Allison's Book Bag

The second half of December I treated myself to three dog cozy mysteries. All three are titles my husband bought for me at a library book sale. The first is by an author (David Rosenfelt) whom I know about through the animal rescue world, while the others are by authors with four or five-star ratings at Cozy Mystery List.

My interest in the Andy Carpenter mysteries by David Rosenfelt comes from my having read his funny account of the start of a dog rescue foundation. The series contains sixteen titles to date and features a reluctant attorney who is most likely to be persuaded to take a case when a dog is somehow involved. In Dog Tags, the eighth book in the series, a German Shepherd police dog witnesses a murder. If his owner, an Iraq war vet and cop-turned thief, is convicted of the crime, the dog could be euthanized. Dog Tags didn’t fit my perception of a cozy mystery, which supposedly don’t focus on violence and contains bloodless murders that take place off stage. Instead Dog Tags revolves around a murder case with roots in Iraq, payoffs, hit men, and even a possible national security threat. Indeed, some reviewers have noted that Dog Tales is darker than earlier Andy Carpenter titles. What helps lighten the intensity of the plot is Andy’s sarcastic style, adamant opposition to danger, and obvious love of his wife and dog. I also enjoyed the quirky characters including Pete who is always calling in a favor, Marcus who eats as if there were no tomorrow, and Hike who puts pessimists to shame. Dogs are front and center, with one being on trial and the other being Carpenter’s own pet. Dog training and the building of trust are also integrated into the mystery.

The Chet and Bernie mysteries by Spencer Quinn have the most unusual quality of being narrated by a dog. To date, the series contains eight regular novels and four behind-the-scenes books. In Thereby Hangs a Tail, the second book in the series, Chet and Bernie are hired to investigate threats against the unlikely target of a pampered show dog named Princess. Although the series reads more like a thriller than a cozy mystery, I’ve become a fan due to the style, characters, and the location. More than any other animal book, thanks to his unique style, Quinn had me wondering what goes on in the mind of my dog or for that matter any dog. As a canine partner, he likes to puzzle out what scents mean for the case. He’ll also wag his tail, growl, and bark to turn Bernie onto clues. And he enjoys helping Bernie tackle criminals. At the same time, he’ll also interpret phrases so literally that conversation can be quickly lost on him. He’ll also scavenge places for food and will rarely turn down food—no matter what it’s source. Bernie is an equally multi-layered character. He makes bad financial investments, and proves a tough guy with criminals, but also has a soft heart for his dog and the woman he loves. Thereby Hangs a Tail takes place in remote areas in Arizona, well-suiting it to the cozy mystery genre.

The Rachel Alexander and Dash mysteries by Carol Lea Benjamin is my only selection by a female author. The series contains nine titles to date and features a female detective and her pit bull. In The Wrong Dog, the fifth book in the series, Sophie Gordon hires Rachel because her cloned dog does not possess the skills of a service dog as was promised to her. While Rachel is searching for the Side-by-Side agency that led Sophie astray, she’s thrown into a deeper mystery when Sophie is killed. I found the first two chapters, wherein Sophie recounts her story to Rachel, somewhat confusing and dull. After that, the narrative improves. I enjoyed how the plot unfolded, with Rachel finding herself in more and more danger as she digs deeper into Sophie’s murder. I also appreciated Rachel’s attempts to find Sophie’s two service dogs a home. Although the dogs (and an iguana!) are often in the background, they’re still prevalent in the story. The dogs like playing in the dog park and accompanying Rachel on her sleuthing expeditions.

Now that I have read six animal cozy mysteries, I’m curious about trends. Are dog mysteries normally darker, written by men, and starring male leads? Are cat mysteries normally lighter, written by ladies, and starring female leads? I’d also welcome reader recommendations! For those of you who are fans of animal mystery cozies, who are your favorite authors and why?


