How Speleology Restored My Sex Drive

How Speleology

How Speleology Restored My Sex Drive by Michael Bernhart (Action/Adventure)

Don’t judge this book by its title – it is a witty adventure story involving some hefty topics, including racism, kidnapping, and the aftereffects of serving in Vietnam, yet it kept me chuckling from beginning to end. The year is 1993, and the narrator, Max Brown, is the 52-year-old father of mischievous nine-year-old twins, Mary and Margaret (M&M), and husband to their “scrumptious” mom, Sally, who is much younger than he. As the title suggests, he worries about sexual performance, but that’s nowhere near what this novel is all about.

His precocious daughters disappear into the wilds of northern Georgia while visiting Sally’s crazy backwoods uncle, Skeeter. They and Skeeter hope to find Confederate gold rumored to be hidden in abandoned mines. Local Klan members don’t take well to outsiders messing around in their territory, but decide to see what the treasure hunters might discover before getting rid of them. Max and Sally don’t know which of the locals they can trust as too many negative things occur after they confide in seemingly friendly folks. They must rely on their own wiles and wits if they’re going to find their girls before it’s too late.

What makes this such an enjoyable read is the voice of Max Brown as he relates what’s going on with his kids, his wife, her wacky uncle, and the various people they run into on their quest. Max’s self-deprecating humor and his wry observations keep the narration light and funny even when the stakes are high and things are going poorly. None of it makes light of what the KKK stands for, however, nor are Klansmen portrayed as buffoons. The book depicts racism in all its ugliness and introduces us to people who must face it every day. As for the title and what it implies, think PG-13 when it comes to sex. Max is honest and funny but too much of a gentleman to go into detail.

Grandma gives How Speleology Restored My Sex Drive four stars. 4 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews received a free copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.

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The Leftover

The Leftover

The Leftover by Brooke Williams (Humor)

In this book “The Leftover” is a “Survivor”-like TV show that pits twelve people against each other to become the last person left over. Megan Malone becomes a reluctant participant when her sister, Molly, is accepted but then bumped from the show due to being pregnant. Molly talks Megan into taking her place, even though Megan is a thirty-year-old recluse — never been kissed! — with few social or athletic skills. If she’s lucky, she’ll be voted off the show on the first day.

Meek, clumsy Megan, whose severe astigmatism requires her to wear her glasses even when swimming underwater, immediately falls head over heels for Cane, the show’s handsome medic, who is a former reality star in his own right, albeit a humiliated one. He fell hard for the girl on a dating show, but she chose someone else instead of him. Cane, still devastated and heartbroken, is nevertheless instantly drawn to Megan’s refreshing uniqueness as a shy girl who doesn’t wear makeup or comb her hair and has no fashion sense whatsoever.

This is billed as humor, but it’s not particularly humorous, unless being awkward is considered funny. Once on the set of “The Leftover,” Megan has to boil her drinking water, find her own food, and is sleeping on the ground in a lean-to amid a group of strangers who don’t exactly have her well-being in mind. Even so, she’s more interested in ogling Cane on the sidelines who, of course, is surreptitiously ogling her. When she’s not bumbling her way through tough competitions during the day she’s having heartfelt conversations with Cane in the medical tent, and at one point manages to grab his butt by mistake — leading to more awkward humor.

I did a lot of skimming in this book — mostly over the instant “romance” developing between these two — to find out which contestant was going to be eliminated each day, knowing it wasn’t going to be Megan. Would it be the jerk who bossed everyone around, the snotty woman trying to preserve her perfectly manicured nails, or — please no — the hunky blond male PE teacher with the nice eyes? Predictability and clean romance makes this book perfect for readers seeking a harmless piece of fluff.

Grandma gives The Leftover three stars. 3 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews received a free copy from the author in exchange for an honest review.

The Miseries of Mr. Sparrows

The Miseries of Mr. Sparrows

The Miseries of Mr. Sparrows by Matthew A. J. Timmins (Humor/Mystery)

This is probably the most unique work I’ve reviewed in a very long time. It reads like a historical novel set in Victorian London, with a strong sense of place and gritty, Dickensian characters with lots of quirks and warts. At the same time, it’s very funny.

The setting is not exactly London but the very similar city of Claudon, capital of Albion, on the banks of the River Plew. Our anti-hero, Mr. Robin Sparrows, is a lowly legal clerk who is paid a pittance to do menial tasks for a disreputable law firm. He’s a timid, self-effacing fellow who falls prey to all sorts of dilemmas, most often due to the nefarious behavior of others. Still, his sense of duty propels him forward and keeps him going as he seeks to deliver a package to the Empire’s most notorious criminal, a man responsible for starting the Crocodile War with the nation of Crocodon.

