newfoundland dogs drool. Drool like giant tubes of droodle from their soft mouths. Newfy owners joke that drool strands stuck to the wall after a Newfy shakes himself and the droodles go flying is a unique form of decorating; I believe they call it droodle stucco. Bowser, lucky dog, does not drool at all, at least, not that is mentioned in the story.  I looked at it as part of the Fantasy of a Romance Novel. No one ever has morning breath. Drooly dogs don’t drool because, well, unless you are an animal person who will forgive any number of disgusting things that dogs do (cat box crunch biscuits, anyone?) I imagine discussion of Newf drool would yank some readers out of the story as “Yuck, ew, gross.” And as I particularly love Newfoundland dogs, I loved Bowser, with or without drool.

The dogs are awesome.

The goddesses, alas, were not as awesome.  The individual characters were so intertwined I couldn’t really differentiate between them, and their individual roles in the larger explorations of power and obedience were muddled at the end. I read the story happily for the dogs, and they totally deserve their share of the book’s title. The dogs are marvelous.

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Tina C. says:

    I just finished this book yesterday and I have to agree with your assessment.  I also had a hard time with how easily they mastered their powers.  I also had a hard time with the fact that they would decide to not do something (or at least two of them would) like, not go anywhere near the goddess anymore because she was obviously up to something and it was not good, and then they would go anyway for no really discernable reason other than the third one would say, “Let’s go!”.  Perhaps that’s because one of the author’s said to the other two, “But, but, but we have to have them go because that’s how I wrote my part.”

    Over all, I found this book much like The Unfortunate Miss Fortunes—it was okay, but not great.  I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t love it and I don’t care if I ever read it again.  The dogs were awesome, though!  Cheetos!

  2. 2
    Leeann Burke says:

    I picked up a copy of this book yesterday. the only author I know and have already read some of her work is Jennifer Cruisie. So I thought what the heck. After reading this review and what Tina C had to say abou it, I think I’ll put it in my to be read pile and wait a while before reading it.

  3. 3
    Elaine says:

    I really wanted to like this book, but had a tough time keeping track of the heroines in the first part.  It is not a good thing when it is easier to keep track of the dogs than the heroines.  Of course, I’ve always had an easier keeping track of critters’ names more than those of people.  (A visiting Golden Retriever is trying to climb under my arm as I type this.)

  4. 4
    Page Turner says:

    I’m glad I saw this review this morning, as I was getting ready to order Dogs and Goddesses on Amazon today, but now I think I’ll hold off. I was originally drawn to it for the dog characters, there are so many YA novels with animals who speak and are partner characters to the protagonist, but I VERY rarely find any adult books with the speaking animal character element.

    I guess I’ll just have to keep looking!

  5. 5
    she_reads says:

    I really enjoyed this book. I pre-ordered it for title (and cruise) alone and thought it was going to be 3 novellas. Finding 1 full length novel made me happy and my expectations of how good it would be were exceeded. The dogs, by far, are the best part.

    Going back and re-evaluating were there some holes? Sure. Ultimately I figured that with 380 pages and that many characters and plot bits running around there were going to be details and character development sacrificed to keep things moving on. Could it have been better? Perhaps another 150 pages or so added to give us the amazing/ultimate tale? YES.  Still I was totally entertained and closed the book with a big happy (goddess lovin’) smile on my face so I’m satisfied- and I’ll read it again.

  6. 6
    Amy Redwood says:

    I have very few auto-buy authors, but J. Cruisie is one of them. Now I wish I hadn’t broken my own rule of not reading reviews of books I’m planning to read soon.

  7. 7
    SonomaLass says:

    Thanks for the thorough review, SB Sarah.  I saw this in the bookstore and wondered about it.  Sounds like it will be worth reading for the dogs (love ‘em), but perhaps I’ll check the length of the library request list.

  8. 8
    sugarless says:

    I’m still looking forward to reading this – not because it looks like a madsterpeice, but it looks like a lot of fun (and J Crusie is an auto-buy for me, and I like Lani Diane Rich too)

    Crusie has said specifically that it’s supposed to be a farce, so I feel like I’ll be able to laugh away any real issues with the plot under that guise.

    Hopefully.

  9. 9
    Jennifer says:

    Eh, I’ll still read it. I’ll see how I feel about it. Mileage varies and all that. Two of them on my autobuy still equals “will buy it, even if I thought the plot idea could come out iffy.”

  10. 10
    mirain says:

    I haven’t read either yet, but I noticed when looking this up that another book with the exact same title was published a couple months prior, written by Linda Segall Anable. How random is that?

  11. 11
    Kelita says:

    I just finished this yesterday.  I am not that excited about goddesses nor dogs but I love Jenny Crusie and Lani Diane Rich.  I have several Anne Stuarts in my TBR pile but haven’t read any yet.  I consider the fact that I was entertained a measure of its success.  I’ll always prefer Crusie and Rich solo attempts more since that’s when I became a fan but I have to say,  they got me to read a book about goddesses and dogs and suspend my disbelief throughout.  A keeper? Probably not.  An entertaining evening or two? Definitely.

