Book Review: MOBITUARIES: GREAT LIVES WORTH RELIVING by Mo Rocca

mobituaries

This book was a very nice surprise. I wasn’t very familiar with author Mo Rocca when I got the book, but I saw it on a New Releases list and I was immediately interested when I saw what it was about. I’m a bit of a nerd when it comes to how much I love pop culture, trivia, and even obituaries of “obscure” people, so I had a feeling this book might be right up my alley.

I’m glad I picked it up because it was very enjoyable to read. I immediately liked Rocca’s writing style and now I’m anxious to explore more of his works. In this book, he uses humor, of course, but what’s nice is that it’s not some absurd collection of silly stories about people who have died. Mo Rocca obviously did a lot of research while writing this book. He not only shows a lot of knowledge of the things he writes about, but he also shows respect for those he features in the stories he shares. While there may be humor, he doesn’t turn their lives into jokes. As a reader, I very much appreciated and respected that.

It was not only a fun book to read, but it was also incredibly informative. I learned far more than I expected to when I picked up the book. I’m very glad I read it and highly recommend it to others.

*I received a copy of this book from the publisher, via NetGalley, in exchange for a fair review.

Book Review: HOPE RIDES AGAIN by Andrew Shaffer

hope rides again

From the publisher, Quirk Books:

In the sequel to the New York Times best-selling novel Hope Never Dies, Obama and Biden reprise their roles as BFFs-turned-detectives as they chase Obama’s stolen cell phone through the streets of Chicago–and right into a vast conspiracy.

Following a long but successful book tour, Joe Biden has one more stop before he can return home: Chicago. His old pal Barack Obama has invited him to meet a wealthy benefactor whose endorsement could turn the tide for Joe if he decides to run for president.

The two friends barely have time to catch up before another mystery lands in their laps: Obama’s prized Blackberry is stolen. When their number-one suspect winds up full of lead on the South Side, the police are content to write it off as just another gangland shooting. But Joe and Obama smell a rat…

Set against the backdrop of a raucous city on St. Patrick’s Day, Joe and Obama race to find the shooter, only to uncover a vast conspiracy that goes deeper than the waters of Lake Michigan—which is exactly where they’ll spend the rest of their retirement if they’re not careful.

From me:

While I enjoyed HOPE RIDES AGAIN, I enjoyed it a little bit less than I enjoyed HOPE NEVER DIES, which is the first book of the Obama Biden Mysteries.

Even though I liked it less, this one is still good. Actually, there are even some ways in which I think it’s slightly better than the first one. For example, I think this one may actually be a little bit funnier than the first book. Also, the character of President Obama seems more well-rounded in this one. Not that I felt there was anything wrong with him in the first book, but there’s something in this one that makes him a little bit “better.”

I think it’s because author Andrew Shaffer keeps growing as a writer. He did an awesome job on the first book and has even stronger writing in this one. What I especially was impressed with was the many times he’d have Joe Biden refer to things that were going on in “the real world.” Even though this is a work of fiction, Shaffer kept it very much tied to reality. And he does it in a way that’s respectful to people in the real world too. There are some instances where Biden or Obama might refer to the current administration or to others in politics, but it’s done in a way that’s not directly slamming those people. For example, you might get the sense that the Joe Biden character doesn’t care for a particular person, but it’s done in a way that’s not rudely insulting them.

Considering how heated things often are in the real world of politics, I’m sure it could have been easy for Shaffer to write the book in that way, where it got heavily into the “nastiness” that we see daily coming from famous politicians. But since this is a humorous fiction story, I’m glad he avoided those kinds of things and wrote it the way he did.

Personally, I read books like this one because I want to have a fun journey into a story that I can get lost in and have a good time reading. That definitely happened for me here with HOPE RIDES AGAIN.

So, why did I like this one less than I liked the first book? Well, without giving away anything about the story itself, I felt that Joe Biden’s motivation for investigating the mystery here wasn’t as strong as it was in the first book. In that one, he had a very personal connection to the case and I could easily see why he got wrapped up in it the way that he did. In this one, he barely even knew the victim of the crime that he was investigating, so his reasons for doing what he was doing seemed a little less believable to me this time around.

