The Cat’s Meow Reviews: Drinkwell Pagoda Fountain

Drinkwell Pagoda Fountain in Blue
$70-$100
Major Pet Retailers

By Sassy “The Fluffer” Shely
Translated From Meowing by Allison Shely

A Crime of Dispassion

Her cries pierced the silence of that April morning.

“But why, Sassy?”

I watched from under the table, head cocked, not sure why knocking the water bowl for the fifth time that week had elicited so strong a response. Mother, wearing that ridiculous fluffy robe of hers, dropped to her knees, tearing at her hair.

“Mommy wants the security deposit back!”

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Is this the face of a criminal?

I didn’t mean to make her cry. I really didn’t.

*      *     *

The Backstory

I’ll let you in and tell you something a little personal: I have kidney disease. The good news is that it’s manageable and seems to be just the consequence of a congenital deformity…or whatever long medical term the vet said it was. The vet, whom I visited a few weeks back, sent me away with a clean bill of health.

Along with a prescription diet (yuck!), the other part of my treatment is good hydration. So, I’m picky when it comes to my water bowls.

Mom started me off with one of those five-gallon jug things. When that got too beat up, she was foolish enough to replace it with a mere plastic bowl.

Over the Christmas break, I learned how to tilt the bowl against the edge of the boot pan mom uses as my feeding area–undignified as that may be–to get the last of the water before the petsitter returned the next day.

That’s when I discovered that tipping over the bowl is also great fun.

Hence, how I brought mother to her knees.

Enter the Drinkwell Pagoda fountain.

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Trying out the new fountain.

*     *     *

The Deets

The main reason mom picked the Pagoda was for its heavy ceramic construction. On top of this, it holds up to half a gallon of water. I couldn’t knock it over even if I wanted to!

Mom also hoped that the steady trickle of water would keep me from knocking the fountain over for a fresher drink. It is also, I may add, quite amusing to watch, even if I was a bit scared at first.

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Taking the plunge!

As to how it works, and how it keeps me from “losing the security deposit” (whatever that means), it is worth the eighty-something dollars.

The major downside, at least as mom sees it, is that she has to take it apart weekly to clean it. There are enough little parts that, until about a week ago, she had to consult the manual every time. Not having thumbs, I am spared this drudgery.

Also bothersome is that the two different filters–a foam one for straining out debris and a charcoal one for taste and purity–are expensive and on a confusing replacement schedule. One has to be replaced every one to two weeks, the other every two to four. The filters, however, are “optional.” Mom left them out this week (because someone forgot to order them) and, so far, I have not suffered too greatly.

All in all, the Drinkwell Pagoda Fountain is one of the best things mom has ever bought for me. In gratitude, I will respect her significant investment in my hydration: I will no longer commit terrorist acts of spillage.

For the foreseeable future.

Mother’s Take-Away
5/5 stars. Worth every penny as it keeps Sassy from ruining the carpet. Around her bowls, at least.

Disclaimer
The makers of this product have not compensated me for this review in any way. The product was purchased on my initiative and with my own funds. The honest views expressed are truly mine (and the cat’s). 

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Happy Tidings from the Death Card

It’s Been A Tough Year So Far

I’m not one much to talk about my personal issues on the internet, but since the events of the last six months have had a major impact on my (lack of) output for this blog, I think I owe you, and myself, an explanation.

There is a lot I can’t tell you, a lot of the details, to protect the privacy of the others involved.

Suffice to say, it involved a lot of death.

There was a brush with physical death, on Easter Monday, in a car accident.

There was a death of self, as this “adulthood” thing forced me to let go of old notions of who I am and who I want to be. This came about largely because of a death of faith, of faith in ideals and institutions that formed me.

There was the death of a friendship. I expected this one to be the worst of all, when I worried about it years ago, or in the last year as part of me, a part unacknowledged, suspected it was coming.

In all, it wasn’t so bad.

 

File:RWS Tarot 13 Death.jpg

XIII. Death. From the Rider-Waite Tarot, ca. 1909. Public domain.

You see, the death card almost never means death, at least not physical death.

I don’t believe we can foretell the future, but as a writer I am very interested in the symbolism of the Tarot deck.

The death card of the Major Arcana gets a bad rap for being No. XIII and for being, well, about death, strangely enough. The card shows death, but only because death is necessary for rebirth.

I walked away from the accident unscathed. After five hours in the ER, waiting for the final confirmation that I had not hurt my head, I went home. There I found Sassy, a little confused about why I was late, and very upset that dinner was delayed.

In letting go of what I thought I was and wanted, I have moved forward. Now that school has been out for a few weeks, I have been focused on my first few freelancing assignments. That is the logistical reason for my long silence on this blog. I am excited to be a “real” writer now and a “professional,” in fulfillment of a dream I’ve had since I was four years old.

As for the end of the childhood friendship, I wish it had not gone down the way it did. I know people grow and change. If things had tapered off between us naturally, it would have been much easier to accept.

One of the hardest lessons about growing up is that doing everything right won’t protect you. One of the other hardest lessons is that your effort can’t make up for what someone else won’t put in. It hurt a lot at the time, and it hurts from time to time, but I find myself looking forward to the future.

