"All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened
and after you are finished reading one you will feel that all that happened to you
and afterwards it all belongs to you; the good and the bad, the ecstasy, the remorse,
and sorrow, the people and the places and how the weather was."
Ernest Hemingway

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Bonus: Swamp Team 3

Swamp Team 3 (Miss Fortune Mystery, #4)
Jana DeLeon
Swamp Team 3
Jana DeLeon

The Summary
"What's a little arson between friends?

"Undercover CIA agent Fortune Redding spent her first three weeks in Sinful, Louisiana, dodging insults, makeup advice, guard dogs, bullets, and Deputy Carter LeBlanc, both professionally and personally.  But just when she thinks things are going to settle down in the small bayou town, someone sets her friend Ally's house on fire.

"Carter, who'd just started pursuing Fortune on a personal basis, goes back into cop mode and admonishes her to stay out of his investigation.  This time, he swears he won't issue any warning before arresting her.  But with her friend's safety hanging in the balance, Fortune can't resist taking matters into her own hands and calls on her partners in crime fighting, Ida Belle and Gertie, to help.

"This is a mission for Swamp Team 3."

The Good
Swamp Team 3 has many of the same qualities I liked in previous novels:  adventure, intrigue, mishaps, a hint of romance, and strong female protagonists.  Gertie and Ida Belle are back and better than ever, and I still think they're absolutely hilarious when they're throwing insults back and forth.  Gertie is as accident prone as usual, and equally ridiculous.  (I really wish she would just get a pair of glasses.)

And, I'm pleased to say, Fortune and Carter's relationship is finally developing.  Sure, their first date went a little awry what with the fire that burned down Ally's kitchen and the stalker that's caused no end of trouble, but, at least, it's a start.  Right?


But I really don't think poor Carter knows what he's getting into with Fortune.  I mean, between Gertie's and Ida Belle's antics, I don't think he's ready to handle Fortune who is just as strong-willed, hard-headed and a trained killer.  He's out of his league--he just doesn't know it yet.

The Bad
Swamp Team 3 also has many of the things I didn't like about the series:  crazy rednecks, unexpected mishaps, unnecessary tangents on why Sinful is suddenly imploding, and even more unnecessary situations that could have been avoided if Gertie would just get some glasses.


I can't take so many of these misadventures.  After a certain point, it's just too ridiculous to bear--and I usually start skimming.  There's not a lot of substance to Fortune's adventures.  It's just taking up time, because there doesn't seem to be anything else to say, and I'm really not a fan.

The Ugly
More murder.  But add in a dash of arson and you have a whole new recipe for disaster.

For a small town, Sinful definitely sees a lot of action.  Kind of like Cabot Cove, Maine, in Murder She Wrote or Sparta, Mississippi, in In the Heat of the Night.  It has a very small population that seems to be dwindling all the time with all the crazy things going on in town and on the bayou.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

The Peach Keeper

The Peach Keeper
Sarah Addison Allen

The Summary
"The New York Times bestselling author of The Girl Who Chased the Moon welcomes you to her newest locale:  Walls of Water, North Carolina, where the secrets are thicker than the fog from the town's famous waterfalls, and the stuff of superstition is just as real as you want it to be.

"It's the dubious distinction of thirty-year-old Willa Jackson to hail from a fine old Southern family of means that met with financial ruin generations ago.  The Blue Ridge Madam--built by Willa's great-great-grandfather during Walls of Water's heyday, and once the town's grandest home--has stood for years as a lonely monument to misfortune and scandal.  And Willa herself has long strived to build a life beyond the brooding Jackson family shadow.

"But Willa has lately learned that an old classmate--socialite do-gooder Paxton Osgood, of the very prominent Osgood family--has restored the Blue Ridge Madam to her former glory, with plans to open a top-flight inn.  Maybe, at last, the troubled past can be laid to rest while something new and wonderful rises from its ashes.  But what rises instead is a skeleton, found buried beneath the property's lone peach tree, and certain to drag up dire consequences along with it.  For the bones--those of charismatic traveling salesman Tucker Devlin, who worked his dark charms on Walls of Water seventy-five years ago--are not all that lay hidden out of sight and mind.  Long-kept secrets surrounding the troubling remains have also come to light, seemingly heralded by a spate of sudden strange occurrences throughout the town.

"Now, thrust together in an unlikely friendship, united by a full-blooded mystery, Willa and Paxton must confront the dangerous passions and tragic betrayals that once bound their families--and uncover truths of the long-dead that have transcended time and defied the grave to touch the hearts and souls of the living.

"Resonant with insight into the deep and lasting power of friendship, love, and tradition, The Peach Keeper is a portrait of unshakable bonds that--in good times and bad, from one generation to the next--endure forever."

