Other Books I’ve Been Reading

If you keep track of my little Goodreads shelf over on the sidebar, you may have noticed I’m reading quite a few books that I’m not writing up. There are several reasons for this. Some were just bad. Others were ok, but I didn’t have strong enough feelings about them to write an entire review. Yet others are books I’ll be reviewing at a later date.

I’ve decided to do a quick and dirty summary of some of those, since just because I didn’t rave about them, doesn’t mean you won’t.

Useless Bay (MJ Beaufrand)

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This was actually a fairly enjoyable book. Geared more toward middle grades, it was really well written, but left too many questions hanging for me to really enjoy it thoroughly. It centers around the larger than life Gray quintuplets, the unofficial search and rescue team of Whidbey Island. This one is out October 18.

 

Chasing Embers (James Bennett)

I really want to like urban fantasy, but I nearly always struggle with them. This one isn’t bad, a little wordy at times but a fairly solid read. I have a soft spot for dragons, so that may be part of the appeal for me. I can’t really gush about it, but I will likely read the next book when it comes out.

A Rustle of Silk (Alys Clare)

A decent mystery set against the backdrop of early Stuart England.  Overall, it was an enjoyable mystery, but there were a few moments that I didn’t really think fit and overall the mystery was just a little too easily solved for me. I won’t give away exactly what those parts were, but just be fair warned if you decide to pick this one up.

The Apothecary’s Curse (Barbara Bennett)

This urban fantasy, I actually did enjoy. The story moves between modern and Victorian timelines, but I found that kept me really interested. Victorian doctor Simon Bell and and apothecary Gaelan Erceldoune became immortal and now must stop a modern pharmaceutical from exploiting their secret.

Confession of a Serial Killer: The Untold Story of Dennis Rader, the BTK Killer (Katherine Ramsland, Ph.D.)

Talk about books that will make your skin crawl, this was beyond just creepy. Much of the story is told in Dennis Rader’s own words and while it’s interesting, it’s also scary as hell.

Garden District Gothic (Greg Herren)

It could be that I wasn’t super excited about this book because I hadn’t read any of the others in the series (this is the 7th Scotty Bradley book). The worst part for me was that the mystery seemed to be just too easily solved. It had the build up to be a really great mystery and I was really let down. I was a little iffy at the beginning because it really seemed to want to be the gayest thing that ever was gay, but things leveled off so that I wasn’t constantly saying to myself, “OK, I get it, these guys are gay!” It’s gay fiction and it seriously wants you to know it. Regardless, ultimately I found the super easy wrap up to be the deal breaker here.

Choose Your Own Misery: The Holidays (Mike MacDonald, Jilly Gagnon)

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I wanted to love this. It was (supposed) to be pure nostalgia for me, since I grew up with the Choose Your Own Adventure books. This was a humorous take on how much the holidays can suck. It was okay, I suppose. Cute. But, it was clearly written from a purely male perspective and I quickly lost interest.

The Private Lives of the Tudors (Tracy Borman)

I absolutely loved this one. As I’ve mentioned before, I have a passion for all things Tudor and this really gave me a lot of new insight into the everyday lives of the Tudor monarchs. I decided to forgo a full review of this one, just because I don’t know many people that would get as excited about the minutiae of Henry VIII’s private life as I do.

The Red Ripper (Peter Conradi)

Another book about a creepy serial killer, this time it’s Russian killer Andrei Chikatilo. It was an interesting read, but didn’t really expand on anything I hadn’t read previously.

Iron Cast (Destiny Soria)

In the interest of being totally aboveboard here, I received a free digital review copy of Iron Cast from the publisher in exchange for a review. Don’t worry, I’ll still give 100% honest opinions of it.

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This awesome cover courtesy Abrams Books.

I was extremely excited to read this book for a number of reasons. 1) It was the first ARC (advanced reader copy, for those who don’t know already) I was ever approved for. 2) The cover looked interesting. Because as many of you may know, yes, sometimes I DO judge books (at least a little) by their covers. 3) The blurb sounded very interesting. And 4) It was described as a book perfect for fans of Libba Bray’s The Diviners.