Dear Onyx,

Thank you for coming into our lives. You’ve brought us many happy moments. We love how affectionate and playful you are. Now that you’re healthy, you’re also starting to explore and show your unique quirks, which is equally fun to see.

From the moment we first held you at the Capital Humane Society, we knew that you had lots of love to give. Yes, you might have clung to us out of fear, but you also kissed me with your tiny tongue. When we finally got to bring you home, it didn’t take long before you wanted to touch our hair, our fingers, our toes. You’ve always wanted physical contact and that makes you very endearing to us. Now that you know us, you’ll run up to us or flop on the floor to ask for tummy rubs. You’ve even climbed on my keyboard and pushed the pages of a book I’m reading to get me to focus on you. When we pick you up, you no longer cling to us out of fear, but now instead you snuggle on our laps, our tummies, our chests. And there you purr up a storm of content. You’re super cute when you stretch out your paws to touch us. You are a love.

How impressive is it that even when you were sick, you proved yourself an escape artist? Just three days after we brought you home, you wriggled out of the side of your crate when you heard me fixing breakfast. Within a week, although you had started gaining weight you still weren’t having solid stools, but you were determined to climb onto the guest room bed. I underestimated how fast you’d figure that out. One minute you were on the floor and I was arranging blankets in your crate, the next minute you were on the bed and I was watching to see how you did it. I finally figured out that you were scrambling up the sheets. One of my favorite things is when you play hide-and-seek. You wrap yourself around a bed post, peek your head out to catch my attention, and then duck it back when you see me. And then there’s your latest trick, that of trying to run away when you don’t want to get caught, especially at bedtime.

In that first week after we brought you home, you showed so little interest in food and toys that more than once we thought we were going to lose you. We even took you to our vet. I raised the possibility of “failure to thrive”. Our vet immediately dismissed the idea. No, you weren’t well. But you also had spunk. And you showed it during our visit. You kept wanting to jump off the exam table. We finally put you on the floor, where you promptly tried to eat dirt off the floor. You wouldn’t eat kitten food, but you’d eat dirt! That’s some weird logic. But we didn’t care, because then you started to play with some dog leashes that were hanging from a hook. We had never seen you play before. It didn’t take long before you were playing with all kinds of things. Some of them we’d rather you wouldn’t, such as my pencils and papers. Others we’re more than happy to let you have, such as soft balls, plush mice, and wand toys.

Time passes so quickly. In just another couple of weeks, we’ll be looking for an adopter for you. We’ll be happy-sad to let you go. The moments we’ve shared with you have been priceless. But you’re also going to fill your adopters’ lives with happy moments. Little Bat Girl, we wish you the best moments and the best life.

Love, your pet foster parents.


Agility at home! Guests for a week! A breakthrough in a behavior problem! September was a month of upheaval for our family. It started with us buying and moving into our first house, and finally having space to set up an agility course at home. After that, my parents came to visit for a week, which provided all the pets with lots of socialization opportunities. Finally, seizing the opportunity to start anew, I tried once again to keep Rainy off the counter tops, and this time might have found a long-term solution.

Back in February of this year, I wrote an article called Cat Agility, where I shared my attempts to replicate an obstacle course at home. At the time, the biggest hindrances were space and cost. Regarding space, I even posted questions to a Facebook agility group, asking members: “Where does everyone practice?” It turned out that I wasn’t alone. Others were doing agility in the hallway of their apartment building or in the living room. And we all were frustrated that we couldn’t leave our equipment up to use as time allowed. Hence, my excitement that I could reserve a portion of our new home’s finished basement for agility. At last, the pets and I could do agility whenever we want without the hassle of having to put up and take down a course. Moreover, I now can teach agility to even our shyest cat. As for cost, there are economical ways to build an agility course. As I noted in my Cat Agility article, I found a small affordable tunnel at Toys R Us. In addition, I bought two sets of weave poles and hoops for cats from Bed, Bath, & Beyond. Since writing my article, I also bought a foam jump through Lincoln Pet Exchange. Next purchases will be the supplies for an A-Frame and a pet walk!

