BEST. STATE. EVER. by Dave Barry

December 10, 2018

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Florida Man Defends His Homeland

From the publisher:

New York Times bestseller—a brilliantly funny exploration of the Sunshine State from the man who knows it best: Pulitzer Prize winner Dave Barry.

We never know what will happen next in Florida. We know only that, any minute now, something will. Every few months, Dave Barry gets a call from some media person wanting to know, “What the hell is wrong with Florida?” Somehow, the state’s acquired an image as a subtropical festival of stupid, and as a loyal Floridian, Dave begs to differ.

Join him as he goes in hunt of the legendary Skunk Ape; hobnobs with the mermaids of Weeki Wachee Springs; and visits Cassadaga, the psychic capital of the world, to have his dog’s aura read (apparently, she’s “very spiritual”). Hitch a ride for the non-stop thrills of alligator-wrestling (“the gators display the same fighting spirit as a Barcalounger”), the hair-raising spectacle of a clothing-optional bar in Key West, and the manly manliness of the Machine Gun Experience in Miami.

It’s the most hilarious book yet from “the funniest damn writer in the whole country” (Carl Hiaasen, and he should know). By the end, you’ll have to admit that whatever else you might think about Florida—you can never say it’s boring.


I’m a long time Dave Barry fan. I read him when he was writing his column for the Miami Herald. I watched “Dave’s World,” the short-lived TV sitcom based on his life. I was delighted when my daughter found his books and read them all in a week, laughing the entire time. But I was surprised, and not in a good way, when I found out that the Literacy Coalition selected this book for Palm Beach County Read Together.

I had agreed to facilitate a book discussion at my library on whichever book they picked, as our publicity had to be in a couple of months before the selection was announced. After the announcement, the 20 or so regulars that attend my book discussions picked up their books, and shortly after that, began a parade of unhappy readers.

The book is cute, it definitely has its moments, but it is not, in any way, shape or form, a piece of literature in need of a discussion. One by one my book club participants returned the book and informed me they would not be attending the discussion. I understood, but my hands were tied. At the end, two of my regulars showed up, and half a dozen women who came because they thought Dave Barry would be there. Not my finest hour.

To make matters even more aggravating, the Literacy Coalition, for the entirety of this series, has made available on their website a downloadable discussion guide. But when I downloaded it, I found blurbs about the book, a brief, funny bio of Dave Barry, a handful of fun Florida facts and half a dozen Florida trivia questions. No discussion questions whatsoever. There is not a discussion question to be found for this book, and believe me, I looked. And it dawned on me that there really isn’t anything to discuss. There is no real substance here, and book discussion revolve around substance.

I didn’t love this book, which had nothing to do with the book discussion debacle. I found the essay on the Keys way too long and in need of serious editing. I liked the essay on the Villages and the one on shooting machine guns, gun hater that I am, because it was funny. But most of it just was Dave pointed out the silly things Florida is home to and the reasons people move here by the thousands. I was surprised to learn that Florida is the third most populous state in the nation so at least I learned something.

If you are a huge Dave Barry fan, then you will probably enjoy this book but then again, if you are that fan, you’ve probably already read it. And FYI, the reviews on Amazon are stellar.

12/18 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

BEST. STATE. EVER. by Dave Barry. G.P. Putnam’s Sons; Reprint edition (September 5, 2017). ISBN 978-1101982617 . 240p.

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THE DONALD J. TRUMP PRESIDENTIAL TWITTER LIBRARY

August 20, 2018

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Presented by The Daily Show with Trevor Noah; Forward by Jon Meacham

From the publisher:

As seen on The Daily Show, an illustrated portrait of the Donald J. Trump Twitter account, with analysis and “scholarly” commentary from the writers of The Daily Show and an introduction by Trevor Noah

In June 2017, just steps from Trump Tower in midtown Manhattan, The Daily Show with Trevor Noah opened The Donald J. Trump Presidential Twitter Library, a 4,000-square-foot museum space that gave the 45th president and his amazing Twitter legacy the respect they deserve. In the single weekend it was open to the public, the Library pop-up drew 7,500 visitors and had to turn away countless others.

