Tag Archives: Book Review

A half dozen books worth reading with your friends, and one terror you might want to skip

It’s been a while since I’ve posted a book review, and thanks to my family’s book club, I’ve read a lot of books outside the genre of memoir.

I’m a fan of memoir, if you’ve forgotten, mostly because I love stranger-than-fiction true stories and because those are the types of stories I write. Writers read, and so I gravitate to the kind of stories I aspire to write. But fiction tantalizes the memoirist’s mind, too, with beautiful writing and pulse-pounding plots, so I appreciate this book club filled with my mom, sister, aunt, uncle and cousins who think highly of science fiction, mysteries and thrillers.

If you’re looking for a book to recommend to your book club, you might like one of these. Or if you’re casting about for a way to connect with your relatives, you might consider forming a book club. I’ve found that even better than any of the books we’ve read is the comradery generating by our monthly Zoom conversations.

My sister chose The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics right before last summer’s Olympic games in Tokyo. This book, a true story written in third person, sparked my interest in the curious sport of rowing. After reading it, your pectorals will hurt, too. Author Daniel James Brown relied on the diaries and memories of the crew members to create this intimate look inside a gold medal run. His research is detailed and compelling. Even knowing how it ends, I was mesmerized. It’s an underdog story because, at the time at least, most crew rowers came from elite eastern and British universities. But this team was built at the University of Washington of the sons of loggers, shipyard workers and farmers. The story also sheds brilliant light on the Great Depression and the 1936 Berlin Olympics. I gave this book an “amazing” rating.

The (Other) You by the well-known novelist Joyce Carol Oates was less compelling. I chose this book of short stories on the recommendation of a writer friend. The prose is quite lovely, but I think writers will find it more interesting than readers of mass market fiction. The (Other) You explores the other lives the characters might have led if they’d made different choices. My favorite story in the collection was “The Bloody Head” because I could imagine being the narrator who didn’t want to be bothered by her husband’s urgent-in-his-own-mind emergency. Besides the through-line of alternative realities, Oates weaves together a couple of settings that are like video game Easter eggs; readers will get that “aha! I’ve found it!” feeling when they run across them. Many of the stories have less than satisfying endings that reminded me of Alice Munro’s writing. If you like her short stories, you’ll appreciate this book.

The One: A Novel is classified as a thriller, and it’s the sort of intriguing book that makes you think about destiny, soul mates and, well, what compels a serial murderer. I didn’t like that part; grisly crime scenes and getting inside the mind of a sicko are not my jam, but still, The One is fascinating. My cousin chose this book. It is set in the real world, but there’s a little science fiction element in concept that every person on the planet can find their genetically perfect match with a DNA test. Author John Marrs tells the story from the perspective of five people who are matched through this genetic discovery. All of the pairings have pitfalls of one sort or another, some more dire than others. I gave this an “I really liked it” rating on Goodreads.

After Joyce Carol Oates’ short stories in The (Other) You, I wasn’t too keen on spending time with Emily C. Skaftun’s Living Forever & Other Terrible Ideas, but her “eerie, unsettling, and occasionally zany” collection (so said Publisher’s Weekly) took me in. Skaftun personifies lawn ornaments, tells a frozen head’s life story and inhabits a sentient text message, and that’s just in the first handful of stories. In the story of the sentient text message, “Only the Messenger,” Skaftun creates alternative, ungendered pronouns: “ze, zim and zir”; I’d never heard of that before, but it’s so much more elegant than referring to an individual as “they, them and their.” My cousin chose this freaky little bit of literature, and I honestly enjoyed reading one of the stories every night before falling asleep; it would be a great October choice for a book club. I got a little bit of creepy without going full-blown horrifying, and I appreciated Skaftun’s approach to endings: she actually gave me closure most of the time. This book garnered an “amazing” rating from me.