Having said that, I’d still very much be interested in reading future books in this series. I’m also interested in seeing what other types of stories Andrew Shaffer writes later in his career. I think that he’s a very talented writer and I bet he’s going to be giving us many great stories for a very long time.

*I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair review. Thank you to Quirk Books and NetGalley.

Book Review: THE UNEXPECTED VACATION OF GEORGE THRING by Alastair Puddick

George Thring

From the publisher:

George Thring runs away from home. By accident.

Depressed, lonely and tired of life, George Thring leaves work one night but never makes it home. Before he knows it, he’s driven over 200 miles in the wrong direction and finds himself in a strange little town, in the middle of nowhere, during their annual Elvis Presley appreciation festival.

As he stumbles from one mishap to another, George meets the woman of his dreams, unwittingly aids in a bank robbery and finds himself pursued by both the police and a gang of angry criminals.

With a big life decision to make, and a girl to try and win over, George is given the chance to become the hero he has always wanted to be. But is he brave enough to take it?

From me:

As you can probably guess from the description of this book, this is a very quirky story. Personally, I’m a bit of a quirky person myself, so I tend to enjoy stories that are on the sort of “far out” side, which The Unexpected Vacation of George Thring definitely is.

It’s a clever and unique kind of story. Author Alastair Puddick is a very talented writer. He does something here which I think a lot of writers of humorous stories fail to do: he makes you care about the characters, even when they’re in the middle of ridiculous situations. Humorous novels can sometimes be difficult to read because they often get too silly and then become ludicrous to the point that the plots become very unbelievable and the characters become almost impossible to relate to.

Is this story silly? Yes, absolutely. But it’s not too silly. It’s just the right amount of silly. At least it was for me. Your silliness mileage may vary, of course.

I was very entertained by this novel. However, I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I thought it was totally perfect. There were some parts in the book that were a little too repetitive. Also, there were some scenes that went on a little longer than I think they needed to, sometimes to the point that I started to lose interest in what was going on and I then wanted to skip ahead in my reading.

But those kinds of things were very minimal and I happily kept reading. In fact, once I completed the book, I instantly searched for and then purchased the next novel from Alastair Puddick. He has a new fan in me.

If you enjoy quirky and clever stories, I highly recommend The Unexpected Vacation of George Thring to you. It’s a very fun read.

*I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair review.

The Ballad of Mr. Carrot Man

mrcarrotman

I was just an innocent carrot walking down the street. My day was about to get crazy, but at that moment I was just a happy little vegetable enjoying an afternoon stroll while sipping on a nice, hot pumpkin spice latte from Starbucks. I was so happy that I wanted to whistle, but I’m horrible at whistling. Instead, I decided to sing a song that I’d begun writing earlier in the day.

Not so far away…there is a magic land of carrots…”

Then I stopped singing because I was struggling to come up with a good rhyme for ‘carrots.’ You’d think one would come easily to me since I am a carrot, but I guess I just wasn’t in the songwriting zone at that particular moment.

I silently walked on and was keeping my eyes out for trouble. I’m just a tiny carrot living in a city full of humans and other creatures, so I try to be extra-careful.

It’s a dangerous city and there are street gangs on nearly every corner. However, I got very lucky when I moved here because the local gang on my block is called The Bloody Vegetarians. They look up to me like I’m sort of a god, which I really enjoy. After all, not every walking and talking carrot is worshiped that way. It made me feel very special.

I made my way to the end of the street and saw three members of The Bloody Vegetarians standing on the corner. Horatio, their leader, waved to me. I silently wondered how he got to be the leader of his gang. Was he the bloodiest of them or did he cause the most bloodshed in others? Either way, it was probably best that I didn’t know.

“Yo, Mr. Carrot Man! How’s it hanging, boss?”

“Top of the morning to you, Horatio. How is all in our fair city today?” I asked.

“Dude, it’s not good for you. Someone is looking for you. Someone very scary.”

“Where is he? Or is it a she?”

Einstein, another of The Bloody Vegetarians, chimed in. “It’s a man. Well, it’s a male. A male bunny. He looks crazy, Mr. Carrot Man!”

I took a deep breath and tried to remain calm. “Do you know where he went?”

Horatio scratched his long and scruffy beard like he was in much deeper thought than my question required. “I don’t know, man, but I bet he’s not so far away.”