The Good
I loved listening to The Peach Keeper.  It reminded me a great deal of Garden Spells and The Girl Who Chased the Moon, but it has its own unique characters--although a few familiar faces do make a repeat appearance--and its own unique story.  It has much the same flavor:  a quirky Southern town, small hints of magic, complex mother-daughter relationships, and a deep sense of family and tradition that influences the thoughts, feelings, and actions of characters.

Like Allen's other novels, The Peach Keeper is weighty with history.  Specifically, it focuses on the turbulent past of the Jackson and Osgood families--and, more importantly, the unshakable bond held by Willa and Paxton's grandmothers, Georgie and Agatha.  It's a complex story with finely detailed characters, deep family roots, and subtle hints of magic that paint a rich tapestry of loss and love.

I loved the way Allen beautifully describes the Appalachian Mountains.  In Garden Spells, The Sugar Queen, and The Girl Who Chased the Moon, readers are introduced to the mountains of southern Appalachia.  However, in The Peach Keeper, we get a glimpse of the Blue Ridge Mountains--a small range of green, sloping mountains and hills in western North Carolina and eastern Tennessee, running right through Virginia--and it's a beautiful sight to behold.

Since I'm familiar with the Blue Ridge Mountains and the surrounding region, I was inordinately pleased by Sarah Addison Allen's descriptions of the mountains and, more importantly, her fictional town Walls of Water.  It's a breathtaking location that feels right at home in the Blue Ridge Mountains.  More importantly, I was excited by her references to landmarks I knew and descriptions I recognized.  It was unexpectedly thrilling.

I also enjoyed the characters.  It's wonderful to see Willa and Paxton's relationship develop, to see a reflection of their grandmothers' relationship in their newly budding friendship, and it's incredibly sweet to see separate romantic interests crop up in their lives.  Love and excitement is the last thing Willa is looking for with Colin, and Paxton is trying to keep the status quo steady between herself and her best friend, Sebastian.

Their relationships are complicated--Willa trying to live down her past, Paxton trying to preserve her dearest friendship--but it's refreshing to see them confront their problems head-on, to see them work through the struggles to see their own self-worth and measure.  I enjoyed watching them grow, figure things out and fall in love.  It's almost sickly sweet, but it's all worth it for the feeling that everything worked out all right in the end.

The Bad
The Peach Keeper feels a little darker than Allen's other novels.  I mean, sure you find a particularly terrifying villain in Julian from The Sugar Queen, and you're confronted with domestic abuse in Garden Spells.  But most of these stories feel lighter, like you know that things will all work out in the end.

The Peach Keeper, on the other hand, has this dark undertone to it that influences much of the novel and makes it a more serious narrative.  Although it begins with Georgie and Agatha's ordeal in 1936, it doesn't really dissipate.  The violence feels fresh, more palpable, more pervasive, especially with the ghost of Tucker Devlin hanging over the story.

The Ugly

A justified murder, but murder nonetheless.  It's a rather terrible story.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The Gospel of Loki

Saga Press
The Gospel of Loki
Joanne M. Harris

The Summary
"This novel is the wise and witty narrative of the rise and fall of the Norse gods--retold from the point of view of the world's ultimate trickster, Loki.  A Times bestseller in the United Kingdom, The Gospel of Loki tells the story of Loki's recruitment from the Underworld of Chaos and his many exploits on behalf of his one-eyed master, Odin, and the betrayal of Asgard."

The Good
The Gospel of Loki is an unusual novel.  Although it offers great insight into the cornerstone stories of Norse mythology, it's a novel told from the perspective of a notoriously unreliable narrator.  I mean, you literally cannot tell where the truth ends and the lies begin.  You'll never know which version of events to believe, or which stories are as he claims.  He manipulates the story as much as he likes, and it's hard to distinguish the truth when it's coming from the mouth of one of the greatest liars in literature and myth.

However, Loki makes an incredibly descriptive and wonderfully witty storyteller.  He gives Harris' novel an entirely unique flavor.  He's a piece of chaos thrust into the human world, wildfire forced into a human shape by Odin--and his story reflects his uncontrollable nature, his conflicting characteristics and his irrepressible instinct for pleasure.  He's one of the more interesting characters I've had the pleasure to meet.

Oh, sure, he's probably not the best person to look to for the truth.  He's manipulative, he's rather cruel, and he's terribly vindictive; more importantly, he's capable of great evil--and he's entirely unprincipled.  But he's also a funny, flawed narrator with a different perspective on the Norse gods as we know them.  Moreover, he knows how to weave a story and, I'll admit, I was impressed.

Granted, he might use a strangely modernized speech that conflicts with my own impression of the Norse gods and, well, what he sometimes portrays.  (But I attribute some of that to his ability to break the fourth wall, like Deadpool or Genie from Aladdin.)  It's a bit distracting when he uses modern words I wouldn't expect an ancient god to use, but it's not a deal-breaker.

