Book Reviews

Review: Highland Hens by Judy Leigh

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My Interest

I’ve really enjoyed the author’s previous books–all of which off fun romances for older people. They feature people you’d like to know. There’s nothing in them that would smack of an Oprah’s Book Club pick. They’re just nice and a lot of fun. Plus, this one features a great country house in Scotland. So, what’s not to love?

The Story

Jess arrives in the Highlands to stay at a B &B for a short visit. The repairs on her cottage down south in England are now going to be prolonged. She decides to accept a job at Glen Carrick House (the local “big house”) as a companion to former dancer, Mimi McKinlay. Mimi holds Chardonnay Show Time in the evenings when she lets herself go and dances just for the fun of it. She has a slightly out-sized personality. Fortunately her 3 adult sons, Fin, Angus, and Hamish, are devoted to her and see to it that she comes to no harm. Jess is a wonderful addition to the family.

But there are things about Mimi’s past no one is sure of: WAS she a dancer in the West End of London? Or was she just a common “call girl” in the parlance of the 1950s? Can Jess help her live her last years to their fullest?

My Thoughts

This book was very different in tone (well, to me at least!) to Judy Leigh’s other books. It was even a little confusing at the beginning–probably because I was listening to it and my life is a bit unsettled right now. I got “up”on everything and then started to enjoy the story. Like all of Judy Leigh’s books, this is about romance at a later time in life, only this time there are multiple possibilities for who will become romantically involved. I liked that. Mimi’s story was so touching. I liked her zest for life. Jess was exactly who you’d want to find to be a companion for an elderly person–thoughtful, caring, polite, but personable in all the right ways. I loved the relationship that developed between Jess and Mimi. The McKinlay brothers were a great trio–not too good to be true, but just close enough to be believable. And Thor. Sigh. Sweet Thor! This is a sweet story, but never cloying or precious.

My Verdict

3.5

The Highland Hens by Judy Leigh

My reviews of other Judy Leigh books:

  1. A Year of Mr. Maybes
  2. Lil’s Bus Trip
  3. Chasing the Sun
  4. Heading Over the Hill
  5. The Old Girls’ Network
Book Reviews

Review: The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing (Vish Puri #2) by Tarquin Hall

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My Interest

I enjoyed the first book in this fun series, so when I needed an audio book while waiting on holds at the library, I decided that book two would be fun. (I do not usually review series books since it is so hard to avoid spoilers).

The Story

There are people in the world called variously magicians, healers, conjurers, mystics, gurus, and similar. The tricks the use often persuade their audience that incredible things are happening. A TV show personality known as the “Guru Buster” dies at a meeting of the Laughing Club. Who was he trying to unmask? Meanwhile, Vish Puri has to also help a Non Resident Indian citizen, unused to his home country’s ways, get his American-born children into a good school the Indian way!

And what is Mummy-Ji up to? Her Kitty Club (kitty, as in poker, not as in cat) has had a shock. Will Mummy-Ji figure it out? Will she have time to help beloved sun Vish, aka, “Chubby?”

Of course, along the way, Vish’s his wife and married, pregnant with twins daughter, help in interesting ways while making sure he knows he is loved.

My Thoughts

Political corruption and religious or spiritual charlatans! A BOGO offer in this book! While this series is intentionally light-hearted and often funny, the story takes on two serious topics. The manipulation of people for political ends and the manipulation for spiritual or religions ones can go hand-in-hand. The trick employed to make people think they are getting what they want are often subtle. Sometimes though they are more obvious than we think.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I’d love to see a Guru Buster in the USA to take on the politicians and expose both parties for their idiocy, as well as take on vapid celebrity crusaders, and t.v. evangelists!

I listened to the audio version.

My Verdict

4.0

The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing (Vish Puri #2) by Tarquin Hall.

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Other

Top Ten Tuesday: Series I Have Loved and a Few I Gave Up On (and why)

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This week’s topic was actually “Completed Series I Wish Had More Books” but this didn’t work for me. So, once again, I tweaked it. This post is bascially a re-run. I’m sure I’ve done this exact line-up before.