“Not so far away?” I asked. “I was just writing a song with those lyrics in it. Hey, by any chance, can you think of good rhyme for ‘carrots?'”

Vito, the usually silent member of the gang, yelled out, “‘Merits’, man! ‘Carrots’ and ‘merits’, you see?”

“Merits?” I asked.

“Yeah, man,” Vito proudly said. “It’s the plural of merit. It means good qualities.”

I nodded and gave it some thought. Merits. Yes, I liked it! Now that I had this great new word to use, I wanted to immediately get back to work on my song. However, fate had other things in store for me. Fate and one rapidly approaching, very ugly animal.

There he was – the most demented looking bunny I’d ever seen. All three of the Bloody Vegetarians screamed and ran away, leaving me alone with this horrible monster. He was looking at me like he wanted to eat me for dinner.

bunny2

I ran away as fast as I could, but the bunny was much faster than I was. He got ahead of me and quickly stopped and blocked my path. He turned and we stared at each other. I suddenly realized that I had seen him once before.

He was the same demented bunny who had killed my cousin Fred earlier in the year. But he hadn’t just killed Fred. He’d also done unspeakable things to Fred’s corpse.

carrotsauce

The freaky bunny charged towards me. I didn’t want to end up like Fred, so I decided to fight. I quickly removed the lid from my still very hot pumpkin latte drink and I hurled the cup at the bunny’s face.  The still-steaming liquid splattered all over his head, from his ridiculous looking ears, down to his obnoxiously long whiskers.

He screamed in agony for several seconds and then he started to calm down. The bunny bent over and licked some of the drink that had landed on his little paws. He looked back up at me.

“This is absolutely delicious,” he said. “Is this a pumpkin spice latte?”

“Yes. From the Starbucks on 8th Street.”

“This is the tastiest thing I’ve every had in my life. Even tastier than your cousin Fred,” the bunny said. “I must go to Starbucks immediately and get one of these.”

I was going to say something to him about Fred, but I decided to let it go. I’d never even liked Fred very much. “You’d better hurry. The store is going to close soon.”

The freaky bunny nodded at me and then he ran off. I sat there for several minutes and thought how lucky I was to still be alive.

I got up and started walking again. My new gratitude for life caused energy to flow through me and I was overcome with joy. It made me want to sing. And this time I got even further with my song.

Not so far away…there is a magic land of carrots. Don’t judge us by our orange skin…but judge us by our merits!”

I was thrilled with my new lyrics and I finished writing the song later that day. I’ve  even recently began work on another new song, this one all about pumpkin spice lattes.

But that is a song for another day…

*******************************

The above story was inspired by a writing challenge that I’m participating in. The name of the challenge is the #WingWritingChallenge and it was created by writer J.C. Wing.

The prompt for this particular challenge was the words “far away.”

I had a lot of fun writing this one. I hope you had fun reading it. Have a great day!

P.S. – Go get a pumpkin latte. They’re delicious.

 

Comic God and the Big Trip

windowI was sitting at my kitchen table reading a very in depth newspaper article about how bunny fighting was becoming popular in my area. I didn’t know much about bunny fighting and I was enjoying learning about it. My initial fear was that it was similar to dog fighting, so I was very relieved to read that the bunnies never actually fight to the death. In fact, many of their fights are resolved with them harmlessly arm wrestling each other.

I was halfway through the article when a comic drawing appeared in between paragraphs. It was of an old man with a long white beard.

My wife Devon was nearby and said something to me, but I was distracted by the drawing. Not from what it looked like, but from what it said to me.

“Hi there, Bobby. You don’t really feel like reading this, do you?” The old man asked.

I stared at him for a moment and didn’t reply. I was going to tell my wife about what had just happened but the little cartoon man whispered to me, “Shhh, Bobby. Don’t tell her what’s going on. Just keep this between us for right now.”

I wanted to speak, but I knew Devon would hear me and I didn’t want her to think I was nuts. The little man looked up at me and smiled.

“You can answer me. You’re in a special place now. She won’t hear you and she won’t see what’s going on between us.”

I looked over at Devon again. Part of me wanted to crumple up my newspaper and throw it away, but a much larger part of me wanted to talk with whoever the man was. After all, it’s not every day that little drawings in newspapers talk with you, right?