Overall, I enjoyed reading The Gospel of Loki.  It's an interesting, engaging novel with an unusual--and completely untrustworthy--narrator.  I would highly recommend it to any readers with an interest in Norse mythology or, better yet, finds himself/herself intrigued by having a trickster and a villain as a narrator.

The Bad
If you know anything about Norse mythology, I find past knowledge sort of wrecks the story.  You know exactly what's going to happen to Baldur, and you know what terrible evils Loki will wreak on the Norse gods and, moreover, you'll have an inkling to the fate that he describes at the beginning of the book.  Any previous knowledge sort of dulls the luster of his story, because you know what the end will bring.

I don't think it should deter readers, since Loki has the opportunity to tell his side and give his impressions of the old stories; however, I can see how it might make Harris' novel a little less desirable.

The Ugly
Loki is not a nice person.

Like I said, he's a liar and a thief, a cheat and a manipulator--and a murderer.  (I'm not telling you anything new, so don't worry.)  And, unfortunately, the other gods aren't much better.  They're violent, they're crude, they're greedy and cruel.

Honestly, I'm surprised he doesn't fit right in.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Furiously Happy

Flatiron Books
Furiously Happy:  A Funny Book About Horrible Things
Jenny Lawson

The Summary
"In Furiously Happy, #1 New York Times bestselling author Jenny Lawson explores her lifelong battle with mental illness.  A hysterical, ridiculous book about crippling depression and anxiety?  That sounds like a terrible idea.

"But terrible ideas are what Jenny does best.

"As Jenny says, 'Some people might thing being "furiously happy" is just an excuse to be stupid and irresponsible and invite a herd of kangaroos over to your house without telling your husband first because you suspect he would say no since he's never particularly liked kangaroos.  And that would be ridiculous because no one would invite a herd of kangaroos into their house.  Two is the limit.  I speak from personal experience.  My husband says that "none" is the new limit.  I say he should have been clearer about that before I rented all those kangaroos.

"'Most of my favorite people are dangerously fucked up but you'd never guess because we've learned to bare it so honestly that it becomes the new normal.  Like John Hughes wrote in The Breakfast Club, "We're all pretty bizarre.  Some of us are just better at hiding it."  Except go back and cross out the word "hiding."'

"Furiously Happy is a book about embracing everything that makes us who we are--the beautiful and the flawed--and then using it to find joy in fantastic and outrageous ways.  Because, as Jenny's mom says, 'Maybe "crazy" isn't so bad after all.'  Sometimes crazy is just right."

The Good
Furiously Happy is uproariously funny, brutally honest, completely candid, and absolutely absurd.  Jenny Lawson has a quirky sense of humor that sometimes borders on vulgar--no, rather she cross the line on vulgar and waves at you from the other side--but the shock value in her stories keeps them interesting and her ability to capture an unusual story, a tragic event, or a strange set of circumstances, makes her second book thoroughly hilarious and patently insane.

Lawson has a unique way of telling a story.  She frequently deviates from a set path, skipping merrily along, before she reverts back to the original narrative.  She distracts herself with new stories, but she has ADD, among other disorders, which explains quite a lot--and, I think, tends to make her storytelling interesting.

Her history might be a little fractured by her inability to stay focused, but I think she perfectly conveys herself and her story.  She shows her audience her real self and adequately characterizes her family and friends.  She really brings everyone to life, showing off their unique characteristics and attitudes, and offers extraordinary stories.

Like how her husband bought her a mounted bear head, which is when she learned he really did love her.  Or how her father stumbled across a stuffed giraffe and discovered a tribe of individuals with a love for ethically achieved, taxidermied animals, just like Jenny.  Or her strange penchant for hosting midnight cat rodeos.  Or her unusual encounter with a doctor who removed her gallbladder (an experience which, she claims, proves she's turning into a zombie one organ at a time).

I mean, you can't not laugh at the ridiculous, sometimes terrible things that happen to her and the equally terrible ideas that strike her fancy.  Altogether, it's a hilarious and irreverent romp through mental disorder, family drama, and horrible things that are inadvertently funny.

The Bad
I've already admitted it, Furiously Happy is an odd story.  Sometimes fragmented and just plain weird, it's a strange, scintillating and comically absurd memoir--but I absolutely loved it.  Lawson isn't a perfect author or even a perfect person, but I found her quirks, her struggles, and her unusual conversations with her husband and friends to be appealing.

It's funny, and it's relateable.

The Ugly
Mental illness isn't a pretty thing to witness.  Lawson had a way of making me laugh, which sometimes lessens the impact of witnessing her struggle with mental illness, but, as she points out, it's still "no fucking picnic."

