Fletch and the Widow Bradley (Audiobook) by Gregory McDonald, Dan John Miller: An oddly contemporary-feeling Fletch novel that’s good but not really good.

Fletch and the Widow Bradley (Audiobook)Fletch and the Widow Bradley

by Gregory McDonald, Dan John Miller (Narrator)
Series: Fletch, #4 (#3 Chronologically)

Unabridged Audiobook, 5 hrs., 28 min.
Blackstone Audio, 2018

Read: April 1 – 4, 2019

Fletch checks in to his office before returning from a few days away to find out that he’s fired. He’d filled in for an injured colleague to write a profile on a small local business that the Gazette had written an exposé about a few years before, just to see how they were doing in the aftermath. They were doing fine, and Fletch had quoted recent memos from the CEO demonstrating that. The teeny tiny problem there is that the particular CEO had been dead for a couple of years. Quoting corpses is generally frowned upon (unless you’re writing about voters’ views on Chicago politicians, I guess), and so Fletch is fired. Not only that, he’s probably finished forever as a journalist.

Understandably, Fletch is incensed. He’s angry. He’s also mystified — he knows what he read. He knows he did good work — how did they fool him? More importantly, why? If his career is over, he’s going to know why it happened. So he starts interviewing those nearest the dead man — his business associates, family, and so on — he eventually flies across the country a couple of times (and up to Alaska, too).

At this point in Fletch’s life, he is notoriously dead broke — recently divorced (again) with attorneys looking for alimony payments, and (as mentioned) fired. So how does he afford the gas and airline travel? Well, he found a walled with a whole lot of money in it and cannot find the owner. So he borrows a little bit. This is a very odd little storyline that I honestly have never fully understood. Not the events in it, but the reasoning behind its inclusion in the book. Other than to give Moxie (more about her in a moment) and Fletch something to talk about, and to give Fletch money for plane tickets.

Now, close readers might pick up a thing or two (if they haven’t read the books anyway) — I said Gazette (the paper that Fletch was almost certainly fired from after Fletch) and “at this point in” his life and “recently divorced.” This is the first time where Mcdonald bounces back in time for a novel — this is why I’ve noted publication order and chronological order in my post headings for this series. Mcdonald needs Fletch to have a newspaper job to tell this story — and post Fortune, that’s not really likely (it’s not like he needs the money). This chronological flexibility is both rare in a series like this one, and will become a hallmark of the books.

The best reason to read this book is the introduction of the character Moxie Mooney. Moxie’s an actress — daughter of the legendary Freddie Mooney — a major acting star of both stage and screen. Moxie’s still struggling to make it at this point, but she’s got talent. She’s also a long-time on-again/off-again romantic partner to Fletch. There’s more chemistry between the two, more genuine feelings and more obvious compatibility between Moxie and Fletch than there is between any two people in this series. She’s funny, she’s quirky, she’s driven — not unlike Irwin Maurice himself. I’m not sure how often I would have re-read the book without her

At the end of the day, this one doesn’t have the same impact and entertainment value most of the rest of the series does. There are some great moments — and I love Moxie — but there’s something missing from this one. Still, Fletch books are like that old line about pizza — when it’s good, it’s really good; and when it’s bad, it’s still pretty good.

—–

3 Stars
2019 Cloak & Dagger Challenge

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Fletch’s Fortune (Audiobook) by Gregory McDonald, Dan John Miller: Possibly the Most Entertaining Entry in this Great Series

Fletch’s Fortune (Audiobook)Fletch’s Fortune

by Gregory McDonald, Dan John Miller (Narrator)
Series: Fletch, #3 (#7 Chronologically)

Unabridged Audiobook, 5 hrs., 51 min.
Blackstone Audio, 2018
Read: March 26 – 29, 2019

           “I.R.S.,” the man said.

Fletch slid the door open. “How do you spell that?”

“Internal Revenue Service.”

. . .
“As a matter of personal curiosity, may I ask why you have not filed returns?”

“April’s always a busy month for me. You know. In the spring a young man’s fancy really shouldn’t have to turn to the Internal Revenue Service.”

