Are We Having Fun Yet?

Are We Having Fun Yet?Are We Having Fun Yet?
by Lucy Mangan
Rating: ★★★★½
isbn: 9781788161084
Publication Date: November 1, 2021
Pages: 303
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Souvenir Press

From the deep rage of knowing where to find every single thing your husband is looking for to the joy of a friend's longed-for pregnancy, here is the pleasurable stab of fellow feeling you get over drinks with friends. Liz records her ups and downs, including the love of a good cat (up), not being able to find a babysitter (secret up) and the question of what 'we' really means when it comes to fixing the dishwasher (definitely, definitely down).

Spiky, charming and most of all loving, it's a hilarious skewering of the sweetness and nightmare that is modern family life.


This book is the literary equivalent of those visual illusions that psychologists try to hang meaning on depending on what you see – like the one that’s either an old woman or a candlestick.  Or is it an old woman / young woman?  Anyway, whatever, you know what I mean.

As someone who is voluntarily childless, this book was a hilarious – and I mean laugh-out-loud hilarious – justification that my decision to stick with the furry and feathered walks of life, rather than replicating my own DNA, was the right decision for me (and MT, who came to the same decision long before we met).  Her kids are hysterical, but they’re hard work and are constantly opening up avenues of conversation that I’d hurt myself to avoid having.  Mangen’s descriptions of child birth should be required reading in human development classes as psychological birth control.  I was made to be an Aunt.

There was another – unintended, I’m certain – consequence this book had for me, one that is again tied, I’m equally certain, to our choice to stick with non-human family members, and that’s the lack of suppressed rage that lies as an undercurrent in Liz and Richard’s marriage, that I recognise in the marriages of my friends with children.  It’s not all chocolates and roses here at chez zoo by a long shot, but without the stress and pressure of making new humans that will hopefully treat the world better than we have, MT and I have experienced more fun than festering resentment.  Of course, I also recognise the near-miracle that he’s one of the 1 in 100,000 men who seem to have been raised without the ingrained gender biases and learned helplessness most are saddled with when it comes to matters of home keeping.  Still, the book really gave me a few moments of “do you really appreciate how lucky you are? really, truly?“, which I think constitutes healthy self-reflection.

Putting all that aside, I have to figure out how to get my sister-in-law to read this, because, as the mother of 2, she will appreciate this book for all the opposite reasons: because Lucy Mangen wrote her truth, and she will laugh as she nods her neck stiff in righteous agreement of the trials and tribulations of an all-human family of 4.

I read so much of this out loud to MT (honestly, it’s almost been a nightly story-time around here lately) that he actually insisted I rate this 4.5 stars.  As he said, it made us both laugh out loud and the writing was excellent (which gives you an indication of how much I read out loud; he was able to judge the quality of the writing).  I’d been thinking more 4 stars, but since he put up with all the reading out loud, I acquiesced.

If you need a laugh, you won’t go wrong with this one.

This Charming Man (Stranger Times, #2)

This Charming ManThis Charming Man
by C.K. McDonnell
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781787633384
Series: Stranger Times #2
Publication Date: February 15, 2022
Pages: 499
Genre: Fantasy, Fiction
Publisher: Bantam Press

Vampires do not exist. Everyone knows this. So it's particularly annoying when they start popping up around Manchester . . .

Nobody is pleased about it. Not the Founders, the secret organisation for whom vampires were invented as an allegory, nor the Folk, the magical people hidden in plain sight who only want a quiet life. And definitely not the people of Manchester, because there is nothing more irksome than being murdered by an allegory run amok. Somebody needs to sort this out fast before all Hell really breaks loose - step forward the staff of The Stranger Times.

It's not like they don't have enough to be dealing with. Assistant Editor Hannah has come back from getting messily divorced to discover that someone is trying to kidnap a member of their staff and while editor Vincent Banecroft would be delighted to see the back of any of his team, he doesn't like people touching his stuff - it's the principle of the thing.

Throw in a precarious plumbing situation, gambling debts, an entirely new way of swearing, and a certain detective inspector with what could be kindly referred to as 'a lot of baggage' and it all adds up to another hectic week in the life of the newspaper committed to reporting the truth that nobody else will touch.


Still a lot of fun, but not as enthralling as the first book, The Stranger Times.  Part of that, I suspect, is that it’s hard to maintain momentum over 500 pages.  The story never dragged, but it just lacked the snap the first one had.

