Archives for posts with tag: humor

With the opening of the new building it was a busy summer. I did however manage to find time to read some fun, relaxing cozies.

Cozies or cozy mysteries are crime fiction with amateur detectives. Usually they are set in small towns, involve a dastardly deed, contain a bit of humor, maybe a little romance, very little violence and have a satisfying ending. In my experience with the genre the ones in series also feature an interesting cast of characters.

Gone Gull   Donna Andrews pens the bird themed Meg Langslow series. This is a long running series and #21, Gone Gull, just came out. Artist Meg and her extended family are spending the summer teaching at her grandmother’s new craft center on Biscuit Mountain.

When random acts of vandalism turn deadly Meg has plenty of suspects. There is the rival art academy, a developer with designs on Biscuit Mountain, and seekers (including her grandfather) of a rare gull. If you are new to cozy mysteries, this amusing series is a good place to start reading.

The titles in the Dixie Hemingway series by Blaize Clement also have an animal theme. Dixie is a pet sitter in Siesta Key, a barrier island off the west coast of Florida. She starts her days early taking care of cats, dogs, birds, fish and other assorted pets.

Dixie’s first career was as a deputy in the Sarasota County Sheriff’s office. The tragic death of her husband and daughter ended that career. In an attempt to ease her grief and depression her brother volunteered her services as a pet sitter and Dixie found a new vocation.

cat sitterThe first in this 11 book series is Curiosity Killed the Cat Sitter. Early one morning Dixie arrives to feed and groom Ghost, an Abyssinian cat, only to find a man seemingly drowned in the cat’s water dish. Lieutenant Guidry is handling the murder case but Dixie starts snooping when her client doesn’t return and can’t be reached. Dixie goes from snooping to investigating when she becomes Guidry’s prime suspect.

This book sets the tone for the series, somewhat darker than most cozy mysteries but still with touches of humor. Dixie is a complex but likeable character and the pets have personality. As the series progresses you may notice some subtle changes as authorship changed. Blaize Clement passed away in 2011 which is when #7 was published and her son John took over the series. Despite some differences the quality of the series was not affected.

The latest book, The Cat Sitter and the Canary, came out in 2015. In this one murder becomes personal when a note left on the victim indicates Dixie is next. This book had a surprise ending so I hope it’s not the last in the series.

skating     Joelle Charbonneau’s cozy series is centered on a skating rink. Rebecca Robbins grew up at the rink owned by her mother but escaped small town life to become a mortgage broker in Chicago. In the series debut, Skating Around the Law, the death of her mother makes Rebecca the new owner. Her return to Indian Falls to manage the business is only temporary. As soon as the rink sells, it’s back to the big city.

Selling suddenly becomes complicated when the local handyman is found dead in the ladies locker room. His head in the toilet, Mack Murphy has apparently drowned. The death is ruled a homicide but the sheriff is more interested in gardens than crime. Rebecca becomes determined to find the killer before her plan for the rink is as dead as Mack.

Rebecca is the central figure in this series but she is surrounded by a delightful cast of characters. There is her grandfather or “Pops” who helped raise her and is now the Romeo of the geriatric set. Lionel Franklin, the local vet, is very easy on the eyes and a distraction to Rebecca’s plans to sell and get back to Chicago. In addition there is George who teaches skating, Deputy Sean Holmes who finds her snooping to be very annoying and Elwood. Elwood is a hat-wearing retired circus camel with as much personality as he has hats and he has a hat for every occasion.

So far there are only 4 titles in the Rebecca Robbins’ mysteries and all are entertaining light reading. They are a good read-alike for Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum novels. If you are a Plum fan, you might enjoy these while you’re waiting for Stephanie’s next adventure to publish (mid-November 2017).