“You could always apply for extensions.”

“Who has the time to do that?”

“Is there any political thinking behind your not paying taxes?”

“Oh no. My motives are purely aesthetic, if you want to know the truth.”

“Aesthetic?”

“Yes. I’ve seen your tax forms. Visually, they’re ugly. In fact very offensive. And their use of the English language is highly objectionable. Perverted.”

“Our tax forms are perverted?”

“Ugly and perverted. Just seeing them makes my stomach turn.”

It’s conversations like this that make this possibly the most entertaining Fletch novel. My memory suggests there’s a one or two challenges to that coming up, but at least one of them gets too preachy and disqualifies itself (I’ll try to mention that when we get there). Fletch, shed of his fiancé from the previous book, is enjoying life in his home on the Riviera and puttering along on his biography of Edgar Arthur Thorp, Jr. One day, he’s accosted by a pair of CIA agents who blackmail him (using the above referenced lack of tax filing) into bugging the rooms of the most influential journalists in the US at a journalism convention.

He’s not crazy about this assignment, but at the very least he figures there’s a good story in there somewhere. So he heads back to the States and plants his bugs and starts to tape many of the most illustrious members of the press. The catch (of course there’s a catch) is that the president of the American Journalism Association and owner of many, many major newspapers is murdered the morning as conventioneers start to arrive.

So, not only does Fletch have to put up with attending a convention, and–under duress–to listen in on his colleagues — but he also has to compete with some of the most story-hungry people in the US to be the first to break the story unveiling the murderer.

We also meet for the first time Fredericka “Freddy” Arbuthnot — one of my chief complaints about this series is that we don’t get more time with her. She’s fun here, and her fans should rest assured that we see her again soon — used in a better way, too (not a complaint about her appearance in Fletch’s Fortune, I rush to say). She’s just one of the incredibly colorful characters assembled at this convention — which allows McDonald to skewer all the foibles and weaknesses of the contemporary media (at least for the late 70’s, which just sets the stage for now). I couldn’t guess how many times I’ve read this book, and I still find them all wonderfully fun to watch.

There’s a blink and you missed it moment that’s incredibly important for the future of the series, and it can’t have been planned. But decades later, McDonald is able to use to open up whole new avenues for telling his sores.

It’s so easy to get distracted by the fun conversations, the satirizing of the press and the general Fletch antics, to the point that you miss just how clever McDonald is to pull off one of his most clever whodunits. I’d rank this among the best mysteries that McDonald penned, too.

Once again, Miller delivers this one just right. I don’t know what else to say — he was the perfect choice for this series and I’m so glad I gave them a chance.

I’m just repeating myself now, so I’ll stop. Between entertainment value, construction of the mystery, social/media satire, and audiobook narration I can’t say enough good things about this audiobook. McDonald is at the height of his powers here and it’s a sheer pleasure to pick up again (no matter the format).

—–

4 1/2 Stars

2019 Cloak & Dagger Challenge

The Great Brain (Audiobook) by John D. Fitzgerald, Ron McLarty: A frequently pleasant stroll down memory lane

The Great Brain (Audiobook)The Great Brain

by John D. Fitzgerald, Ron McLarty (Narrator)
Series: The Great Brain, #1

Unabridged Audiobook, 4 Hours, 41 Minutes
Listening Library, 2002

Read: February 25 – 26, 2019


Growing up, these stories about a pre-teen con artist in late 19th Century Utah were among my favorites. I remember stumbling on a box set at a Yard Sale after I’d read them from the Library a couple of times and just about wore out the set reading and re-reading them. Even then, I remember that I had problems with some of the characters, and recall that my favorite was always the narrator, John D., not the titular Great Brain himself, Tom D. About 10 years ago, I read the series to my kids, and enjoyed it (possibly more than they did), but not as much as I remembered. Still, when I saw it listed as a new addition to my library’s catalog, I took a second glance and when I saw that Ron McLarty did the narration, I had to try it.