Which makes it sounds back-handed, and I don’t mean it to; the book may have been 500 pages, but I devoured it over two days.  The writing was excellent, the plot was really good – relevant, creepy in both a supernatural and natural way – and the characters continue to charm (or not) with their eccentricities.  Because the story is told from multiple perspectives (3rd person always), the reader is able to connect a few dots before the Stranger gang can as they investigate why vampires are suddenly springing up all over Manchester when everyone agrees they’re the one thing that doesn’t exist, but not so much as to be frustrating – and when it all comes together, it’s all rather more appalling that I was expecting.

The author leaves plenty of scope for the third book; the editor of the paper is left hanging with a haunting message from beyond the veil, and nobody knows, or wants to know, what Stella is, except for Stella herself.  And the newspaper still has no bathroom.

Lots to look forward to in the next book, unfortunately, I’ll be looking forward until sometime in 2023.

The Stranger Times (Stranger Times #1)

The Stranger TimesThe Stranger Times
by C.K. McDonnell
Rating: ★★★★½
isbn: 9780552177344
Series: Stranger Times #1
Publication Date: January 6, 2022
Pages: 425
Genre: Fantasy, Fiction
Publisher: Penguin Books

There are dark forces at work in our world (and in Manchester in particular), so thank God The Stranger Times is on hand to report them . . .

A weekly newspaper dedicated to the weird and the wonderful (but mostly the weird), it is the go-to publication for the unexplained and inexplicable.

At least that's their pitch. The reality is rather less auspicious. Their editor is a drunken, foul-tempered and foul-mouthed husk of a man who thinks little of the publication he edits. His staff are a ragtag group of misfits. And as for the assistant editor . . . well, that job is a revolving door - and it has just revolved to reveal Hannah Willis, who's got problems of her own.

When tragedy strikes in her first week on the job The Stranger Times is forced to do some serious investigating. What they discover leads to a shocking realisation: some of the stories they'd previously dismissed as nonsense are in fact terrifyingly real. Soon they come face-to-face with darker forces than they could ever have imagined.


Ok, I wasn’t sure I’d like this, but it was a lot of fun.

I’m always drawn to stories about a ‘ragtag band of misfits’ (I love The Awkward Squad series and am anxious for a third one to be published in translation), and the premise of a newspaper dedicated to the weird and wonderful happenings in the world was a definite draw.  But I know nothing about C.K. McDonnell, and though I thoroughly enjoy the dry British sense of humour, I was hesitant about what a male comedian might do with it.  Let’s face it: the British can do great ha-ha humor, but they also excel in humor with a nasty, violent edge to it.

I needn’t have worried.  There’s an edginess to the writing that’s reminiscent of Guy Ritchies early movies (Snatch) but it’s balanced with laugh-out-loud moments more reminiscent of Yes, Prime Minister.  There were excerpts I couldn’t help but read out loud to MT, leaving him a bit miffed; he has no tolerance for the supernatural in his reading, otherwise he’d be reading this next.

The story bounces between the staff at the newspaper and the doings of the shady American in town, the former completely in the dark about what’s going on, and the latter driving them.  It all dovetails into a climax that’s awfully close to a Scooby Doo episode, but it was all good fun.

The writing was good, but McDonnell excels at the dialog, which is acerbic, crackling and fast-paced.  There’s a second book out, This Charming Man and I eyed it when I bought this one, but decided to be cautious.  I had a feeling I’d regret that, and now I’m off to find out how soon I can get my hands on it.

The Big Over Easy Re-read (Nursery Crimes, #1)

The Big Over EasyThe Big Over Easy
by Jasper Fforde
Rating: ★★★★★
Series: Nursery Crimes #1
Publication Date: January 1, 2005
Pages: 398
Genre: Fantasy, Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton

 

My original review pretty much sums up my general feelings about this book.  I still think it’s the most highly quotable book I’ve read, I still think the satire is spot-on, both of the media and murder mysteries and I still think Prometheus adds just that little something of surprise depth to the narrative, if only briefly.

Re-reading it, it’s held up perfectly.  Fforde’s amazing at writing these intricate plots and clever dialog, but it’s all the small details that continue to leave me gobsmacked.  The excepts at the opening of each chapter, the small jokes and wordplays scattered in the text, and the “ads” at the back of the book all are unnecessary to the plot, but make the book all the richer for their inclusion.