Advertisements

curiousJanet Evanovich has collaborated with Phoef Sutton on a new novel similar in tone to her Stephanie Plum series. Curious Minds: a Knight and Moon Novel came out earlier this year. Riley Moon, a recent Harvard grad, is a junior analyst at mega-bank Blane-Grunwald. Her first assignment is to go see the bank’s biggest investor, Emerson Knight, and assure him his money is safe.

Emerson is eccentric, young, extremely rich, and wants to see the part of his fortune that is gold. When bank president Werner Grunwald doesn’t make that happen Emerson devises his own way to get access to his gold.

A reluctant Riley and Emerson travel to the Federal Reserve in Manhattan. What they uncover sends them on a mad dash across the country searching for a missing Grunwald brother, missing gold, and one step ahead of the thugs determined to keep them from reaching Area 51 and foiling the biggest heist in history.

This novel has what Evanovich is known for – humor, clever one-liners, and mad-cap escapes. It’s a light, fun read that will make you smile.

dad-is-fat     When it comes to audiobooks, the reader makes all the difference. This maxim became crystal clear to me driving past the cornfields of downstate Illinois one hot, summer weekend. I had looked forward to listening to John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley (in part because I, too, traveled with an evil genius Standard Poodle) only to find myself beaten about the head and shoulders by the narrator’s flat, rock-hard voice. After an hour of aural assault, I had to stop the madness. It took a while to recover from that trip in more ways than one.

Fortunately, Jim Gaffigan came along with an antidote. Known for his self-deprecating, clean humor, comedian Gaffigan is, to put it mildly, a hoot. He is a Midwestern transplant to New York who riffs on everything from convenience food to domestic life to tourists to the Big Apple itself. You may recognize his “Hot Pockets” routine: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N-i9GXbptog. (Mimic his “Hot Pockets” call in a full elevator or while standing in line and see what happens. Good times.) Wondering if his standup translated well to publication, I decided to try his book Dad Is Fat. I got lucky when the only available version was the audiobook.

     Dad Is Fat collects chapter after chapter of stories describing Gaffigan’s life in New York sharing space with his wife, Jeannie, and five children in a small, two-bedroom, fifth-floor walkup apartment. Amounting to mini-standup routines, each chapter offers a glimpse into the Gaffigan household while reminding the rest of us of the universal truths of family life such as “there is no difference between a four-year-old eating a taco and throwing a taco on the floor”. Consider toddler safety, for example, “Once your baby starts to walk you’ll realize why cribs are designed like prisons from the early 1900s. This is clearly because toddlers are a danger to themselves…They have two goals: find poison and find something to destroy.”  Gaffigan’s observations are spot on—pointed, drawing a clear image, sometimes with a zinger thrown in—yet they do not spill over into meanness. That is one of the primary reasons I enjoyed Dad Is Fat. Gaffigan does not have to use rancor or to work “blue” to hold his audience; his storytelling ability, wit, and intelligence are more than up to the task.

As a librarian, I got a kick out of his analysis of children’s books, particularly this chestnut, “I’m not sure if Wheels on the Bus started as a book, as a song, or as a torture technique, but it sounds like it was a pretty annoying bus ride.” He also notes the Law of Unintended Consequences as it applies to Harold and the Purple Crayon, “Great book, but where do I send Crockett Johnson the bill for cleaning my walls?” The audiobook version of these book reviews mirrors Gaffigan’s standup delivery. I could picture him onstage with a mic dropping the punch lines found in every paragraph.  His tone and pacing sound on this recording—as in his comedy routines—sound as if a funny neighbor was chatting with me in the driveway. That’s the charm of Jim Gaffigan; he could be your funny neighbor or your friend or the guy from the drop off line at your child’s school. He’s an absolute riot who could be any one of us (and is).

