The Brixton Brothers: The Case of the Mistaken Identity

by Mac Barnett
First sentence: “Steve Brixton, a.k.a. Steve, was reading on his too-small bed.”
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Content: There are some slight intense moments, offset by humor. It would probably be in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore, but I think it could be an upper beginning chapter: there are short chapters, big print, and lots of illustrations.

Steve Brixton has always wanted to be a detective like the ones he’s always reading about. But it isn’t until  his teacher gives him an impromptu research paper assignment about American Quilting, that Steve gets  to see some, well, detective action. He’s set upon by Librarians (the bad sort) and Goons and he and his friend have to figure out who has stolen the Top Secret Codes from this historic quilt (I think… the plot wasn’t really the point of this one).

Goodness this was funny. Especially if you’ve read a lot of Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew books. Steve and his friend, Dana, are always getting into scrapes they have to get out of, and somehow (even though neither are terribly bright) figure out the mystery in the end. (My favorite exchanges were of the Steve: “Hey, chum” and Dana: “Don’t call me chum” variety. Every. Single. Time.) It was kind of a lame mystery — the solution was pretty obvious — but I don’t think the mystery is the point of these.

Even so, it was a ton of fun.

Audiobook: Holidays on Ice

by David Sedaris
Read by the author.
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Listen on
Content: There was a lot of swearing. It’s in the holiday book section at the store every year.

Okay, yeah, so I’m starting the year off with a DNF. It’s not that I don’t like David Sedaris. I do. (Sometimes.) I like him a lot better on audio than in print, so I was hoping that this one would come off better listening to it. And the first one, his Santaland Diaries, kind of did. I didn’t really laugh (his humor is often too mean for me), but I was amused. But, by the third story, the Christmas letter where everything goes wrong, I was thinking that satire really isn’t my thing. I’ve learned this before; i just take things way too literally to be amused by satire. But I guess I thought maybe this one would be different. It wasn’t, though.

I had to abandon it to listen to a Cybils book, and was thinking I’d get back to this one. But, the holidays are over, I’m enjoying (for the most part) the other book, and I have no desire to listen to the other two stories in this one. So, I’m calling it a DNF and moving on.

Small Gods

by Terry Pratchett
First sentence: “Now consider the tortoise and the eagle.”
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Content: It’s kind of stream of consciousness, without any chapters… but if you’re okay with that, then there’s nothing else to stop you. It’s in the Science Fiction/Fantasy section of the bookstore.

Outside of the Tiffany Aching books, I’ve never spent anytime in Discworld. I knew about it, of course, but I’ve never read any of the other ones. And this seemed like, well, a decent enough place to start.

It’s slow to start, and took a very meandering route to a plot. (I’m not entirely sure it really HAD a plot…)  There’s a god, Om, who used to be a Big Deal, and while he has a lot of followers (there’s a whole country and a citadel and a whole religion), he doesn’t have a lot of, well, belief. And so, he’s been relegated to being a turtle for a few years. That is, until he’s accidentally dropped by an eagle into the citadel gardens and meets Brutha. Who is just a simple novice. And who can hear Om talking in his head.

And he goes on an adventure (of sorts) to figure things out.

There’s a bit more to it than that, but it’s all a bit complex and somewhat convoluted. I will say this: it’s not Tiffany Aching, but Pratchett makes a person care about the characters. I loved Om and Brutha, and even some of the other characters. And he gently pokes fun at religion and theocracies and philosophy. It’s not my favorite Pratchett (give me the Nac Mac Feegle any day), but it was an enjoyable one to read.


redshirtsby John Scalzi
First sentence: “From the top of the large boulder he sat on, Ensign Tom Davis looked across the expanse of the cave toward Captain Lucius Abertnathy, Science Officer Q’eeng and Chief Engineer Paul West perched on a second, larger boulder, and thought, Well, this sucks.”
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Content: Aside from the number of deaths (some of which were gruesome) and a bunch of swearing (including a lot of f-bombs), it’s fairly accessible. I’d give it to any nerdy geek (teen and up) who’s interested.  It’s in the Science Fiction/Fantasy section of the bookstore.

Things are a bit weird on the starship Intrepid. Sure, they’re the flagship of the Universal Union, but they’re experiencing a higher than average number of deaths. Mostly of new ensigns. And no one seems to know why it’s happening. Sure, they’ve figured out it’s always the newbies, and that going with certain crew members either ensures your safety (or demise). But there’s really no rhyme or reason to it. When five new ensigns  — Dahl, Duvall, Hester, Hanson, and Finn — get assigned to the Intrepid, they’re thrown into the weirdness of it all. Except that they (especially Dahl) really like their lives and want to continue to live. Thankfully, there’s one person on the Intrepid — a hermit named Jensen — who has things sort of figured out. It’s all just a lot weirder than anyone was expecting.

First: I’m not really a Trekkie. Sure, I watched some of TNG and most of Deep Space 9. I’m fluent in Trek, I know what’s going on, but I’m not a super huge mega fan or anything. All that is to say that even if you’re not a Trekkie, and you only know the basic fringes of the show (especially the original show), you’ll get what Scalzi is parodying here. And that is enough to have enormous amounts of fun with this. No, it’s not side-splitting hilarious, but it is amusing. And entertaining. It’s not deep (though the epilogues are clever and sweet), but it’s fun. The characters are delightful (mostly), and it’s fascinating watching the meta upon meta plot unfold. In short: it’s a well-written romp through a genre that sometimes takes itself way too seriously.

And sometimes that is exactly what you need.