In September, my parents came to visit for a week. None of the cats had met them before. Rainy hung back initially, but by the evening she was coaxing them for food and attention. Throughout their stay, she also tried to visit them in the guest room more than once while they were sleeping. Also, during my parents’ visit, we invited friends over twice for games. Rainy once again made her presence known. We also had my in-laws (Andy’s parents) over for a visit. All the pets welcomed them. They brought their dog too. Prior to this, Rainy had met their dog a few times at their home. For the most part, Toby maintained a respectful distance from Rainy, but they remain curious about one another too. I suspect one day they might even become play buddies! All these visits have got me thinking again about Rainy’s potential as a therapy cat. Keep watch for future articles on this front

“Down!” “Get off!” “Leave it!” If you’ve ever yelled any of these commands at your pets, you’re not alone. Rainy is over two years old, and until recently nothing that we’ve tried has successfully kept her off our counters. First, we attempted the standard methods of using a spray bottle, double-sided tape on placemats, aluminum foil, and cans with coins in them. The idea behind all these contraptions was to make the counter unappealing, and indeed they’ve worked with other cats of ours. Unfortunately, none of these things have ever fazed Rainy. Next, we tried creative methods such as motion-activated deterrents. Andy found these scary rubber snakes that strike out when they detect movement. The first few times Rainy got “attacked” by these, she fled the kitchen. But the prospect of food encouraged her to persist, and soon she had learned how to stay out of the reach of the snakes. Then I tried an idea I got from a podcast. Just before preparing food I let Rainy down into the basement, where I let her explore until I had all the cat dishes filled. My latest idea has been the most successful. While I prepare the cats’ food, I have Rainy sit on a small stool next to me. Each time I open a new can, if she has kept her bottom on the stool, I let her lick food from my finger. This way, instead of simply restricting her access to food, I’m rewarding her good behavior. This idea has worked so well that as soon as I place the stool next to our kitchen countertop, Rainy jumps up on it and gives me her attention.

With the arrival of October, life is more settled at the Frederick household, and I’ve finally resumed daily training with the pets. I’ve also begun a new kind of training, one that involves all the pets, and will introduce you to it in my next installment of Rainy’s adventures.

Reprinted with permission from Lincoln Animal Ambassadors Pet Talk. This article is original in content and not to be reproduced without permission. Copyright 2017.

The first half of December I treated myself to three cat cozy mysteries. I picked random titles by two authors with whose names I have long heard of (Lillian Jackson Braun and Rite Mae Brown) and the first title in a series by an author (Sofie Kelly) whose books I discovered at a library book sale.

My interest in The Cat Who mysteries by Lillian Jackson Braun books comes from my mother-in-law having a dozen of them on her shelves. The series contains thirty titles and features journalist James Qwilleran and his two Siamese cats Yum Yum and Koko. In The Cat Who Smelled a Rat, the 24th book, the residents of the small town of Pickax located in Moose County “400 miles north of everywhere” have two concerns. The first concern is how late the arrival of the Big One is; residents are becoming increasingly anxious about wildfires, which the first snow storm of the season would help obliterate. The second concern naturally involves murder. I enjoyed Braun’s fast-paced style, her focus on one main character through whom I meet residents and hear community gossip, her creation of a town which bubbles with personality and of course the cats. Although the cats are often in the background, they’re still prevalent in the story. They air their opinions of James’ redecorating efforts, predict changes in weather and newsworthy occurrences and, just as important, provide clues to James as to the murderer’s identity. In reading about Braun, I discovered to my pleasure that she refused to cave to publisher demands to use more colorful language and to my dismay that she died not having ended the Cat Who series.

