A Florida State of Mind: An Unnatural History of Our Weirdest State

Had a sampling good time (admittedly not front to back), and “weirdest state” is the author’s opinion, not mine!  However, we had an aunt in Florida, married several times, who had a dog she named Mister.  It gave her a kick to go to the door and call, “Here, Mister, Mister,” she said.  A little weird, I guess.  Mr. Wright lives in Florida and calls this “…a collection of factoids, oddments, stories, and backstories…”.  I call it fun.  Let’s see.  Florida remained loyal to Britain during the Revolution, so no fourteenth colony.  How “oh wow” rich is that laid back Jimmy Buffet who, we’re told, is Warren Buffet’s distant cousin?  What happened to the Florida of Fifties and Sixties vacations, Silver Springs and glass-bottomed boats, the mermaids of Weeki Wachee?  Did Gore or Bush win the contested 2000 Presidential race in Florida, and how many types of “chads” were there?  Ha, there were four identified and named!  One was a swinging chad.  Didn’t you date him?  Florida is known as the “Road Kill State”, and there’s an interesting flipside.  White-tailed deer kill more humans than sharks, alligators, bears, snakes and insects combined.  A recipe for Tang pie is here too.  Check it out on April 30!

Full Disclosure: A review copy of this book was provided to me by St. Martin’s Press / Thomas Dunne Books via NetGalley. I would like to thank the publisher and the author for providing me this opportunity. All opinions expressed herein are my own.

Lu Yao’s Life

What an opportunity we readers have here.  Chinese author Lu Yao had only two published works and died at the age of forty-two, but Life, this superb novella published in 1982 and still a bestseller in China, is now in English translation.  It’s the early Eighties, rural China begins a slow forever change, begins to turn away from the community and culture of eons; and we meet Gao Jialin, the educated son of peasants.  A sympathetic character, he’s lost his prestigious teaching job, lost face, and is in despair.  Lu Yao shares only a brief span of this young man’s life with the wrenching decisions he must make between the known past and the unknown future, a story that portends China’s path from rural to urban.

So very Chinese, yes, but absolutely stunning in its universality.  Human beings, past, present, and forever, have acted and will act as this young man does and as those around him do.  What is loss of face, but pride, hubris?  Do we choose generosity of spirit or cunning ambition?  Betrayal or trust?  What are we but “I want”?  Lu Yao’s quiet work could have played out on a stage in ancient Greece.  And one of the simplest, most beautiful opening paragraphs I’ve ever read begins “On the tenth day of the sixth month of the lunar calendar, the evening sky was…”

Full Disclosure: A review copy of this book was provided to me by AmazonCrossing via NetGalley. I would like to thank the publisher and the author for providing me this opportunity. All opinions expressed herein are my own.

Erica Ferencik’s Into the Jungle

I read this.  Yes, the whole thing, and apparently, the Bolivian experiences of a friend of the author provided the idea behind this novel.  Good to know, that, ‘cause otherwise I’d have launched into a discussion of its utter implausibility.  The prologue nearly stopped me right there and then, that python dream, but I thought maybe that was unfair and soldiered on.  At nineteen, Lily, a lying, thieving survivor of the U.S. foster care system, is stranded in Bolivia, where she meets and falls in love with Omar, a motorcycle mechanic from the jungle.  He is moderately hot.  Soon he is summoned back to his remote village, Lily goes with him, and, after a harrowing plane ride, they arrive.  Here, among showers of tarantulas, Omar transforms, but it’s all good, and how! – from cute mechanic to wise, noble, studly, mighty hunter and savior of his people.  Lily, after some minor cultural adjustment and soon pregnant, attains depths of character and resourcefulness you wouldn’t believe.  Literally.  Shall we say over the top?  Let’s.

There’s a creepy telepathic shaman, a completely gratuitous family of lepers, a slimy poacher whose face is ripped off by a timely eagle, a lovely little pig that gets eaten, and a murderous neighboring tribe who can melt into the jungle and “melt out” of it as well.  Man, it’s hot.  Can we borrow a cup of curare?   But I read this, the whole thing, and there’s the rub.  While “utter implausibility” flashed on and off like a neon sign, I often found myself riding the literary skids of this jungle extravaganza with my hair plastered back, having a big ol’ time.  Readers, casting suggestions for Omar?

The ride begins on May 21 at a bookstore near you.

Full Disclosure: A review copy of this book was provided to me by Gallery, Threshold, Pocket Books / Gallery/Scout Press via NetGalley. I would like to thank the publisher and the author for providing me this opportunity. All opinions expressed herein are my own.

The Sun Is a Compass: A 4,000-Mile Journey into the Alaskan Wilds

Caroline Van Hemert, a biologist, and her husband Pat Farrell (artist, outdoorsman, builder) dream a simple dream, yet one so daunting in scope that few could dream it – a trek of 4,000 miles from Bellingham, Washington to a far, far speck in the Alaskan Arctic, Kotsube.  Ever been there?  Me, either.  Without snowmobiles, ATVs, sponsors.  No planes, no trains, no hitched rides.  After four months intense planning, they leave Bellingham in two rowboats built by Pat, traveling up the Inside Passage then across mountains, glaciers, rivers, delta, and tundra on foot, on skis, by canoes and pack rafts.

