Sunday, September 03, 2023

Everything I Read in August, 2023 (in brief)


96. Charlie Thorne and the Last Equation by Stuart Gibbs - Quite possibly my new favorite middle grade book by Gibbs, Charlie Thorne is a 12-year-old girl who is as brilliant as Einstein. And, that will come in handy when the CIA snatches her off a ski slope to help them find a missing equation written by Einstein himself. In the right hands, it could be a miracle. But, if someone dangerous finds it first, it will mean disaster. Charlie has used her intelligence to pile up money and her high IQ has been taken advantage of by so many people that she has no interest in much of anything but fun. She's not even all that intrigued by the challenge of finding Einstein's equation. But, as the clues stack up and Charlie realizes how useful her brain can be in a positive way, she learns that working hard and learning are not just an improvement on goofing off but the only way she and her friends in the CIA can survive. A massively plot-twisty, wild ride. This is middle grade but better than most adult thrillers I've read.

97. The Way of the Househusband, Vol 1 by Kousuke Oono - Tatsu used to be known as "The Immortal Dragon," a dangerous and deadly member of the Yakuza. But, now he spends his days cooking, cleaning, taking lessons, and playing with the cat. He still frightens people, but this is where the comedy comes in. He speaks like a criminal and people will think he's about to reach for a knife and instead he'll whip out something harmless like a coupon. He meets another former Yakuza from his disbanded family and takes him to a cooking class. He wears an apron everywhere and when he runs into other Yakuza, he shocks them by doing benign things like feeding them tea and sandwiches. There are a number of individual stories but they all add up to quite a funny read about a guy who is completely dedicated to his newer, gentler life. 

98. A Man and His Cat, #5 by Umi Sakurai - In #5, little Fukumaru looks through a glass door and sees a cat he recognizes as the cat who was in the next cage at the pet shop. But this kitty looks beat up and lost . . . and the kitty is outdoors where it doesn't belong. Worried, Fukumaru runs out the door when Mr. Kanda opens it. He wants to find his former neighbor and help. But, instead, Fukumaru becomes lost. Mr. Kanda is beside himself but spends his hours looking for Fukumaru and puts up a poster in the pet store. When the clerk who used to cuddle Fukumaru finds out he's missing, she gives him advice and joins in the search. Meanwhile, Fukumaru is getting into fights and finding that the world outside of his home is cold and cruel. But, he never stops believing that his daddy will find him. Wow, this one was a tearjerker! The author once lost his cat and there was clearly some emotion he was mining. Anyone whose beloved pet has gone missing will relate. 

99. The Way of the Househusband, Vol 2 by Kousuke Oono - In this second volume, Tatsu decides that he's becoming a little soft and decides to get back into shape. He begins by using a hula hoop in his apartment but his wife puts a stop to that and he follows the neighbors to a gym. At the gym, he is hilariously scary as his words sound like the words of a killer as he follows along with his neighbors, getting into various poses to get into shape. I can't recall if it was the first or second volume in which his cat created chaos but that was another fun scene. The cat got into everything, knocked stuff over, and as the neighbors walked in, Tatsu is covered in wine. So, the cat is also a fun addition, although often it's just peeking around doors. 

100. The Way of the Househusband, Vol 3 by Kousuke Oono - Among other stories in this volume, Tatsu runs into some of his former Yakuza family. In the usual, "This is about to be scary" scene, things become comical when the older man shows off his new dog and Tatsu's neighbors observe that that the dog is kind of skinny. The older Yakuza, also retired, says his dog hasn't been eating well. Tatsu to the rescue! He whips up a meal for the dog with clam broth and other healthy ingredients and the dog digs in. There's also a big fight with a nasty insect that I'm trying to forget about. So far, I am loving this series. I bought 6 or 7 of them (I know, I know) and read two on vacation, the third when I was too tired to move after arriving home. I think I'll save the rest to spread out and enjoy over the coming months. 

101. The Dirty Dozen by E. M. Nathanson - A fictionalized account of a real-life event in which rapists, murderers, and other criminals are released from their date with the hangman and trained for what's basically a suicide mission in occupied France during WWII, just prior to D-Day, I found the creepy, misogynistic, yucky-people factor ranked way up there with Lolita and A Simple Plan. So, it took me a month to read The Dirty Dozen because I had to take breaks from it. But, in the end it was a really good story and I'm looking forward to viewing the movie, which I've never seen, very soon. Side note: "The Filthy Thirteen", the real-life criminals who were trained and sent on a dangerous mission, were led by a man from my hometown in Oklahoma. I'm hoping there's a book about them somewhere. 

