I received this review copy free and early, courtesy of Net
Galley and Chronicle Books. This whimsical yet bawdy take on our feathered
frenemies will be for sale on April Fool’s Day, which figures.
Kracht—whose name sounds ever so slightly like something a
crow might say—illustrates each bird he discusses in a style that is not half
bad, with some anger tossed in as seasoning. I have to admit I don’t entirely
understand his indignation, given the state of the environment. I myself tend
to relish the sounds of birds, most of whom the author refers to as “shit
sacks,” “noisy little fucks,” etc; yet clearly his tongue is in his cheek,
since he studies them sufficiently to write about them.
Much of the humor will be appreciated by teenagers, and so
if you are expecting a teenage guest over the spring and summer holidays and
the blue language won’t be considered inappropriate in your family, you might
want this book for your guest room.
If I could change one thing about this book, I’d expand the
section devoted to “Murderers,” meaning birds of prey. This is where the art is
the best and also the funniest, and so I don’t understand why he only includes
four birds here, one of which is the bald eagle, which even Kracht cannot diss.
Most of all I wonder how a Seattle birder can omit the Peregrine Falcon, a
magnificent and adaptive bird that dwells on the ledges of many of our city’s
tallest buildings. Go figure.
If this eccentric little book sounds like something you or
those you gift might like, you can get it April 1, 2019.
I was invited to read this debut novel by Net Galley and
Simon and Schuster, but when I first saw it in my inbox, I recoiled. Another
addiction memoir! Another chance to live through someone else’s excruciating
nightmare! But then I read a few early reviews—they didn’t bear the numbed courtesy
of an obligatory write-up. And then my
own sense of courtesy tipped me over the edge. I was, after all, invited. Did I
not want to be invited anymore? Of course I should read it.
The story is Lichtman’s own written as autofiction, and his
unusual writing style drew me in. I was surprised to see how quickly I went
through it. At the outset, he is teaching creative writing and is crestfallen
to find that a student he has championed has plagiarized her work for him, and not
only is his anecdote written with great humor, it is immediately familiar to me,
and most likely will be to all English teachers. We want to believe; we want to be supportive.
And once in awhile, someone younger than ourselves comes along and manipulates
the hell out of us. It is a humbling experience.
Jonas is half American, half Swede, and he finds that to get off of opiates and opiods, he needs to be in Sweden, where street drugs are much harder to procure. He is enrolled in a graduate program in Malmo, but finds his time is primarily consumed by the refugee crisis as he volunteers to teach in a language school. Young men from the Middle East come by the thousands, and he is proud that Sweden doesn’t close its border, doesn’t set a cap to the number of immigrants it will welcome. At the same time, the Swedish government has some double standards where race is concerned; the Roma people that set up an encampment are quickly swept away. Then the nightclub bombing in Paris provides officials with an excuse to shut it all down; it’s a tremendous blow to the refugees and to those that want to help them.
At times I fear for this writer, because he seems to have no
filters with which to protect his own heart as he hurls himself into his
volunteer work; he wants to make a difference so desperately. Many years ago I saw a short film that showed
a Bambi-like deer grazing in a forest, and then the massive foot of Godzilla
smashes it like a bug, and in his ragged, hungry quest for social justice, the
author reminds me of that deer. Social justice work requires sacrifice to be
sure, but a little care toward one’s own mental health is also essential.
Lichtman’s master’s thesis focuses on a Swedish writer that ultimately succumbs
to despair, turning on the car and closing the garage door, and I found myself
urging this author to have a care, lest the same happen to him, a danger he refers
to himself in the narrative. (From the acknowledgements at the end, I see that he
appears to have emerged in one piece, at least so far.)
The stories of the refugee boys are searing ones. A young
man told of walking through Iran, followed by Turkey, Greece, Macedonia,
Serbia, Hungary, Austria, Germany, and Denmark on his way to Sweden. The whole
journey was done on foot. So many families were dead that the boys’ tutors
learned it was sometimes better not to inquire too deeply about those left
behind. At one point, Jonas decides to become a mentor to one person, but
things go amiss and he ruefully recalls his own role as that of “clumsy
Lichtman’s prose is gently philosophical in a style that is
slightly reminiscent of Zen and the Art
of Motorcycle Maintenance, though in no way derivative. His perceptive
commentary regarding the events that unfold around him, along with the lessons
he learns about himself, is witty and absorbing. Along the way I picked up a
little knowledge about Swedish culture and society that I didn’t have before.
