The Limpopo Academy of Private Detection

Alexander McCall-Smith keeps adding to the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series and I keep enjoying the adventures of Precious Ramotswe.  This time the difficult situations are a little too close to home for the Precious and her assistant, Grace Makutsi.  The best auto repair assistant of Mma Ramotswe’s husband is arrested for auto theft, then Grace and her husband hire a contractor to begin building their home but the builder comes into question when one of his worker’s leaves doubt in their minds. The renowned Clovis Anderson, author of The Principles of Private Detection, comes for a visit and helps them with the terrible trouble of the dismissal of Mma Potokwane, matron of the orphan farm.  Satisfactory solutions result and we continue to applaud the wisdom of Precious Ramotswe and her allies.

Drop Dead Healthy by A.J. Jacobs

After contracting tropical pneumonia on a family vacation to the Dominican Republic and getting a taste of his own mortality, author A.J. Jacobs decides to go on a two year quest to become the healthiest man alive. Jacobs decides to go about this by tackling one body part per month. He starts with the stomach and finishes up with the skull. Along the way, he focuses on everything from the adrenal gland (lower his stress levels) to the skin to the hands. Throughout the book, Jacobs shares interesting studies that have been conducted about health and we learn how many health claims by “experts” are dubious at best. Jacobs approaches the topic of his own health with skepticism, humor, and a willingness to try new things in the name of trying to become the healthiest man alive. He obviously doesn’t make his goal, but he learns a lot along the way (and shares it with his readers). This isn’t a how-to-manual, but the quirky story of Jacobs’ experiences and the many people he meets along the way as he tries to improve his health.

Drop Dead Healthy is for people who have read and enjoyed Jacobs’ previous book, The Year of Living Biblically, and for those who are interested in self-improvement and health and fitness.

Good Girls Do by Cathie Linz

Librarian Julia Wright has separated herself from her eccentric family in an attempt to have a quiet, responsible, and normal life.  But once Luke Maguire rides up, dressed in black and riding a Harley, Julia’s serenity starts swirling down the drain.  Luke is forced to come back to Serenity Falls due to a clause in his father’s will and resents every minute there, but is starting to wonder if the cute librarian might make his stay a bit more tolerable.   Julia is further troubled by the sudden appearance of the very family she was trying to avoid; a hippie mother and a free-spirited sister who’s most recent business venture leave them stuck asking the responsible Julia to let them move in.

All set in a quirky small town with great secondary characters, Good Girls Do is a delightful story that will keep you laughing and racing to the very end.

I’ve Got Your Number by Sophie Kinsella

>

Poppy Wyatt has lost it.  In the midst of a hotel fire drill she manages to lose both her family-heirloom engagement ring and her cell phone, causing a near panic until she catches a glimpse of a phone in the trash can.  Finders keepers, right?  Sam Roxton, obnoxious businessman and the owner of the phone disagrees.  Now Poppy is fielding messages and calls from Sam’s business associates and her cranky wedding planner, but still not from all the people who are supposed to be finding her engagement ring.  Add to this juggling act Poppy’s attempt to impress her future in-laws while hiding her loss of ring from them and chaos is the result.  Sam ends up being her conscience and support and forces her to question what’s missing from her relationship with the “perfect” Magnus besides an emerald ring. 

In Kinsella’s classic style of a well-intentioned heroine who just keeps messing up, I’ve Got Your Number will keeping you cringing, laughing, and cheering on Poppy to the very end.