I love Mrs. Tim Christie–an officer’s wife who must deal with the demands of husband, children, and Army pay! Mrs. Tim Carries On (aka Mrs Tim of the Regiment) is the first book. (I haven’t yet read all of this series).

The Diary of a Provincial Lady (a sort of civilian counterpart to Mrs Tim) is the wife of the land agent on a great estate (like Bertie Pelham in Downton Abbey before he inherited the title of Marquess). Her husband, Robert, when home is always asleep behind the Times newspaper. Diary of a Provincial Lady is the first book. Be warned–there are some fake/scam Kindle versions of these books.

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I really enjoyed the first book of this trilogy–The Rosie Project. The second book wasn’t as good, but was still fun. I haven’t yet read the third.

Here is my review of book 2, The Rosie Effect.

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I hate to say that JoJo Moyes made me so mad with her Kentucky book, that I haven’t gone back to reading her. She was a favorite of mine until then–a “must-read” even. Unlike many readers, I liked each of the books in this trilogy.  Me Before You is the first book.

My review of book 3, Still Me

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Louise Penny’s Chief Inspector Gamache series is a fixture on my reading calendar. Still Life is book one.

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I loved the William Monk series, but over time the crimes became too se__al for me. I had nightmares. I still love William, Hester, Oliver, and the others though. Face of a Stranger is book one. The crimes in the first several books are not as se–al.

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I still have 2 more of this six book series to read. I never get tired or Maura Beth or the gang of friends who love the Twinkle’s tomato aspic! The Cherry Cola Book Club is the first book. (Scroll down in the linked post for the review of book one).

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I love Stephanie Plum–Trenton, New Jersey’s favorite bounty hunter! But, after 20+ books when all the exact same stuff happens in each book (i.e. Rex runs on his hampster wheel, Grandma Mazur causes a disaster at the funeral home, Stephanie’s car gets put out of action, Stephanie and Lula eat Cluck in a Bucket or donuts, Stephanie is either in love with Ranger or with Joe) I got tired. In real-life Stephanie, Ranger, and Joe would be about my age! They, too, (well–not Ranger) would be trying to improve their 401(k) and be looking for ways to pay for retirement! I’d had to switch to reading them after the first narrator of the audio books was changed. I didn’t like the new one at all. One for the Money is the first book.

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44 Scotland Street, where little Bertie is forever stuck in crushed strawberry dungarees with his crazy mother reading Melanie Klein, is like a visit with an old friend. I grab the next one when I remember it. I like some characters more than others. I love Cyril the dog with the gold tooth most though. 44 Scotland Street is the first book (as well as the name of the series).

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I devoured the early books of Patrick Taylor’s Irish Country series. Then…well…let’s just say the quality went away. “Milked it” is the term I’ve used before. I can’t blame him—authors need to earn money. Publishers push. I get it. But I stopped liking them as they got dumber and covered less ground per book. The first several books, though, are a delight for anyone. An Irish Country Doctor is the first book.

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The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency is my all-time favorite series, but it has suffered in the wake of cancel culture. It is apparently ok for an elderly white Scotsman to write it, but not for a white woman to voice it on audio. I’m not sure what happened, but that’s how it appears. Long-time voice of the series, Lisette Lecat, was canceled (If the poor lady died and I missed it, then I understand, but tell readers that like when the long-time voice of the Chief Inspector Gamache books died). The “new” voice of the series changed all the personalities–this was after 20+ volumes!! I quit. I loved them on audio, but not without Lisette Lecat.

Of course, there are others! The wonderful James Herriot books, Anne of Green Gables, Sherlock Holmes, and more!

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Book Reviews

Review: Iona Iverson’s Rules for Commuting aka The People on Platform 5 (UK) by Clare Pooley

My Interest

Long ago I interviewed for a job in the Loop–aka downtown Chicago. It would have required commuting by train. Around that time, my cousin got jury duty for a federal trial and had to go down to the courthouse in Chicago by train. A mother of a toddler, she was thrilled to be out of the house. But one morning she realized “I’m probably in somebody’s seat….” lol. During those years I had to commute by bus in a city where everyone has a car. I had my preferred seat. I had nodding acquaintances. We didn’t talk. I listened to music or the radio on a Walkman with rechargeable batteries. One lady crocheted. Several read books or magazine. We didn’t talk and thankfully, cell phones weren’t around yet.