Some of you may recall I have mentioned that particular series before as one I thoroughly enjoyed. Iron Cast surprised me. I really think it surpassed The Diviners. Long story short- it’s completely spectacular.

Before the story itself even begins, Destiny Soria says that she wanted to write a book where the female characters were real and complex. I think she succeeded brilliantly.

Set in Boston in 1919, with Prohibition looming on the horizon, Corrine and Ada are both hemopaths- they suffer an “affliction” that makes it possible for them to control peoples’ minds with art. They work for gangster Johnny Dervish in his club, The Cast Iron. After breaking Ada out of the notorious hemopath asylum, Haversham, both girls think they will be returning to the safety of their home at The Cast Iron. But, when several employees are shot and Johnny disappears, they will have to fight to find the truth behind everything that’s happened and make their lives safe once more.

This book was wonderful, engaging and with a richly built world. It was impossible for me not to love it. The friendship between Corinne and Ada was one I think all women can aspire to. The love between them as friends is what makes the entire story possible. I always find it refreshing to read a young adult novel where the romantic element is not the most important part of the entire plot. While there were romantic relationships in the book, they were far from the most significant.

All of the characters you meet are multifaceted and seem very real. Very few of them are exactly as they seem when you first meet them. I love it when I book keeps me guessing, and this certainly did. I found myself more that once nervous about whether or not Ada and Corrine could trust those around them. Anytime a book can draw me into the story so much that I’m feeling anxiety for them, I’d say it was quite well written.

I could not wait to finish the book and was sad when it ended. When I wasn’t reading it, I was thinking about reading it. Iron Cast will be released in just a few days on October 11. I have pre-ordered my copy and my fingers are absolutely itching to get my hands on it.  I cannot recommend Iron Cast enough and I absolutely cannot wait to read more from this author!

Top 5 Halloween Reads (And Cocktail Suggestions)

It’s that time again!

Seriously guys, Halloween is my FAVORITE holiday. Hands down. Those of you who know me in real life already know this. I’ve been planning my Halloween costume since spring. I practically knock people out of my way to the get to the Halloween decorations as soon as they hit stores. There are certainly Halloween decorations I keep out all year. I have a tattoo with a haunted house and a graveyard. Halloween is life.

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So it should come as no shock that I have certain books that are particularly great for Halloween. Surprisingly, I don’t read that much horror. I like it, I just don’t pick it up all that often. So, my list is sort of light on actual horror titles. (There is always next year….)

World War Z (Max Brooks)

I’m not normally all that into zombie books or movies, but for this particular book (not movie, ugh) I make an exception. It is very well written and for me, the scary can be found in just how real some of the scenes are. It makes it seem like a zombie take over is totally possible (reality: it’s not terribly likely). All in all, a great book.

Cocktail: Zombie brain shots. Just kidding. Don’t drink that. Ew. Instead, try a Zombie. Sounds much tastier, and less like something you’d drink at a frat party on a dare.

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (Alvin Schwartz)

This was without a doubt the definitive scary story book series of my generation. The stories themselves are pretty creepy, but they are actually outshined by the absolutely horrifying Stephen Gammell illustrations. The books have been redone with a new illustrator, but you are doing yourself a great disservice if you don’t find a copy of this book with the original Gammell artwork. Here is a great article with a few of the nightmarish illustrations for you.  One of my all time favorites.

Cocktail: A Mind Eraser, to erase away those illustrations so you can sleep peacefully at night again.

A Discovery of Witches (Deborah Harkness)

This is the first book in The All Souls trilogy. It’s not scary at all, but considering it’s full of witches, vampires and daemons, I think it still fits the seasonal requirements. The series is a little bit paranormal, a little historical and a little romance. A great series to curl up with on a crisp fall night.

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Cocktail: A Vampire’s Kiss Martini. Appropriate, really, for any of your books with a dreamy vampire protagonist.

‘Salem’s Lot (Stephen King)

This is a spectacularly scary book and really proves why Stephen King is such a master. If you like your vampires pure evil and blood sucking, this is a book for you. If you enjoy it, there are also a few short stories that revisit the town in King’s Night Shift. Never read Stephen King before? This is a great place to start!