This book is a series of episodes from over a year or so in the life of three brothers, Sweyn D., Tom D. and John D. Fitzgerald. Sweyn is around a little bit as the more mature eldest brother, John’s the youngest (8 or 9, I believe) and Tom is 10 and the star. He’s Greedy, conniving, and ambitious — and his ego is bigger than the rest of his attributes combined. They live in a small, largely LDS, town in Utah during the last decade of the 1800s. The episodes feature different ways in which Tom’s Great Brain works to make him money and/or notoriety in the community, especially with the kids.

Some of these antics are silly, some are serious. Almost all of them are profitable for Tom. The strength of the stories is the humanity of the rest of the community — the traveling Jewish merchant, the local farmers, the Greek immigrant family, for starters. The weakness comes from the very laissez-faire approach to parenting the Fitzgeralds take — allowing Tom D. to pretty much get away with everything he wants.

There is some charm, some heart, throughout — even from Tom. That part appeals to me, the ego-driven greedy exploits of the Great Brain don’t. John’s narration occasionally will critique Tom’s motives, but mostly John’s a little brother thinking his big brother is fantastic no matter what. I know John becomes more disillusioned later, but for now, it was annoying. I want better for him.

How’s the narration you ask? Honestly, the chance to listen to Ron McLarty narrate was half the reason I had for grabbing this. McLarty will always be Sgt. Frank Belson to me, despite the many other things he’s accomplished in life. He did a fine job, at times a great job. Something about him reading the contraction-less dialogue bugged the tar out of me. George Guidal can make it work when he reads Henry Standing Bear — although it helps that no one else does it. McLarty can’t make it work, probably because despite the fact that slang is used, time appropriate language — but not a contraction from anyone? I don’t lay the fault at McLarty’s feet, it’s just a prominent feature.

I still recommend the books and enjoyed them. It’s just a tempered enjoyment. I’ll probably keep chipping away at the series over the next few months — waiting to see John’s disillusionment grow, and the brothers develop a conscience.

—–

3 Stars

2019 Library Love Challenge

Confess, Fletch (Audiobook) by Gregory Mcdonald, Dan John Miller: Fletch, Flynn, A Murder or two and a Heist. What more can you want?

Confess FletchConfess Fletch

by Gregory Mcdonald, Dan John Miller (Narrator)
Series: Fletch, #2 (#6 Chronologically)

Unabridged Audiobook, 6 hrs., 23 min.
Blackstone Audio, 2018
Read: January 25 – 30, 2019

           Fletch dialed “0”.

“Get me the police, please.”

“Is this an emergency?”

“Not at the moment.”

The painting over the desk was a Ford Maddox Brown – a country couple wrapped against the wind.

“Then please dial 555-7523.”

“Thank you.”

He did so.

“Sergeant McAuliffe speaking.”

“Sergeant, this is Mister Fletcher, 152 Beacon Street, apartment 6B.”

“Yes, sir.”

“There’s a murdered girl in my living room.”

“A what girl?”

“Murdered.”

Francis. Xavier. Flynn.

Those three words are really all I have to say. This is a clever book, with a few good mysteries and Fletch doing his thing. There are antics galore, witty dialogue, yada, yada, yada. As much as I love I. M. Fletcher, Gregory Mcdonald’s greatest creation was Flynn — Blackstone Audio will be releasing those soon and I’ll talk more about him then — but for now, let’s just say that I loved meeting him again and Dan John Miller nailed the character. I was worried about Flynn, really, but I was so relieved that the character came to life as he should.

But let’s put Reluctant Flynn aside for a minute. Fletch is visiting Boston — taking part in a home-share kind of program, staying in a nice apartment while the owner is staying in Fletch’s Italian villa (you know there’s a story behind that, but we don’t really get it at this point). He comes home from dinner the first night to find body lying on his rug. She’s very naked and very dead.

Naturally, Fletch is the prime suspect.

Meanwhile, Fletch is trying to track down some stolen art work on behalf of his fiancé, the daughter of a recently kidnapped and (apparently) murdered near-destitute Count. His recently stolen art collection is the only real inheritance she’ll get. Assuming her current step-mother isn’t named in the will. Fletch is working with the owner of a private gallery to track down what he can of this collection while his fiance and her step-mother wrangle. Fletch’s interest in, affinity for and expertise in art is established here and will show up again a few times in the series.