Kosher Chinese

>

Jewish American Michael Levy recounts his time spent in Guiyang, China teaching ESL as a Peace Corp volunteer in Kosher Chinese. This is a humorous, yet often touching memoir of the many cultural differences between America and the “other billion” Chinese (those that live far from Beijing or Shanghai that are not usually portrayed in the media). Surprisingly, Levy’s Jewish status is advantageous in forming relationships with the students he teaches at Guizhou University, like when faculty members inform him that he will be leading the Guizhou University Jewish Friday Night English and Cooking Corner Club. There were many scenes in the book where I was laughing out loud, such as Michael’s first experience using a squat “toilet,” spontaneously joining in with strangers singing John Denver tunes, a neighbor who sings Chinese opera at 6:30 every single morning, and the highly inappropriate English names some Chinese students adopted in his classes. In between these humorous anecdotes, Levy is able to convey the culture of western China where many feel they are caught in between the socialism of Mao and capitalism, and between traditional Chinese culture and Western society. No where is this portrayed more fittingly in the book than a description of a park in Guiyang with a gigantic statue of Mao just steps away from a Wal Mart. This is a quick, fun read particularly for those interested in other cultures and what those cultures think of Americans.

Love in a Nutshell by Janet Evanovich and Dorien Kelly

>I must confess, I read One for the Money a few years ago and I didn’t like it. I decided to give Janet Evanovich one more try, though, so I picked up Love in a Nutshell and was pleasantly surprised to find that I enjoyed it.

Kate Appleton has had a horrible year. She found out her husband was cheating on her, got a divorce, lost the custody battle over her poodle, and then she lost her job. She really needs a break. Her plan is to fix up her parents’ lake house and turn it into a bed and breakfast. This would be easier if it weren’t in horrible shape and she hadn’t lost most of her savings in the housing market crash when she and her husband’s house lost a lot of its value.

Enter Matt Culhane, owner of a successful restaurant/brewery in town who needs someone to find out who has been sabotaging his business. Matt offers Kate $20,000 to find his saboteur, which she accepts as pretty much her only option for saving the house (did I mention her parents were behind on house payments?).

Kate has a lot on her plate with trying to find out who is sabotaging Matt’s business, meet new friends in Keene’s Harbor, fix up her parents’ house, and try to resist her growing attraction to Matt.

The Rook by Daniel O’Malley

>“Dear You,
The body you are wearing used to be mine.”
So begins the wonderfully imaginative debut novel The Rook by Daniel O’Malley. Myfanwy (pronounced like “Tiffany”) Thomas opens her eyes to find herself standing in a park in the rain surrounded by bodies wearing latex gloves. She finds two letters addressed to herself in her coat pockets containing instructions for how to either slide herself into the life of the old Myfanwy Thomas, the previous owner of the body, or how to run and begin a new life for herself with a new name. Myfanwy obviously chooses to stay and take up the responsibilities and life of Thomas (as she calls the old owner of the body), which turn out to be complicated and very surprising. Thomas was a “Rook,” one of eight heads of the organization known as the Checquy that protects the United Kingdom from supernatural threats. Someone was obviously trying to remove Thomas from the picture and Myfanwy is saddled not only with the challenge of quickly learning how to run a secret organization and control the supernatural powers she inherited along with her body but also with the task of sussing out the conspiracy behind her memory loss and how the increasing number of supernatural attacks since she woke up in the park is related to her existance.

This is a totally enthralling, complex, and darkly humorous debut that should appeal to readers who enjoy Jim Butcher or Neil Gaiman.

Charming Grace by Deborah Smith

>

Grace Bagshaw Vance may look like a sweet Georgia beauty queen, but she is willing to use every weapon in her arsenal, including charm, gravel, her family, and the occasional unloaded shotgun,  to keep movie maker Stone Senterra from making a mockery of her beloved late husband’s heroic story.  Senterra’s loyal bodyguard, Boone Noleene is assigned to charm her into giving her blessing to the project.  Boone falls fast for the beauty with a spine of steel and tries to keep the project from being disrespectful of Harper Vance and keep Grace from spoiling the dream of the man who gave him a chance when he was released from prison on parole.  Full of slapstick humor, adventure, and steamy romance, Charming Grace is also a sweet story of opening broken hearts and fierce family loyalty. 