Though I gave it, and stand by doing so, 5 stars, the heinous plot revealed in the mystery is gross in that way that British humor excels at.  Gross and sublimely silly.  Which makes the story better, in spite of the “UGH, yuck!” moments towards the end.

 

I read this for Halloween Bingo 2021’s Noir square.  It’s not a traditional fit, but there’s a clear argument that along with satirising mysteries and the press, there’s a very noir-satire vibe in the story,

Agnes and the Hitman re-read

Agnes and the HitmanAgnes and the Hitman
by Jennifer Crusie
Rating: ★★★★½
isbn: 9780312363048
Publication Date: August 21, 2007
Pages: 368
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: St. Martin's Press

 

I recently read Wild Ride by the same two authors for a Halloween Bingo square, and it made me want to re-read my very favorite Crusie of all time.  I reviewed it back in 2014, which can be found here, but even then it was a re-read and I don’t have any notes from my original reading.

But it really doesn’t matter, because this book is just as good the 5 or 6th time as it was the first time.  Hilarious, not at all realistic, yet believable, and at its heart, endearingly sweet in a way that only a mafia related killing spree can be.

Agnes is engaged and they’ve bought the house of her dreams from her BFF’s mother, where she and her soon-to-be are going to write cookbooks and cater fabulous events.  The first event is part of the mortgage contract: throw a fabulous wedding at the house for Agnes’ goddaughter and the previous owner’s grand-daughter in exchange for the first 3 months of payments.

Easy, until someone comes in one night to steal her dog at gunpoint.  Agnes, who has a history of anger management issues, hits him with a frying pan, knocking him through the wall into an unknown (to her) basement.  She calls her old friend Joey (the Gent) who, hearing what happened and seeing the basement, calls in his nephew, Shane, a government black-op.  He comes to protect Agnes and find out who wants the dog, and why.

Meanwhile, the bride’s grand-mother seems determined to relocate the wedding to the country club, and everything that can go wrong with the wedding preparations does.   Through it all Agnes just keeps cooking and planning and fixing, refusing to allow anything to stand in her way of having this wedding, not even the dead bodies.

It’s a fast paced read, with no slow spots.  It’s a huge amount of fun, and as I said before it’s not at all realistic, but the relationships are feel believable.  Even the instant attraction between Shane and Agnes.  I continue to absolutely love this book as one of the ultimate comfort reads on my shelves.

 

I re-read this just because I wanted to, but it fits for Halloween Bingo’s Terror in a Small Town square, so I’m going with that.  It’s set in Keyes, South Carolina a tiny (fictional) town that’s home to half the Jersey mob’s family (the retired half) and is beset with a string of murders that leaves a body count somewhere around 7.

Wild Ride

Wild RideWild Ride
by Bob Mayer, Jennifer Crusie
Rating: ★★★½
isbn: 9780312533779
Publication Date: March 15, 2010
Pages: 351
Genre: Fantasy, Fiction
Publisher: St. Martin's Press

 

This was the last book Jennifer Crusie wrote that I hadn’t yet read (except for the Temptation books; I started Welcome to Temptation  and something turned me off and I never finished it).  It’s a co-wriiten book with Bob Meyer, and their previous effort Agnes and the Hitman is one of my all time favourite good-time reads.

But I avoided this one for years because I’m not a fan of carnivals and amusement parks as story settings.  Stephen King might have ruined this for me, but there’s just something WAY too creepy and seedy about them in books.  Nevertheless, I had bought this and after years of languishing in a forgotten corner of the TBR, I found it just in time for Halloween Bingo, and the setting was perfect.

Mary Alice (Mab) is just finishing up a massive restoration of an early 1920’s amusement park, putting on one of the last touches, when she’s attacked by a giant iron clown that calls her by name.  The owners of the park seen unsurprised, though they pass it off as a hallucination.  Soon, however, there’s no escaping the truth:  the park is the prison for 5 untouchable demons (all from the Etruscan mythology, it seems) and two have escaped.  It’s up to Mab and her fellow Guardia to re-capture them and keep the other three from escaping.