I have a friend who likes to listen to audiobooks narrated by the author; she believes nothing compares to hearing the author’s interpretation of her or his work.  I agree to an extent.  Some authors are not born performers, and their work would be better served by a voice actor say, someone like Jim Dale of Harry Potter audiobook fame. However, this is not the case with Dad Is Fat. If anything, Jim Gaffigan’s reading was so lively it made me wish the book was available in video. Audiobooks are not always my format of choice—print is still my first love—and I’m glad to be pleasantly surprised this time out. Out of curiosity, I read the print version of Dad Is Fat after listening to it. It’s just as funny and has bonus photos illustrating several of the stories. The picture of Gaffigan reading to his children is absolutely charming.

If you’re looking for a fast, funny read (or listen) then look no further. Dad Is Fat by Jim Gaffigan is available from the Joplin Public Library in print format; it is also available in e-book and electronic audiobook formats from the library’s Missouri Libraries to Go service, molib2go.org.

It never ceases to amaze me that every other day, it seems, there’s a new story in the media about something being bad for you. Or good. Sometimes the same thing is bad one day and good next time you hear about it (or vice versa). So, I was eager to check out a clever flip-over book, Bad News About What’s Good for You/Good News About What’s Bad for You by Jeff Wilser. Wilser writes mostly for magazines but has four books to his credit as well. This one combines two of my favorite things: information and humor.

How can it be that coffee/wine/nuts/fat/you-name-it is bad for you? No, wait, good for you? No, wait. . . A lot of it can be explained by the simple fact that television and radio outlets are constantly on the alert for “the latest thing” to grab our attention. Unfortunately, it seems that the two best ways to grab our attention are one, fear and two, easy answers. So, if they can scare you with “how coffee is killing you,” works for them. If, a month or two later, they can tout “drinking three cups of coffee a day cures everything that ails you,” there you go. So, easy enough to understand the motivation behind the good for you/bad for you “news” cycling constantly, but how do they make the claims? Our old friend statistics.

As Disraeli (according to Mark Twain) said, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.” Other books I’ve read (like Freakonomics and its kin and the previously reviewed Less Medicine, More Health have opened my eyes to the ways that data can be twisted like a pretzel to make a point, whether it’s valid or not. There’s a lot of that going on with the good/bad information out there. Small, sometimes tiny, studies are used as proof that something is good or bad, never mind that only 100 cases were looked at. Failure to account for other factors shows up a lot. Maybe the fact that people who floss regularly have better health is tied, not so much to flossing, but to those who floss regularly also being higher on the socioeconomic scale and able to afford better food. Or maybe flossers also tend to have something else in common which improves their health like eating less sugar to avoid dental decay. At any rate, there’s a lot of bad science out there being used to persuade us to eat/do one thing or avoid another.

So, you say, could you be specific? What’s good/bad/who-knows-which for you? Let’s take the aforementioned coffee. For years, we were warned against coffee, particularly the pernicious caffeine it contains. Heaven knows why coffee/caffeine was so condemned since, it turns out, that coffee (in reasonable amounts, mind you) can have some really positive health effects. Lowering the incidence of oral cancer and Type II diabetes, improving long-term memory, and an overall decrease of 10% in death rates. Wow! Sounds pretty good! Well, at least until the next study comes out.

On the other side, how about something we all know is good for us? Stepping away from food (hard as that may be for me), we’ll look at something I’ve read about in the aforementioned Less Medicine, More Health. The we-all-know-it’s-best annual physical. Weren’t we all taught in health class in school that we should all get an annual physical? It’s the “gold standard” of health care, right? Catch it early, get it fixed in the best case. Worst case? Spending a few dollars and a little time to find out nothing’s wrong, right? Well. . . Not so fast. There can be distinct downsides to annual physicals and arrays of tests. False positives lead to unnecessary tests and treatments that can cause real harm in addition to simple unnecessary worry. I’m not saying (nor is the author or any responsible party) that you should never see a doctor. If you have symptoms or a family history that warrants concern, by all means seek medical advice and help. If, on the other hand, you live healthily, feel well, have no symptoms and no genetic predispositions to worry about, take the annual physical off your to-do list. Or not. Maybe next week there will be a study proving that annual physicals would save 100,000 lives a year. I guess we’ll just have to wait and watch the news.