Cocktail: A Vampire. Obviously. Not only does it sounds tasty, it would be a great, creepy addition to a Halloween get together.

Anything Edgar Allan Poe

People still read Edgar Allan Poe for a reason. He’s awesome. I’ve loved his dark poems and stories since I was a kid. The Raven, The Cask of Amontillado, The Masque of the Red Death, The Pit and the Pendulum, The Tell-Tale Heart, just a few of the many Poe poems and stories that would be great to break out for the Halloween season.

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Cocktail: If sherry is your thing, how bout a nice Amontillado? If not, try a Raven or a Masque of the Red Death.

Reading anything special for Halloween? Leave a comment! My TBR list can always use a few more! HAPPY HALLOWEEN!!

Crossing the Horizon (Laurie Notaro)

I received a copy of Crossing the Horizon free from the publisher (via Netgalley) in exchange for an honest review. This, however, did not change my opinion of the book.

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Image via Simon and Schuster.

It’s 1927. Charles Lindbergh has recently become a media sensation by completing the first transatlantic flight. Now, the race is on to be the first woman to make the crossing. This story takes a look at three very different and fascinating women who are all hoping to take the crown: Elsie Mackay, daughter of an Earl and the first Englishwoman to receive her pilot’s license; Ruth Elder, who uses her winnings from a beauty pageant to take flying lessons; and Mabel Boll, glamorous society widow who hopes the trip will be her claim to fame.

While I’ve always loved books set in the 1920’s, I was a little bit unsure about one focusing on aviation history. I’ve never really found myself all that interested in the early days of flight. Or the history of flight at all. I knew about Charles Lindbergh (a bit) and that Amelia Earhart was the first woman to accomplish the flight, but beyond that I was clueless. This book, however, changed my mind. It was truly wonderful. Crossing the Horizon was clearly well researched and painted a vivid picture of these three women, their world, and the people around them.

I particularly loved the fact that there were pictures included. When reading historical fiction books, I often find myself seeking out pictures on the primary players on my own. While it’s not really a necessity, I found their inclusion to be a nice touch. Obviously this is a fictionalized account based on real events, but the pictures made it all so much more real, taking these from mere characters, to living, breathing people.

Even without the pictures, I think this would have been a really standout book. Knowing that none of these women were going to be the record holder didn’t take anything away for me. I was hooked and could not wait to find out what happened next. With such brilliantly illustrated characters, I was completely sucked in, anxious to see how their stories would turn out. It’s not a short book, but I was so engrossed it did not take long to finish it.

I cannot recommend this book enough.  There is tragedy, humor and a solid dose of girl power. These were all ladies determined to take charge of their own destinies and Laurie Notaro has told their stories beautifully. This is definitely a book I will be rereading. You can pick up your own copy on October 4 or pre-order it now!

My Lady Jane (Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, Jodi Meadows)

I’ve been nuts about the Tudors for years. My collection of both fiction and nonfiction books about the Tudor clan (especially Henry VIII) has grown pretty substantial over the years. I had come across this book on social media a few times, but really had no idea what it was about. Based solely on the cover image and title, I made the guess that we were dealing with a YA historical fiction about the doomed Lady Jane Grey. And I definitely wanted to read it. However, it had a few surprises waiting for me.

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Well all know I’m a sucker for a good cover. Courtesy HarperCollins.

I was partially right. The book IS about Lady Jane Grey. Turns out, it’s an alternate history. And has three authors. I was immediately skeptical (Three authors? Alternate history? Would this be a total carriage wreck? ), but decided to go ahead and press onward. This may be been partially due to the fact that I forgot I had the book on my library app. With only until 38 hours before it was due back. Challenge accepted.

Worth every minute. This book was so much fun. I also finished it with probably 10 hours to spare. Winner.