“Hello,” I said. “How is this happening?”

He winked at me. “Well, it’s kind of a secret. Do you promise not to tell anyone?”

Who was I going to tell? “Sure, I promise.”

“I’m God,” he said before taking a little bow. It was a very impressive bow.

For some reason, I had no problem believing what he’d just said. “Nice to meet you, God. I’m Robert Harrison.”

“Ah, but your closest friends call you Bobby,” God said. “I want to be your friend.” He extended his handhand1 a little bit and then it rose up above the newspaper and got larger and larger. In just a couple of seconds, it was the size of a normal hand, though it still looked like a drawing. I reached towards it and we shook hands. For a drawing of a hand, it felt remarkably like a regular hand. It also felt a bit like it was covered in peanut butter. I looked down and saw that I was right. It actually was covered in peanut butter.

“Very nice to meet you, God.” I said. Looking back on this now, I’m surprised I wasn’t more freaked out at the time. What can I say? There was something very comforting about the drawing of God and the sound of his voice. I was even comforted by the peanut butter on his hand.

I went to pull my hand away from our shake, but God tightened his grip on my hand. “Hey, don’t let go yet. Want to come somewhere with me?”

“Am I dead? Are you taking me to heaven?” I asked.

“Oh no, Bobby. You’re definitely not going to heaven,” God said.

Now I was freaked out. “What do you mean I’m not going to heaven? I’m going to Hell? No way. I’m a good person.”

“No, that’s not what I meant. I just meant that you’re not going to heaven right now. We’re going somewhere else.” He pointed to the window behind me. “Look out there.”

I turned and looked and saw that it was now dark outside, which made no sense at all since it was just a little after noon. I turned back and looked across the room at Devon. Behind her, I had a fantastic view of our living room window which showed me that it was bright and sunny outside. I looked back again out the kitchen window and saw the same darkness I had seen the first time I looked.

“Don’t worry about it being dark out there,” God said. “Tell me what else you see.”

“I see that there’s already a full moon, but that doesn’t make any sense. We’re not supposed to get a full moon tonight.”

“Really, Bobby? Come on. Just that one thing doesn’t make sense? None of this makes much sense, does it?” God asked.

“Well, true.”

“What else do you see?”

I looked out and saw something else I hadn’t seen before. “Well, there’s a big tree right there that wasn’t there before. No offense, God, but will that be gone when we’re done with whatever it is we’re doing? I don’t necessarily want a tree there.”

“You don’t like trees?” God asked. “They’re one of my best creations.” I started to reply but God cut me off. “Don’t worry. It will be gone. Tell me what else you see.”

cat3I looked at the tree and saw a cat on one of the branches. It was gray and had a purple collar with a bell on it. It looked over at me and winked.

“That’s Kitty Baby,” God said. “Pretty, isn’t she?”

I nodded. “She’s beautiful.”

“Yes, she is. Not only that, but she’s our trip to the moon!” He gripped my hand tighter and then we were suddenly very, very, very tiny and sitting on the cat’s back. God was holding onto her collar like it was reigns on a horse.

“Giddy up, Kitty Baby!” He yelled.

Kitty Baby nodded her head several times. It shook her whole body so hard that I nearly fell off of her. “Giddying up now, God,” she said in a voice that was disturbingly sexy. “Would you like a cocktail or peanuts for the trip?”

“None for me, thanks,” God said.

“Robert? Anything for you?” Kitty Baby asked.

“No, thank you, but you can call me Bobby,” I said. Why not? If I was going to sit next to God on this cat’s back as she took us to the moon, I may as well consider her enough of a friend to let her call me by my nickname, right?

She nodded and took a few quick steps and then jumped off of the branch onto a higher branch. We repeated the process over and over again until we got to the very top of the tree, which is when two very large wings suddenly appeared out of the sides of Kitty Baby’s body. She flapped them quickly and then we were soaring through the air.

We rose higher and higher and I looked over at God. He had a large pair of headphones on his head. I could faintly hear music coming out from them. God had his eyes closed and was bobbing his head up and down to the music. I tapped him on the shoulder. He looked over at me and lifted one of the speakers from his ear.

“What are you listening to?” I asked.