Well-written, informative and amusing, I recommend Bad News/Good News to get the info on kale, red wine, yoga, procrastination and apologizing and a plethora of other things that are bad for you. Or good.

 

Work and other matters have been keeping me busier than usual, so I’m embarrassed to admit that I haven’t done much reading lately, other than the occasional Entertainment Weekly. A few things managed to hold my attention, however, so I thought I’d share them with you.

The Complete Vegetarian Cookbook, by America’s Test Kitchen

Area farmers markets are going strong and my herb garden has been planted, which means the growing season is upon us. From a vegetarian’s perspective, this time of year is a dream.

Vegetarian or not, you should find inspiration in this cookbook. If you’re unfamiliar with American’s Test Kitchen, you should check them out. There is a magazine (Cook’s Illustrated), a PBS show, a call-in program on public radio and an entire line of wonderfully instructional cookbooks, covering everything from cooking equipment and techniques to the best recipe for a particular dish.

Whether you’re just starting to explore your cooking abilities or you can handle a knife like a professional chef, there is something in this book for you. It is divided as many cookbooks are, with separate chapters covering grains, salads, sides and main dishes, sandwiches and so on. As with every America’s Test Kitchen cookbook, there is a great deal of helpful information preceding the recipes. Sections I found particularly useful were “Flavor-building ingredients for the vegetarian cook” and “Vegetables from A-Z.”

One quibble: The authors could have addressed the challenges inherent in maintaining a strict vegetarian diet – among them, getting the right amount of protein, B vitamins, iron and calcium. However, many of the dishes use dairy and eggs — which does make them vegan unfriendly — and there is an entire chapter devoted to beans and soy.

Many of the recipes are familiar to me – Eggplant Parmesan, Gazpacho, Greek Salad, Huevos Rancheros – but there are new ones I am eager to try, such as the Stir-fried Eggplant with Garlic-Basil Sauce (although I would add tofu, which the recipe omits), Wild Rice and Mushroom Soup, Korean Barbecue Tempeh Wraps and Kale Caesar Salad.

In recent years, I have all but stopped buying cookbooks because my collection has gotten out of control, but this America’s Test Kitchen volume is one that I’m seriously considering purchasing.

C.O.W.L., volume 1, Principles of Power, by Kyle Higgins and Alec Siegel

I try to read most graphic novels that the library purchases. Some blow me away with their writing or artwork, while others leave me unimpressed. Occasionally, I’m ambivalent, as is the case with “C.O.W.L.”

Set in 1962 Chicago, this adult graphic novel features the Chicago Organized Workers League, a group of superheroes who team up with “unpowered” individuals to fight organized crime and super villains. In Volume 1, the league is in contract negotiations with city leaders and attempting to prove its value to a disenchanted public. Despite some internal struggles, the heroes – some of whom qualify as anti-heroes – begin a crackdown on mobsters and search for a potential mole in their midst.

I loved the artwork. It’s dark, atmospheric, very noir; much of the action takes place at night, in alleys, nightclubs and warehouses. The heroes are a motley assortment, with enough problems — family troubles, alcoholism, sexism — to distract them from their mission. They’re intriguing, sharp and witty; some of the one-liners had me laughing out loud.

My major complaint? I had difficulty following the story. Too many plot points and characters were crammed into this introductory volume. I repeatedly found myself referencing the list of characters on the first page to keep myself on track. Overall, however, I’m interested in finding out what happens next, so I hope the library purchases Volume 2 when it becomes available in August.

Dear White People: A Guide to Inter-Racial Harmony in “Post-Racial” America, by Justin Simien

Inspired by the movie of the same name, this short read is meant to inspire laughter while it provokes thought. With the election of Barack Obama to the presidency, many felt our country had moved past its long history of racism. This is, unfortunately, not the case. People continue to judge others by their skin color, often in subtle ways, and they still say hateful things or violently lash out.