“How,” you say, “can a book about a teenager who gets her head chopped off possibly be fun?” Alternate history, people. It’s not exactly a true story. Take what you already know about Lady Jane Grey, add some magic, some modernized dialogue and TONS of pop culture references, and viola! You have My Lady Jane. This one is definitely going to take another reading for me to catch all of the pop culture references that were going on here. The Princess Bride, Monty Python, heck, I even caught a Jaws reference. I’m certain that there are others I missed.

So, the basics: It’s 1553 and sixteen year old King Edward VI is dying. Lord Dudley convinces him to replace his sisters Mary and Elizabeth in the line of succession with his bookish cousin and childhood friend Lady Jane Grey. One hasty marriage later to Gifford Dudley, the younger son of Edward’s chief minister, and Jane becomes the Queen of England after Edward’s death. She was queen for nine days until the Privy Council switched sides and Mary took back the throne.

The first part of the story more or less follows history here. Beyond that… well… you’ll just have to read it. I cannot recommend it enough.

The extra good news is that the Lady Janies (as the authors call themselves, I love it!) have at least two more books planned rewriting the history of two more Janes from the past! How great is that?!?

For fans of history, the Tudors, fantasy or fun, this is just a no brainer.

The Darkest Part of the Forest (Holly Black)

There’s a monster in our wood.
She’ll get you if you’re not good.
Drag you under leaves and sticks.
Punish you for all your tricks.
A nest of hair and gnawed bone.
You are never, ever coming…

Fairfold is a town in between the normal world and the world for faerie. The townspeople have lived side-by-side with the Folk for years, a dangerous balance. Locals are generally safe, but tourists have been known to disappear. Hazel and Ben have spent most of their lives navigating this strange, beautiful, sometimes deadly place and they understand the dangers better than most.

In the woods there is a horned boy lying asleep in a glass coffin. For years he has lain there, an object for tourists to gawk at and the teenagers to have parties around. Both Ben and Hazel have spent years pouring their secrets and dreams to the horned boy. One day, the coffin is shattered and he wakes up. This one act changes everything irreversibly. Now, Hazel finds herself being the knight she always wanted to be, but at what cost?

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Image via Hachette Book Group

We should know after The Raven Cycle I love dark and dreamy. This was loaded with both. Fairfold is like living in a dream on the edge of a nightmare. These are not sweet peaceful faeries from childhood stories, but tricky creatures with little regard for human life. Even the monster is beautiful and horrifying. Holly Black did an amazing job of blending together the modern world and the world of the faerie almost seamlessly.

Hazel, to be blunt, is a total badass. There is romance brewing here, however, it is Hazel, not Jack, Ben or Severin that is the hero. It’s not that the guys aren’t great characters; they are all strong, solid characters with fascinating stories. This isn’t just your run of the mill fairy tale with a damsel in distress. Hazel is not content to sit back and let the guys solve her problems, instead she takes matters spectacularly into her own hands.

I also found Jack to be a particularly interesting character. He is a changeling, one of the fae, but raised by humans. Like the family of his birth, he has many secrets, but still walks a fine line between the world of the Folk and the human world.

And did you see that cover? Gorgeous!

Holly Black is not an author I was previously familiar with, but you can be sure I’ll check out more of her books in the very near future. So glad I stumbled upon this at the library.

The Line Between Us (Kate Dunn) + Giveaway!

I received a copy of The Line Between Us for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This did not change my opinion of the book.

Image via Endeavour Press

Ifor Griffith lost both his father and older brother to the Great War. In time, his mother soon convinces him to give up his grammar school education to take a job as a gardener’s boy on the large estate near his Welsh village, where his father used to work as gardener. It is there that he meets and falls in love with Ella, the daughter of the house. This is at a time when status carries great meaning and Ifor knows that nothing can come of their mutual affection. While Ella is away on the continent, he eventually marries Jenny, a librarian.

It’s far from smooth sailing after that, with his longing for Ella a constant in his mind. In time, Ifor enlists to fight in World War II. When the ship requisitioned to rescue him and others from France is bombed by the Germans, it’s his determination to see Ella again that keeps him alive. Will he make it home and tell Ella how he really feels after all these years? Will they life happily ever after?

For starters, this is not a happy book. It’s pretty spectacularly depressing.  I know it sounds strange, but that’s a good thing, in this case. Sometimes a girl just needs a good tear jerker.