I get asked why I like my “frightening” and “morbid” crime shows. As trite as it may sound: while you have to be careful not to only see the darkness, you cannot look away from death without ignoring life.

The death card is change. Time is change. Time marches on, trampling over kings like Death’s horse does on the card. Who am I to resist? What point is there in fear?

That said, I’m glad to still be here with all of you.

Bargain Bin Mystery #2: A Book So Bad It Makes Me Want to Cry

Dead Man’s Puzzle
A Puzzle Lady Mystery
Parnell Hall
Worldwide Mystery
2009

I tried.

I tried so hard.

I tried so hard to say something nice about this book.

But I couldn’t.

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“What the fluff is this?”–Sassy

It is one of the worst things I have subjected my reading eyes to.

One. Of. The. Worst.

Thank God I only bought it as part of a $5 bag of used paperbacks from Brookline Booksmith. (The Booksmith is awesome and in no way responsible for the poor quality of this book, by the way. Nor does the Booksmith in anyway sponsor or promote this blog).

I almost worry this review is going to get me sued.

I thought for sure this was a first-time novel of an artist whose work never again saw the light of day. I was surprised to learn the author has a wide following. The reasons for that escape me, but to each their own.

Let’s start with the premise of Dead Man’s Puzzle. A detective novel has to have a conceit, something quirky about its detective that makes him/her/them ‘unusual’ as a detective.

Cora Felton is a serial monogamist, recovering alcoholic, and sudoku expert who makes her living as the creator of a nationally syndicated crossword puzzle column.

As I am breaking into the series in the third book (and am breaking “out” of the series as soon as this review is done), I have no idea how this bizarre arrangement came about. I only know the fraud is perpetuated by Cora’s niece, the actual crossword constructor.

Needless to say, Cora is a spectacularly unsympathetic protagonist. I don’t need my heroes to be angels, but I do need some reason to like them. Cora’s relationships are poorly defined, even though numerous minor characters appear in useless subplots; her history and motivation are sketchy. Everything Mr. Hall does in describing her and presenting her internal monologues just makes me dislike her more.

The only time I had some sympathy for Cora was in a spare, brief paragraph describing her temptation to drink again, with the reasons for the urge (stress) and the reasons for her resistance (the shame she would feel in front of her niece) clearly outlined (246). It’s a very human moment for a character who otherwise comes across as a rather obnoxious wooden board.

The style of the writing is the thing that most makes me recoil from this book. The prose thinks it is so. darn. clever.

I know I’m not one to talk, but bear with me.

Consider the following, from an early chapter, which is right about where I stopped having hopes for the book. Notice the poor construction of that first sentence in particular. That medial comma is just bugging me.

Cora got out of the car, faced a rather exasperated-looking Chief Harper. ‘All right,’ she said, ‘you got me.’
‘Didn’t you see me behind you?’
‘That was you?’
‘Yes, that was me. Why didn’t you stop?’
‘Why didn’t you use your siren?’
‘I don’t use the siren unless I’m making an arrest.’
‘You’re not arresting me?’
‘For what?’
‘For whatever you’re not arresting me for.’
‘I’m not arresting you for anything.’
‘I guess that covers it.’ 
(14)”

Razor blades. Like razor blades to the mind’s eye, reading that. And it goes on like that for three-hundred pages.

It’s like a computer tried writing in the style of Jane Austen. While all the wordplay, all the sass that should make it funny is there, there is something dead about the execution that makes it fall more-than-flat. It also has very little to do in advancing the plot or readers’ understanding of the characters.

I had to force myself to pay the bare minimum of attention to each page. Even when I tried very hard to understand this book, I could not tell you what was going on.

The “story” (and I use that term loosely in describing the chain of events recorded on these cheaply printed pages) begins with Cora’s niece leaving on honeymoon, meaning Cora has to find other ways to perpetuate the fraud she commits on her devoted readers.And then a little old recluse gets murdered and leaves crossword puzzles of his own design as the only clues.And then all his poorly-characterized and largely unnamed relatives show up.

And then some…and….actually, I no longer care.

0/5 stars: Why is this even in print? I’ve read better fan fiction.
0/5 ‘fraidy cats: Fear and concern would presuppose emotional investment in this book, of which I have none.
1/5 ick-factor: Readers are subjected to superfluous descriptions of abysmal housekeeping. 

Bargain Bin Mystery #1: “Wish You Were Here” Delivers Brutal Hits with Wit

Wish You Were Here
Rita Mae Brown and Sneaky Pie Brown
Illustrations by Wendy Wray
Bantam Books
1990

Welcome to Bargain Bin Mysteries! In this new feature, I review paperback books that I have bought on the cheap to find you the best in bargain reading.

Today’s contestant is one I have meant to read for a while, and one I am glad to finally share with you. “Wish You Were Here” is the first of the “Mrs. Murphy Mystery” series, written by Rita Mae Brown and Sneaky Pie, her tabby.

Sassy is very pleased that I am representing other feline writers on this blog.

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“Took you long enough. Hmph. Hemingway never credited his cats…”

It has cats and it has postcards–two of my favorite things, as anyone who has been subjected to my onslaughts of cat pictures and paper correspondence knows.