The title has sharp edges.
Recommended to those interested in Swedish culture, the
refugee crisis, and addiction issues, as well as to anyone that just enjoys a
Tamara Berry is the queen of snarky humor, and now that I have read the first installment of the Eleanor Wilde series, I am primed and ready for those that follow it. Big thanks go to Net Galley and Kensington Books for the review copy; this book is for sale now.
Ellie narrates her own story in the first person. She explains that she makes her living through fraud, scamming those that want to talk to their dead relatives and solve their Earthly problems via séances. A referral brings her a wealthy Brit that wants a fake medium to vanquish the ghost his mother believes is haunting their mansion. Expenses paid, she flies out to join him and is delighted to find that he lives in an actual castle. His mother, however, hates houseguests and discourages them with miserably small, terrible meals and bad accommodations. As preparations are made for the séance, guests exchange furtively obtained and hoarded snacks in order to avoid starvation.
Nicholas is a hunk; he and Ellie are both drawn toward each other and repelled in classic fashion, and there’s a lot of crackling banter that keeps me snickering. Other well drawn characters include Nicholas’s mother, his sister and her teenage daughter, and a couple of other men, one of whom works for the family. When she comments to the reader, “Bless the sturdy and simple folk of this world,” I nearly fall off my chair. The narrative and dialogue are wonderfully paced and hugely amusing. The solution to the mystery is both partially obvious and wildly contrived, but since this is satire, that makes it even better. In fact, there’s more than one tired old saw that works its way into this story, but it’s with a side-eye wink every time, and I love it.
As the narrative unspools, a corpse is found and then lost, threats and warnings heighten the suspense, and we wonder along with Ellie which of these guests and family members are truly as they seem, and which might be a killer.
The scene leading into the séance is so hilarious that I nearly wake the mister with my cackling.
The only aspect I find unappealing here is the somewhat saccharine story having to do with Ellie’s dying sister. Ellie’s dishonest vocation is, she tells us, necessary so that she can pay for her catatonic sister’s nursing care, and while squeamish cozy readers may find it comforting, I am more than ready to dispatch sis to the great beyond and just let Ellie be Ellie anyway. Happily, this doesn’t hold the story back, particularly since most of the sister’s part of this tale is told at the start and is out of the way by the time we are rolling.
I can’t wait to see where life—and the wakeful dead—will take Ellie next. Highly recommended for mystery lovers ready to be entertained.
Valenti’s droll new series continues, with Maggie O’Malley and her hunky boyfriend, Constantine riding in to rescue his beloved Aunt Polly. Those that read Protocol, the series opener, know that Valenti writes with swagger, often with tongue in cheek. Thanks go to Net Galley and Henery Press for the DRC, which I received free and early in exchange for this honest review. This title is now for sale.
What would induce a woman to walk away from her job in order to play amateur sleuth? Maggie wouldn’t know. She is currently unemployed. Her career with Big Pharma tanked after she turned whistle-blower, and now she’s been sacked from her position as a retail sales clerk. Damn. But it’s just as well in a way, because Constantine’s Aunt Polly served as “the woman who fit the mother-shaped hole in her life,” and she needs Maggie’s help. She’s in declining health—Parkinson’s? Alzheimer’s? Bad air, bad water, poisoned food, poison gas? And following the murder of her husband, Howard, who even Polly acknowledges “was a bit of an ass”, Polly is under investigation, a favorite suspect since she is the surviving spouse of an unhappy marriage.
Valenti’s feminist spirit could not be more welcome than it is today, and her dialogue crackles. This is a fast read, part satire, part suspense, and I love the banter that unfolds between Polly and Constantine, reminiscent of the snappy patter of Cybill Shepherd and Bruce Willis in the 1980s TV show “Moonlighting” (which actually draws a mention toward the story’s conclusion).
Take Maggie O’Malley on vacation with you. It will be better with her than without her. Try not to wake the passenger snoozing next to you on the plane with your snickering, though—unless you’re bringing a second copy to share.