Friday Book Whimsy: It’s a Wonderful Woof

Bernie Little is a private detective, with the greatest partner of all time: his dog Chet. Chet flunked out of K-9 training school, was rescued by Bernie, the greatest human that has ever lived, at least according to Chet.

It’s a Wonderful Woof, by author and clearly dog-lover Spencer Quinn, is the 12th book in this charming and funny detective series. I wouldn’t call the books cozy mysteries, as Chet and Bernie run into some touch customers “in their line of work” as Chet would say.

Yes, Chet. Because he is the narrator of these stories, and a more loveable narrator I have never come across. I think anyone would find these books fun to read, but if you own a dog — or have EVER owned a dog — Chet’s voice will resonate with you. The author absolutely nails a dog’s personality and loyalty to their human.

In the spirit of Christmas, Bernie refers a potential client to another detective, Victor Klovsky. It isn’t all generosity on Bernie’s part, because the case sounds dull, involving mostly uninteresting online research. He and his partner Chet like to be more active than that.

Klovsky appreciates the referral, but it isn’t long before Klovsky vanishes, along with his client. What follows is a frisky romp (I couldn’t resist) between good guys and bad guys that involves old ruins, nasty bad guys, and paintings by a famous Italian artist. Whaaat? In the land of saguaros and prickly pear cactus?

I always look forward to Chet and Bernie’s latest episodes. And they always make me look at dogs a bit differently. What exactly is it that you are thinking when you look at me like that?

Five paws up for this book.

Friday Book Whimsy: The Disappearing Act

Hollywood entices every actor yearning to make it in the competitive world of acting. British actor Mia Eliot is no exception. The Disappearing Act, a novel by Catherine Steadman, gives reader a taste of Hollywood.

Having experienced mild success in the entertainment world of Great Britain, Mia is interested in coming to Hollywood during the period known as the Pilot Season, that time when television execs are looking for actors to participate in sitcoms and other television programs. Mia has has learned that she is on the short list for a British acting award, and is eager to demonstrate her acting chops in the place where television and movies are king.

While waiting to audition for a primo spot in a movie, Mia meets Emily, an aspiring actor waiting for the same audition. While waiting, they become acquainted, and Emily asks a simple favor of Mia. Would you please feed my meter?

Mia is happy to comply until hours, and then days, pass and she doesn’t see Emily again. At first she just wants to make sure the car is taken care of while Emily is absent. Eventually, however, she realizes that something sinister is in the air. Where is Emily?

Then, when she finally believes she has located the aspiring actor, the woman who comes to pick up her keys looks a lot like Emily, but isn’t. While Mia knows she should just let the whole thing go, she is too worried, and too intrigued, to not continue to try to find the young woman.

What she discovers is the dark and sinister side of Movie City, where everyone wants to be a star and will stop at nothing to achieve success.

I found the plot to be intriguing. While I kept thinking, Mia, let it drop, I couldn’t wait to see what would happen next The plot was intricate and surprising, and the ending was satisfying.

I enjoyed this thriller very much.

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: A Redbird Christmas

No one writes the South like author Fannie Flagg, and nobody can beat her when it comes to cozy stories as well. A Redbird Christmas is one of my favorite Christmas books, and I rarely miss a year of reading it. It doesn’t take long, as it’s more of a novella than a novel, but it’s well worth the couple of hours you will spend in Lost River, Alabama, with the Mystic Order of the Royal Polka Dots Secret Society and a redbird named Jack.

Oswald T. Campbell makes his annual visit to the doctor. There he receives a startling and depressing diagnosis: his emphysema has worsened to the point that he now only has a few months — at the most — to live. His doctor suggests he can perhaps lengthen his lifespan a bit if he doesn’t spend a winter in his hometown of Chicago. The doctor recommends a spa that his own father used to recommend to his patients. It is located in the southernmost point of Alabama in a town called Lost River.

Oswald isn’t very interested in spending his remaining time alone in Chicago, and so he telephones the spa, only to learn that it no longer exists. Still, the woman who answers the phone tells Oswald to come down anyway, and he can stay with her. He agrees.

What happens next is simply magical. Oswald’s life changes when he discovers a hidden talent, makes many friends, and comes face-to-face (or maybe face-to-beak) with Jack, a cardinal that the local shopkeeper rescued several years ago. Jack is the heart and soul of the small community, and has enhanced the life of many of the townspeople. One of Jack’s biggest admirers is a young girl, crippled from abuse, who comes to live in Lost River, and is saved as well.