Of course, Fletch is also busy investigating the murder and reconnects with a former editor of his, from before he worked for Frank Jaffe. He uses this connection to dig u information on the man whose apartment he’s in, the gallery owner, and just about everyone else he comes across in Boston. Inspector Flynn of the Boston PD makes plenty of investigative headway, too — but he and the rest of the police are too focused on Fletch as suspect to do much beyond that. So Fletch uncovers the other viable suspects, if for no other reason than to give Flynn someone else to look at.

This is the first mention of I.M. being from Seattle, incidentally. I never remember that.

It’s a great plot, with all the twists that you can want. There’s so much to enjoy in this book — Fletch’s observations, odd way of approaching his investigation, and banter with Flynn, his editor-friend and anyone else he cares to befuddle is the kind of thing that led me to read this book a few dozen times before now.

As I said, Miller does a great job — he’s good with every character, with the narration and everything. I do think he’s a bit slow, but at 1.25 speed his rhythms match what I expect from Mcdonald. This guy is rapidly becoming one of my favorite audiobook narrators — I expect by the end of this series, he’ll be near the top.

—–

5 Stars

2019 Cloak & Dagger Challenge

My Favorite Crime/Mystery/Detective/Thriller Fiction of 2018

Once I settled on dividing this chunk of my reading out for its own list, I knew instantly half of the books that’d make it before I looked at just what I’d read in 2018. After going through that list, I had 15 more candidates for the other 5 spots. Whittling those down was hard, but I’m pretty comfortable with this list. That doesn’t mean the other 90 or so books I read in this family of genres were bad — most were great (I can think of maybe 5 I could’ve missed). But these are the crème de la crème.

Man, I wanted to write the crème de la crime there. But I’m better than that.

Not all of these were published in 2018 — but my first exposure to them was. As always, I don’t count re-reads, or almost no one could stand up to Stout, early Parker, etc. and my year-end lists would get old fast.

Now that I’m done with this, I can focus on 2019.

(in alphabetical order by author)

The Puppet ShowThe Puppet Show

by M. W. Craven

My original post
A book with some of the darkest moments I came across last year — and some of the brightest, too. The mystery was great, the character moments (not just between the protagonists) were better — great rounded, human, characters. Even after I saw where Craven was going with things, I refused to believe it — and only gave up when I had no other choice. Two (at least) fantastic reveals in this book, very compelling writing and fantastic characters. What more do you want? Washington Poe and Tilly Bradshaw are two of my favorite new characters and I can’t wait to see where they go next.

5 Stars

Needle SongNeedle Song

by Russell Day

My original post
I could pretty much copy and paste that above paragraph for this one. It never gets as dark as The Puppet Show, but the depravity displayed is bad enough to unsettle any reader. What makes this story compelling isn’t really the crime, it’s the way the crime impacts the people near it — those who lost a family member (I don’t want to say loved one) and those who are close to the suspects. Yakky and Doc Slidesmith are characters I hope to see again soon, and I want to bask in Day’s prose even more.

5 Stars

She Rides ShotgunShe Rides Shotgun

by Jordan Harper

My original post
The story of a little girl being surrounded by death and destruction, with both looming and threatening her all the time, and her discovering how to be brave. The story of a man trying to be a good father — or just a father. The story of survival. A story of revenge. A story about all kinds of violence. Wonderfully told.

4 Stars

WreckedWrecked

by Joe Ide

My original post
Not as entertaining as IQ, but it works as a novel in ways the previous two didn’t. I don’t know if I could put my finger on it, but it’s there. Wrecked is a clear step in evolution for Isaiah, Dodson, and probably Ide. It definitely demonstrates that the three are here to stay as long as Ide wants, and that these characters aren’t satisfied with being inner-city Sherlock/Watson, but they’re going places beyond that. Some good laughs, some good scares, some real “I can’t believe Ide ‘let’ them do that to Isaiah” moments — a great read.