But the Presidential Twitter Library experience should not be limited to the elite coastal few. Not fair! All citizens, even the Mexican ones, should have the chance to see Donald Trump’s tweets in their rightful context—organized and commented on in the fearless, hilarious, insightful voice of The Daily Show.

This one-of-a-kind exhibition catalog presents the Library’s complete contents, including:

• The Masterpieces: In-depth critical appreciations of history’s most important Trump tweets, from “Very Stable Genius” to “Covfefe” to “Trump Tower Taco Bowl/I Love Hispanics!”
• The Greatest Battles: @realDonaldTrump’s brutal Twitter campaigns against fellow Republicans, Diet Coke, women generally, and Kristen Stewart specifically
• Sad! A Retrospective: a compendium of the many people, events, and twists of fate that apparently made Donald Trump feel this human emotion
• Trumpstradamus: DJT’s amazing 140-character predictions—none of which came true!
• The Hall of Nicknames: the greatest of Trump’s monikers, from “Lyin’ Ted” to “Low I.Q. Crazy Mika,” accompanied by original caricature artwork
• Trump vs. Trump: You’re going to want to sit for this one. Donald Trump has sometimes been known to contradict himself.
• Always the Best: the greatest boasts of the greatest boaster of all time, ever!

Comprising hundreds of Trump tweets, and featuring a foreword by Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Jon Meacham, and even a place for readers to add their own future Trump tweet highlights—because he is making new Twitter history literally every day—The Donald J. Trump Presidential Twitter Library is a unique portrait of an artist whose masterworks will be studied by historians, grammarians, and mental health professionals for years to come.


Regular readers of this blog (and my Twitter feed) know which way my political leanings go. The only way I am surviving this presidency is by reading romance (I need the happy endings,) listening to podcasts (bless you, Crooked Media) and laughing (it beats crying.) Books like this help.

Noah introduces the book thusly:

When Donald J. Trump launched his campaign for president in 2015, I laughed at the idea. If there’s one thing I knew about Americans, it’s that they wanted their presidents to be dignified, intelligent, and black. Trump had none of these qualities. Even worse, Trump had tweets!

That made me sad, but it also made me laugh. So if you don’t find it funny, then this book probably isn’t for you.

Meacham takes his forward seriously, compares Trump to previous presidents like FDR and Woodrow Wilson, and simply nails it: “As president, he has raised narcissism to Homeric heights – a difficult thing to do when one recalls that politicians, as a species, consider public notice to be slightly more essential than oxygen.”

The illustrations are terrific, the graphs and charts intriguing and it all made me feel a little less lost in America. The old saying “misery loves company” is a proven theorem here. Thanks to Trevor Noah and the team at the Daily Show.

8/18 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

THE DONALD J. TRUMP PRESIDENTIAL TWITTER LIBRARY by The Daily Show With Trevor Noah. Spiegel & Grau (July 31, 2018). ISBN 978-1984801883. 144p.

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CALYPSO by David Sedaris

July 14, 2018

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So I broke a crown, a molar, next to another crown and they both have to be replaced. In the dentist’s waiting room, I was reading this book and laughing out loud like an idiot despite the pain in my mouth. I was reading on my phone so I don’t know what the other people in that office were thinking and I really didn’t care. There’s nothing like getting bad news and knowing at least you have a funny book to get back to. Feel free to send donations. Did I mention I need TWO crowns?!

I am a long time David Sedaris fanatic. When I worked at Borders, I stumbled across Holidays on Ice, with the original cover showing Santa standing at an urinal. I’m not sure why that cover was changed. That book has the story about when David was a Christmas Elf in a department store and NPR airs that story every year at Christmas. It still cracks me up no matter how many times I’ve heard it. I got to see him in person a few books ago at the American Library Association conference and I laughed until I cried. I probably mention all of this in every review I do of his books because, why not.

So Calypso. A friend/co-worker told me she didn’t especially like it, she thought it was very melancholy. I was shocked. Then she said maybe I’m losing my sense of humor and I assured her that she was. Yes, there are some parts of the book – dealing with his aging father, his sister’s suicide, that are sad. But even in those stories there is humor.