Other than having heard Rita Mae Brown’s name in connection to feminism, I’m not sure how I came to know of her Sneaky Pie books. The series contains twenty-six books to date and features a cast of characters so extensive that they’re listed in the front pages. However, Mary Haristeen (aka as Harry), her gray tiger cat, and her Welsh corgi appear to be whom the mysteries center around. In Pay Dirt, the 4th book, the residents of the small town of Cozet, Virginia, have two concerns. The first concern is a computer virus that threatens to hit businesses that summer and indeed hits the local town’s bank. The second concern naturally involves murder. It took me several chapters before I started to like Pay Dirt. The mystery is written from a third-person omniscient point-of-view, and that initially left me feeling removed from the story, especially as it started out with a lengthy description of the town. The two pets are not only often in the background, but they also talk with one another, which surprised me in an adult novel. Eventually, I began to like the young postmistress and her two sidekicks without whom the mystery wouldn’t have been solved. Also, Dirt contained the most plausible solution of the three mysteries I read for this review, for which I give it huge kudos.

From my box of cat cozy mysteries, I picked for my third book the first title in the Magical Cats Mysteries by Sofie Kelly because it featured a librarian as the main character. The series contains nine titles to date and features Kathleen Paulson and her two stray cats Owen and Hercules. In Curiosity Thrilled the Cat, the residents of the small town of Mayville, Minnesota, have three concerns. These are: When will library renovations be completed; Will the town’s music festival continue as scheduled; and Who murdered the famous guest in town? I enjoyed the first-person narrative, the complexity of the characters, and of course the cats. Not only do the two cats appear in every chapter, but they have distinctive interests. Oren delights in Funky Chicken toys, while Hercules enjoys joining Kathleen on outings. Kelly also sneaks in lots of info about Trap-Neuter-Release and its benefits to community cats.

If you don’t know what cozy mysteries are, Wikipedia defines them as a subgenre of crime fiction. Good Reads elaborates by saying that, “Cozies rarely focus on sex, profanity, or violence. The murders take place off stage, and are often relatively bloodless.” In addition, the mystery usually takes place in a small town or village. I suspect that I’ll be reading lots of cozy mysteries in the years ahead!

Onyx peered through the top of her carrier. Andy and I had brought her with us on our weekly visit to his parents. She was in a strange new place, surrounded by new people, new noises, new smells. But suddenly familiar hands were reaching for her. When I picked Onyx up, she snuggled into my soft pink sweater. “Do you need to use the litter box?” I asked her. I carried her to the bathroom, closed the door behind me, and placed her into a portable litter box. Nervous in the unfamiliar environment, Onyx lost no time in hiding behind the toilet. I retrieved her, held her close, and then returned to the dining room. Andy’s parents both took turns saying hello to Onyx and gently stroking her head. She stared at them with wide yellow eyes and continued to cling to me. I returned her to her carrier until after dinner, at which point Andy and I took turns holding her while the family played cards. Onyx grew more relaxed, laying on our laps and purring while we played When it was time for dessert, Andy gave Onyx to his mom to hold. Onyx didn’t object. Instead she settled in for a snooze, remaining on Andy’s mom’s lap until our game ended and it was time to leave.

Kittens need to be socialized. The main socialization window is from four to fourteen weeks. During this time, a cat is most receptive to new experiences. Kittens that are properly socialized are more likely to display confidence, seek attention from people, relax when held, and recover quickly from unexpected situations. Because Onyx had been underweight and contagious throughout November, Andy and I have just recently started introducing her to other people. When friends visit, we introduce them to Onyx. Each time, Onyx has allowed our friends to hold her, but has then happily returned to our arms. We’ve been taking Onyx for regular visits to Andy’s parents too. On the second visit, I placed Onyx on the table and Andy’s dad called for her. She cautiously walked towards him and, upon reaching him, immediately huddled into him. Later when cookies were being handed out, Andy’s dad offered her a nibble. She didn’t show much interest, but must have enjoyed the experience. Next thing we knew, Onyx was strutting across the table seeking food from Andy’s mom, then Andy, and finally me. We had a curious kitten on our hands!