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The Dead Shall Not Rest

The Dead Shall Not Rest
Tessa Harris

The Summary
"It is not just the living who are prey to London's criminals and cutpurses.  Corpses, too, are fair game--dug up from fresh graves and sold to unscrupulous men of science.  Dr. Thomas Silkstone abhors such methods, but his leading rival, Dr. John Hunter, has learned of the imminent death of eight-foot-tall Charles Byrne, known as the "Irish Giant," and will go to any lengths to obtain the body for his research.

"Thomas intends to see that Byrne is allowed to rest in peace.  Yet his efforts are complicated by concern for his betrothed, Lady Lydia Farrell, who breaks off their engagement without explanation.  When Dr. Hunter is implicated in the horrific murder of a young castrato, Thomas must determine how far the increasingly erratic surgeon will go in the name of knowledge.  For as Thomas knows too well, the blackest of hearts sometimes go undetected--and even an unblemished facade can hide terrifying secrets..."

The Good
Like The Anatomist's Apprentice, The Dead Shall Not Rest is a complex story that pulls upon a variety of narrative threads.  Sometimes, it sends you haring off in a different direction, leading you on a merry chase through a dark and terrible story, before leaving you utterly speechless as you return to the primary narrative.

But it's very, very good.

I was intrigued by the story from the very beginning, because it deals with Charles Byrne, a gigantic man who was known as the "Irish Giant."  His story is a sad, tragic tale of deception and greed--and medical misfortune.  I have to admit, I was very upset when I learned of his fate.  (Fair warning, fellow readers.)

However, it shouldn't deter you from reading (or, as I did, listening) to Tessa Harris' novel.  As the second in her Thomas Silkstone series, The Dead Shall Not Rest has all the things I loved about the first novel:  incredible characters, complex plots and narrative threads, intriguing interpersonal relationships and dynamic dialog, historical fact.

I loved how Harris continued to develop Thomas and Lydia's relationship, offering glimpses into their lives and their feelings toward one another, as well as developing them as individual characters.  Lydia is certainly more complex than I gave her credit in the first novel, but I can't say I like her more this time around.  She still seems to have all the qualities--vulnerabilities, weaknesses, insecurities--I disliked when I first met her; however, after catching a glimpse into her tumultuous past, I can more readily understand her.

I also loved the flavor of the story.  Like its predecessor, The Dead Shall Not Rest draws heavily from cultural and medical history.  Suspense is sprinkled liberally throughout the novel, but it often draws from historical fact, introducing readers to all the quirks and oddities of eighteenth century England.  It shows what life was like during such turbulent times; moreover, it offers a glimpse into the fledgling days of medicine when ignorance was rampant and superstition frequently ruled.

Simon Vance reprises his role as narrator, and I can't even explain how thrilled I was with his narration.  He manages to give a voice to Harris's characters, bringing them to life with his extraordinary range of vocal tones and accents.  He does excellent work, and he definitely doesn't disappoint.

The Bad
I hated the end of this book.  Hated.

Like The Anatomist's Apprentice, it has a bit of a twist ending.  It doesn't end like you expect or hope, and I was displeased by the fate of Charles Byrne--and I was doubly disheartened by the lingering feeling that something terrible was allowed to happen, that the villain (who I perceived as a villain) managed to get away without incurring any consequences for his barbaric actions.

It's truly horrifying.

The Ugly
Venereal disease.

The only reason I mention "venereal disease" is that there's a little episode in the book that describes a certain condition, in sickening detail, and examines its immediate effects on the human body.  I'm not ashamed to say that, afterward, I felt sick to my stomach.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Bonus: Gator Bait

Jana DeLeon
Gator Bait
Jana DeLeon

The Summary
"Things are starting to look up for Fortune Redding.  Even though her life was at stake, the CIA assassin had balked at taking on a new identity in Sinful, Louisiana.  But instead of hating it like she'd thought she would, Fortune now has friends she cares about and just finished up an incredible first date with the sexiest deputy in the state.  Sure, there's been a murder or two that she's gotten mixed up in since she arrived in town, but she's hoping all of that is behind her.

"But when someone almost kills Deputy Carter LeBlanc, Fortune tosses her dreams of peace and quiet into the muddy bayou and shifts back into being the deadly trained professional that she is.  With the help of Ida Belle and Gertie, Fortune launches a manhunt, intending to find a killer before he tries again."

The Good
In Gator Bait, Jana DeLeon finally throws her readers a bone and offers some development with Carter and Fortune's relationship.  It gives an added dimension to the story and, more importantly, gives Fortune a little more depth as she contends with her feelings for Carter and attempts to balance her new identity with her chosen career.  It gives the novel a little more emotional complexity, which I appreciated.

However, I also liked that Fortune doesn't have anyone making her look like a complete and utter fool.  Wait, scratch that--she encounters fewer compromising situations, let's put it that way.  Mishaps still arise and Fortune, Gertie, and Ida Belle are unexpectedly caught with their pants down (figuratively speaking), but it seems like a less frequent occurrence since Carter isn't overseeing a police investigation.