A Redbird Christmas is, in a word, charming. The characters are quirky but loveable in the way that only Flagg can make her characters.

You haven’t really had Christmas until you have spent it with the people of Lost River, and, of course, Jack.

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: Mr. Dickens and His Carol

Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without the much-loved story of Ebenezer Scrooge and his three ghosts. A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens, defines much that we know about Christmas. But apparently Charles Dickens’ life wasn’t a bed of roses when he reluctantly wrote A Christmas Carol.

Samantha Silva’s debut novel, Mr. Dickens and His Carol, provides readers with a glimpse — in novel form — of what the famous author’s life was like around the time that he wrote the famous story of Scrooge and his ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future.

Though he and his family had been living a very comfortable life, his most recent novel had been a flat-out bust. Money was tight, and the family members who had long lived by Dickens’ handouts, and the charities he had supported, are coming out of the woodwork asking for more funds. His wife is unaware of their dire straits, and is moving forward with their annual Christmas soiree despite its immense cost. Dickens is getting more and more frantic about his finances and his family responsibilities.

His publishers come to the rescue by suggesting, well, ordering really, him to write a Christmas story for the masses, something Dickens is loathe to do. He thinks Christmas stories are silly, and his lack of holiday spirit prevent him from writing the story that his publishers are seek Oh, if he only had a muse.

And then a muse appears in the form of an actress named Eleanor Lovejoy, who encourages Dickens to write a story with London as its background, and the Christmas spirit as its driving force. After much angst and many tries, the story Dickens writes changes Christmas forever.

Silva takes great liberties with Dickens’ story, and she admits as much in her Afterword. Her writing style reminds me of the style of Dickens himself. That, I’m sure was no accident. Dickens’ whining and moaning goes on a bit longer than necessary, but the ending, which has a surprise twist, makes up for the redundancy.

Mr. Dickens and His Carol was a wonderful Christmas story, making me want to reread A Christmas Carol.

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: The Lincoln Highway

Way back in 2018 B.C. (Before COVID), I read a book that I’ve never forgotten. It was called Be Frank With Me, by Julia Claiborne Johnson. Read my book review here. It featured a quirky but brilliant child named Frank. I hesitated reading a book that featured a child as its main protagonist, but never regretted my decision.

I chose to read The Lincoln Highway, by Amor Towles, for a couple of reasons. First, I enjoy Towles’ writing. Second, I love the Lincoln Highway. The Lincoln Highway — which is state highway 30 most of the time — ran through the town in which I spent my formative years. The highway, in fact, runs from Times Square in New York City, to Lincoln Park in San Francisco. While I haven’t driven all of the Lincoln Highway, I know parts of it are brick because I drove on bricks outside of Omaha, Nebraska.

What I didn’t know about The Lincoln Highway is that it would feature Billy, another precocious, funny, earnest kid as a main character. I would re-read the book simply for Billy.

In June 1954, 18-year-old Emmett Watson, is released from the juvenile work farm where he served time for manslaughter for killing another teenager. He is released early due to the death of his father, leaving his 8-year-old brother Billy alone as his mother had left the family years before. The work farm’s warden drives him to his home in central Nebraska, where Emmett is determined to gather Billy and a few of their things and leave Nebraska and all its memories for anywhere else. He’s thinking Texas, but when he tells Billy of his plans, the determined boy convinces his bigger brother to go to San Francisco, where he is sure their mother now lives.

Trouble, however, awaits, as unbeknownst to the warden, two of Emmett’s jailmates have hidden in the trunk and escape when the warden is dropping Emmett off at his home. Duchess is Nothing But Trouble With a Heart of Gold. Woolly, is the direct opposite — quiet, kind, and gentle. While Emmett and Bill plan to take the Lincoln Highway to San Francisco, Duchess and his friend Woolly steal the car and head the opposite direction, heading towards New York City. When he learns of the car theft, he and Billy head east, determined to find them.

The Lincoln Highway, much like The Gentleman from Moscow, a novel by the same author, is almost a series of vignettes about the adventures of these fellows, told from different points of view. Hopping trains, sleeping under the stars, and meeting all sorts of interesting characters along the way, the four make their way to the Big Apple. Among the few things that Billy was allowed to bring is a book of tales about famous adventurers such as Lewis and Clark. That book becomes a centerpiece of the story, and the reason I loved the character of Billy as much as I did.