Carrie Goes Off the Map

>Phillipa Ashley’s new novel is a funny and entertaining romance. Carrie and Huw have been together for 10 years and are in the process of finally planning their wedding when Huw abruptly ends their relationship. Carrie is angry and hurt and  creates an embarrassing scene at Huw’s wedding to someone else. Not  knowing what the next steps in her life will hold, Carrie decides to head off in a small camper van on a road trip with her best friend Rowena. The plans sound great until an acting job turns up for Rowena and she backs out of the trip plans. Not wanting her friend to miss her much-needed vacation, Rowena arranges for someone else to accompany Carrie on the trip. That someone else is Matt–a handsome doctor who has been sent home from his medical mission on a Pacific island following a traumatic accident. He is at loose ends on his leave and welcomes the chance to travel with no schedule or set destination. With lots of fun dialog, touching scenes and likable characters, Carrie Goes off the Map is a lighthearted and witty romance that will warm your heart.

Ugly Christmas Sweater Party

>
Are you stressed out and overworked from all of your Christmas shopping, baking, decorating, and other holiday activities? Bring the fun back into Christmas by checking out the hilarious Ugly Christmas Sweater Party Book by Brian Miller, Adam Paulson, and Kevin Wool. It will have you laughing all the way through and by the end you will be much more relaxed and jolly. The book is purported to be a “how-to” book on throwing an ugly Christmas sweater party. There are a few short chapters with party suggestions such as games, music, food and drinks, and awarding prizes. The majority of the “how-to” section is very tongue in cheek, and not intended to be serious suggestions. For instance, there is a particularly humorous section on how to pick out that perfect Christmas sweater. If you want to win the prize for the ugliest sweater, the authors suggest that your sweater must not only be ugly, but also engage the five senses. Some ways to do this are by adding 3D effects, bells or chimes, edible items, and other interactive items such as pinecones or reindeer fur. You could even add some vanilla extract or rub yourself with pine scented air fresheners! The real star of the book, however, is the number of pages of over-the-top ugly Christmas sweaters with hilarious titles and descriptions. It’s a short book, so if you still haven’t gotten enough, check out the authors’ website UglyChristmasSweaterParty.com to peruse more ugly Christmas sweaters.

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day

>by Winifred Watson
Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day is a charming story originally written in 1938.  As Miss Pettigrew arrives at Delysia LaFosse’s flat to interview for what she thinks is a governess position, she is whirled into the dizzying pace of Miss LaFosse’s social life.  Even before a how-di-do, Miss LaFasse presents Miss Pettigrew with a problem that must be solved immediately.  The man in her bedroom must be gotten out without a trace of his being there and he mustn’t know Miss LaFosse desires him to leave. Now, before I go any farther, you must know that Miss Pettigrew is a dowdy non-worldly woman who blushes at even the thought of a couple’s kiss, while Miss LaFosse is a world wise woman with three men on the line.  With determination (this may be her last chance at a job) Miss Pettigrew resolves to do what she is asked, even if it goes against her upbringing.   Almost before the breeze of the man’s passing is gone, a second man appears at her door with great suspicion & searches the flat for evidence of the other man.  Miss Pettigrew doesn’t miss a beat when he finds a cigar butt in the kitchen, “‘Young man…if there’s one thing I completely abominate it’s the effeminate type of man that snaps round a house like an old, peeking busybody….If I want to smoke cheroots, I’ll smoke cheroots,…Have one.  I can recommend them.’ Miss Pettigrew opened her bag.  She took out a worn packet of cheroots.”  As Miss Pettigrew continues to help Delysia out of her many self made predicaments, Delysia turns Miss Pettigrew into a beautiful companion for her day filled with social affairs.  This Cinderella, from rags to almost riches, story is a delight to read.  I’ve heard the movie is fun too.