I loved “Your English is So Good,” in which David dreams up the idea to teach foreign business traveler’s visiting America English. He goes off on upselling, buying a magazine at the airport and being asked if he wants a bottle of water then demanding coffee, ONLY coffee, at the Dunkin’ Donuts and the cashier asks if he wants a cup. This is funny stuff! I also liked his collecting words that should be outlawed, like “awesome!”

Another fun essay is called “Little Guy” in which he laments his lack of height and wonders how tall Rock Hudson was. That leads to how his computer is always so wholesome and his sister Amy’s computer is always spewing porn no matter what question Google is asked. The essay that titled the book, “Calypso,” explains how a friend of David’s is an artist but her latest project is just finding pieces of plywood that she sees things in. Like the face on the cover of this book. Which led to a whole diatribe on his seeing various doctors while on book tour across America. The tumor stuff was unbelievable and I will leave it at that.

I loved this book and there are some Trump references in it that also made me laugh.

Thank you, Mr. Sedaris, I sure needed that.

7/18 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

CALYPSO by David Sedaris. Little, Brown and Company; 1st Edition edition (May 29, 2018). ISBN 978-0316392389. 272p.


BIG GUNS by Steve Israel

April 17, 2018

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A completely unabashed tongue-in-cheek look at American big business, big businessmen, Congress, the Senate and of course our president. I knew that this book was a comedy when I started it, but the remarks, the actions described and the characters are truly larger and a lot funnier than I expected.

The story opens with the mayor of Chicago desperate to somehow stop the myriad number of shootings and murders going on in his city. He therefore decides to push the Federal government into passing a law making firearms illegal. We know that this would infringe on our second amendment rights to carry and bare arms and commit mayhem to our hearts content so the blow back begins.

Otis Cogsworth, the wealthy owner and CEO of Cogsworth Arms company who we find enjoying a well deserved time out in the Long Island town of Asabogue, feels that such a law would interrupt his continued surge forward to becoming a multi-billionaire. He therefore directs his lobbyist Sunny McCarthy to get a Congressman to present a bill to force everyone to carry a gun. Complicating the matter, Lois Leibowitz, the mayor of Asabogue, and incidentally Sunny McCarthy’s mother, gets a law passed banning guns in her town. Cogsworth retaliates against Lois by financing an election between Jack Steele, a wealthy resident and former movie star, and her.

What happens and who does what to whom becomes the funniest set of circumstances possible. All I can say is that the reader’s stomach will be tender from laughing so much. In the midst of all the serious happenings in the world today, Big Guns should be made required reading as a necessary time out.

4/18 Paul Lane

BIG GUNS by Steve Israel. Simon & Schuster (April 17, 2018).  ISBN 978-1501118029. 320p.


MIDNIGHT CONFESSIONS by Stephen Colbert

September 5, 2017

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Co-authored with The Staff of the Late Show with Stephen Colbert

I am a long time Stephen Colbert fan, although I must admit up front that “Midnight Confessions,” the segment on the Late Show, is not my favorite bit. So I was somewhat surprised by how much I enjoyed this book, and how funny it is.

You would think if I didn’t like the segments much, I would really dislike a whole book of them but the reverse happened. Maybe because these are the best of these bits? I don’t know, but I read it rather quickly and was laughing out loud through most of it. I couldn’t resist sharing bits of it with my family, either. And I loved that they included tweets from fans with their own confessions! My personal favorite from @pjerickson, “Sometimes I make up words in order to sound more aproserial.”

Stephen Colbert has taken the show on a decidedly political/anti-Trump journey but this book does not reflect that. It is pretty much politics free, so would make a great gift for anyone, Democrat or Republican. (Maybe not strict Catholics who might find the whole confessions idea blasphemous, but what do I know.)

It’s still a bit early for holiday shopping but keep this book on your gift list. It’s a really pretty hardcover, with a padded cover and a non-book-like shape that would look pretty on a coffee table. And if you need a break from all the bad news in the world, do yourself a favor and buy this book. You’ll be glad you did.

A few favorites:

They say there’s no wrong way to eat a Reese’s, but I’m thinking a whole bag while you’re idling in the driveway is close.