5 Stars

A Mint Condition CorpseA Mint Condition Corpse

by Duncan MacMaster

My original post
I put off reading this for reasons I really don’t understand and haven’t forgiven myself for yet. But the important thing is that I read it — it took me a chapter or two to really get into it, but once I did, I was in hook, like and sinker. In my original post I said this is “a joy to read; full of characters you’ll want to spend days with, that you’ll want to have over for Thanksgiving dinner just to lighten things up and distract you from Aunt Martha’s overcooked yams and dry turkey; a completely fun time that’s very likely most I’ve enjoyed a book in 2018. It is escapist. It is silly. It is clever.” I also said, “Probably the 5-Star-est 5-Stars I’ve given this year.” There are a couple of books that could compete for that line, but I’m not sure they’d win.

5 Stars

My Little EyeMy Little Eye

by Stephanie Marland

My original post
Fantastic, fantastic premise. Great hook. Another great pair of protagonists (although most of their work is independent of each other). A True Crime blogger and a DI racing to uncover a serial killer, while battling dark secrets, dark pasts, and outside pressures that threaten to derail them at every turn. Marland surprised me more often and in more ways than just about any author this year. I was floored by some of them, too. A great puzzle, a great mish-mash of amateur detective and police procedural.

4 1/2 Stars

Her Last MoveHer Last Move

by John Marrs

My original post
I didn’t realize what I was getting myself into when I said yes to this Book Tour request. I’m not sure I could have — no offense to Mr. Marrs, but I don’t think I’d heard of him before. He’s definitely on my radar now. This was brutal, devastating, shocking, and just about every other adjective reviewers (professional and otherwise) overuse when describing a thriller. Marrs did so many things I didn’t think he would do. He didn’t do a lot that I thought he would (and seemed to mock the idea that he’d so some of what I wanted him to do). I spent a lot of time while reading this book not liking him very much, but so grateful I was getting to read the book. I’m still upset by some of it, but in awe of the experience.

5 Stars

Stoned LoveStoned Love

by Ian Patrick

My original post
Sam Batford, undercover cop, is back in a sequel that shows real growth from a very impressive debut. Batford is in incredibly murky ethical and legal waters — and that’s not counting what his undercover op is. Any misstep could ruin his career, end his life, land him in prison — or all three. Actually, those options hold true even if he doesn’t make any missteps. There are so many balls in the air with this one that it’d be easy to lose track of one or more. But Patrick doesn’t seem to struggle with that at all — and he writes in such a way that a reader doesn’t either. That’s a gift not to be overlooked. I liked the overall story more than it’s predecessor and think that Patrick’s writing was better here. This is a series — and a character — that you really need to get to know.

4 1/2 Stars (I remember liking it more than that…I’m sure I had a reason at the time)

Exit MusicExit Music

by Ian Rankin

My original post
I’ve spent enough time with John Rebus over the last couple of years that I knew one of the books had to end p here, I just wasn’t sure which one. Exit Music ended up on the Top 10 not so much for the main mysteries (although they put the book in contention), but for all rest of the things that the novel was about — Rebus’ moving on (not knowing how to or to where), Siobhan moving on (and not sure she wants to), and the dozen or so little things surrounding the two of them and their work. Even Big Ger was kind of moving on here — and that’s just strange to read about. Exit Music would’ve been a great way to say farewell to John Rebus, I’m just glad it wasn’t that.

5 Stars

Trouble is a Friend of MineTrouble is a Friend of Mine

by Stephanie Tromly, Kathleen McInerney (Narrator)

My original post
If not for Kirby Baxter (above), I could say this was the most fun I had with a Mystery novel this year (not to take anything away from the sequels on that front). This is just the right mix of high school hijinks, teen drama, quirky characters and writing with panache. Zoe and Digby are a great combo of smarts, recklessness and responsibility as they work their way through puzzles surrounding missing kids, drug dealing doctors, and some strange cult-like group. You can feel the chemistry between them — like Remington Steele and Laura Holt, David Addison and Maddy Hays, Cumberbatch’s Sherlock and Freeman’s Watson. Throw in their friends and frenemies and you’ve got a recipe for fun and suspense. I listened to this on audiobook (and bought the paperback for my daughter before I got to the end, I should add) and McInerney’s narration was perfect — she captured the spirit of the book and made the characters come alive.