Film maker Justin Simien chooses to address this sensitive issue with humor. Chapters entitled “Please Stop Touching my Hair,” “Please Stop Insisting that You’re Practically ‘Black’” and “We Don’t Know Why Kanye West Did That” will have you giggling – sometimes uncomfortably. There are also charts and written exercises, such as “The N-word: a Decision Tree” and “Are You a Post-Racist?”

Make no mistake, “Dear White People” is not all jokes and quizzes. There is a serious message beneath the fun, and it sneaks up on you unexpectedly at times. Trust me; just go with it.

Do you have a literary “bucket list?” You know, a list of writers whom you hope to meet face-to-face, or at least attend a crowded reading?

 

Because Joplin Public Library frequently invites authors to present programs, working here has granted me many opportunities to geek out over folks producing the written word. But a few months ago – forgive the cliché – a dream 17 years in the making finally came true in a small, independent Omaha bookstore.

 

At long last, I met humorist and essayist David Sedaris.

 

Back in the mid-‘90s, while driving to Joplin from Columbia, I came across a National Public Radio station on which Sedaris was reading a piece entitled “Drama Bug,” from his then-upcoming book “Naked.” I laughed so hard that I drove off the road and almost wrecked my car. From that near accident, I was hooked.

 

Sedaris is not shy when it comes to book tours, so through the years several of my friends have heard him speak, much to my everlasting envy. My sister in Omaha attended one of his readings a couple years ago. I was unable to make it, so she bought a copy of his first book, “Barrel Fever,” and had him inscribe it for me. One of my favorite authors on the entire planet wrote, “Lisa, I’m very angry that you’re not here.” I squealed with delight when I read that.

 

Last spring, I’d planned to visit this same sister, and then she revealed that David Sedaris would again be appearing at an independent bookstore in Omaha. Being the good, supportive sibling that she is, she acquired tickets and a book in advance, and suggested we show up a couple hours early to get a good seat. We scored third-row center seats, which meant we were mere feet from the object of my affection. On that warm, humid May evening, I happily sat on an uncomfortable folding chair for three hours, a huge smile on my face, and then waited in line for a few hours more to have my book signed, planning in my head what I’d say when I came face-to-face with Sedaris.

 

And what were my first words? “I’ve waited 17 years and drove six hours for this moment.” I’m such a dork. He looked concerned and asked, “Well, my goodness, where did you drive from?” When I told him, he helpfully informed me that they were going to be in St. Louis the next night and I could have gone there, but then I explained that I was visiting my sister and had to stay in Omaha for the weekend. He was very kind and gracious, taking several minutes to talk not just to me, but everyone who waited in line to meet him.

 

I’ve spent the past week listening to an audio recording of his most recent book, “Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls,” and it’s been a joy during an otherwise stressful time. Hearing Sedaris read his own work takes me right back to those hours in that Omaha bookstore, particularly when it’s a piece he read that night or one detailing what he does on his book tours.

 

In “Author, Author,” he explains his habit of giving small, practical gifts to people who attend his signings. Sometimes it’s a small bottle of shampoo from his hotel, or a Band-Aid or packet of pain reliever that he buys in bulk. This gift-giving practice results in a hilarious but embarrassing trip to Costco with his brother-in-law, who is oblivious to the strange looks people give them when they see the huge box of condoms in their shopping cart.

 

The night that I met him, the gift was a sticker from a sticker book he found next to the store register. On the title page of my copy of “Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls,” he inscribed “To Lisa: I P(imagine a sticker of a manta ray here) we meet again.” Then, moving his finger over the page, he read it aloud a couple times, hoping that I understood. “Get it? I ‘pray’ we meet again.” So cute.

