Hello everyone, and welcome back to Weekly Reads!
This week, I read two books that, at surface level, are extremely different. One is a Can lit (Canadian literature, that is) take on a bet between Apollo and Hermes that involves giving intelligence to fifteen dogs, and one is a YA contemporary romance about a teen girl who moves to Italy to get to know her father and have love triangles.
But then actually, both of them were very mired in their settings. Which y’all know I’m about.
Neither of these two books turned out to be my favourite (um, spoiler alert for this post?), but I did think they both used setting very well, so there’s that?
Fifteen Dogs by André Alexis
Premise: Two Greek gods make a bet: will dogs, given intelligence, be as miserable as humans, or die happy? Fifteen dogs find out.
The Good: The dog poems in this book are just too much fun. Poems from the perspective of a dog? (But based on the acknowledgements, they don’t seem to be by the author generally, so that’s kind of disappointing.) Also, a few of the dog characters (Prince the poet!) were very lovable.
The use of Toronto’s lakeshore as a setting for the dogs was pretty charming, although that probably has a lot to do with the fact that I live in Toronto. (It’s always charming to read/see something set where you are if that happens to be an underrepresented place. I imagine New Yorkers are jaded to this particular charm.) Still, novelty aside, the setting felt lived-in and real, as opposed to those uses of setting that just feel like a person namedropping locations.
The philosophical bent of this book was up my alley (is there a dog of dogs?), and the perspectives of dogs gave their musings on the meaning of life enough of a spin that it felt fun and tongue-in-cheek rather than pretentious.
The Bad: If you’re really into dogs and dog psychology, then the simplification of dog-brain here will really let you down. Dogs are all about dominance and submission in this book, which ignores a lot of the nuances of pack interaction and affection. The author could be forgiven for not knowing more about dog mentalities given that this “alpha” stuff is still really commonly misconceived—but then he decided to write a book from the perspective of dogs, so research was probably in order?
(P.S. I’m not a dog psychologist, but I do have friends who are dog breeders. It’s easy enough to Google for resources, though.)
Also, a lot of dogs die early on before we get a chance to care much about them. (Sorry, but that’s hardly a spoiler. It happens very early on & the bet/premise is all about how the dogs will feel as they die.) And I would’ve really preferred if we had gotten to spend more time with a larger variety of characters. Especially since we get basically no time with the female dogs, which leaves this book almost entirely male-voiced and leaves out what could’ve been some really interesting points of view.
Overall: I mean, overall, I’m really biased when it comes to this book. I love dogs, I love the Toronto lakeshore, and I love the idea of dog poetry and philosophy. I also love Prince, who is a Good Boy. But I wouldn’t recommend this book if you can’t handle the idea of graphic dog death, want to read female characters, or if you don’t enjoy similar things, because it may really disappoint you. (On the other hand, if you don’t give a toss about accurate dog-brains, then maybe you’ll be into it.)
So true story: the following book actually gave me nightmares, somehow. I avoided having nightmares about dogs dying, but instead I had a nightmare about getting dumped the way someone gets dumped in this book. No more YA contemporaries for me before bed, I guess…?
Love & Gelato by Jenna Evans Welch
Premise: After her mom passes away, Lina is sent away to meet her father in Florence for the first time.
The Good: Florence, basically. The setting felt realistic while also being as magical as Florence is. And while we hit all of the tourist spots, it didn’t feel like David Levithan’s Are We There Yet? (which I disliked in terms of setting, and mostly in general), where the book seems to rely on the reader living vicariously through the tourism of the characters without creating anything beyond a surface-level observation of place. (Also, Are We There Yet? doesn’t really take any time to describe food, which is just tragic in a book about Italy.) Lina retracing her mother’s steps and seeing (and eating) Florence with those more familiar with the place helped make the experience feel less guidebook and more narrative.
The Bad: The plot of this is predictable and fairly boring. Lina gets into a scalene love triangle. She reads her mother’s diary slowly so that it remains a mystery she’s unravelling and acts on it before getting all of the information, which is kind of ridiculous? (Grief is used as an excuse for all of this, but eh. I don’t even get a sense of what Lina’s relationship with her mother was like, and that would’ve been key to connecting me with her grief and/or getting me to care about the secrets her mother kept.) The mystery itself is also fairly predictable.
The relationship between Lina and her father should be the focus on this book and would’ve made it a lot more touching and interesting, but she largely avoids him. Her best friend and the guy she befriends right away seem like just sounding boards for her to talk at. Basically: the plot is a checklist and everyone is underdeveloped.
Overall: There was a lot of novelty for me in visiting Florence through this book (and feeling like I understood the Italian, yay!). But other than that, everything else felt inoffensive, but woefully underdeveloped.
Thanks for tuning in, and I’ll catch you next week! (Hopefully, it’ll be a 4-star one. I always hope.)