However, I hated State of Terror with a white-hot intensity I usually reserve for computer snafus (the kind where I’m yelling and pounding the keyboard with my fist instead of my fingertips). This thriller was co-written by Louise Penny and Hillary Rodham Clinton. Yes, that HRC. I didn’t hate the book because of her political leanings though (be mindful the 1-star ratings on Amazon and Goodreads; most of those haters didn’t actually read the book). I actually encouraged my aunt to choose this book when she was offering up options for her choice because I thought Clinton’s experiences as a U.S. Secretary of State would infuse the story with some reality, but no. State of Terror aptly describes the reading experience because every single chapter ends with some of sort of terrifying cliffhanger that is resolved more or less quickly and unsatisfyingly in the next chapter. The secretary of state in this story speaks non sequiturs like “Jesus wept” in response to being informed Pakistan is a nuclear power. Huh? And she blackmails the Russian dictator in this story with fake news (!) of him being a child predator. And it works. Really? Our character based on Vladimir Putin who has no shame in poisoning agents in other countries or invading defenseless neighbors would care about being called a molester? Nope. Couldn’t swallow that plot point. The acknowledgments describing how State of Terror came about were interesting, I can say that much (also, they signaled the end of the slog). Louise Penny may be a fine writer of other books, and I know I’ve appreciated better non-fiction outings from Clinton, but this book stank.

Even as a kid, I remember my dear mother absorbed in reading books, so I know she’s a connoisseur of mysteries from way back, and she chose one of her favorites when it was her turn to pick a read: A Noise Downstairs: A Novel by Linwood Barclay. This is a murder mystery, but not the murder you think it is in the beginning. There’s also a paranormal element to the story: a possessed typewriter that types by itself! What writer wouldn’t love that! The very clever plotting and characterizations truly will have you guessing until the end. However, even I, a lover of words, might quibble with some of the unnecessary description (“Charlotte got ahead of Paul, turned back the bolt, opened the door, and held it for her husband.” Really? You needed all that to say “she opened the door”?). A Noise Downstairs earned an “I really liked it” rating from me.

The last book we read—the end of these reviews so to speak—was Ender’s Game, a classic piece of award-winning science fiction from Orson Scott Card, who subsequently wrote a number of sequels. This book, chosen by my cousin’s deep-thinking mate, told the story of a kid genius named Ender who was being groomed to command Earth’s military force for a potentially world ending war with the Buggers, an alien race that communicates almost telepathically. Card does a masterful job of describing zero-gravity war games and, in a bit of a prophetic twist, how to manipulate control of Earth’s populace with the equivalent of a social media campaign. This book, originally published in 1985 based on a short story written in the ’70s, stands the test of time. I believe it is classified by some as Young Adult but the story appeals to mature readers for certain. Ender’s Game earned an “I really liked it” rating from me.

The next book in our queue is, God love my sister who picked it, a memoir! I can’t wait.

Road Trip appeals to a modern romantic aesthetic

Is it chick lit? Is it a travelogue? Is it a romance novel?

The Road Trip is a little bit of all these things, a fun distraction but probably designed for someone a little younger than long married and menopausal me.

Author Beth O’Leary tells the story of Dylan and Addie, exes forced to road trip across England for a mutual friend’s wedding. Interwoven with flashbacks to the couple’s love story, the journey is humorously awkward, filled with hijinks, detours and a few wrong turns.

Here’s a line that proved I might not be the target audience:

Wahoo was one of the Oxford nightclubs—actually a sports bar that transformed itself for students at night. It always smelled of sweet corn and inexplicably played the shopping channel on its TV screens while the DJ blasted out something by Flo Rida.

Who is Flo Rida? Well, she’s a he, an American rapper known for such jewels as “Low,” “Jump” and “Sugar.” I’m not even interested enough to click on one of his You Tube videos. But a 20-something might be interested, I don’t know.

Besides describing a nightclub by its odor of sweet corn, which is pretty clever, O’Leary uses other descriptive language:

Already the heat is as thick as honey, viscous and sweet. It’s turning into a glorious summer morning: the sky is a deep lapis lazuli blue, and the fields are sun-kissed and yellow-bright on either side of the road. It’s the sort of day that tastes of crushed ice and suntan lotion, ripe strawberries, the sweet head rush of too many gin and tonics.

Isn’t that lovely? I can feel the day. The plot is a little bit bubblegum, but O’Leary manages to create fully realized characters and plausible conflicts. It wasn’t good enough to inspire me to pick up another O’Leary title, but then, I’m not a huge fan of fiction. I read The Road Trip for our family book club, populated entirely by women except for my uncle, who gamely tolerates our feminine biases.

If you’re looking for something light, clever and modern, you might like the journey offered by The Road Trip.

I appreciate you, regular readers of Minnesota Transplant. So glad you drop by now and again. I’ve started a new project: a blog about prayer. Are you the praying sort? You might find it right up your alley. Check it out by clicking here.

