Monday, July 15, 2019

The Legend of Jake Howell by Charles Reap Jr.

This is a charming story about a young boy in 1805 who discovers gold on his family's land. And lo and behold, all of his problems are not solved! It reminded me of something I read about people who win the lottery. Apparently, more often than not they end up worse off than they were before. You know what I think about that? Bullshit! Show me the money, and I will prove that all wrong! If any of you people want to give me $62 million, I promise you that if I can not find a way to make myself happier than I am now, you will never hear from me again. You know what the problem with these lottery winners is? They're too young! If people my age won the lottery, we wouldn't possibly have enough time to screw up our lives the way young winners manage to do.

First things first - as soon as I become a millionaire, I am going to buy the Vlasic pickle company. Not because I want to own it or get free pickles or anything like that - I am going to shut that shit down! No more terrible pickles for America. Honestly, I get more crunch from the month-old celery in my fridge. Which reminds me, why the hell do I still buy celery? And all those sweet pickles? Truly an abomination. We are going to have a ritual destruction of all of them, like they did with all those disco records at baseball stadiums in the late 70s. That's right folks - Americans made musical bonfires because they thought songs like the 'Safety Dance' were the way of the future. And we wonder why the Taliban hates us.

After the great pickle cleanse, I will take my family on a tropical vacation. Not as a favor, really, but more as an act of revenge. After all those vacations where I had to play along and do what everyone else wanted, this vacation will be on my terms. None of the 'local flavor' nonsense my son-in-law is always going on about. Each day we will have a mandatory mah jongg tournament, and I don't give a shit if we happen to be in Tahiti - dinner is at an Italian restaurant and everyone gets fettuccini alfredo. Deal with it, Gerry.

Now don't get me wrong. I will perform many acts of random generosity - as many as it takes to assuage my guilt at being so rich. So there, I'm already more ethical than half the members of Congress. I may also swim in my money like Scrooge McDuck, but that's my business, so stop judging.

Monday, July 8, 2019

Come Back for Me by Heidi Perks

Big thanks to Arrow Publishing and Penguin Books for sending me an ARC of this great summer read. My bunions were really after me last week, and I had shit else to do, so I read it almost in one sitting, as I will explain in a moment. The novel moves quickly, with a plot unpredictable and twisty enough to keep most people off track. I mean, my son-in-law, for instance, won't even be able to tell you who killed whom after he's finished it, but that is admittedly a bit of a hopeless case. I, on the other hand, am a wily son of a bitch and can usually see plot twists a mile away. I know you're not supposed to promote yourself too much in a review, but to quote my second favorite Puerto Rican playwright, "I don't mean to brag, but dag, I amaze and astonish." (Yes, after that debacle, I did actually go see it, and I have to admit that I am a reluctant convert). Anyway, you've got to get up pretty early to sneak a whodunit past me. Remember The Sixth Sense? I was on that shit in scene 2!

Which leads me to another story about sniffing out a nefarious plot. While I was reading this book, really getting into a groove in my la-z-boy, I heard the unmistakable, noxious sound of skateboard wheels. The sound approached my house and then stopped. I looked out my window and briefly saw my grandson's head go past my side window. By the time I lumbered across the room to open the front door, he was gone, with no trace of his villainous deeds. He would later claim that he had seen my rake lying in the driveway and put it away in my garage, but who knows if that is true? After the stinkbugs and everything else, I had cause to assume the worst.

I'll tell you this. I was not going to wait around to let whatever plot he was hatching come to fruition. The best defense is a good offense, that's what I say. So I took action. Jackson has been dating a girl for the last few months, and from what I hear, Rachel isn't too keen on her, so I thought I might make my daughter happy while I got my preemptive revenge. I knew they would be at his friend's graduation party on Saturday, yet another party to which I was not invited. Never mind that I have known that kid literally from the day he was born or the fact that I delivered special birthday pickles to his house on multiple occasions. But I am not bitter. Not in the slightest.