I like that Fortune is given a moment to shine.  I mean, yes, I can point out several instances where Fortune manages to save lives--like saving Gertie and Ida Bell, getting in the middle of a mob operation and rescuing an undercover agent, saving Allie, putting her life on the line (multiple times) as she explores the bayou with her co-conspirators--but she's never really been recognized.  Which I find aggravating.

Yes, I know she's not supposed to compromise her cover; yes, I know she really doesn't even want to take credit for the things she does (that's not the motivating factor for her actions); and, yes, I know she'd prefer not to be in the limelight.  But it's nice to know that she can be recognized for her heroic moments, rather than the ignominious mishaps that seem to define her stay in Sinful.

I like that she's pictured more as the incredible super-soldier she is, rather than the flighty, blundering former-beauty queen she's pretending to be.

The Bad
Pretty much the same old, same old.

Between criminals continuously slithering out of the woodwork and townsfolk asking why Sinful is suddenly imploding, each story has an air of familiarity, an almost repetitive quality that gets very old very fast.  And, speaking of Sinful, I keep wondering if DeLeon does have an explanation for why criminal activity has suddenly skyrocketed.

Can you even give an explanation for it?  I'm curious to find out.

The Ugly

And it's unexpectedly perturbing.

Sure, people have been dying left and right in Sinful since Fortune arrived; however, it's usually something that Gertie, Ida Belle, and Fortune learn secondhand.  I mean, I know Fortune is a trained killer and, in some cases, she is forced to use her considerable skills to save other people (even if it means using deadly force), but readers don't really get to see it happen before their very eyes.

This book changes that.  Quite drastically, I thought.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Dad is Fat

Crown Archetype
Dad is Fat
Jim Gaffigan

The Summary
"Have you ever read a book that changed your life?  Well, neither has Jim Gaffigan.  This may be because Mr. Gaffigan is lazy and has poor eyesight, or it may be because he has five very young children and lives in a two-bedroom apartment in New York City.  Yes, five children.  No, he only looks Mormon.  Jim is just like you:  busy, self-consumed, and exhausted.  The only difference that may be that Mr. Gaffigan is a comedian and very, very good-looking.

"I know what you are thinking.  Finally, another book from a comedian!  Finally, a book about parenting from a comedian.  Finally, another self-congratulatory book flap obviously written by the author.  Well, fear not, reluctant but probably book purchaser.  I'm not saying Dad is Fat is the book that will change the world, but there is strong consideration of having this book, the one you are holding, added to the New Testament.  Yes, that's right, the Bible!  All I have to do is get the pope on the phone and it's pretty much a done deal.  Anyone have his number?"

The Good
Full of laugh-out-loud stories that are sure to make parents and prospective parents giggle, Dad is Fat is both fun and funny.  It's cut into small, manageable bites, so you'll be able to read and enjoy his book even if you can't read it in one sitting.  I especially like that Jim Gaffigan manages to make his book sound just like an on-going comedy act.

No, really.

If you've ever listened to one of Gaffigan's shows on Comedy Central or Netflix, you'll recognize his voice in Dad is Fat.  It's a unique blend of sarcasm, storytelling and absolute absurdity that makes his stories hilarious and, in my opinion, gives him a singular narrative voice.

Basically, if you enjoy his brand of stand-up comedy, you'll enjoy his book.

The Bad
While I do think Jim Gaffigan is a funny guy, Dad is Fat felt like one, long stand-up show.  It's funny and, I'll admit, it kept me giggling from beginning to end; however, it has an almost repetitive quality to it.  It doesn't change and, after a while, it's humor starts to grow a little stale.

The Ugly
No complaints.  It's really very mild.  He's a "family-friendly comedian."

Well, more or less.  I'm not really sure if he identifies himself as being family-friendly.  I think he just sort of stumbled into the role.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman

Vintage Books
I Feel Bad About My Neck:  And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman
Nora Ephron

The Summary
"With her disarming, intimate, completely accessible voice, and dry sense of humor, Nora Ephron shares with us her ups and downs in I Feel Bad About My Neck, a candid, hilarious look at women who are getting older and dealing with the tribulations of maintenance, menopause, empty nests, and life itself.

"The woman who brought us When Harry Met Sally..., Sleepless in Seattle, You've Got Mail and Bewitched, and the author of best sellers Heartburn, Scribble Scribble, and Crazy Salad, discusses everything--from how much she hates to her purse to how much time she spends attempting to stop the clock:  the hair dye, the treadmill, the lotions and creams that promise to slow the aging process but never do.  Oh, and she can't stand the way her neck looks.  But her dermatologist tells her there's no quick fix for that.