  12. 12
    Annmarie says:

    I have mad love for these authors so I’ll buy it.  After reading this review, I’ll put it in my ‘to be read at the beach’ pile.  It sounds like I’ll enjoy it if I’m a little drunk on sun and fun.

  13. 13
    Monica says:

    That’s too bad about this book. Jennifer Crusie is usually one of my favorites. Hey, maybe Bob Mayer stole her underwear! :-) Just a thought.

  14. 14
    Becky says:

    Hey, maybe Bob Mayer stole her underwear!

    I sense another web rumor coming on.

    friend44- ha!

  15. 15
    Nita says:

    I have read this book and I can tell you I was really looking forward to it.  Especially since I had jury duty and it was destined to keep me entertained.  But, alas that did not happen.  I found myself bored about halfway (even though the dogs are AWESOME!) and closed the book and put it away.  I preferred listening to the court baileff drone on.  The characters were not at all interesting.  Anyway, that is just one girl’s opinion.

  16. 16
    kate says:

    I maybe wouldn’t have gone quite so low- ouch… but I agree, there were a lot of problems. I did the same thing, reading a quote and then having to look back up the page to see which one of the main characters was talking. Particularly a problem differentiating between Abby and Daisy, maybe the ‘y’ names?

    And I agree all the mains were underdeveloped. I felt like I was just supposed to take their word for it that Daisy was uptight and organized, because we didn’t see that in the story at all, or that Shar was boring, or Abby had an eating disorder? I kept wondering if I’d missed a chapter or something. Things would be alluded to like we knew the back story. I love all these writers, and Crusie will always be an auto buy for me, but it was a mildly frustrating read, because I felt like it could be so much better.

    It read like they’d had a lot of fun thinking up ideas for it. I can picture the three authors all boozed up at a slumber party saying “Yeah and we should make her have orgasms ALL THE TIME!!!” and coming up with themes and what not. But not a lot of it made the transition to cohesive narrative. Bummer.

    Sorry for the length. Guess I had a lot to say…

  17. 17
    Melissa says:

    I had exactly the same reaction—just not enough of anything. It’s one of those cowritten books that worked have worked wonderfully as three books. I could have done with a lot more of Abby and Chris—he was my favorite of the three guys.

    I love all three authors, but I just didn’t completely feel this book. It’s still light years better than some books I’ve read recently, but still…after so much build up, it just wasn’t the payoff I’d hoped for.

  18. 18
    Marie says:

    I wanted to like this book (it was in the “lending library” pile at my office), but sadly, much like the bland and over-rated Thai restaurant I was dragged to last night, it just wasn’t any good.  The characters were blah verging on unlikeable.  The relationships were stereotypes.  The women were so SILLY.  I liked Kammani better than any of the heroines, at least she had a personality.  And this book was guilty of both insta-attraction and insta-BFFship, which I hate even more.  The book was sooo much tell and hardly any show… just… boring.  Sad, because the cover art is kind of awesome and so is the basic concept… sigh.

  19. 19
    Moth says:

    I had the same problem with this one I had with the last collab she did with two other authors: Crusie’s part was great and the other two parts were unreadeable. I loved Sam the god-king. I wish they’d all written separate books instead of this collab. Like you said, the plot was just too complicated and involved to leave room for really developping any of the characters.

  20. 20
    mayab says:

    Well, I guess it’s good that I wasn’t the only one that couldn’t keep the main characters straight… I thought it might be another side effect of early menopause:) I totally agree with your review.  I kept having to stop and go “OK, which one is she again??” That’s kind of a killer for the flow of the story. I wasn’t even that engaged with characters of the men. The only one that I thought was even moderately well defined was Noah – but he had the smallest amount of storytime.

    I do have to say that the dogs are by far the best part of the book. The Jack Russell cracked me up “Look at me! Look at me!” and the “evil” Chihuahua “heh, heh, heh”. Too funny. Too bad the main characters didn’t inspire the memorable moments. In fact, I’m hard-pressed to remember which character said what (and who they even are) and it’s only been about 10 days since finishing the story. Oh well, in a nutshell, it’s not really good – but the dogs save it from a total thumbs down.

  21. 21
    PG says:

    Agreed that the characters were underdeveloped and felt unresolved. But I’d have thought you’d appreciate the discussion of the Glittery Hoo-Ha, at least.

  22. 22
    Theora_Jones says:

    I just read this and the dogs’ voices were absolutely the best part.  I could hear one as clearly as I’m hearing my stereo right now…..Squash, whose whiskey-and-cigarette tones were absolutely those of the late (and great) Selma Diamond (“Selma” from Night Court.

  23. 23
    Theora_Jones says:

    Crap. I hate it when I leave a parenthesis unmated.

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