Believe me when I say there is nothing deep or philosophical about this book.  It’s pure silliness and funnel cake fun.  It’s not nearly as well plotted or written as Agnes and the Hitman, but it’s well written enough that it kept me reading and the eye rolling only happened a few times.

I doubt I’ll ever re-read this again, though it did make me want to climb that ladder to grab Agnes for a re-read.

 

I read this for Halloween Bingo 2021.  It’s a perfect fit for the Creepy Carnivals square, which is really my Stone Cold Horror square – I used my Transfiguration Spell card,  as it’s chock full of demons (including minions that possess teddy bears and characters ripped completely from Small World) and it takes place entirely within the grounds of the Fun Fun Amusement Park.

Fortune and Glory – Tantalizing Twenty-seven (Stephanie Plum, #27)

Fortune and Glory: Tantalising Twenty-SevenFortune and Glory: Tantalising Twenty-Seven
by Janet Evanovich
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781472246196
Series: Stephanie Plum #27
Publication Date: November 10, 2020
Pages: 304
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Headline Review

When Stephanie's beloved Grandma Mazur's new husband died on their wedding night, the only thing he left her was a beat-up old easy chair... and the keys to a life-changing fortune.

But as Stephanie and Grandma Mazur search for Jimmy Rosolli's treasure, they discover that they're not the only ones on the hunt. Two dangerous enemies from the past stand in their way-along with Gabriela Rose, a dark-eyed beauty with a taste for designer clothes.

Stephanie may be in over her head, but she's got two things that Gabriela doesn't: an unbreakable bond with her family and a stubborn streak that will never let her quit.

She'll need both to survive because this search for "fortune and glory" will turn into a desperate race against time with more on the line than ever before.


Let’s take it as read that this 27th instalment is in most ways exactly like the first 26th.  Nowadays, there’s something comforting in a series being an ‘old reliable’ and the Plum series can always be counted on for Grandma Mazur defying her age, Lulu doing something outrageous, and at least one FTA that’s a total nut-job.

But I especially enjoyed this one because there was 100% more Ranger than there have been the past however many books, and while I like both of the male characters, I especially like Ranger and his ability to allow Stephanie to fly her flag of tenacious ineptitude with an astonishing degree of equanimity.  He never tries to change her or thwart her and he supplies her with an endless number of cars to destroy in new and creative ways.  You have to like that in a man.

I also enjoyed the treasure hunt, though it often got lost in the larger scheme of Stephanie’s what-am-I-doing-with-my-life rift, which if anything in this series is getting old, it’s this.  I’m not one that insists she chose one man over the other, or that she even choose at all, but I would be exceedingly happy if she’d just come to terms with who she is and own it.  I have faith that Evanovich could make this happen without altering the foundation of the series.

I enjoyed the ending quite a bit and I enjoyed the parallels to Indiana Jones, even though realistically they were weak; I love that Stephanie chose Indiana Jones over Lara Croft, though I can’t exactly say why, as I like and admire both characters.  Probably the academic bent is what puts IJ in the lead, though I’m digressing.

Anyway – another fun book in a series that’s dependable in the best ways; I have other series to read when I want to be surprised, or challenged, but I love Plum because I can count on a laugh or three, endearing characters, and a rollicking fun adventure.

Murder by Death: The book that was based on the movie that inspired the blog name

Murder by DeathMurder by Death
by H.R.F. Keating, Neil Simon
Rating: ★★★★½
isbn: 0352397276
Publication Date: January 1, 1976
Pages: 176
Genre: Mystery
Publisher: Star Books

Novelization of the screen play by Neil Simon. Various "famous sleuths" (or their somewhat thinly disguised copies) are invited by a mysterious millionaire to stay at his house and solve a who-dun-it, with the winner getting millions.


 

I re-read this almost perfectly brilliant book, based on the absolutely brilliant movie, for Halloween bingo’s Dark and Stormy Night square.

If you haven’t seen the movie, written by Neil Simon and released in the 1970’s, and you’re a fan of classic mysteries and oddball humor, you’re missing out on a classic.  It’s brilliantly written and brilliantly casted.  It’s an homage and a spoof, so if spoof’s aren’t your thing, skip it, you’ll be disappointed.  It’s the original Clue! only the characters are based on Nick and Nora, Miss Marple, Sam Spade, Hercule Poirot, and Charlie Chan.