Set near Charlottesville, Virginia, in the town of Crozet, the novel opens with postmistress Mary Minor “Harry” Haristeen negotiating a divorce from Fair, the town’s veterinarian. Of course, this being a small town, it’s not only friends and family picking sides, but all of Harry’s customers as well.

Accompanied by Mrs. Murphy, a “gray tiger cat, who bears an uncanny resemblance to authoress Sneaky Pie and who is wonderfully intelligent!” (as reported in the cast of characters) and Tee Tucker, a Welsh corgi, Harry spends her days sorting mail and reading other people’s postcards on the sly.

This is how she first notices two of the town’s recently (and brutally) deceased residents received postcards with pictures of tombstones and the typewritten message “Wish You Were Here.” Harry goes on the hunt for murder, with Mrs. Murphy and Tucker running a simultaneous investigation and trying their best to protect their human.

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The cover art is whimsical and gives away just enough of the book.

Does your cat bring in brutally mangled mice? She may just be trying to show you where the murderer left the body.

While at first I thought the novel was a little slow–the first few chapters introduce half the town by having them walk into Harry’s postoffice–I grew to love it. There is a great deal of wit, delivered both by bipeds and quadrupeds. The chapters in which the animals talk amongst themselves, and try to make themselves understood to the clueless humans, are particularly delightful.

The plot quickens and is not overly complicated. Ms. Brown presents readers with a rare accomplishment: a mystery that they can solve, but only a few chapters before the heroine. The resolution is satisfying and surprising, but not forced.

Wish You Were Here is a loving, but not particularly thorough, critique of life in the South. A major subplot involves the wedding of the white mayor’s daughter, who has been banned by her parents from inviting her older brother because he is now married to a black woman. Brown admits that life is not peachy in Crozet, not for all of its residents, at least, but she does not set out to be Upton Sinclair. Commentary in the novel is not particularly preachy and always comes through the lens of a character’s mind.

I thoroughly enjoyed Wish You Were Here. When I found it in the used book cellar at Brookline Booksmith, I was able to also buy the third entry in the series. The second was not on the shelf last I checked, however.

must find the second book, and fast.

4/5 stars: Charming, well-paced, and engaging. Great way to spend an afternoon.

1/5 ‘fraidy cats: Fairly tame, except for a scene of cruelty to a minor animal character that hurts more than any of the humans’ murders.

2/5 ick-factor: Brown leaves just enough to the imagination when describing her brutal murders. Think: cement grinder.

“Bullied to Death”: Brutal Topic, Respectful Narrative

Bullied to Death: A Story of Bullying, Social Media, and the Suicide of Sherokee Harriman
Judith Yates
WildBlue Press
Released 10 April 2018

This is a hard one to read, folks.

Ms. Yates is not to blame, except in that her gaze is unsparing, the scope of her research unafraid. Ms. Yates tells the story well, but it is the story of a child’s miserable life and rending death.

In September 2015, fourteen-year-old Sherokee (pronounced like “Cherokee”) Harriman stabbed herself to death in a public park, in view of a group of teenagers who had been tormenting her earlier that day.

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“The Death of Stalin” Is (Mostly) A Comedic Masterpiece

The Death of Stalin
Directed by Armando Iannucci
Starring Steve Buscemi, Simon Russell Beale, Jeffrey Tambor, Michael Palin, Jason Isaacs…
1 hour, 46 minutes
Rated R, 2017

The actual funeral of Stalin. Captured by Major Martin Manhoff from the US embassy balcony. 9 March 1953. Public domain.

Perhaps it is inevitable that great expectations are betrayed.

 

As in revolution, so in film. 

I have been waiting for Iannucci’s farce The Death of Stalin since I first came across the trailer in the summer of 2017. It seemed like a film tailor-made for me: a comedy about the ills of the Soviet system and the pitfalls of power.

The marketing team for this film is absolutely brilliant and never breaks character. They actually contacted me on Facebook!
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Photo Essay: Weekend Nor’easter

7 March 18
Norfolk County
Massachusetts

Currently I’m inside at my desk, listening to the rain fall as this new storm moves across my neighborhood and into Boston. No snow, so far. Just a day of rain.

I’m thankful it’s quiet, because I nearly died in the last Nor’easter, which blew through Friday into Saturday, spawning confusion, panic, and #windmaggedon.

As I never tire of harping on, I grew up in Texas. I’ve lived through hurricanes, the worst of them being Ike. I’ve lived through two weeks of late Houston summer with no air-conditioning in the wake of said hurricane. (I know, I know, first world problems).

I fulfilled my childhood goal of becoming a storm chaser when I nearly drove into a tornado crossing I-10 somewhere between El Paso and San Antonio. It came at us we didn’t go to it.

Easter weekend one year I spent huddled under the staircase with my sister as the sky turned green. The door into the garage was ripped from its hinges and thrown across the yard.

New England weather doesn’t scare me.

Usually.

Polar vortex? Chilly.

Nine feet of snow in five weeks? Impressive.

Whatever fresh hell came through town last weekend? Utterly terrifying.
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