So they're all at the party and what should arrive at the door, but a bouquet of roses addressed to Jackson with a note that says, "Don't worry - our secret is safe with me. Love, X." OK, I kind of wish I had been invited so I could see that shit go down. My granddaughter Tina said it was "epic." I didn't get too many details, but I did have a message from Rachel on my answering machine saying that we had to talk. Calling to thank me, no doubt.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Does It Fart? The Definitive Field Guide to Animal Flatulence by Dani Rabaiotti and Nick Caruso

First off, this is - I shit you not - an actual goddamn book written by actual scientists. Let that sink for a minute and ruin your day. That's right - while you are out there making peanuts slaving away for that supervisor that always looks at you funny, there are people making a comfortable living trying to figure out if a sea cucumber has an anus (it does). Kind of makes you question your life choices, doesn't it? Stay in school, kids! In my next life, I am going to be a seacucumberanusologist, and I am going to live that shit up.

You may wonder, is there anything actually interesting in this book? Shockingly, yes! Did you know that herring can communicate by farting? If you said yes, you are a liar and I want you off my blog immediately. If you said, no, here's another fun fact for you. A beaded lacewing can kill termites with a chemical fart. Now there's a nice conversation starter for a dinner party. Also, baby koalas eat their mothers' feces, and hyenas eat bones and have white shit. So there you have it.

My grandson gave me this book after a relevant conversation we had at a family dinner. It had something to do with the relationship between age and farting power. I was unable to find any extant research on the topic, but when Metamucil becomes a staple of your diet, what do you expect? I think he did it to shock or embarrass me, but please. The thing about teenagers is that they seem to forget that everyone older than them also used to be a teenager, and the idea that I would blink at a book about farts is ridiculous. And if someone gives me a book, I am going to read it and review it, so here we are.

If you are actually still reading this, I imagine it is because you are waiting for the summary of what farts and what doesn't. So here are a few highlights. Things that don't - jellyfish, anemones, pretty much all birds (though they are featured in the related volume, "Does it shit on your car?"), goldfish, sloths, and clams. Things that do - tortoises, buffalo, unicorns (inferred), pythons, wombats (who cares?), mongooses (not mongeese), geckos, hamsters, and humans, especially if they are familiar with my son-in-law's "authentic muffuletta sandwiches." Damn it Gerry, there is no "authentic" food that includes Oscar Meyer ham. For crying out loud.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

The Written by Ben Galley

Now be honest - if you were organizing a blog tour, would you allow me to be part of it? Hell no, you wouldn't! You're also a bad liar. I understand that I can occasionally come off as abrasive, and there is a reason why I no longer get invited to dinner parties. Besides half my friends being dead, that is. But someone screwed up and let me in here, and because of that, I got to read this wonderful book! So take that, suckers. And a big thanks to Mr. Galley, who sent me a physical copy because those electronic book machines hurt my bad eye, and also my worse eye. Which is not to mention that I can't figure out how to make them work in the first place. Did it ever occur to you people that some things do not need to be mechanically improved? That perhaps an actual physical book is the pinnacle of reading technology? Damn.

Back to the book, though. Compelling characters, and a sinuous, intriguing plot. The basic gist is that Farden, our tortured hero, instilled with powers through magical tattoos, must use his courage and 'fuck all' attitude, as well as alliances with dragons and vampires, to ferret out a plot from a nefarious and traitorous enemy. No more details, for fear of spoiling, although in fact, there were some eerie parallels to a night in college that I spent half-naked under various bushes on campus, on the run from intergalactic beings bent on condemning me to a life in the salt mines of Xergan. Of course, it turned out that I had accidentally eaten my roommate's chocolate laced with Amazonian frog venom that night, but we worked it all out the next day. I suggested that it shouldn't have been unlabeled in the back corner of the freezer in the first place, but he was unmoved. That is some expensive shit, but we were able to negotiate an appropriate exchange.