Thirsty for history? Pore over this book

If you don’t like history or minutiae, there’s nothing to see here. Move along.

But if you like sweeping analysis, interesting historical detail right down to flavors, and a clever look at where culture, politics and technology intersect, then you ought to pick up A History of the World in 6 Glasses and peruse it while quaffing a beer, sipping a whiskey cocktail or lingering over a nice cup of tea.

Author Tom Standage tells the story of agriculture, civilization and globalization through the lens of what we humans were drinking in six eras:

  • Beer in Mesopotamia and Egypt
  • Wine in Greece and Rome
  • Spirits in the Colonial Period
  • Coffee in the Age of Reason
  • Tea and the British Empire
  • Coca-Cola and the Rise of America

I picked up this book at the behest of my aunt, who chose it for our family book club discussion. Though some of my relatives found it was too detailed and would be better as a television documentary, I enjoyed it.

This is not a book about fine wine or how to make the perfect cup of coffee. Instead, Standage persuades readers that each of the six beverages literally changed the world by bringing people together—as wine did in Roman households or Coca-Cola did in globalization—or driving them apart—as in the role tea played in the Boston Tea Party and the American Revolution. “Everyone has to drink,” Standage writes, “Each drink tells us about the priorities of the people who drank them: who drank what, and where they got it from, tells you a lot about the structure of society.”

I knew Ancients drank beer because potable water was sometimes difficult to get, but I learned that’s true also of wine, whiskey and even coffee and tea (to make coffee and tea, the water has to be boiled, which improves germy water immensely).

I also learned the role rum played in the slave trade. Enjoying a fruity rum drink now feels vaguely wrong to me. The chapter on European coffeehouses in the seventeenth century functioning as the internet by offering news, gossip, networking and lively discussions was also fascinating.

A History of the World in 6 Glasses, isn’t exactly a beach read, but it is an easy read considering all the ground it covers (where else could you find the history of the world in 265 pages?). It is a good choice for a book club (at least, if members are amenable to reading history) because everyone can chat about their takeaways over their favorite drink. Cheers!

A Fire Sparkling tells sweeping tale of love and family secrets

Well-researched and descriptive details bring to life a love story in A Fire Sparkling by Julianne MacLean.

Actually, the story showcases more than one love story, but that’s part of the magic of the plot. MacLean weaves together historical fiction, romance and mystery in A Fire Sparkling, and it’s successful.

I picked up MacLean’s book only because it was a book club pick. As I began reading, I noticed most of her other titles were romance novels, and I was instantly skeptical. I didn’t expect to like A Fire Sparkling as much as I did, but MacLean is so successful in writing about a small piece of World War II that it felt a bit like reading memoir, my favorite genre.

The story opens with modern-day Gillian Gibbons fleeing to her family home after a lover’s betrayal. There, she and her father find an incriminating photo of her grandmother, and the multigenerational story shifts to Grandma’s devastating, harrowing and exciting experiences in England before and during World War II.

The title comes from William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet: “Love is a smoke rais’d with the fume of sighs; being purg’d, a fire sparkling in lovers’ eyes …,” and after reading descriptions of the Blitz by Germany in the United Kingdom in 1940 and 1941, you understand the references to smoke and fire.

My only quibble with the story is that Grandma appears more than once to be a damsel in distress, rescued by a handsome, courageous man with whom she falls in love. This is a romance novel trope, in my opinion, but other members of the book club pointed out the situations were an accurate reflection of the times.

The story is satisfying, easy to read and a page-turner. If you appreciate books about that era, you might enjoy this one. There’s death, of course, and mayhem, and Adolf Hitler lurks on the edges, as in all World War II novels, but MacLean focuses on the characters and emotions wrought by war in a palatable way.

Sweet book on angels offers spiritual guidance

Among other resolutions this year, I resolved to pray every day.

Prayer isn’t everyone’s jam, but it’s mine. Even if you’re not particularly religious, prayer helps. You won’t always get the answers you want or expect, but the very act of assigning control of chaos to Someone (or Something) else improves your perspective. Scientific studies have proven the power of prayer.