“Frank Sinatra’s ‘Fly Me To The Moon.’ It seemed appropriate,” God said. Then he put the speaker bacThumbs-up-from-Godk on his ear and resumed listening to the song. He smiled at me and gave me a thumbs up. I wanted to look cool, so I gave God a thumbs up in return.

We flew for just a few more minutes and then we were right above the moon. God was still jamming to Sinatra and didn’t seem to notice. I reached to tap him on the shoulder again but Kitty Baby turned her head and said, “Best to not interrupt him. He hates when anything comes between him and Frank.”

“Okay, thanks.” I wasn’t sure what else to say, so I just said, “Happy landing, Kitty Baby.”

She winked at me and smiled. All of sudden, both of her wings disappeared.

“Uh oh!” She exclaimed as we started to quickly plummet towards the moon.

“Don’t worry,” God chimed in. “I’ve got this.” I looked over at him and saw that he was now wearing what looked to be a huge backpack with a string hanging from its side. He pulled the string and the pack opened. A large polka-dotted parachute came out of the pack and extended the way that polka-dotted parachutes are supposed to extend. We then safely drifted down to the moon’s surface.

We landed and Kitty Baby said, “Thank you for flying with Kitty Baby Airlines. Please tell your friends about us.” God and I jumped off of her and she ran away.

“Where is she going?” I asked. “Will she come back?”

God nodded. “Don’t worry. We’ll see her again in a few minutes. Hey, do you want to see my God Cave?”

“Your God Cave?” I asked.

“Yes. You know how Batman has The Bat Cave, right? Well, I got the idea long before he did.”

God then led us into a large gathering of dozens of very huge boulders. They all looked the same except for one very large purple one. God picked it up and set it aside. I looked down into a large hole where the rock had been and saw steps leading deep down into the God Cave.

“What’s down there?” I asked.

“The answer that you’ve been seeking,” God said. “Follow me down.”

So I followed him down the very long flight of steps, all the while wondering what he meant about an answer I’d been seeking. What was he talking about?

We got to the bottom of the stairs and we were in a very large room that was full of nothing. Well, almost nothing. Kitty Baby was sitting on the floor and was leaning over some sort of square piece of paper in front of her. She was wearing granny-style glasses and was holding a small plastic bottle that had ink running out of it

It all baffled me. “I don’t understand, God. There’s nothing here. Where’s the answer you said I’ve been looking for?”

“Oh, you already have it,” God said. “You’ve had it all along.”

I nodded. “Oh, I see. I just need to look deep, deep into myself and I’ll know what to do, right?”

God laughed at me. “Where did you pick that up from? Some TV show? That’s so new-agey. No, you don’t need to look deeply into yourself. The answer you seek is right there.” He pointed at my belly and poked it with his finger. “Don’t make things harder than they need to be, Bobby. Sometimes you just have to go with your gut instinct. Believe.”

I looked down at where God had touched my belly and saw that he had gotten peanut butter on my shirt. I had never expected God to be so sloppy. “I’m not sure I believe any of this,” I said. “Honestly, sir, I’m not even sure I believe in you.”

“That’s okay if you don’t believe in me. You know what you need to believe in?”

I was pretty sure I knew this one. “Myself?” I asked.

“Bingo,” Kitty Baby yelled out. I looked over at her and she was holding the square piece of paper high above her head.

Suddenly, there was a blast of heavy wind and the next thing I knew, I was blown off the floor and was quickly flying backwards up the flight of stairs. “Remember, you already know what you want!” God and Kitty Baby said in unison.

All of a sudden I was back at my kitchen table and my wife was across from me standing next to our refrigerator. “Bobby, are you listening to me at all? You’re making this a lot harder than it needs to be.”

manlookingoutwindow“Huh? Yes, of course I’m listening to you.” I said. I had absolutely no idea what she was talking about, but I was hoping I could fake it.

“So, please make up your mind. What do you want for lunch? Vegetable soup again or something else?”

We’d been on a health-kick lately, so I was going to say the soup, but then I glanced out the window and saw a very familiar looking cat.

“Sweetheart, I’m going to pass on the soup,” I said. “I think I’ll have a peanut butter sandwich instead. I’ve kind of been wanting one for a while now.”

“No problem,” she said. “Anything else?”

I thought of something else I’d been craving. “Yes,” I said. “For dessert, could I please have a moon pie?”