Oh, pick your jaw up off the floor, you prudes. Yes, your parents did drugs. We did drugs. Our parents did drugs. All humans did drugs, going all the way back to when people would just dig a hole in the ground and fill it with nectarines and wait for them to rot and then eat rotten nectarines to get high. So get over it. At least when we did drugs, we did things that expanded our mind and brought us closer to god and the universe. Today, kids just sit around vaping marijuana juice, and the only things they get closer to are bags of flaming hot Cheetos and diabetes. So you can add that to the list of things our generation did better than yours. It's a long list, snowflakes!

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Pimp My Airship by Maurice Broaddus

What the hell, people? Am I the last person in the goddamn universe to find out about "steampunk?" Even the most ignorant people I know are already up on this. My son-in-law told me that steampunk is "the most honest form of American literature." I mean, Jesus, Gerry, do you even hear yourself when you say shit like that? I swear to God. My grandson apparently went to Halloween last year dressed as a steampunk, and even my granddaughter stopped her conversation with a squirrel long enough to tell me that she thought I would have known about this by now. Well, thanks everyone. You're all a huge help, as always. However, due to the kindness of Lesley Connor over at Apex Publishing, I got to read this steampunk novel, and now I know that I like it! Or at least, I liked this one. Lots of action, witty one-liners, good characters, and some poignant social and political allegory. Still, I have a few questions.

Honestly, I'm not sure I understand what steampunk even is. First off, are we in the past or the future?  I mean, I can read the dates, but still. Second, there is clearly steam everywhere, but where is the punk? I asked my grandson about that, since he is the punk that I know best, and he said that if I couldn't figure it out, then I am more senile than he thought. That stung a bit, but touché, Jackson. Third, why does everyone dress like that? And fourth, if you write a novel but just change the available technology, does that count as a whole new genre? If so, I have a few ideas.

New genre number 1: futuristic space world sagas, except the only way to make fire is by rubbing sticks together. I call it Science Friction™. Now hold up a minute. I don't want to hear any shit from you people about making dad jokes. I was making dad jokes before you were born. I am incapable of shame. New genre number 2: explicit romance novels, only all technology related to sex toys is guarded by a reclusive family of bears. I call it Bearotica™. New genre number 3: Derivative novels from popular fantasy series, only they are all set in Houston in August and there is no air conditioning. I call it Fan Fiction™. I trust that none of these genre names have been taken, and I encourage all you writer types to get started. However, I have trademarked all the names, so you will all owe me big time royalties. It's not too late for me to make my millions!

Monday, June 10, 2019

The Library Book by Susan Orlean

This book brought waves of nostalgia as it recalled two of the favorite things of my youth - libraries and setting shit on fire. I thought it was going to be a crime drama, but even better than the story of the arson investigation was the amazing history of the Los Angeles library and the description of the myriad things libraries are up to now. When I was a kid, the library in my town had a single librarian, Mrs. Peters, and she was a force to behold. She was grandmotherly in a way, often giving candy to us kids (as long as we returned our books on time), but if you were too loud, she would smack you on the arm with a long, flat stick that read, "Mama knows." And she sure as hell did. But if you got smacked, you knew you deserved it and you just shut up and moved on. Can you imagine what would happen if one of these snowflake children got hit by a librarian nowadays? Lawsuits, newspapers, insufferable parents bemoaning their poor victimized angel. Give me a god damn break.

The closest anyone got to setting our library on fire was when Eddie Walker tried to smoke a cigarette in the back corner and threw it into a garbage can when Mrs. Peters started walking over. She put the kibosh on that, and I will spare you the description of what she did to him. Looking back on things, I can recognize that Eddie was not a great influence, but we all sure loved him at the time. Mostly because we knew that if we turned up in his backyard after school, he would be burning things. Among things I can recall him lighting on fire are the following: newspapers, homework, piles of leaves, books (sorry Mrs. Peters), pornographic photos, a telephone directory, our math teacher's brassiere (no actual proof of ownership), a flag from an unidentified country (assumed to be an enemy of the US), his report card, the report card of any other kid not too chicken to hide it from his parents, stuffed dolls, electricity bills, his sister's diary (allegedly - we were not allowed to read it due to his concern for her privacy), the carcass of a raccoon, and unopened mail. Good times.