Billy is adorable and despite his age, he is really the one that keeps the travelers in line. He is also the character that makes the story the most interesting.

I loved this book and recommend it strongly.

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: The Nature of Fragile Things

San Francisco has a history of earthquakes, but perhaps the most famous of all happened in 1906, before building codes and a scientific understanding of the San Andreas Fault. The 1906 earthquake was one of the worst to hit northern Colorado, and it destroyed 80 percent of the city of San Francisco, and killed some-3,000 people.

The earthquake and its destructive aftermath is the stage for much of Susan Meissner’s interesting novel, The Nature of Fragile Things. The story starts off mysteriously, with what is clearly a hearing in which the main character, Sophie Whalen, is testifying.

Sophie left Ireland under mysterious circumstances, and lands in a New York City tenement where she is surrounded by filth and crime, hunger and loneliness. She is so desperate to escape her circumstances that she answers an ad placed in one of the NYC newspapers from a San Francisco man seeking a wife and mother for his 5-year-old child. The arrangement is made, and Sophie makes the long trip to San Francisco, knowing virtually nothing about her soon-to-husband.

He meets her at the station, and they immediately go to the justice of the peace to be married. He then takes her home to meet his little girl, Kat, who hasn’t spoken since her mother died. While Sophie wants to make her new arrangement work, it is clear that things aren’t what they should be. Martin Hocking is handsome and generous, and has bought a beautiful home in which the three can live. He travels extensively for his job, being gone weeks at a time. When he’s home, he has little to do with either his wife or his child.

Sophie comes to love Kat like she is her own child, and intends to make the best of things. That is, until one day, while Martin is out of town, Sophie gets a surprise visitor that changes everything. It so happens that is the day before the earthquake hits.

Sophie, Kat, and her visitor are left homeless following the earthquake, and struggle to make their way to someplace safe. They watch the city crumble around them and begin to burn. They fight to find safety.

The Nature of Fragile Things is a story about courage and resilience and friendship. The author offers realistic descriptions of a city under great duress, and the kindness — and lack of kindness — displayed by others in crisis.

The story took many twists and turns, leading to a surprise ending.

I enjoyed The Nature of Fragile Things very much.

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: Louisiana Longshot

After reading a series of violent thrillers and intricate mysteries, I was ready to read a lighthearted mystery that didn’t require me to think too much, blush too much at the sex scenes, and laugh out loud. Louisiana Longshot, by Jana Deleon, proved to be just what I was looking for.

Fortune Redding is a CIA agent who risks her life without giving it a second thought. This time, she risked her life enough that she will soon have a price on her head. Her boss doesn’t want to risk his operative’s life, but he knows he has to place her somewhere where no one will expect her to be.

This is how Fortune ends up in Sinful, Louisiana, where she poses as a former southern beauty queen turned librarian who has inherited her recently-deceased aunt’s house. The rightful heir has agreed to let Fortune play the part as she is sent on a worldwide tour until things settle down. Totally out of her element, Fortune reluctantly prepares to play her role as a demure southern belle.

Unfortunately, within hours, the dog which she has also inherited digs up human bones and drops them at Fortune’s feet. Before she can say cajun country, Fortune is thrust in the middle of a murder mystery. Her co-conspirators are two elderly women (friends of her supposed deceased aunt) who not only immediately know whose body is being dug up, but suspect the killer is one of their friends who happens to be the wife of the man they suspect as being murdered.

These two women, seemingly harmless, are part of a senior women’s group that practically runs the town. They are the Golden Girls with the minds of Miss Marple. They, together with their new friend Fortune, tackle the mystery with guns a’blazin. Literally.

Throw in the beginnings of a blooming romance between Fortune and the sheriff, and you have a very funny and quirky mystery served southern style. Bring on the red beans and rice.

Louisiana Longshot is book one of a series.

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: The Damage

Rape is a horrific crime, and there are many mysteries and thrillers with a woman’s rape at the core of the story. The Damage, by Caitlin Wahrer, is the first book I’ve come across in which the rape victim is a man — a gay man. That twist alone made for an interesting story.

Tony and Nick are half brothers. Tony is considerably older than Nick, old enough, in fact, to be his father. The two brothers are very close, and in fact, Tony has played the role of father to Nick for Nick’s entire life. Their own parents, though living, have not been fit to parent for the brothers’ entire lives.