This challenge was undertaken, I felt, in the spirit of a quest, though perhaps not consciously so; and it is recounted here in all its harshness, dreamy beauty and overriding love of the wilderness.  In a stunning episode, we’re practically part of a migrating caribou herd, and the astounding migratory flights of birds weave in and out of the narrative as a counterpoint to the journey.  The lovely title is, in fact, a reference to migratory bird navigation.  So, readers, travel and grow with this intrepid young couple.  Well-worth anyone’s time.

Ready to hit booksellers on March 19.

Full Disclosure: A review copy of this book was provided to me by Little, Brown and Company / Little, Brown Spark via NetGalley. I would like to thank the publisher and the author for providing me this opportunity. All opinions expressed herein are my own.

Leonard Goldberg’s The Disappearance of Alistair Ainsworth

This third in the “Daughter of Sherlock Holmes” series was my introduction to Joanna Blalock Watson and her small family, born sleuths, all of them.  Joanna is the flesh and blood daughter of the famous detective, and her father-in-law is the ever-present Dr. Watson.  Her husband, Watson’s son, narrates, and her son Johnny promises to be his grandfather Sherlock all over again.  It’s World War I, so, as you’d expect, there are German spies, zeppelins and U-boats, encryption and experts, clandestine affairs (or not?), and a dastardly traitor.  Who?  (I figured it out; I figured it out!)  There’s even a fake funeral involving a long-dead cat.  Nice touch.

All this gives Joanna ample opportunity to dazzle with that famous deductive reasoning, but, in the Holmes tradition, there can be no rush to judgment.  She moves at a measured pace, dispensing conclusions in small, intriguing doses, and, like her father, is more than a bit condescending to those of lesser gifts……and isn’t that everybody?  While it may be something of a trudge for the modern reader, if you’re a Conan Doyle fan and don’t want to re-read him for the umpteenth time, this is well-done and as close as you can get.  Prefer your detective series in order?  Begin with The Daughter of Sherlock Holmes and follow with A Study in Treason.  This installment makes its appearance on June 11 from Minotaur Books.

Full Disclosure:  A review copy of this book was provided to me by St. Martin’s Press / Minotaur Books via NetGalley.  I would like to thank the publisher and the author for providing me this opportunity.  All opinions expressed herein are my own.

 

The Accidental Veterinarian: Tales from a Pet Practice

A pleasant interlude of a book for those of us who love our animals and rely on the vets who care for them.  Canadian vet Phillipp Schott’s calm voice, practical point of view, and gentle humor is so like the vets I’ve known through many years and wonderful pets – hermit crabs (funny little fragile things) to horses (funny big fragile things) and variously-sized dear things in between.  Dr. Schott raises our awareness of the challenges unique to veterinary practices, clinics encompassing nearly the entirety of medicine in one hectic place, and he includes practical and interesting tips for neophytes and the seasoned as well:  when to call a vet, what to expect, advice on fleas and ticks, what chocolate actually does to dogs, “natural” food, supportive wisdom on end-of-life eventualities.

Good stuff, and, of course, plenty of the anecdotes we all enjoy so much.  Petit Choux, the pet rabbit of a French Canadian client, heard by the receptionist as Petty Chew.  The interesting observation/opinion that U.S. clients complain less about veterinary costs than Canadians do because, perhaps, they are aware of the cost of medicine for human beings.  Hmmmm.  And the child who wrote the good doctor about his ambition to be a “vat”.  Dr. Schott muses that he too once dreamed of becoming a “large container”, but decided to become a vet instead.  Glad he did.

Set for release on April 23 from ECW Press.

Full Disclosure:  A review copy of this book was provided to me by ECW Press via NetGalley.  I would like to thank the publisher and the author for providing me this opportunity.  All opinions expressed herein are my own.

Helen Phillips’ The Need

Helen Phillips, this novel left me reeling.  So real it could be yesterday in my own kitchen, but then so utterly, devastatingly surreal.  Is it alternate realities, or a frazzled mother’s mind unraveling into madness, or is it a wicked human plot?  Or is it creepy with the supernatural and spooky portals to other planes?  Are the children going to die, or are they already dead?   What it is…….is a consideration, a contemplation, if you will, of a mother’s love, so fierce and so fraught with its intensity and its burden.   Tiny Ben and lively Viv (a masterpiece, the most fully realized fictional four-year-old ever), the warm funk of children sleeping, their unremitting needs, tantrums, vomit, Cheerios, yes, and the bone-deep fear of it all.   But make no mistake.  This is not a horror story.  It is a human story.  Helen Phillips, your talent is frightening.

Readers, make haste to your local bookstore (support the independents, please!) to pick this one up on July 9 from Simon & Schuster.

Full Disclosure: A review copy of this book was provided to me by Simon & Schuster via NetGalley. I would like to thank the publisher and the author for providing me this opportunity. All opinions expressed herein are my own.