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Sunshine Beach

I've read a few other books by Wendy Wax so I figured I'd give her latest a shot, not realizing it was part of a series. She did a nice job of explaining the backstory, so I didn't feel *too* lost, but I'm sort of sorry now that I read it out of order. I'd like to go back and read the first ones, but I already know what happens, so, we'll see. It was pretty good, I enjoyed it once I got all the characters straight. There was just so much going on. Avery, Nikki, Maddie, and her daughter Kyra rehab properties for a Lifetime series. I guess in the last book the women got so fed up with the way they network was treating them they quit on air. After a bit of time to regroup, they're looking for a new rehab project and trying to raise the funds to do it on their own so they won't need to sell their soul to another network. They seemed to have found the perfect project close to home: an old hotel owned by some acquaintances of theirs. It's been closed for thirty years and is a bad state of disrepair. There are a few obstacles, though, Renee and Annelise's father was murdered there in the 1950s, and Annelise has always hoped to get the case reopened so she's wanted to keep the hotel preserved while Renee has wanted to tear it down because it's a painful reminder of the worst time of her life. I was a bit skeptical that one of the characters would even still be alive: he was a former Nazi officer's handler (I told you there was a lot going on). I figured he'd probably be over 100, which didn't make a whole lot of sense but I was willing to overlook that detail. It was still fun.

I actually read Emma Donoghue's "The Wonder" a few weeks ago and forgot to write about it. I really enjoyed it, I had a hard time putting it down. I read a nonfiction book ages ago about the 19th century phenomenon known as the Fasting Girls (there were a few boys, too). Apparently it was a thing for a few years, where these teen girls would claim not to eat but to survive on air. Of course most were proven to be frauds. This one was about an Irish girl named Anna who claims she hasn't eaten anything in four months. Her little village is becoming a tourist destination where people from all over the world flock to see the miracle girl. Lib is a nurse from England, she is sent for to help keep a two week watch on Anna to make sure she's not sneaking in food. Lib figures it won't take her long to discover the hoax and then she'll be on her way. Unfortunately, it's not quite that simple.

It's been quite a few years since Charlaine Harris wrote an Aurora Teagarden mystery. I read a few of them back in the day, since Aurora is a librarian I felt obligated to. Although, honestly, reading Harris's description of her workday leads me to believe she's a page, since all she seems to do is shelve books. But I digress. In this one, Aurora is newly married to author Robin Caruso and is expecting her first baby. It was kind of difficult for me to read on a personal level, how happy and excited she was. Aurora's younger half-brother Phillip is living with her and Robin, and one day he and a group of five other teenagers vanish. One of the missing teens turns up dead. The FBI are called in and no one seems to be able to make heads nor tails out of the evidence, since it's all very conflicting. It was, too, I was super confused and honestly not all that invested in it, so I probably wasn't paying attention as well as I could have been. All in all I feel rather lukewarm about this book. At least it was a quick read, so I didn't invest too much time or effort in it.

Famous Nathan

I've never been to Coney Island, but I've heard of Nathan's Famous, the hot dog stand that's been there for a century now. It was a great story about how a poor, illiterate Jewish immigrant from Poland came to America and within a few days had a job at a luncheonette counter dishing up frankfurters. After a few years of scrimping and saving, Nathan Handwerker was able to buy a little space on Coney Island to sell his frankfurters. He and his wife, Ida, put in long hours and worked seven days a week to help Nathan's succeed, and succeed it did. Nathan was a stickler for detail, nothing escaped his exacting eye. I loved how he was able to pick up a bag of onion peels and tell by the weight if the person peeling them had taken off too much onion. It was a wonderful story that I wished had a happier ending: Nathan hoped his two sons, Murray and Sol, would be able to work together in the store but unfortunately personality clashes led to a falling out and Sol and Murray parted ways. Changing times led to Nathan's going public and the Nathan's of today only vaguely resembles the Nathan of yesteryear.

Dave Barry is usually good for a laugh or two, and his latest, "Best.State.Ever", an ode to Florida, was one of his best that I've read in a long time. I laughed out loud through most of it and it actually made me want to visit the state of Florida, not something I've ever felt compelled to do before. He talked about quirky roadside attractions, he waxed poetic about Key West and the Everglades and Disney World. Even though there was a lot of snark, it was loving snark, if that makes sense.

I wasn't terribly impressed with Christine Woodside's "Libertarians on the Prairie". First of all, does anyone not know by now that Rose Wilder Lane had a huge hand in writing her mother's "Little House" books? I read "Ghost in the Little House" back when I was in my late teens, and that was a very, very long time ago. And of course not every single word of every single book was true! Even as a kid I knew that. It didn't spoil the books for me at all to find out that Rose wrote quite a bit of them and that they weren't 100% true. They're still wonderful stories I reread all the time and enjoy. I also found her argument that Rose deliberately left out or put in certain things to further her Libertarian beliefs rather thin. She gives as one example how they left out the fact that during the Long Winter, the Ingalls family had a couple living with them. Rose left them out of the story, Woodside claims, because they didn't embody the pioneer spirit of individualism that Rose wanted to promote. Honestly, I don't think having the couple in the book would have added any to the story, and Rose was a very canny author of both fiction and nonfiction. She would have realized that. Maybe she did leave them out for political reasons and maybe she didn't. At the end of the day I don't think it really matters. I feel sorry for people who read too much into books. Sometimes a story is just a story.