Fables for Our Time

by James Thurber
First sentence: “Once upon a Sunday there was a city mouse who went to visit a country mouse.”
Content: There’s nothing overt, and no swearing. It’d probably end up in the poetry section of the bookstore.

I think I’ve vaguely heard of Thurber before this book was picked for my in-person book group. But I’d never really paid him much attention. So I didn’t really have any expectations going into this.

It’s a series of short fables followed by illustrated poems (the poems are by other people). Pretty simple, right? The fables are pretty standard: animals doing human-like things. But the twist was that they had pretty… unusual… morals.

Things like “It’s not so easy to fool little girls nowadays as it used to be.”

And: “Early to rise and early to bed makes a male healthy and wealthy and dead.”

And: “Never allow a nervous female to have access to a pistol, no matter what you’re wearing.”

And: “The male was made to lie and roam, but woman’s place is in the home.” (The title of that one was “The Stork Who Married a Dumb Wife.”)

And at that point, I decided that Thurber — no matter what time period he’s writing in (the 1930s) is horribly sexist and doesn’t deserve to be read.

That’s a bit harsh. I get that these are satire (which I have a hard time with, anyway), and that they’re supposed to be stereotypes. But STILL. I was more impatient than amused. Stop it already with the sexist crap.

Audiobook: I am America (And So Can You)

by Stephen Colbert
read by the author
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I picked this up on a whim because I needed something short, and I was in the mood for something funny. And, even though I’m not a fan of his show, I had hopes Colbert would be both.

Well. It was short, anyway.

As for the funny, sometimes it was. There were moments — I can’t remember them now, though — when I did chuckle, guffaw, and few when I snorted. But, mostly I had to constantly remind myself that he doesn’t mean any of this. I’m not quite sure if this was a parody of or a commentary on conservative thinking, but either way, I spent a good part of the time thinking “What’s the point?”

If his point was commentary, then sometimes it was brilliant. Sometimes, he went on rants that I thought worked if you heard (in this case) them ironically. And sometimes, I thought that it was a terrific parody of conservative culture. But — perhaps like all good parodists (is that a word?) — it was uneven. Sometimes it worked. Mostly, though (and this is because humor is really subjective), it didn’t work for me. Every time I found myself ticked off or agreeing with something Colbert said, I had to remind myself he doesn’t mean ANY of it. Or if he does, it’s so hard to filter what’s “real” and what isn’t that I just gave up.

I did come to one conclusion, though: give me Jon Stewart and I’m a happy person.

Audiobook: Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls

by David Sedaris
read by the author
ages: adult
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A long, long time ago my frend Wendy dragged me (literally; I had no idea what was going on) to see David Sedaris live. I had a blast; he was hilarious, and I couldn’t wait to read some of his writing.

Except. I didn’t laugh when I read his essays. Which lead me to believe one thing: Sedaris is better when he reads his writing than when I do.

And I was right.

I picked up the audio book of his latest group of essays, and I actually found them funny. Some more so (Obama!!!!! or The Cold Case) than others (the stories on the last disc were pretty weird; though there’s satire about the “slippery slope” of having gay marriage legalized that’s pretty topical). I think I laughed the hardest on the ones where he recorded before a live audience; something about other people laughing made me laugh as well.

I don’t really have much else to say about this one. It’s quintessential Sedaris, with his trademark irony and dead-pan humor. Which means, if you like that kind of thing, you’ll like this. I’d just recommend listening to it.

Beauty Queens

by Libba Bray
ages: 15+
First sentence: “This book begins with a plane crash.”
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I have come to the conclusion that Libba Bray is brilliant, but completely insane. (Or maybe brilliantly insane?)

Ever wonder what you’d get if you mixed Lord of the Flies with the Miss America pageant, tossed in some James Bond, and slathered with a huge helping of satire on pop culture? Me, either. But, thankfully, blessedly, Libba Bray did, and Beauty Queens is the result.

The top 20 girls for the Miss Teen Dream pageant were all on a plane, headed toward the pageant finals when the plane crashes. On a deserted island. Killing everyone, except a handful of girls. What are they — girls who are beauty queens, presumably without any practical resources — to do?

Well… survive.

From here, the plot goes all twisty and turney: the girls make their own camp on the beach, and manage to not only get along (mostly), but thrive on their own merits as they wait to be rescued. However, things are not as pretty as they seem: there’s weird stuff lurking in them thar jungle, and those who go into it don’t always come out. And if they do, they’re not quite sane. There’s also pirates (!), stupid trust fund guys, completely wacked out dictators, and vengeful past beauty queens. This book has it all.

On the surface, the book is terribly shallow and stereotypical. Bray has lumped every single cultural reference and stereotype she could think of in this book: there is a lesbian, transgender, bisexual, stupid Southerner, aggressive Texan, Indian-American, black contestant. (Sure, why not one of each?) There’s a grand poking at everyone naming their kids Caitlin. Honestly: none of the characters are likeable (Miss Texas, I wanted to throttle! And Miss Mississippi just lived up to the low expectations I have of that state.), and the plot was fairly simplistic, which almost made it hard to get through (however, the hilarious footnotes made up for that).

But, when you read it as a satire, the book works brilliantly. In one of the more brilliant moves, there are commercial breaks in the book, in which Bray lampoons every single kind of beauty product, movie, and item that corporations try to sell to women. In the end, the book is not about the characters, or plot development, it’s about girl power: rising above the stereotypes and the product placement, and not only finding one’s true self, but acting on that, embracing the differences we have as women. (And no one is better than the other.)

In fact, I think this would be a blast to deconstruct in a book group or English class; there’s so much meat under the shallow surface, that the discussion could be quite fascinating.

And I’m sure she wrote it that way on purpose.