Some folks can be extemporaneous, but I’m not good at free-form prayer. I’m a rule follower, and I like a little guidance. Google comes in handy. Search “prayer for [fill in the blank]” and you’ll find something. In the past four months, I’ve googled prayers for morning, afternoon, evening, healing, the grieving and gratitude. I even prayed a nice prayer for the full moon.

I’ve also looked to YouTube for guidance. My most popular search there has been “2 minute prayer” (I resolved to pray every day, not all day).

But my favorite prayers this year have come from Anne Neilson. I found her book Angels: Devotions and Art to Encourage, Refresh, and Inspire at a gift shop in Galveston when we visited in February. I was drawn to the cover, an image of angel sculpted by Neilson in oil paint. Even in a two-dimensional book, her paintings feel fully developed.

Throughout Angels, Neilson invites readers reflect on one of her paintings and individual words such as create and foundation. She offers a definition of the word, a Bible verse and a prayer with each of forty devotions. “I decided to do a devotional on words because words are so powerful,” she writes in the introduction. “Our thoughts are brought to life through language—the ways we think and act—each word deeply impacting how we live and breathe and view the world.”

Here’s a bit she wrote in her meditation on “purpose”:

As we wear the carpets of our lives threadbare with constant pacing, we may miss out on the miracle appointed for that day. Sometimes God has appointed us to be the ones calling others back. He is constantly arranging His people into positions to be used for His higher purpose.

Neilson’s devotions are personal and homey, reflecting on motherhood, family and creativity. Especially nice are her prayers, which don’t simply repeat the devotion’s message but expand on it. Here’s an especially meaningful one:

Dear God, thank You for exhaling Your divine breath so that I might have lungs full of oxygen. Thank You for choosing for me to have another day on this earth so that I can continue to walk in the purpose You created for me. Show me how to embrace this life fully today so I can be a walking testimony to the goodness You have woven throughout my life.

I came to look forward every morning to reading another devotion from Neilson and praying a prayer, and I was sad when I came to the end. This is a high compliment for a reader to pay to any author. Her ponderings enriched my days.

If you’re a Christian looking for a meaningful devotional, I can’t recommend this one highly enough and I pray you benefit as much as I did.

Though a bit dark,The Guest List has readers turning pages

Coincidentally, I’ve read two books in a row about destination weddings involving social media influencers. Extravagance and mayhem ensued.

Makes my wedding to my Beloved to which twenty guests were invited to my home and we served a Dairy Queen cake look cute and basic.

But at least no one died!

The same can’t be said about hoity-toity affair created by Lucy Foley in The Guest List: You’d Kill to Be On It.

This absorbing mystery novel is about the wedding of magazine publisher Jules Keegan and reality TV star Will Slater on a remote island off the coast of Ireland. Foley tells most of the story through the wedding-weekend experiences of five characters: the bride, the plus-one, the best man, the wedding planner and the bridesmaid. One of these characters is the murderer (I’m not spoiling anything here—the back cover reveals this).

What’s interesting about the mystery is we don’t know who the murder victim is until the end of the book. These two entwined mysteries—who is murdered and who is the murderer—will keep you turning pages, maybe until late into the night. And that’s all you can ask from a good mystery novel.

The book gets better after a lot of vague talk about secrets in the beginning. At first, I didn’t like a couple of the main characters, but their irritating behavior is explained as the book progresses, and I found the ending to be surprising and satisfying. Foley does a good job of moving the story along and tying the various storylines together, though she leaves a few plot holes and minor loose ends if you look too closely. Still, the plot holds water, and it’s fiction, so I didn’t get too worked up about it.

I read this for our family bookclub, which includes my aunt, uncle and cousins. The consensus was that Foley created good characters, but the story on the whole was a bit dark.

The Guest List reminded me a little of Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. Both Foley and Flynn worked out a lot of plot complexities before weaving things together, and I appreciate thinkers like that.

If you’re planning or invited to an exclusive destination wedding this summer, I recommend choosing something else to read on the plane (like a romance novel maybe).

Big Summer tries to please all the people all the time but flounders

As a beach read, Jennifer Weiner’s Big Summer is all that. An entertaining and oftentimes insightful distraction filled with interesting characters leading interesting and sometimes strange lives.

Weiner is a skilled storyteller, and even if the literary world relegates her to chick-lit, she’s good at getting inside a chick’s head and showing you how she feels. But alas, Big Summer feels like it was written by committee. Even the title and upscale cover feels designed to get readers to tuck the book inside a beach bag. It’s not about a big summer. It’s about a “big” girl and a long June weekend.