4 Stars

Fletch (Audiobook) by Gregory Mcdonald, Dan John Miller: A Strong Audio Version of One of My All-Time Favorites

Fletch (Audiobook)Fletch

by Gregory Mcdonald, Dan John Miller (Narrator)
Series: Fletch, #1 (#4 Chronologically)

Unabridged Audiobook, 5 hrs. and 57 mins.
Blackstone Audio, 2018

Read: November 27 -28, 2018


I re-read the paperback of this a few years ago (with intentions of reading the whole series again, which never went anywhere), before this blog started — for some reason (probably brevity), I didn’t repost what I put on Goodreads here. Until now.

What an outstanding read. Funny, satirical, with a lot of heart, crackling dialogue…oh yeah, and a pretty solid mystery.

It has none of the goofiness, and better plotting than the Chase flick (which I really do enjoy as its own entity)

The first–and possibly best–of a great series. Worth reading again and again.

Yeah, that’s all that I wrote. Who knew I could be so non-rambling? Anyway, I really don’t have much more to say about this one (other books in the series, probably).

Why do I bring this up? Well, Blackstone Audio started releasing new audiobook versions of the series last year. I’ve listened to Fletch and it was really, really good.

Dan John Miller does a bang-up job with the narration. I’ve read every book in the series multiple times — some of them several. I’m going to give a conservative estimate of 15 reads of Fletch before the audiobook. I know each sentence, I know how these people should sound, I’ve “heard” them more times than I can remember and there was little chance that some new voice in my head was going to be able to compete. And Miller did pretty good — I don’t agree with every choice he made, but I liked almost everything he did.

That may seem like faint praise, but think of it as never knowing that Darrin Stevens had ever been portrayed by anyone but Dick York, you’d watched York’s 170 episodes a handful of times and then one day you stumble onto a one of Dick Sargent’s 80 episodes. You instantly react, “hey, that’s not Darrin!” and then by the end of the episode, you’ve accepted him. That’s a fairly tortured analogy, but it’s the best I can do.

I’ll be honest, I’m a little worried about Miller’s take on Francis Xavier Flynn ruining my appreciation for him, but once we’re past that, I think he’ll win me over again (and who know, I might tolerate it).

If you’ve never read a Gregory MacDonald Fletch novel — trust me, they’re better than the movies. They’re a dynamite series — and seem to be in very capable hands with Miller’s narration, which would be a great way to meet I. M. (Irwin Maurice) Fletcher, your favorite investigative journalist.

Thanks to Brian at Brian’s Book Blog for exposing me to the audiobooks — I owe ya one!

—–

5 Stars

My Favorite 2018 Non-Fiction Reads

Like every single year, I didn’t read as much Non-Fiction as I meant to — but I did read a decent amount, more than I did in 2016-17 combined (he reports with only a hint of defensiveness). These are the best of the bunch.

(in alphabetical order by author)

Lessons From LucyLessons From Lucy: The Simple Joys of an Old, Happy Dog

by Dave Barry

My original post
So, I figured given the tile and subject that this would be a heavier Dave Barry read, with probably more tears than you anticipate from his books — something along the lines of Marley & Me. I was (thankfully) wrong. It’s sort of self-helpy. It’s a little overly sentimental. I really don’t know if this is Barry’s best — but it’s up there. Lessons From Lucy is, without a doubt, his most mature, thoughtful and touching work (that’s a pretty low bar, I realize — a bar he’s worked hard to keep low, too).

5 Stars

 The War Outside My Window The War Outside My Window: The Civil War Diary of LeRoy Wiley Gresham, 1860-1865

by Janet E. Croon, ed.

My original post
LeRoy Wiley Gresham was 12 when he started keeping a diary. LIttle did he know at that point that he was about to witness the American Civil War (and all the desolation it would bring to Georgia) and that he was dying (he really didn’t figure that out until the very end). Instead you get an almost day-by-day look at his life — what he does, reads, hears about (re: the War) and feels. It’s history in the raw. You have never read anything like this — it will appeal to the armchair historian in you (particularly if you’ve ever dabbled in being a Civil War buff); it’ll appeal to want an idea what everyday life was like 150 years ago; there’s a medical case study, too — this combination of themes is impossible to find anywhere else. This won’t be the easiest read you come across this year (whatever year it is that you come across it), but it’ll be one of the most compelling.