"Ephron chronicles her life as an obsessed cook, passionate city dweller, and hapless parent.  She recounts her anything-but-glamorous days as White House intern during the JFK years ('I am probably the only young woman who ever worked in the Kennedy White House that the President did not make a pass at') and shares how she fell in and out of love with Bill Clinton--from a distance, of course.  But mostly she speaks frankly and uproariously about life as a woman of a certain age.

"Utterly courageous, wickedly funny, and unexpectedly moving in its truth telling, I Feel Bad About My Neck is a book of wisdom, advice, and laugh-out-loud moment, a scrumptious, irresistible treat."

The Good
Nora Ephron's collection of essays is incredibly funny.  Ephron speaks to the universal experiences of all women, pointing out our shared fear of getting older, our worries of wrinkle and our eventual dependence on hair dye, our trouble with large purses (in which it's easy to lose everything, except that random little tic tac that always seems to appear).  It's a short book that's accessible to most, if not all, women who find themselves in similarly hilarious situations.

Overall, I enjoyed I Feel Bad About My Neck.  It's very well-written, incredibly descriptive, and strangely appealing.  I loved her essays because they spoke to me on a personal level, especially where purses are concerned.  (I can certainly see why Ephron dislikes them so, but, like her, I find them a necessary evil for random assortment of things I carry around, such as my books, or candy, or notebooks, or, heaven forbid, something reasonable like a wallet.)

Moreover, Ephron's book is short and it get straight to the point.  Unlike Consider the Lobster by David Foster Wallace, which I attempted to read before I found Ephron, I Feel Bad About My Neck is incredibly appealing, ridiculously funny, and accessible.  It doesn't get stale, because Ephron manages to enchant you with her writing.  She uses short, often funny--and frequently insightful--stories that are sure to appeal to many readers.

The Bad
No complaints.

I enjoyed the entire collection of essays.

The Ugly
Growing older is no picnic, as Ephron makes apparent.

Now, I can't help but wonder what's waiting in store for me.  I suppose I'll just have to find out.  In the mean time, I will learn to better appreciate the neck that I have.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Bonus: Swamp Sniper

Jana DeLeon
Swamp Sniper
Jana DeLeon

The Summary
"When only a crack shot will do...

"In the two weeks CIA assassin Fortune Redding has been hiding in Sinful, Louisiana, she's been harassed, poisoned, and shot at...and that was the easy part.  Bu now, she's about to face her biggest challenge since setting foot int he tiny bayou town.

"When mayoral candidate Ted Williams is murdered, everyone is surprised.  Ted was a blowhole and a Yankee, but those usually weren't good reasons to kill someone.  When Sinful Ladies Society leader Ida Belle becomes the lead suspect in the crime, Fortune knows she's got to solve a murder and save one of the only friends she's ever had.

"But as the investigation begins, more and more secrets surface, and Fortune realizes that sometimes nothing is as it seems."

The Good
Swamp Sniper has many of the same qualities that I liked:  good characters, decent narrative, fun narrator, lots of adventure and mayhem.  I mean, what's not to love?

And I really don't know what else to say about it.  It's kind of a repeat of the last books, so, if you don't want to go back and rehash the story, you really don't have to.  Swamp Sniper is pretty much self-contained.  It fills you in on the backstory enough that you really don't have to backtrack, because I don't think they bring back any unexpected characters.

(Or, I suppose, you could skip it.  It doesn't really add anything much to Fortune's overall story.  At least, not that I remember.)

The Bad
Pretty much the same old thing:  Ida Belle, Gertie, and Fortune start investigating a murder (this makes three); they bumble their way through an investigation, narrowly avoiding getting shot by bad people or arrested by Deputy LeBlanc; they solve the murder and move on with their lives.  It's pretty much like reading the same books over again.

Not that I didn't enjoy it.  The Miss Fortune Mysteries is something of a guilty pleasure for me, I must admit.  However, I feel like I'm overwhelmed by all the embarrassing antics concocted by Gertie, their crazy excuses for Carter, and their wild excursions into the bayou that inevitably wind up with someone plowing into a bank or falling into the water.

It's the same recipe for disaster and, admittedly, I'm a little tired of it.

The Ugly
Pretty much the same thing, but, this time, the Mob gets involved.

Thursday, July 7, 2016


Scholastic Press
Alex Gino

The Summary
"When people look at George, they think they see a boy.  But she knows she's not a boy.  She knows she's a girl.

"George thinks she'll have to keep this a secret forever.  Then her teacher announces that their class play is going to be Charlotte's Web.  George really, really, REALLY wants to play Charlotte.  But the teacher says she can't even try out for the part...because she's a boy.

"With the help of her best friend, Kelly, George comes up with a plan.  Not just so she can be Charlotte--but so everyone can know who she is, once and for all."