Are all of Weiner’s protagonists fat? I don’t know. I’ve read only two pieces of Weiner’s fiction, her first book Good in Bed and Big Summer, her most recent (her newest novel, That Summer, comes out in May).

Of Good in Bed, I wrote, “Her memoir [Hungry Heart] led me to read that first novel, Good in Bed. Though a fictional story, the main character, Cannie, is a plus-sized newspaper reporter with a small dog and a messy breakup, all characteristics shared by Weiner at that time in her life. It is fascinating how she modeled the character on herself, and then created a wholly fictional, fresh ending. I found the plot twists to be surprising yet plausible.”

Big Summer’s plot twists are still surprising (wow!) but not plausible. The book begins as one thing, the story of a plus-sized Instagram influencer looking for love, and jolts abruptly into another thing. I don’t want to ruin your experience with spoilers; I’ll only say the book introduces a plot twist which might shelve it in another section of the bookstore.

I can’t say I didn’t like the plot twist. I did! It kept me reading so it was compelling. But the ending is a little too, um, unbelievable.

That didn’t ruin the book for me, but overall, I felt like there was too much effort to please all the people all the time. The high stakes and the “fully realized characters of all races and ethnicities” (Weiner’s words, from the acknowledgments) do not feel organic. Good in Bed was written to please Weiner alone, and it shows. She had a unique point of view in her debut, and she showcased it. Big Summer felt more like she had a deadline, a page count and a compulsion to sell books. I get it! What author doesn’t want to sell books? If you’re getting published, sales mean people care about what you’re saying. But it just felt like she cared more about selling books than she cared about her story, at least at the end of it.

‘Piece of mind’ from an airport security officer does nothing to create peace of mind

When the opportunity to see “the craziest things seen and done by the TSA” was offered me, I jumped at it.

I ran across You Can’t Fly With That: Confessions of a Disgruntling Airport Security Officer on Freebooksy, and I downloaded immediately. (Not a subscriber to Freebooksy? You should be. The website broadcasts free books daily.)

Many (but not all) of Freebooksy’s offerings are self-published, and sometimes it shows in the works with scant editing and typos. This is true of You Can’t Fly With That, too, but I can’t say it interfered with my enjoyment of the book. At first glance, you might think the title has a typo. Doesn’t the author mean “disgruntled” instead of “disgruntling”? Maybe; he certainly is as much a fan of the TSA as I am. But he also makes a case for being a pain in the tush for passengers and his supervisors, so maybe he does mean he’s “disgruntling,” that is, to make ill-humored or discontented. He’s admits to enough goofing off and lying about his absences that he writes under the pseudonym of “Anonymous”; Big Brother is watching, you know.

The Transportation Security Administration is a waste of taxpayer money, as I opined here on number occasions (here, here and here). I maintain the TSA is all flash and no substance, a government program designed to help scared little housewives and infrequent air travelers sleep better at night. It’s a ridiculous and expensive show paid for by taxpayer money in airports across the country every day that does nothing whatsoever to prevent someone who is willing to die for his cause to blow up a plane. 

My evidence, other than being a frequent flyer for several years in the mid 2000s? I was once considered such a security risk, I shut down an airport once. Yup, dangerous little anarchistic me. Shortly after 9/11, the crack TSA team at the tiny Central Minnesota airport where I was attempting to board a—gasp!—international flight detected a “bomb-making substance” on my laptop. The bright bulbs at the airport let me—the presumed bomb maker—board the plane, and the plane jetted off. They then shut down the airport and called in the bomb squad only find my keyboard had been smeared with—gasp!—glycerin-based hand lotion.

Reading You Can’t Fly With That does nothing to disavow me of my, ahem, high esteem for the TSA. Anonymous Author has penned a vulgar screed describing all kinds of hijinks of passengers, co-workers and himself. Here are a few lines from Anonymous Author’s work as evidence:

  • “The countdown to my freedom has begun you pecker-heads,” I manically spat through evil laughter while hovering over my dejected phone elves. “Soon, I’ll be kicking terrorist in the dicks and buying discounted airport merchandise. Enjoy unscrewing phones, suckas.”
  • For the next thirty minutes, we stood at the metal detector chatting and sending geologically-tarded passengers back to remove metal. … I mean delayed, or slow, retarded as, so yes, it’s okay.