I asked my grandson about the librarian at his school, and he told me that she "gives no fucks." In truth, I have no idea what that even means, but I got the impression that she and I would get along. Of course, I have also heard him use that phrase to describe three other teachers at his school, his friend's mom, the guy behind the cash register at Culver's, a ferret, and himself. I told my daughter that I was concerned about his foul language, and she told me to look in the mirror. I replied that I saw a dapper gentleman who uses curse words sparingly, purposefully, and to convey important and subtle meaning not otherwise available. She said that was bullshit, and I told her I could see that the apple didn't fall far from the tree. She gave me a queer look at that, laughed to herself, and left the room, which I interpreted as an admission of guilt. Another point for me!

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Getting By: Understanding Lifelong Depression by Jack Trelance

So I was sitting in my la-z-boy enjoying my ginner (that's what I call it when instead of eating dinner, I just drink gin), when I heard an unfamiliar knock at my door. I was engrossed in this well-written confessional memoir about mental health, which traces the long history of symptoms and treatment of Mr. Trelance. He does well to convey the intensity of his experience without being maudlin, and there was a lot to learn from and to relate to. Thus, I was in no mood to be interrupted, and since I recognize the knock of the few people I would willingly allow into my house, I knew it was a stranger who was about to receive my fury.

It turned out to be a young bubbly do-gooder with a hemp necklace, Birkenstocks, and a clipboard. I've got a couple standard ways of handling people like this. Option 1 is the hard of hearing route. I let them start their spiel and repeatedly say "What was that?" or "Eh?" and see how loud I can get them to talk. Then, when they are inappropriately loud, I yell, "Quit screaming at me, you hooligan!" and I shut the door. Option 2 is the lost my marbles route. I keep saying, "Tell me more!" and encourage them to go on and on about their cause and then hit them with a deadpan "Are you my grandson?" or "Where's my soup?" That usually gets them on to the next house in a hurry, and their reward is having to deal with Margaret and her schnauzer.

But for some reason this time I was off my game. The kid was selling memberships to public television, which is all well and good, and my mind was wandering between the poignant scene in the book I was reading and that time when Fred Rogers went to Congress and convinced some mustachioed doofus not to end the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. I thought back momentarily on how my kids used to watch public television all those years ago, and I offhandedly said, "Oh, thanks, but I'm already a member." "Great!" he says, "I can look that up right here." Damn it! What a rookie mistake. Far below my standards. It took him about 9 seconds to look up my address and figure out that I was not a member. But he played it smoothly. "Must have been public radio," he says, chuckling. "Must have been," I reply. But I'm rattled at that point, and I go with the next worst lie possible - "I think I donated at work." "Great!" he says, "Where do you work?" Now I know what I look like, and we both knew I was well past the age of gainful employment. Umm....I'm a greeter at the morgue? Backup cryptkeeper? Model for people learning to paint rhino skin? And it was way too late for the hard of hearing or lost my marbles ruse. This damn hippie was beating me at my own game.

I was nearly out of options, and out of pure desperation I just gave an indefinite cry of discomfort, put my hand across my stomach, mumbled "Excuse me," and backed out of the doorway, shutting and locking the door. I was embarrassed at my JV performance, but consoled myself by going back to my book and my gin. But not 5 minutes later, more pounds at the door! I was really going to read the kid the riot act this time, but when I opened the door, it was paramedics! The damn fool thought I was having a heart attack and called an ambulance! Now I was really pissed. I insisted that I was fine, but they made me go through all kinds of tests, and all the while, he was lurking in the background, still thinking he could make the sale! I told one of the beefy medics to thank him for his concern and tell him to move along, and eventually he went. After what seemed like an eternity, the main doc said "Is there anything else we can do for you, sir?" I was truly at a loss for words at that point, and the only reply I could manage was, "Where's my soup?"