I also wasn't too fond of John Henry Browne's "Devil's Defender", but at least it was a very quick read (big font, 200 pages). He became a defense attorney and has defended some very bad people, like Ted Bundy, because he believes everyone is entitled to a good defense in court. I absolutely agree with him on that point. Where we differ is on the death penalty. He doesn't think it's right for the state to kill people, and I disagree. I mean, look at how long Charles Manson's been in prison living off the taxpayer's dime. And for what? He's a complete waste of a human being. I remember being so outraged when I found out that the state of California, us taxpayers, were paying to fix the Night Stalker's teeth. *I* needed braces, and my parents couldn't afford to pay for them, but this murdering piece of scum who was on death row got free orthodontic care whereas I had to wait until I had a job and could pay for my own damn teeth to get fixed. Not that I minded, I was proud of myself for paying for them on my own, but it really irritated me that he got his teeth fixed when he was just going to be put to death anyway. I mean, really, what's the point? He didn't show his victims any mercy, so why should we show him any? I don't know. It just angers me, and Browne's holier than thou attitude was grating.

And finally, a fun one! Matt Pinfield grew up loving music and learning everything he could about the bands he liked listening to. He DJ'ed in clubs and worked on college and local radio stations in New Jersey. He was always on the cutting edge, he had his ear to the ground and heard about breakthrough bands before they happened, so he was the first to play a lot of groups and ended up building a good rapport with a lot of them, since they could tell he wasn't full of shit when he interviewed them. He ended up working on MTV in the mid-nineties, which is of course how I knew him. I didn't care for 120 Minutes at first, but after awhile it grew on me, and I liked Matt, he seemed so much less annoying than a lot of VJs on MTV at the time. He was just like this cool, laid back normal guy you could see yourself hanging out with. He did some crazy things, and had issues with drugs and alcohol (I honestly never would have guessed, he always seemed sober on TV) but he seems to be in a good place right now. It was a fun book, nostalgic, and reminded me of how much fun it was to discover a new band for the first time and fall in love with their music. It's been a really long time since that happened for me. It's such a great feeling.

Back in the early 1950s, Walt Disney had a crazy idea to build an amusement park. No one really bought into his crazy scheme except for a Texas businessman named C. V. Wood, known as Woody. Woody was Disney's right hand man for years, helping design the park that would become Disneyland in Anaheim and getting much needed sponsorships when Disney ran short on funds. Woody was also instrumental in getting the land for the park, making some shady side deals in order to get it done. Miraculously the park opened on time (although not without a few issues) and Woody's days were numbered. Disney had his brother Roy fire him a few months later, and Woody went on to create other theme parks around the country, as well as Lake Havasu in Arizona. Woody's name has been pretty much erased from all official Disneyland history by the company, longtime employees who knew him refuse to discuss it. It was very interesting, and Pierce did a great job of researching.

I'm always a little leery of reading short story collections because I usually don't enjoy them, but this one appealed to me because of the Faulkner connection, so I read it and I actually really enjoyed it. Most of the stories were pretty decent, but there were a few that were really, really good.
I read Archie and Peyton's autobiography about a decade ago, but of course a lot has happened since then. Peyton's won two Super Bowls and retired, youngest brother Eli has also had his share of success in the NFL, winning two Super Bowls too. It's impossible to read this book and not feel sorry for Archie, although I'm sure he doesn't feel sorry for himself. To never once be on a team with a winning season--man, that's a heartbreaker. You gotta wonder what he could have done in the NFL if he'd been on a decent team like his sons were.

A friend of mine recently read this 87th Precinct book, and because he knows how much I love Ed McBain he was asking me about it, and for the life of me I couldn't remember if I'd read it or not, it didn't sound at all familiar. I don't own it, and I couldn't find any record of having checked it out from the library (what, you don't keep all your library receipts so you know what you checked out back in in June of 1995? I can't be the only one who does that). But I didn't keep great records for a few years, so I might have borrowed it and don't have the receipt. Or maybe I never read it, it certainly didn't sound familiar. It was a good story: a popular TV personality drops dead while on the air. He was poisoned, a very specific, fast acting poison he would have had to ingest within just a few minutes of dying, only he was on camera and no one remembers him taking anything in that time frame. It's actually a cheerful thought that there are Ed McBain's out there that I haven't read yet, I hate it when a favorite author dies and I know I won't ever get to read anything new.

 First up, "Dreamland" by Sam Quinones. How did black tar heroin from a small town in Mexico become the drug of choice among middle and upper class white kids in the heartland of America? Such a thing seems impossible. Quinones deftly explains how the invention of a time release opiate known as Oxycontin in the mid-1990s changed how physicians prescribes opiates. Believing that the time release aspect would keep people from becoming addicted, doctors began prescribing Oxy in record amounts. Of course people became addicted, and because black tar heroin was cheaper, plus the drug dealers pushing it became adept at figuring out a delivery system, more and more people switched to heroin. It was shockingly scary to read.
Michael Koryta's latest was very good, taunt and suspenseful. Jay Baldwin's wife Sabrina is kidnapped, and Jay is contacted by a man named Eli Pate. Eli is described as a cross between Charles Manson and Nikola Tesla. Pate tells Jay if he cooperates and helps him bring down a massive power grid then Sabrina will be returned to him unharmed. Meanwhile, in Florida, Mark Novak is trying to find the man who murdered his wife two years earlier. Mark and Jay's stories intertwine in the Montana wilderness.
It doesn't feel like Larry Hagman has been gone that long, but it will be four years in November. Wow. I was such a fan, I loved "Dallas" (I got to take a trip to Texas in 2005 and visited the actual South Fork Ranch. It was awesome). I read his autobiography a few years back and enjoyed it. On his deathbed, his daughter Kristina recounts how he begged for forgiveness, only she couldn't figure out what he needed forgiveness for. She tells her story in this tribute to her dad, growing up with the always drunk and high Hagman who loved nothing more than to be the life of the party, the center of attention. While it's clear she loves her parents, she also made no excuses for their poor behavior that often put her and her brother at risk. It was a quick read that makes me want to go back and rewatch "Dallas" :)

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