The Good
I read George as part of my Read Harder Challenge of 2016 and I found I really enjoyed reading Alex Gino's novel.  More than I thought I would, admittedly.  It's a sweet little story about George, a boy who would rather be a girl, and his struggle to find acceptance when he reveals to his family--and the rest of his school--the truth about his gender identity.

George is actually a novel for younger readers, so I think Gino's novel reflects the audience age; however, I think it's accessible to a wide variety of readers.  I'll admit, I was a little hesitant to read Gino's novel, because I had my own preconceived notions with which to contend, as well as other doubts that occasionally plagued me in considering this novel.  Given the debate in the media over which bathrooms transgender individuals should and shouldn't use, I really didn't want to read a book that was full of ugly prejudices or a novel that would dwell upon hurtful things.

I was afraid to read a depressing novel.

Luckily, I didn't.  George is surprisingly upbeat, and I found it was rather fun to follow his journey from George to Charlotte, how he managed to fulfill the slogan on the back cover:  "Be Who You Are."  It has a positive message, and it's appealing because it doesn't get bogged down by hateful language; rather, it focuses on George's journey and her success in embracing her own identity.

One of the things I noticed about this book was how George, who did not describe or identify himself as a boy, is consistently referenced with feminine pronouns.  I thought it was a nice touch, because it seemed to make an impact, seemed to impart the importance of a person who is transgender to identify with the gender they choose.  It's an intriguing and eye-opening concept that, I thought, adequately conveyed some of the struggles the George encounters.

Overall, I thought it was a wonderful book that illustrates the struggles of a transgender girl.

The Bad
Although I think George is accessible to readers of all ages (and genders), it's a novel that's likely to appeal to a younger audience.  The language, tone, and story reflect the age of the reader and the age of George.  While I know that may not be appealing to all readers, I didn't find it to be much of a deterrent when I jumped into the story.

Honestly, I couldn't put it down once I picked it up.

The Ugly

I couldn't help feeling sorry for poor George and all the ridicule, derision, and cruelty he had to endure from a couple of his classmates.  It was heartbreaking.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

The Anatomist's Apprentice

Kensington Books
The Anatomist's Apprentice
Tessa Harris

The Summary
"In the first in a stunning new mystery series set in eighteenth-century England, Tessa Harris introduces Dr. Thomas Silkstone, anatomist and pioneering forensic detective...

"The death of Sir Edward Crick has unleashed a torrent of gossip through the seedy taverns and elegant ballrooms of Oxfordshire.  Few mourn the dissolute young man--except his sister, the beautiful Lady Lydia Farrell.  When her husband comes under suspicion for murder, she seeks expert help from Dr. Thomas Silkstone, a young anatomist from Philadelphia.

"Thomas arrived in England to study under its foremost surgeon, where his unconventional methods only add to his outsider status.  Against his better judgement he agrees to examine Sir Edward's corpse.  But it is not only the dead, but also the living, to whom he must apply the keen blade of his intellect.  And the deeper the doctor's investigations go, the greater the risk that he will be consigned to the ranks of the corpses he studies..."

The Good
I stumbled across The Anatomist's Apprentice purely by accident.  I was intrigued by the cover when I was skimming a list of audibooks and I clicked the thumbnail, which lead me, of course, to Tessa Harris's novel.  It's not usually the sort of book I would read:  a macabre medical thriller that's set at the tail end of the 18th century.  I mean, I like historical fiction, but medical dramas I'm a little less inclined to read.

However, I was pleasantly surprised by The Anatomist's Apprentice.  It has a good, solid story with an intricately crafted plot, complex characters, and wonderful historical detail.  I especially liked that the author put in the time and effort to describe her characters in such detail, giving them distinctive mannerisms and character quirks that made them instantly recognizable.

I mean, it's hard to forget the corpulent coroner who keeps meat pies hidden in his briefcase, or the egregious Matthew Farrell who flaunts his new wealth after the death of his brother, or the pale, timid creature known as Lady Lydia, who is a lady of perfect breeding (which, confidentially, made her rather boring).  And I certainly can't forget Thomas Silkstone and his mentor, Dr. William Carruthers.

Thomas Silkstone is a fascinating individual.  Although his skills border on the macabre (he is an anatomist, thus his greatest talents lie in the dissection of corpses and the identification of trauma to the human body), he's incredibly intelligent and, being an American caught in England during the American Revolution, he provides a different perspective on English culture and behavior.  More importantly, with his old mentor behind him, he has unique access to a wealth of knowledge--and someone to unceremoniously point out his follies.

Speaking of Thomas's mentor, I have to say I rather liked Dr. Carruthers.  He's practically ancient by normal health standards and he's blind, but he doesn't miss a thing.  He's quick as a whip, intellectually speaking, and he's an excellent sounding board for Thomas.  I loved Thomas' conversations with his old teacher, because they had such an easy rapport, a friendliness that created a unique and quiet lovely dynamic between them.  I grew to appreciate their relationship more than I realized.