I loved many things about this book. The writing is superb. The eccentric characters are entertaining, and the names of places — Upper-Hem-On-The-Edge, St. Audley’s Home for Limbless Soldiers — and the names of people — Lord Ernest Arenblast, the diminutive Warden Webert Stillbee — have the sparkling creativity of J.K. Rowling. I found myself chuckling at clever similes and plays on words as well as the outlandish situations in which the hapless Robin finds himself — attempting to hide on a windowsill while being attacked by a territorial pigeon was just one of many.

Readers with an appreciation for the mildly absurd and those who enjoy clever narrative and strong writing skills will find this refreshing novel most entertaining. If Mr. Sparrows were to return with new adventures, I would be happy to meet up with him again.

Grandma gives The Miseries of Mr. Sparrows five stars. 5 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews received a free copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Atomic Number Sixty

sixty-minute-reads

Atomic Number Sixty (Sixty Minute Reads Book 1) by Dave Johnston (Short Story/Thriller)

Atomic Number Sixty is the first installment in a series, with each book meant to be read in one hour. In sixty chapters, it documents the countdown, minute by minute, of a bomb set to go off in the basement of City Hall. That bomb is attached to hostage Holly Holloway, who is strapped to a chair. In each one-minute chapter, Holly relates either her situation at the moment or the history of how she came to be there. Her fun, wise-mouth observations made Atomic Number Sixty a light-hearted story that had me chuckling even in the face of pending doom.

This very clever approach to story-telling is unique and entertaining. In addition to the story itself, the idea of one-minute chapters keeps the reader willing to read “just one more” until the book is done, and completing a book in one hour feels like an accomplishment. That said, this is not even a novella, but a short story with an abrupt ending that felt a little too pie-in-the-sky and seemed to come out of nowhere. Since time and space limitations were self-imposed by the author, one expects him to deliver a satisfying, believable outcome within those limitations.

I think it will be interesting to see where this series goes. Book 2, Massacre of the Sixty, is due to be released in early to mid-December, 2016. At that time, from December 11 through December 15, Atomic Number Sixty will be free to download on Amazon as part of the launch celebration. However, at its current price of 99 cents, this fun little book is worth the investment.

Grandma gives Atomic Number Sixty four stars. 4 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews Books received a free copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Hillstation

Hillstation

Hillstation, by Robin Mukherjee (General Fiction)

Smart, funny, thought-provoking, entertaining — I found Hillstation by Robin Mukherjee to be a delightful treat that kept me chuckling and made me sorry to see it end.

The main character and narrator, Rabindra, is a young man of twenty-two who has never left Pushkara, the remote mountain town in India where he was born. As the second son in an upper-class Brahmin family, he is constantly being compared — unfavorably — to his older brother who has been to England and is now the village doctor. To make matters worse, Rabindra’s best friend, Pol, is a low-born in the Indian caste system, making him forbidden company for a Brahmin and an added source of irritation to Rabindra’s father. Both Rabindra and Pol long to leave Pushkara, their goal being to marry English brides and move to England. When an itinerant troupe of British entertainers end up in Pushkara by mistake, Rabindra and Pol believe the young female dancers have been sent by the gods in answer to their prayers. The confusion this creates for all concerned makes for a very entertaining story.

As a fan of Sonny in the movie “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” I especially enjoyed the main characters’ flowery Indian-English speech patterns characterized by unnecessarily complex, and often humorous, sentence structures. As Rabindra himself explains to the newly arrived British girl of his dreams, “For your information, our prodigious facility in the English patois is consequent upon historical circumstances. Several generations ago, there came to reside among these fragrant peaks a gentleman in receipt of an education from a most illustrious establishment, far away from here, in which English was the prescribed means of linguistic intercourse. Being of a pedagogic inclination, he established our first school…” and so on. To which she replies, looking at her travel companion, “I thought you said they spoke English.”

The story has its unexpected twists and turns, the tongue-in-cheek humor is consistent throughout, and the characters are well-developed and fun. The book provides a glimpse of life in a remote Indian village and offers the opportunity to reflect on what might happen if one attempts to transcend one’s limitations.

Grandma gives Hillstation five stars. 5 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews received a copy of Hillstation from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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