I think women look great in stiletto heels, but if I were a woman and a man asked me to wear them, I would murder him with my shoes.

I’m a man in his fifties who eats like a man in his twenties who doesn’t plan to make it to his thirties.

A librarian pet peeve that I can get behind:

I have violent thoughts when people use the terms “sci-fi” and “fantasy” interchangeably.

“Oh, I love science fiction. I just read Lord of the Rings.”

I will end you.

9/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

MIDNIGHT CONFESSIONS by Stephen Colbert. Doubleday (July 11, 2017).  ISBN 978-0385541800. 304p.

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A CHILD’S FIRST BOOK OF TRUMP by Michael Ian Black

June 30, 2017

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Illustrated by Marc Rosenthal

Not sure how I missed this when it came out last year, but I found it now. Put out by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, it is much more parody than children’s book. I thought I might enjoy a little political levity while stressing out about politics but I am too far gone for this book to reach me.

WARNING: if you are a fan of the “dotty old racist”* in the White House, then this is not the book for you.

*Thank you, Jon Lovett, for this. Listen to “Lovett or Leave It, a week in review recorded in front of a live audience. It’s great,” a podcast from Crooked Media.

From the publisher:

What do you do when you spot a wild Trump in the election season? New York Times bestselling author and comedian Michael Ian Black has some sage advice for children (and all the rest of us who are scratching our heads in disbelief) in this perfectly timely parody picture book intended for adults that would be hysterical if it wasn’t so true.

The beasty is called an American Trump.
Its skin is bright orange, its figure is plump.
Its fur so complex you might get enveloped.
Its hands though are, sadly, underdeveloped. 

The Trump is a curious creature, very often spotted in the wild, but confounding to our youngest citizens. A business mogul, reality TV host, and now…political candidate? Kids (and let’s be honest many adults) might have difficulty discerning just what this thing that’s been dominating news coverage this election cycle is. Could he actually be real? Are those…words coming out of his mouth? Why are his hands so tiny? And perhaps most importantly, what on earth do you do when you encounter an American Trump?

With his signature wit and a classic picture book style, comedian Michael Ian Black introduces those unfamiliar with the Americus Trumpus to his distinguishing features and his mystifying campaign for world domination…sorry…President of the United States.

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6/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

A CHILD’S FIRST BOOK OF TRUMP by Michael Ian Black. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers (July 5, 2016). ISBN 978-1481488006. 32p.

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THEFT BY FINDING by David Sedaris

June 13, 2017

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Diaries (1977-2002)

A few years ago, David Sedaris was the closing speaker at the Public Library Association Annual Conference in Indianapolis, Indiana. I was lucky enough to attend, and got to briefly meet one of my favorite authors. But even better than just shaking his hand was listening to him speak. He is one of a very few authors that when they go on book tour, you have to purchase tickets to see him and let me tell you, totally worth it!

He read a bit from his book that was out then, Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls, which I had read and enjoyed. He spoke for a bit but then the rest of his talk, at least what I recall, was him reading from his diaries. He had a few thousand librarians laughing so hard they were crying, and I was one of them.

So when I heard this book was coming out, I was overjoyed. And this is only part 1.

Sedaris is a prodigious journaler. He has been keeping journals for most of his life and when I say keeping them, I mean not just writing but storing them so he has plenty to draw from. In fact, maybe too many. He has over 150 diaries, filled on both sides of the page with his tiny writing. He had to go through all of them to hone it down to these books. And, I’m sorry to say, some things get lost along the way.

If you’re a long time fan you won’t miss the stuff that’s missing because you’ve probably heard it before. If you are new to Sedaris, you may want to start elsewhere. Holidays on Ice is a particular favorite of mine (especially with the Santa cover if you can find it.) I especially love his audio books and if you can afford it, get the The Ultimate David Sedaris Box Set. Many an airline ride has pleasantly passed quickly listening to him read his own work.