One of the greatest things I appreciated about the audiobook, however, was the narrator:  Simon Vance.  Vance does an excellent job of bringing Harris' novel to life, giving a voice to all of the wonderful characters she fabricated.  He uses a variety of accents, playing upon the subtle differences in country and county to provide a broad range of voices that use both a soft, lilting cadence to a deep, rough timbre.  Truthfully, I found it fascinating to listen to him work and I enjoyed The Anatomist's Apprentice more for his narration.

The Bad
I supposed my greatest complaint was the pace.  Tessa Harris (and Simon Vance) do an excellent job of pacing the story, bringing each and every detail to light slowly; however, I found I was sometimes bored by how the story seemed to drag on forever.

Much like Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express, The Anatomist's Apprentice takes multiple chapters to build and seems to unravel all within a few minutes.  While I enjoyed the story overall, I found I didn't like the sudden conclusion.  It had far too many twists at the end for my taste, and I found myself rather confused by the fact that the villain I thought had committed the crime wasn't actually the real mastermind.

It's a bit more convoluted than I would have liked.

As an aside, I do want to point out that I was rather annoyed by how often Lydia was considered to be "fragile," looking "more pale than he'd ever seen her."  Yes, I understand she's a fragile, delicate flower; however, I didn't like being reminded multiple times in the same novel.

The Ugly

These people are incredibly inventive.  You think it's one thing, but it's actually quite another.  If it's not murder by bludgeoning, it's murder by drowning or poison or perceived suicide--or, in some cases, attempted murder by physical battery.  It's really very gruesome.

And, speaking of gruesome, I found the booming grave-digging trade to be sickeningly macabre.  Corpses are dug up from the graves and sold to nearby anatomists, who promptly dissect and dispose of the remains.  Even if Thomas does adhere to a set of ethics, which prevents him from taking advantage of the lucrative (if dubious) trade, he is still an anatomist and he still dissects human bodies.

I found myself feeling a bit squeamish from time to time as the narrator described autopsies in graphic detail.  It's more than a little disturbing.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Bonus:Lethal Bayou Beauty

Jana DeLeon
Lethal Bayou Beauty
Jana DeLeon

The Summary
"No one in Sinful liked Pansy Arceneaux, but who hated her enough to kill her?

"When aspiring actress Pansy Arceneax returns to Sinful, Louisiana to head up the beauty pageant portion of the Summer Festival, CIA assassin Fortune Redding knows she's in for trouble.  Her undercover identity as a former beauty queen makes Fortune the perfect choice to chair the event with Pansy, but Pansy's abrasive personality makes it impossible to get through a single rehearsal without a fight.

"When Pansy turns up dead, Fortune is the prime suspect.

"Armed with only her wits and two conniving seniors referred to locally as The Geritol Mafia, Fortune launches an investigation to find the real killer before her cover is blown."

The Good
Lethal Bayou Beauty has many of the same qualities I found endearing in it's predecessor:  a strong, sarcastic narrator; wonderful characters instigating a variety of mishaps; hilarious character interactions; lots of action and adventure and butt-kicking females.  It's fun, it's easy-to-read in an afternoon or two, and, personally, I think it's definitely worth picking up for free on my library website.

Besides, I was intrigued to see how Fortune--who is a self-professed tomboy with zero experience with pageants or, you know, anything remotely feminine--would handle herself in the middle of the strange and exotic world of pageant shows.  It's hilarious to see one mishap after another; it's a rollicking good time.

And, honestly, I found it worth it just to see her deal with Pansy Arceneax.  It's easy to dislike (if not outright hate) Pansy.  She's horribly snobbish and vindictive, she's outright cruel, and she's not above blackmailing and/or threatening people to get her way.  She's a terrible person, so I thought it was nice to see Fortune knock her down a few pegs.

Even if there was some confusion about Lady Gaga that proved embarrassing.  (It's hard to explain.  Better to read the book to understand.)

The Bad
I still liked this book, but I couldn't help thinking that Fortune, Gertie, and Ida Belle endure way too many mishaps.  In the first book, Louisiana Longshot, I could understand why so many plans kept going awry.  Fortune is just getting her feet back on the ground and she's learning new names, meeting new people, and exploring a new terrain.

But Lethal Bayou Beauty is the second in the series, so I feel like it should settle down a little.  Yes, all these crazy adventures helps to propel the story forward, but too many run-ins with Deputy Carter LeBlanc and too many close calls at the wrong end of a rifle causes it to lose it's appeal.

I mean, there really is such a thing as too much adventure.

The Ugly
Murder.  Assault.  Attempted murder.  Poisoning.  Prostitution.  Blackmail.  Tax fraud.

I think the only thing missing is drug dealing.

(But, fear not, that comes later.)