102. The River of Doubt by Candice Millard - The true story of Teddy Roosevelt's dangerous journey into the Amazon, The River of Doubt was the first selection for a new book group I was invited to join recently. I'd read about Roosevelt's trip to the Amazon in other books about the Roosevelt family, but just in passing. So, I knew about the journey but not in any detail. The River of Doubt is quite in-depth. It begins by describing how downcast the former president was, after losing his attempt at a third term as president. When he was invited on a speaking tour in South America, he looked at it as an opportunity to get away and forget about his loss. The Amazon trip was kind of tacked onto his agenda and then it became something entirely different, a trip to uncharted territory where the explorers encountered dangerous insects and animals, disease, natives who tend to kill visitors/enemies (and sometimes eat them), plus rapids and waterfalls that their dugout canoes couldn't handle, and eventually a lack of supplies. Utterly fascinating. I liked it more than the other group members, I think, but discussion was fun. 

103. Felicity by Mary Oliver - While packing up the books stacked on my library floor (I was tired of looking at them and tripping over them), I came across Felicity and set it aside in my "Read This Right Away" pile. As the title indicates, it's a happy book and mostly about the joys of being in love. There are lots of tender love poems. I personally think Mary Oliver was at her best when describing the natural world, her love of it, its harshness, etc. So, Felicity wasn't a favorite. But, you honestly can't lose with Oliver. Even a book I don't describe as a favorite was a terrific read. She was a wonder, with such a unique eye for beauty and the senses. 

104. He Started It by Samantha Downing - One of those rare books with a cover that made me think I had to read it (it looks, shall we say, explosive), I noted that the general rating was only average before I bought a copy and went for it, anyway. I have no regrets, although I am left with questions. The story is that twenty years ago, Eddie, Beth, and Portia went on a road trip with their Grandpa. One of the unanswered questions is "Why?" But, I didn't realize I never knew the why till I closed the book. Now, in the present, they're required to repeat the road trip and this time take Grandpa's ashes along. Should they fail, they won't receive their inheritance. And, it's a pretty substantial inheritance. I liked the story for the road trip/people annoying each other/weird stops/everyone's up to something aspect. To say more would give too much away but I will say I hated the ending even though I sort of predicted it (without a particular twist that did surprise me). But, I found the book compelling enough that I didn't care. I've just rewritten the ending in my head. And, I would definitely read more by Samantha Downing.

105. The Duke Gets Desperate by Diana Quincy - Raya Darvish has been corresponding with her cousin, who married a duke and was then widowed. Unfortunately, her cousin has died by the time she arrives in England for a visit. There, Raya finds that she has inherited her widowed cousin's castle. Anthony Carey, the Duke of Strickland should have inherited but his father let the entail lapse. In a classic hate-to-love trope, "Strick" falls for the beautiful Arab-American and tries to find a way to buy back his castle while Raya, who has an uncommonly sharp business acumen, is finding ways to keep the estate viable. I accepted this ARC (thanks, Avon!) because I've missed reading the occasional romance, and I really enjoyed the storyline. It's a bit spicy and I prefer clean romance that tiptoes around the bedroom but I have no problem just skimming or skipping the scenes I dislike. Fair warning: the duke likes to talk dirty so it can be a bit vulgar. I didn't care. I love stories with strong, smart women and the setting is the Gilded Age, when the nobility was struggling with the upkeep on their castles so Raya's ability to come up with money-making ideas worked well in this setting. 

106. The Way of the Househusband, Vol 4 by Kousuke Oono - The 4th volume of this hilarious manga series begins with Tatsu trying to buy a fish then chasing the cat who steals his fish until . . . well, you'll have to see what happens. As with all of these books, there are a number of stories and Tatsu is almost always wearing his apron (there's one time he actually just wears regular clothing), which hasn't yet ceased to make me smile. He shows a visitor how to cook steak like the Japanese, goes to an amusement park with his wife, and freaks people out when he speaks, including small children. I didn't think I could love any manga as much as I love the Spy X Family books but The Way of the Househusband series is every bit as fun. 

I didn't read all that much, this month (ugh, this whole year I've been reading painfully slowly, although vacation contributed, this month) but wow, did I have fun. I was trying to hold off on reading more of the Househusband books till next month but when I realized I wasn't going to finish the only book with a bookmark in it and that I kind of needed a breather from it anyway, I grabbed Vol 4 and I have no regrets. As to the rest . . . yep, I liked or loved everything. If I had to pick a favorite, it would be Charlie Thorne as I like an action-packed book and Stuart Gibbs never lets you down. But, there were no duds or DNFs, this month. 

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  1. I've read Felicity and it too wasn't my favorite although even though it wasn't a favorite it's still Mary Oliver and will be enjoyable. I agree, her nature poems are the best. Wishing a great reading month!

    1. Exactly! Not the best, but still Mary Oliver so you can't lose. :) Happy reading month to you, too, Iliana!

  2. Yakuza member becoming such a funny character seems unlikely to me, but who knows?

    1. It does seem implausible but you just have to read it to see how funny it can be. He'll sound seriously scary and you expect him to stab someone when he pulls out a knife, then he'll instead say, "And, this is how you do a proper job of cutting vegetables" or something else unexpected. It's a fun series.


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