Commuting has rules and rituals that get us through that time of stress and longing for our beds. This book simply sounded like a fun riff on those self-imposed rules and rituals. Plus, I liked Clare Pooley’s first book, The Authenticity Project well enough to try another story by here. [My review is linked].

The Story

“It makes me furious that as men age, they gain gravitas. They become ‘silver foxes.’ Women, however, become invisible. We cannot allow this to happen, my friends. We must all be more Iona. We all deserve, like Iona, to have a triumphant second act.”

Iona Iverson, the one-time IT Girl known as “Iona Yacht” is now 57 and her career as a magazine therapist (do not call her an “agony aunt”) is fading. Her daily commute, always in the third train car (carriage), always in the same seat involves a thermos of tea poured into a proper china cup on a saucer. Her little dog, Lulu, accompanies her. Around her other London commuters are enduring their own commute according to their own rules and rituals. But rule number one for most is do not talk.

In some train cars people shout into cell phones or talk, but not in Iona’s car. Therefore when a man who looks and acts like the investment banker he is chokes on a grape and talking is necessary, a new phase of commuting begins for Iona and some of the people around her. That new phase is titled “friendship.”

Iona, teenager Martha, nurse Sanjay, advertising writer Emmie, Dave (the man whose name everyone forgets) and of course, Piers, the investment banker, make an unusual group. All find each other in a moment of life-or-death, but over the next few weeks they will weather changes, trials, tribulations, and support each other through it all. Though, until the grape incident they knew each other as “Woman With the Magic Handbag” or “Smart-but-Sexist-Manspreader” or even, improbably, as “Muhammad Ali.”

My Thoughts

“…she just wanted to sit quietly and imagine herself in a world where she still mattered.”

I loved Iona! I love that quip, “Iona Yacht.” Having been a secret Tatler reader for years, I loved her past life in the party scene. But even more, I was right there with Iona, who at 57 was living through the destruction of her longtime career (no nice out-of-court settlement for me though). I loved the way she railed at double-standards and at the way women “of a certain age” (a way younger “certain age” today) just become invisible to society. I loved Lulu for growling when a certain name came up in conversation. I loved Piers and all that he had to face. I was proud of Emmie for her big choice and Martha for her hard work, and of Sanjay and Dave for being the sort of men the world needs.

Just read or listen to this book if any of this resonates with you.

My Verdict

4.0

Iona Iverson’s Rules for Commuting by Clare Pooley

Book Reviews

Review: Appointment With Death by Agatha Christie

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My Interest

I’m slowly reading or listening my way through Agatha Christie’s books. It was time for another audio book and nothing I’d requested was in at the library so I took the first AC that was available. It sounded good.

The Story

“…her rocking horse nostrils…”

An extremely sheltered and isolated American family is abroad for the first time. The mother, once a warden in a women’s prison seems to have a hypnotic control over her adult children (really her step-children, but they remember no other “mother”). Two of her children are overheard talking about “she’s got to be killed.” One son has managed to marry, but only by sneaking out at night. Once caught, Mother arranges for a distant cousin to come stay and “allows” him to marry her. She has not lived in the same way as her husband’s family.

Meanwhile, a peeress–the American-born wife of a peer not a peeress in her own right, is a Member of Parliament is one of the group visiting and staying in the same location as the family.

“Lady W. was a very well-known figure in the English political world….When Lord W, a middle-aged, simple-minded peer whose only interests in life were hunting, shooting, and fishing, [met her on an ocean voyage and then married her] the match was often cited as one of the examples of the danger of ocean voyages. The new Lady W lived entirely in tweeds and stout brogues, bred dogs, bullied the villagers, and forced her husband piteously into public life. It being borne in upon her that politics were not Lord W’s metier, she graciously allowed him to resume his sporting activities and stood for parliament [throwing herself into political life–especially at Question Time]. Cartoons of her soon began to appear–always  a sure sign of success.”