Tony is called to the hospital when his brother is brutally raped by another man, badly beaten, and left for dead in a hotel room. Nick will survive the ordeal, but he claims to have no memory of anything that happened after the man he met in a bar and with whom he left voluntarily entered a motel room. He was hit from behind, and when he regained consciousness, he was alone and had been brutally attacked.

Tony’s protective instinct kicks in, and he is determined to find out who did this terrible thing to his beloved brother, and make him pay. Tony’s wife Julia loves Nick as much as does Tony, but her reaction is a bit calmer. She is more apt to let the justice system play out, even after the police catch the rapist. He proclaims that the sex was consensual, and that Nick asked to be handled roughly.

While the story moved a bit slowly, and parts seemed unrealistic, I liked the bond that the people in this story had with each other. However, the author’s portrayal of Nick, battered both physically and emotionally, is poignant and seems like an accurate portrayal of a rape victim trying to move on with his life. I also liked that the portrayal of the police officer showed a deep sympathy for and understanding of the victim instead of the more cliched idea that men can’t be raped.

The ending was a surprise that the author cleverly left to nearly the last page of the novel.

The Damage wasn’t one of the best books of the year, but I nevertheless enjoyed it.

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: Survive the Night

It is such a great idea for a plot. A young college film student gets a ride from a stranger as she makes her way home, and realizes that her driver might very well be the serial killer about whom everyone has been warned. If she can survive the night, she will be safe.

Unfortunately, Riley Sager’s novel Survive the Night falls short — way short — of being an edge of your seat, chew your nails to the nub novel.

College student Charlie Jordan is reeling from the death of her roommate at the hands of a serial killer who has murdered a number of women at her college. She feels responsible for her friend’s death, and is so distraught that she leaves school before the end of the semester. Unfortunately, she is completely narcissistic and her obsession with movies is almost ridiculous.

Looking for a ride home, she agrees to drive with a stranger named Josh Baxter (maybe or maybe not), with whom she connects on a ride share board. It isn’t long into their drive before Charlie starts catching Josh in lies and she begins suspecting him of being the man who killed her roommate and other college women.

This has so much creepy potential, but the plot is ruined by the self-absorbed Charlie, who continues to feel sorry for herself and take responsibility for her friend’s death though her reasoning is ridiculous. Charlie has opportunity after opportunity to escape, but doesn’t. It happens so often that it became nearly comical. Her excuse for not escaping is that she has a mental illness that causes her to think she is in a movie on occasion. She can’t tell when she is imagining and when it is real. So she keeps getting back into the car and telling police officers that everything is swell.

There is a twist at the end of the book that caught me by surprise and could have been interesting if it hadn’t been so unrealistic.

I really had a hard time liking the book. I don’t like to pan novels because I know that people put their hearts and souls into writing them. Unfortunately, Survive the Night was a waste of time and paper.

Here is a link to the book.

Friday Book Whimsy: The Guncle

I’ve read lots of books this year that I have really liked, but thus far, there’s not a single book that I would have described as delightful. The Guncle,, by Steven Rowley, changed all of that. The book was absolutely DELIGHTFUL.

Patrick loves his niece Maisie and his nephew Grant, and they love him. Once a year or so, he even has them fly to California and spend a week or so with him. But when this sister-in-law (who also happens to have been his very best friend) dies of cancer, and his brother has a health crisis of his own, he is unprepared to become the kids’ guardian for an entire summer. However, he accepts the challenge because that’s what family does.

Maisie and Grant love their uncle (who they know as Gay Uncle Patrick, GUP for short), but they are not prepared to live life with a single man who is already reeling from the loss of his own beloved partner from injuries incurred in a car crash. Patrick is not just gay and single, but is easily recognizable as a former television star who had played lead in a comedy sitcom. He does the very best that he can, and provides a safe, if unique, environment for the kids as they grieve the loss of their mother.,

I love the character of Gay Uncle Patrick, who, despite being unfamiliar with raising two children, especially two children who are lost without their mother and father, is committed to providing a loving environment while helping them recover.

If I wasn’t laughing at their shenanigans, I was crying at the poignant and loving relationship between GUP and his niece and nephew. Helped along by a cast of interesting and relatable characters, The Guncle, will be one of my favorite books or the year, and perhaps of all time. I rarely buy a book, but I will purchase this book and reread it again and again.

Here is a link to the book.