At least Anonymous Author is self-deprecating: “I am, I repeat, I am, a jackass. Just one who’s actually a nice guy. A lot of my jackassery is used for public service.”

This work not literary brilliance by any means and there is no discernable plot other than a number of loosely connected anecdotes of stupidity, but I kept reading because Anonymous is occasionally clever:

  • [I am a] Screening Officer; or, unofficially, ‘Taker of Water from the Elderly’
  • I wouldn’t hack it as one of Ashton’s less famous lackeys on ‘Punked’, I’d crack mid-prank and ruin it all, similar to what Ashton’s done with his career choices.
  • Like women at an abortion clinic, I wasn’t having it.

Just in case Anonymous Author haunts Minnesota Transplant, I will refrain from using “bomb” in association with his book since I would like to pass through security next time I’m at the airport without a gloved-hand screening. Like at the airport, proceed at your own risk.

Mexican Gothic satisfies even as it creeps out readers

Mystery. Check!

Creepy mansion. Check!

Cemetery. Death. Violence. Check, check, check!

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia has all the classic elements of a gothic novel. Set in 1950s Mexico, the inhospitable house in the countryside not far from a defunct silver mine is like another character, one indispensable from the horrifying plot.

I am probably not a good reader to review a gothic novel having never read one (no, not even Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein) but maybe the perspective of a novice might help others decide whether to try something different.

Our heroine is, refreshingly, female: Noemi Taboada, a debutante who enjoys a life of cocktail parties and flirting with suitors. Her cousin sends a cryptic letter that alarms her family and Noemi is dispatched to determine if her cousin is sick, crazy or just fine.

Of course, the cousin is not just fine, or there’d be no story. But is she sick? Crazy? Or something else? Noemi arrives at a decrepit house with a strange assortment of residents, including an aging and possibly racist patriarch and a quiet but oddly compelling young man.

Noemi is brash. She smokes when she’s asked not to. She drives into town without permission and pokes around for information. She defies the conventions of the house. In a slow burn sort of way, Noemi uncovers troubling truths about the gloomy house and its residents. By the half-way point in the book, you’ll be compelled to keep reading even as Moreno-Garcia amps up the terror. You will want to get to the bottom of things as much as Noemi does. Moreno-Garcia introduces a lot of elements that appear at first to be red herrings, but she answers questions and wraps up the mystery and the plot in a satisfying way. You might even believe in haunted houses when you get to the end.

Though set in Mexico, the book has more Latin than Spanish. It’s entirely understandable to someone whose Mexican exposure amounts to a few days on a Gulf of Mexico beach. If you like Stephen King, you’ll like this book.

Big book of advice makes great good nights

After I glance at the front page of the newspaper every morning, I turn to the advice columns.

(My newspaper nowadays is electronic, and I read it on my iPad. I feel strongly I get the least biased news reports from newspaper; it’s still biased, but less so. If you’re getting all your news on Facebook or 24-hour news networks, please reconsider your sources.)

Beyond the news, I’m addicted to Ask Amy and Carolyn Hax and Dear Abby. But the woman who started it all (or, at least, made it famous) was Ann Landers, otherwise known as Esther Pauline “Eppie” Lederer (she took over the “Ask Ann Landers” column in 1955 a few months before her sister began offering advice under the pen name Abigail Van Buren).

It’s the letters that are so fascinating (though I like comparing my own advice to the column authors’). Truth is stranger than fiction, and people are weird. I suppose the true confession is that the columns made me feel morally superior. “At least I’m not that stupid or crazy.”

In an effort to escape violent television shows and the bombastic talking heads on 24-hour news networks at the end of the day, I recently picked up Ann Landers’ Wake Up and Smell the Coffee! Advice, Wisdom, and Uncommon Good Sense, a whole book of advice columns! It was published in 1996 and a little bit quaint but still compelling. I read a chapter or so of letters and answers before drifting off to sleep, and it was mindlessly satisfying.

Since I love true stories anyway, this was a good way to enjoy true stories without getting wrapped up in a memoir about sorrow, sickness or psychos. The advice guru covers relationships, sex, work, aging, disease and death, all with wit, insight and humor. Ann Landers was a gem, and her book will remind you of it (or introduce you, if you’re a younger type of reader).

Sweet dreams.