The book was written to be a faithful reproduction of the movie, though H.R.F. Keating uses the opportunity of the written word to name drop additional authors like Conan Doyle and Sayers.  And it is an exact, faithful reproduction of the movie – until the last 5 short paragraphs where Keating, apparently, couldn’t help himself and changed the ending.  It’s a small thing, but it sets my teeth on edge because it’s a sop.

Still, I cherish this book as I do the movie.  I just need to stop at the fifth to last paragraph.

Ink & Sigil (Sigil Agents, #1)

Ink & SigilInk & Sigil
by Kevin Hearne
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781984821256
Series: Ink & Sigil #1
Publication Date: August 25, 2020
Pages: 336
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Publisher: Del Ray Books

Al MacBharrais is both blessed and cursed. He is blessed with an extraordinary white moustache, an appreciation for craft cocktails—and a most unique magical talent. He can cast spells with magically enchanted ink and he uses his gifts to protect our world from rogue minions of various pantheons, especially the Fae.

But he is also cursed. Anyone who hears his voice will begin to feel an inexplicable hatred for Al, so he can only communicate through the written word or speech apps. And his apprentices keep dying in peculiar freak accidents. As his personal life crumbles around him, he devotes his life to his work, all the while trying to crack the secret of his curse.

But when his latest apprentice, Gordie, turns up dead in his Glasgow flat, Al discovers evidence that Gordie was living a secret life of crime. Now Al is forced to play detective—while avoiding actual detectives who are wondering why death seems to always follow Al. Investigating his apprentice’s death will take him through Scotland’s magical underworld, and he’ll need the help of a mischievous hobgoblin if he’s to survive.


The first book in a new series that takes place in the same world as the Iron Druid Chronicles, I’d heard two completely opposite views on it before I picked it up: one saying it was great, and hilarious, and the other calling it woefully juvenile.

Having read the book myself I can say: yes.   Maybe not woefully juvenile, but the humor is heavily scatalogical in places and it’s clear the author prefers his jokes to be of the earthier, less-sophisticated variety.  They weren’t my definition of funny, but I didn’t find them offensive either.

The story itself was enjoyable, though a little heavy handed thematically.  It’s a credit to the author that he uses his story space to confront a problem that gets very little serious time: the trafficking of humans, using both the fae-trafficking plot line, as well as the sub-plot of Al learning more about the human side, and doing his part to stop it and advocate for its victims.  But it, like the humor in the book, isn’t subtle.  He has a point, and a message, and he’s going to make sure his readers don’t miss it.

There’s a lot of story-building in this first book, with a couple of chapters devoted just to how Al met his business manager/battle seer, Nadia, and the flow is a bit wandering.  It works, but I noticed it; I was never actively bored while reading it, but I had mind space to notice that the story wasn’t very linear or fast-moving.

I have this 4 stars because the sum is greater than its parts.  The things I spoke about above, taken by themselves, would be turn-offs, but as a whole, the story was enjoyable.  I don’t regret buying a hardcover copy, and I’ll happily read the next one.  Though I will also hope the humor that the humor, along with the whiskey Al so dearly loves, matures.

I read this for Halloween Bingo 2020, to fulfil the Spellbound square, which is not on my card, but I used my transfiguration spell card to change from American Horror Story.

The Tao of Martha: My Year of LIVING; Or, Why I’m Never Getting All That Glitter Off of the Dog

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and I laughed so hard I shook in several places.

 

I’m not quite sure what I expected this book to be – funny, I knew – but I think I was expecting more of a piss-take; Jen would try some specific Martha project, mayhem would ensue and she’d write about it. While some of that took place (Easter Eggs – which make me laugh so hard I almost fell off the bed), I was delightfully surprised that this was a year-long project that she took seriously and with the sincere hope that seeing the project through would improve her life in some tangible way.

 

I loved her conversational style of writing and as I am within a year or so of her age-wise and our lifestyles are similar, I could relate to a lot of what she was writing about. I was really angry when I realized what was happening to Maisie, as I don’t read books that make me cry. I’ve been where they were with our cats and have gone to extraordinary lengths to see them well. I’ll just leave off by saying that was truly the only low point of the book and I give her props for being able to write about the whole thing with grace and sincerity without being overly maudlin.

 

This was the first book I’ve read by Jen Lancaster, but it certainly won’t be the last.