And Nothing but the Truthiness: The Rise (and Further Rise) of Stephen Colbert

>“My name is Stephen Colbert, but I actually play someone ontelevision named Stephen Colbert, who looks like me, talks like me, but whosays things with a straight face that he doesn’t mean”. Lisa Rogak’s biographyof Stephen Colbert, And Nothing but the Truthiness, attempts to distinguishbetween the man and the character he plays on his Comedy Central program TheColbert Report, and offers a fascinating glimpse of the man behind thecharacter he portrays. The youngest of 11 children, Colbert learned the valueof humor from siblings and his parents. He had to deal with tragedy early in his life when his two oldestbrothers and his father were killed in a plane crash. Rogak traces his entryinto acting, then into comedy in Second City and finally into writingand reporting for the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, the launching point for hisown program. Known for his sharp wit and interview skills, he has developed a loyal following of fans, members of his Colbert Nation. Colbert has used his program and influence as a vehicle to raisefunds for several worthy causes such as educational programs, supporting themilitary and their families and raising financial support for the U.S. Olympic Speedskating Team. He was surprised at  theawarding of the 2006 Word of the Year by Merriam Webster, as well as inclusionin their dictionary, of “truthiness”, created by him in a show segment titledThe Word and meaning “preferring concepts of facts one wishes to be true ratherthan concepts or facts known to be true”. Colbert the character displays lotsof truthiness in his satire, but Colbert the person appears to be a someone thatis  intelligent, hard-working, family-oriented and multi-talented.

I am Half-Sick of Shadows

>

AlanBradley’s 11 year old character Flavia de Luce is one of the most endearing,inventive and precocious characters in literature. She appears again inBradley’s latest novel in the series,I am Half-Sick of Shadows. It is winter in England and Christmas isapproaching, with Flavia immersed in her chemistry experiments–this timetrying to determine if Father Christmas is real. In the midst of a storm, aline of trucks appears and heads for the de Luce family home, Buckshaw. Itseems that Colonel de Luce, in order to keep his family from bankruptcy, hasrented out the estate to a film crew. Flavia is fascinated by the appearance offamous and not-so-famous actors and actresses who take up residence in her home.The lead actors agree to perform for a fund-raiser for the local church, andthe local village residents flock to Buckshaw for the show, only to be snowedin by a blizzard. With the house filled with visitors, Flavia comes upon thebody of a murdered actress, and of course, must immerse herself in solving thecrime, much to the dismay Inspector Hewitt. We learn more about Flavia’srelationships with her sisters, her father and Dogger, who served in the warwith Colonel De Luce. This is a delightful addition to this humorous andcharming series featuring the fiendishly inventive Flavia de Luce (start with The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie.)

Until There Was You

>Kristan Higgins has again provided a romance novel filled with humor and quirky characters. Posey is an interesting and strong main character–a young woman living in her home town with her own business, and with friends and family who know everything about her life.  Her high school crush, former bad-boy Liam,a widower, returns to town, accompanied by his teen-aged daughter and his return revives all of Posey’s past feelings.  Posey and Liam are drawn to each other despite Posey’s hesitation and Liam’s reluctance to get involved with someone while the parent of a teenager. The dialogue is crisp and funny and the relationships are believable, with lots of interesting secondary characters. Until There Was You is an enjoyable and touching romance. Other romances by Kristan Higgins include Fools Rush In and All I Ever Wanted.

Motel of the Mysteries by David Macaulay

>I read a number of book related websites to stay up-to-date on what’s being published and what is available at MPL. I recently read about Motel of the Mysteries by David Macaulay on one of those websites as an old favorite of a fellow librarian and decided to pick it up.

The year is 4022. The ancient civilization of Usa was buried under mounds of detritus in the year 1985. Amateur archeologist Howard Carson makes the discovery of a lifetime when he inadvertently falls into a tomb buried under the detritus. The tomb is undisturbed, still bearing its sacred DO NOT DISTURB sign hanging from the doorknob. What follows is an exhaustive catalog of the contents of the tomb and Carson and his team’s explanations of the use and ceremonial significance of each item in the burial chamber. From the description of the altar atop which stands a device for communicating with the gods, to the Inner Chamber containing a porcelain sarcophagus, Carson’s findings are entertaining and cast a delightful satirical light on many aspects of American culture.

Motel of the Mysteries is not only an interesting speculation about how future generations will interpret the potential remains of current culture, but is a sometimes amusing look back at the technology and furnishings of the 1980s. For example, of the television, Macaulay writes “Judging by the impact marks on the top and sides of the upper altar, some aspect of this communication was dependent upon pounding the surface.”