It took me a little bit to get used to the writing style. It’s almost as if Ifor is writing a letter to Ella, detailing his life. Once I got used to it, the writing is very evocative. The opening scene, in particular, is amazingly described.  The entire book is just lovely. Sad, but beautifully told.

Ifor himself is a wonderful character. It was impossible for me not to feel for him with everything he goes through in his life. Ella was harder for me to get attached to. She came over as spoiled. It was only through Ifor’s longing for her that I developed any real warmth for her. I liked him, so therefore, I liked her a little more. The supporting characters are great and really helped to fully flesh out the story for me. Mr Brown was a particular favorite, one sure to hit you right in the feels, too.

This story is inspired by the sinking of the Lancastria. This was a story I was unfamiliar with until I read this. It’s only been fairly recently that the story has really been told and I really suggest reading about it. It’s sad and fascinating.

I wasn’t sure going in that I would enjoy this book. Unrequited romances aren’t really my usual thing. But, I am very pleased to say that despite it’s melancholy subject matter, it was very enjoyable. If you need a beautifully written tale with a healthy dose of mournful, you should definitely check out The Line Between Us.

Almost as awesome? A free ebook from Endeavour Press for five lucky winners! They are the very cool publishers of not only The Line Between Us, but also of Busted Flush (which I reviewed a few weeks ago) and many others.

Free ebook from Endeavor press!

The Graces (Laure Eve)

To keep things nice and legal: I received a copy of The Graces from the publisher (via Netgalley) in exchange for an honest review. That did not affect my opinions.

Looking for Mean Girls, but darker and with a twist? Have I got a book for you.

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Image via Abrams Books

The Graces rule the school. Fenrin, Thalia, and Summer Grace are the be all, end all of high school: wealthy and beautiful, suspected to be witches, they are popularity itself. River is none of these things. Poor, lonely and unpopular in a new school, like everyone else she would give anything to be a part of the Grace’s circle. But, once she finds herself inside, all is not what it seems. Something dark is cultivated that none of them could have imagined. And when things go wrong, the results are tragic.

I’m not sure quite what I was expecting from this book when I started, magic and everyone lives happy ever after, I suppose, but what I got was something else entirely. That’s not to say I didn’t like it. I did. It was fantastic actually; it just wasn’t quite what I thought it would be. No silly love-of-my-life teen romance here.

When I first began reading, the worshipful attitude surrounding the Graces was a little off-putting. I mean seriously, how great could they really be? It makes a certain amount of sense, given that River is new and lonely, but even then it seemed a little excessive. However, it did eventually become clear to me why exactly she holds them in such an exalted status. I can’t tell you why, it gives too much of the twist away.

I don’t know that I can really say that the characters are totally realistic, at least not at first. River seems to be, initially, with her lonesome desperation to be a part of the popular crowd. But things don’t stay that way. I was never at her level of obsession, but I can certainly commiserate: there was a time in my life when I would have loved to have been a part of the “in” crowd (it turns out the crowd I was actually in was FAR better than the popular crowd. But that’s a whole separate story). At first the Grace’s themselves don’t seem very real, they seem like an ideal. As time goes on, however, there this a little tarnish to that ideal, which does make them seem more like mere mortals. But, just like River, I couldn’t help but want to get closer to them.

The story also took a darker turn than I was expecting. With a lot of YA novels they are obviously dealing with apocalyptic scenarios. This one did not, exactly, so I was not looking for events to go where they did. I loved it. So much better than a bunch of lovey-dovey nonsense.

On a side note, you should definitely check out Laure Eve’s website. There is a Spotify playlist just for The Graces and all sorts of other goodies.

I have to recommend this one. It kept me coming back anytime I had to put it down to live in the real world. I definitely would love to see more of the Graces! You can preorder it now and it will be released September 6!

Labyrinth Lost (Zoraida Cordova) + Giveaway!!

As usual, I will mention that I received a free copy of Labyrinth Lost from the publisher (via Netgalley) in exchange for an honest review. That fact did not affect my opinions.