Sedaris is an observer of life. He spent his early adulthood wandering the country, working odd jobs and dining at an IHOP nightly. He meets a lot of quirky people along the way and it is these observations, usually completely on the mark, that are the hallmark of his humor. Pay close attention or the punchlines will go rushing past you – I had to stop several times and reread a line or two. Push on through early adulthood to read about his first stint on NPR talking about being a Macy’s elf at Christmas (which is replayed annually) some jokes, recipes, and lots more. A sure bet for fans.

6/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

THEFT BY FINDING by David Sedaris. Little, Brown and Company (May 30, 2017). ISBN 978-0316154727. 528p.

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REVOLUTION FOR DUMMIES by Bassem Youssef

April 10, 2017

Laughing through the Arab Spring

If a book has a blurb from Jon Stewart , and the author is known as the “The Jon Stewart of the Arabic World” I have no choice but to read the book. So I did.

I first learned about Bassem Youssef while watching Full Frontal with Samantha Bee. And I was intrigued. A few weeks later, I stumbled across the book at my library and grabbed it.

I like learning about different cultures, and I don’t know a whole lot about Egypt. I did have a co-worker from Egypt (who has since been promoted and moved to another branch of the library) and we talked on occasion about her family and her life in Egypt and here, so I have some understanding, at least of how her family lives. But she is no revolutionary, and Youssef is. So I was happy to read a very interesting point of view from a very funny Egyptian voice.

While I appreciate his humor, the Egyptian government did not. He was threatened and arrested but eventually fled Egypt and landed in California. Youssef is not just a comedian; his first career was as a heart surgeon. Besides not knowing much about life in Egypt, I know even less about their politics. Comedy is not especially welcome by an oppressive regime, and that was not a surprise. But Youssef’s life has been extraordinary so far, brutal at times, sad for sure, but his writing style, his satire, is laugh out loud funny.

 

From the publisher:

“Hilarious and Heartbreaking. Comedy shouldn’t take courage, but it made an exception for Bassem.” –Jon Stewart

“The Jon Stewart of the Arabic World”—the creator of The Program, the most popular television show in Egypt’s history—chronicles his transformation from heart surgeon to political satirist, and offers crucial insight into the Arab Spring, the Egyptian Revolution, and the turmoil roiling the modern Middle East, all of which inspired the documentary about his life, Tickling Giants.

Bassem Youssef’s incendiary satirical news program, Al-Bernameg (The Program), chronicled the events of the 2011 Egyptian Revolution, the fall of President Hosni Mubarak, and the rise of Mubarak’s successor, Mohamed Morsi. Youssef not only captured his nation’s dissent but stamped it with his own brand of humorous political criticism, in which the Egyptian government became the prime laughing stock.

So potent were Youssef’s skits, jokes, and commentary, the authoritarian government accused him of insulting the Egyptian presidency and Islam. After a six-hour long police interrogation, Youssef was released. While his case was eventually dismissed, his television show was terminated, and Youssef, fearful for his safety, fled his homeland.

In Revolution for Dummies, Youssef recounts his life and offers hysterical riffs on the hypocrisy, instability, and corruption that has long animated Egyptian politics. From the attempted cover-up of the violent clashes in Tahrir Square to the government’s announcement that it had created the world’s first “AIDS cure” machine, to the conviction of officials that Youssef was a CIA operative—recruited by Jon Stewart—to bring down the country through sarcasm. There’s much more—and it’s all insanely true.

Interweaving the dramatic and inspiring stories of the development of his popular television show and his rise as the most contentious funny-man in Egypt, Youssef’s humorous, fast-paced takes on dictatorship, revolution, and the unforeseeable destiny of democracy in the Modern Middle East offers much needed hope and more than a few healing laughs. A documentary about his life, Tickling Giants, debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2016, and is now scheduled for major release.

Something to look forward to.

4/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

REVOLUTION FOR DUMMIES by Bassem Youssef. Dey Street Books (March 21, 2017). ISBN 978-0062446893. 304p.


FOR THIS WE LEFT EGYPT? by Dave Barry, Alan Zweibel & Adam Mansbach

March 23, 2017

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A Passover Haggadah for Jews and Those Who Love Them

My parents are gone, my children are adults and aren’t always home for the holiday, and we usually end up celebrating with friends. So I like to switch things up with new and different haggadahs, and there are many beyond the Maxwell House Coffee* Haggadah that I grew up on – and fell asleep during the long, long readings. (*free at many supermarkets for years.)