5 Stars

TimekeepersTimekeepers: How the World Became Obsessed With Time

by Simon Garfield

My original post
I, for one, have never thought that much about my relation to time, my relation to clocks/watches, etc. I know they govern our lives, to an extent that’s troublesome. But where did that come from, how did we get hooked on these things, this concept? These are brief studies/historical looks/contemporary observations — and I’m not selling it too well here (trying to keep it brief). It’s entertainingly written, informative, and thought-provoking. Garfield says this about it:

This is a book about our obsession with time and our desire to beat it. . . The book has but two simple intentions: to tell some illuminating stories, and to ask whether we have all gone completely nuts.

He fulfills his intended goals, making this well worth the read.

4 Stars

Everything is NormalEverything is Normal: The Life and Times of a Soviet Kid

by Sergey Grechishkin

My original post
If you grew up in the 80s or earlier, you were fascinated by Soviet Russia. Period. They were our great potential enemy, and we knew almost nothing about them. And even what we did “know” wasn’t based on all that much. Well, Sergey Grechishkin’s book fixes that (and will help you remember just how much you used to be intrigued by “Evil Empire”). He tells how he grew up in Soviet Russia — just a typical kid in a typical family trying to get by. He tells this story with humor — subtle and overt. It’s a deceptively easy and fun read about some really dark circumstances.

4 Stars

Planet FunnyPlanet Funny: How Comedy Took Over Our Culture

by Ken Jennings

My original post
Half of this book is fantastic. The other half is … okay. It’ll make you laugh if nothing else. That might not be a good thing, if you take his point to heart. We’ve gotten to the point now in society that laughter beats honesty, jokes beat insight, and irony is more valued than thoughtful analysis. How did we get here, what does it mean, what do we do about it? The true value of the book may be what it makes you think about after you’re done.

3.5 Stars

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck (Audiobook)The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life

by Mark Manson, Roger Wayne (Narrator)

My original post
This is an enjoyable, amusing, call to re-examine your priorities and goals. It’s not about ceasing to care about everything (not giving a f^ck), but about being careful what you care about (giving the right f*cks). Manson’s more impressed with himself than he should be, but he’s a clear and clever writer displaying a lot of common sense. Get the audiobook (I almost never say that) — the narration is worth a star by itself (maybe more).

4 Stars

Dear Mr Pop StarDear Mr Pop Star

by Derek & Dave Philpott

My original post
If you read only one book off this list, it should probably be the next one. But if you pick this one, you’ll be happier. This is a collection of correspondence to pop musicians/lyricists picking apart the lyrics, quibbling over the concepts, and generally missing the point. Then we get to read the responses from the musician/act — some play with the joke, some beat it. Sometimes the Philpott portion of the exchange is better, frequently they’re the straight man to someone else. Even if you don’t know the song being discussed, there’s enough to enjoy. Probably one of my Top 3 of the year.

5 Stars

ThemThem: Why We Hate Each Other – and How to Hea

by Ben Sasse

My original post
My favorite US Senator tackles the questions of division in our country — and political divisions aren’t the most important, or even the root of the problem. Which is good, because while he might be my favorite, I’m not sure I’d agree with his political solutions. But his examination of the problems we all can see, we all can sense and we all end up exacerbating — and many of his solutions — will ring true. And even when you disagree with him, you’ll appreciate the effort and insight.

5 Stars

Honorable Mention:

Henry: A Polish Swimmer's True Story of Friendship from Auschwitz to AmericaThe Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century

by Steven Pinker

I started this at a bad time, just didn’t have the time to devote to it (and the library had a serious list waiting for it, so I couldn’t renew it. But what little I did read, I thoroughly enjoyed and profited from — am very sure it’d have made this post if I could’ve gotten through it. I need to make a point of returning to it.