 

Listening to the audiobook, I was again struck, as I have been after reading his last couple of books, how he has grown as a writer. When Sedaris started publishing, it was mainly short, funny pieces, many of them fictitious. Now, the personal essays predominate, and while, they are still humorous, but there is much heart in them, particularly when he writes about his big, crazy family or long-time partner, Hugh. Many have a wistful, somewhat melancholy tone to them, such as “Standing Still,” “Guy Walks into a Bar Car,” and “Loggerheads.”

 

His imagery has become richer, as well. A telemarketer’s voice is described as having “snakes in it. And dysentery, and mangoes.” A McDonald’s bag is “vomiting its contents onto the pavement.” Guinea pigs are “big – like furry slippers, sizes nine and ten and a half.”

 

It’s refreshing to review a writer’s body of work and see that they have grown in their craft. Far too many seem to produce the same thing over, and over, and over again. But don’t take my word for it. See for yourself. Joplin Public Library has several of David Sedaris’s books, both on audio and in print.

 

 

I have another Janet Evanovich read-alike for you.  I wanted to include Lisa Lutz’s Spellman series when I talked about Donna Andrews and Deborah Coonts but ran out of room.

  Ms. Lutz was a panelist at a session I attended at the Public Library Association Conference.  She good-naturedly shared some emails from her “fans” who wrote to tell her how awful her characters are and that reading a Spellman book is like staring a traffic accident as you drive by.

I was intrigued.  I just had to read an author who could laugh with us about all the terrible things people were saying about her books.  Plus she now has 5 books in the series so they can’t be that bad.  Right?  About half way through the first book of this series about a family of private investigators it hit me; this is like the irresistible urge to stare at a traffic accident!

The Spellmans are the poster children for dysfunctional.  They spy on each other, lie and scheme, bribe each other, and are fascinating in that stare at a car wreck kind of way.  Twenty-eight year old Izzie Spellman, who has been working for the family firm since the age of 12, is a quirky, appealing heroine with some not very admirable traits.  The rest of the clan is Mom and Dad Spellman, perfect brother David, 14 year old sister Rae who follows strangers for fun, and Uncle Ray.

The first book, The Spellman Files, is our introduction to the family and it takes half the book to complete the initial introduction.  I will admit that at about that half way point I thought I don’t know if I like these people and where’s this going?  But by the last page a mystery had been solved, the Spellman’s revealed they have some redeeming qualities, and I was fascinated and entertained in a way I’m not sure I can explain and think is addictive.

  However, if reading about a dysfunctional family of PIs does not appeal, you might want to check out A World of Curiosities: Surprising, Interesting, and Downright Unbelievable Facts from Every Nation on the Planet.  John Oldale has compiled a collection of unusual facts about every nation on earth.  Some of his facts come from personal experience, he has visited 90 of those nations, and for the rest he has 150,000+ references you can peruse via the internet.

This book reads like an almanac with each country getting at least one page of facts.  For some of the entries the source is sited on the page; i.e. New Zealand is #1 for Most Peaceful States with the reference listed as the Global Peace Index.  New Zealand scores a 100 and Iraq scores a 0.

This is not a book you will read cover to cover but one you’ll pick up from time to time and then get lost in the trivia.  For instance did you know that the most dangerous female sport in the United States is cheerleading?  71% of all college-level female sports injuries are from cheerleading.  Other interesting facts about the USA: we eat almost a ton of pizza each minute; the average lifespan of a Major League baseball is 6 pitches; and some of our Presidents had unusual pets such as Thomas Jefferson’s bears, Herbert Hoover’s alligators, and George W. Bush’s cow.

As you travel around the globe you will also find that the country with the most pyramids is not Egypt but the Sudan.  Moldova has the highest per capita rate of death by powered lawnmower.  And in Paraguay 93% of the prison population is awaiting trial.

Did you know that the first brand of instant coffee was developed in Guatemala in 1906 by Englishman George Washington?  Or that Denmark has the world’s highest taxes, the most expensive electricity and, according to the U.S. National Science Foundation, is the happiest country in the world?

All of this and so much more awaits you as you browse through this entertaining book covering the nations of the world.