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Sourcebooks

For Alex and her family, magic is part of life. She is a bruja and the most powerful witch in her family for generations, but she would give it all up to be normal. When she attempts to banish her powers during her Death Day ceremony, things go terribly wrong and her entire family vanishes.  She is forced to travel to Los Lagos, a realm in-between with handsome and complicated brujo Nova who has an agenda all his own, in order to get them back.

Anyone who knows me well could have told you I would have picked up this book initially just on the cover alone. I love sugar skulls. Again, I know, I should probably not pick books based on the cover. I can’t help it, I pick wine the same way. Fortunately, Labyrinth Lost really delivers.

I think that it’s not much of a stretch for many of us to identify with Alex’s desire to be normal. She is different in a world that doesn’t always value the unusual. Being unusual myself, I find her very relatable, except for the whole magic thing. I, much to my chagrin, have yet to discover my magical powers. I liked that it was clear from the beginning, even though she didn’t always appreciate it, that she had the love and support of her family. It was easy to see why she would risk her life to save them.

And what is a book about a journey with out good traveling companions? I think that both Rishi’s unwavering friendship and Nova’s dark mysteriousness and strength helped ultimately shape Alex into someone confident and powerful. Rishi is a great character, but I like complex and mysterious, so Nova really appealed to me. Is he good or bad? Is he some combination of both? Read and see.

Los Lagos is suitably creepy and full of mystery and magic. It’s like a combination Limbo and Wonderland. On Zoraida Cordova’s website there is a map, if you’re into that sort of thing. I am. It also will tell you more about her other books… but that’s another post. I’ll be reading them all, soon I hope.

For me, this reminded me quite a bit of the Beautiful Creatures series, the last book in particular. For those keeping score, that’s a good thing. I loved those books.

In even better news, this is only the first in the Brooklyn Brujas series, so there will be more! More Alex and Rishi! Hopefully we’ll find out even more about Nova! Yay! I know I needed another series to read like a hole in the head, but I just can’t seem to stay away from them.

Labyrinth Lost comes out September 6, and I definitely recommend pre-ordering a copy. For fans of Beautiful Creatures, or  just YA in general, I think it’s one you won’t want to miss.

Finally, to get a little extra into the spirit of Labyrinth Lost, I created a wreath based on the book!

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Want to win the wreath? Enter the giveaway below!

Labyrinth Lost Wreath Giveaway

Busted Flush (Brad Smith)

I received a free copy of Busted Flush from the publisher (via Netgalley) in exchange for an honest review. This did not change my opinion of the book.

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Cover image via Endeavor Press

Dock Bass hates his job and is none to fond of his wife these days. After he learns from a lawyer that he’s inherited some property near Gettysburg, he’s more than happy to make a change. While renovating the Civil War era property he stumbles upon a veritable treasure trove of memorabilia. This includes a recording that might not only have predated Edison, but that might have the voice of Abraham Lincoln. It doesn’t take long for his tranquility to shatter when he is overrun with reporters and opportunists who all want a piece of Dock’s discovery. Can he stand up in the face of this onslaught?

It took me a few chapters to really warm to Busted Flush. The premise was an interesting one, but it started slow. But, after that I really get hooked. By the end, I couldn’t read fast enough, because I just HAD to know how everything was going to turn out. It was full of twists and turns that left me guessing until nearly the last page.

It didn’t hurt that the Civil War was involved. I obviously studied it as a kid in school, but recently got interested again after re-watching Ken Burn’s Civil War (which is amazing, if you haven’t seen it. And on Netflix. Just sayin’.). It isn’t set in the Civil War, but in modern Gettysburg, PA, and the history is a major focus.

The characters are brilliantly and clearly drawn, with quick, witty dialogue. They are all distinct and quirky. Dock’s taciturn silences are nicely balanced with his wit. Others you’ll love and some you’ll love to hate. No perfect characters here, they are all flawed, which makes them wonderfully realistic.

Busted Flush is clever and funny, a wonderful way to add a little excitement to a lazy summer day. A quick scan of Brad Smith’s website suggests his other books will probably be just as interesting.