Hiss! One at a time our three cats entered the living room to check out the crate and its occupant. Inside the crate, Onyx lay curled on a beige pet bed. She stared demurely at the cats, who each took their turn stalking about her crate and hissing before defiantly leaving the room. Two of our cats elected to return when we had dinner. From the safe distance of the recliner, they watched Onyx. And she watched them. Our third cat snuck behind our recliner, used the litter box, and returned the way she had come–just to keep as far away from Onyx as possible. When we finished eating, the other two cats fled too. I opened the crate and placed Onyx on my lap while Andy and I watched television. Curiosity eventually drew our cats back to the living room. Cinder, our tortoiseshell and oldest, sought refuge in her cave. Bootsie, our former feral and second adopted, didn’t return that night. This left Rainy, our brown-patched and youngest, to welcome Onyx. She bravely jumped onto our recliner, even ventured a sniff of Onyx’s tail, and then curled at my feet with her back to me. 

It has been easiest to introduce Onyx to our dog Barnaby, as Barnaby is indifferent to all animals. Here, Onyx checks to see if the gray lump is alive.

Introducing a new kitten to an older cat should be done slowly and carefully. After all, the resident cat (or cats) will have established territory, and the introduction of another may not be well received. This is one reason that Andy and I initially kept Onyx separate from our other cats. They could no doubt smell her food and litter box, but only through the safety of a closed door. This gave everyone plenty of time to adjust. Once our cats stopped hissing at the guest room door, I swapped some of their bedding. Onyx received a couple of their beds and our cats got some of Onyx’s blankets. Our cats showed little interest in the new blankets, but Onyx spent several minutes sniffing the beds. During this time, Andy and I were also often bringing Onyx out into the living room, but limiting her to our laps. The above steps aren’t new to us; we followed them when Bootsie and then Rainy joined our family. But our three cats are now bonded as sisters; I feel trepidation about how to introduce Onyx into the mix.

The two cats stared at each other from either side of the guest bed. I sat next to Rainy with treats and toys in my hands, while Andy sat near Onyx with treats and squirt bottle handy. Rainy leaned forward and glared at Onyx, who lay alert on her black blanket, but otherwise neither cat moved. Rainy straightened up and glanced at me. I rewarded her calm demeanor with a treat. After she gobbled the treat, I tossed several more in front of her. Andy and I wanted our cats to view the introduction of Onyx as a positive. If anything were to endear Rainy to Onyx, food would be it! I let Rainy stuff herself, especially because this encouraged her to move freely about the room and closer to Onyx, while Andy sat ready to squirt water if a fight ensued. No squirting was necessary. I brought out the toys. Onyx sprang after a wand toy while Rainy watched. Andy and I declared the evening a success.

Later that week, Andy and I introduced Cinder to Onyx with mixed results. Like Rainy, Cinder was content to stare at Onyx from a safe distance. The difference is that treats are more problematic for Cinder. She has the mentality of a shelter cat that has needed to compete for food. As such, Cinder growls protectively over her food if any living being is nearby. While Cinder did accept a few treats, she soon ducked under the bed to hide. From there, she kept a close eye on what was the happening in the room and repositioned herself more than once. But again, no fights ensued. We don’t intend to give Bootsie a turn, as she doesn’t like to be corralled into a room. Instead our next step will be to allow Onyx free run of the living room, with the other cats having access too. And Andy will keep the squirt bottle handy. After that, we’ll simply continue to socialize Onyx, preparing her for the day she’s adopted.

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Happy New Year!

Allison’s Book Bag is currently on hiatus. I will return after a much-needed rest with reviews of Advanced Reader Copies including: Freddy Frogcaster and the Flash Flood by Janice Dean, One Two by Igor Eliseev, Incredible Magic of Being by Kathyrn Erskine, Dragon Grammar Book by Diane Robinson, and Wide as the Wind by Edward Stanton.



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