A few years ago I got the NEW AMERICAN HAGGADAH: A New Translation by Nathan Englander, edited by Jonathan Safran Foer. It is beautiful and different. There is a timeline created by Mia Sara Bruch and commentaries by Nathaniel Deutsch, Jeffrey Goldberg, Rebecca Newberger Goldstein and Lemony Snicket (really!) This is a beautiful book with gorgeous calligraphy and subtle contemporary artwork. This book is a thought provoking translation that, at least for my guests, inspired conversation and discussion of many things, from the actual Seder to contemporary politics.

But this year I am really mixing things up with this new Haggadah written by one of the funniest gentiles on the planet (Barry) and two of his Jewish and funny friends. It is laugh out loud funny and I love the illustrations, too, looking very much like 1960’s children’s book illustrations.

If you’re ready for a change and want to laugh instead of sleep through your seder, order as many copies as you need today from Amazon and you’ll have them in plenty of time for Passover. The first night is Monday, April 10th.

From the publisher:

The book you hold before you is no ordinary Haggadah. If you’ve ever suffered through a Seder, you’re well aware of the fact that the entire evening can last as long as the exodus from Egypt itself. There are countless stories, dozens of blessings, and far too many handwashings while the meal turns cold. Now prepare to be entertained by another version of the book that’s responsible for this interminable tradition.

With this hilarious parody Haggadah from the comedic minds of Dave Barry, Alan Zweibel, and Adam Mansbach, good Jews everywhere will no longer have to sit (and sleep) through a lengthy and boring Seder. In For This We Left Egypt?, the authors will be take you through every step of the Seder, from getting rid of all the chametz in your home by setting it on fire with a kosher blowtorch to a retelling of the Passover story starring Pharaoh Schmuck and a burning bush that sounds kind of like Morgan Freeman, set against the backdrop of the Promised Land―which turned out not to be a land of milk and honey but rather one of rocks and venomous scorpions the size of Yorkshire terriers. You then eat a celebratory brisket and wrap up the whole evening by taking at least forty-five minutes to say good-bye to everyone.

So gather all the Jews in your life (even the few who don’t appear to be long-suffering) and settle in for a fun way to pass the time while waiting for Elijah to show up.

I can’t wait.

3/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

FOR THIS WE LEFT EGYPT? by Dave Barry, Alan Zweibel & Adam Mansbach. Flatiron Books (March 7, 2017). ISBN 978-1250110213. 144p.


TURBO TWENTY-THREE by Janet Evanovich

December 10, 2016
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Stephanie Plum Series, Book 23

 

I still enjoy this series, but I was a bit disappointed in this latest entry. I thought last year’s Tricky Twenty-Two was the best book in years, so I was hopeful for this one. While Evanovich kept the shorter length which worked well in 22, this one felt longer. Really long.

It starts off silly, which we have come to expect and enjoy. Stephanie is out to pick up her latest bounty runner but he takes off in an ice cream truck. She causes it to stop, the subject takes off and a dead guy falls out of the back of the truck. Not just dead – frozen, dipped in chocolate and covered in nuts. A dead Bogart Bar, as it were.

Lula is back of course, and she’s hatched a plot with Randy Briggs. The two of them are creating demo tapes to submit to Naked & Afraid, the Trenton edition, with varying results. Meanwhile Ranger offers Stephanie a chance to earn extra money. She goes undercover at the ice cream factory to try and figure out what’s going on. But all she finds is another frozen body and she’s not happy about it.

Stephanie and Joe are still together, and she’s constantly tempted by Ranger as well. Her mother is ironing like mad, Grandma Mazur has a boyfriend, and all sorts of hijinx ensue.

I found the first half really slow moving but it picked up after that. The usual jokes, exploding cars and so forth abound and fans will enjoy.

12/16 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

TURBO TWENTY-THREE by Janet Evanovich. Bantam; First Edition edition (November 15, 2016).  ISBN 978-0345543004. 304p.

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