A French doctor is also part of the group. Naturally, sleuth Hercule Poirot just happens to be in the group as well. When one day the [step]mother is found dead, the usual suspects are rounded up and several red herrings are disposed of with quick dispatch. In due course (as no doubt Lady W would say) the real murder is revealed in Poirot’s usual fashion.

My Thoughts

Aside from loving the wonderful description of Lady W–who naturally brought Lady Astor instantly to mind, I found the uber-sheltered adult children chillingly reminiscent of some of the similarly sheltered or intentionally totally isolated very far-right homeschooling families in the USA today. [The family in the book had been educated by a succession of governesses]. I can think of two families I have knowledge of whose adult children are even up to the mid-40s in age and still all live at home and work only in their family business–I am reliably informed there are many others

The two popular huge t.v. homeschooling families, the Duggars and the Bates, before being on tv kept their kids almost that isolated. The near-cult to which they belong stresses “right response” training so that children learn to obey parents instantly and completely. The response of the adult children in Agatha Christie’s story are as “programmed” as that. They exhibit a nearly hypnotic response to their step-mother’s admonitions. They year for freedom, but like their real-life counterparts, have been raised to fear everything outside the family, so can’t muster the courage to just leave. The new wife (daughter-in-law) knows there is another world. This is why marriage is a risk to such families and why so many of the marriages are arranged. But, like in this book, even the most carefully arranged marriages can open a new window and let in fresh air. Or, would that be open Pandora’s Box or a can of worms?

This was easily my favorite Agatha Christie book due to the family’s isolation and Christie’s foreshadowing today’s far-far-right parenting. Eerie, spooky, even creepy-real. Like Cathy Ames in East of Eden–that voice! That creepy, controlling voice. Dear old Ags nails it yet again! I listened to the audio version.

My Verdict

4.5

Appointment With Death by Agatha Christie

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20-books

Historical Fiction

Book Reviews

Top Ten Tuesday: Some Rom-Com or Light Romance Books I’ve Loved

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This week’s topic was supposed to be: Books I Love That Were Written Over Ten Years Ago. But, I just didn’t have any ideas. I love lots of “old” or “older” books, but 10 years just isn’t long enough ago to be a category–at least not this week. So, a topic change to rom-coms.

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This the newest book on my list. The Bodyguard: A Novel by Katherine Center

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The Cornish Midwife by Jo Bartlett–this whole series is fun.

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The Flatshare: A Novel by Beth O’Leary [scroll down the post to the review]

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Red, White & Royal Blue by Caey McQuiston

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The Old Girls’ Network by Judy Leigh

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Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy

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The whole Stephanie Plum series! One for the Money by Janet Evanovich is book #1.

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One Plus One by JoJo Moyes

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Unmarriageable: A Novel by Soniah Kamal

Only nine this week. All I could do.

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Book Reviews

Women in Translation Month Review: The Florios of Sicily: A Novel by Stefania Auci, translated by Katherine Gregor UPDATED

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My Interest

I was looking for an audio book and saw this cover–that was it! I had to listen. (FYI: The painting on the cover is Reading By the Sea by Vittorio Matteo Corcos). That it fit the bill for Women in Translation Month was just gravy.

The Story

Beginning in the late 18th century, we follow the upwardly mobile Floiros from a dull, uninspiring life in a rural village, to the mid-19th century when they have become extremely prosperous and important. The begin with spices/medicinal herbs and catch each new wave of innovation, riding it to a handsome profit.

Small Spoiler Alert

Vincenzo, son and nephew of the original men is the main mover and shaker. He and his mistress, Giulia, make up much of the story. She waits and finally achieves what she wants–marriage to Vincenzo after the birth of a son. Their daughters know they do not matter to their father and express themselves on the subject to their very dear little brother.

My Thoughts

I enjoyed this book, I just didn’t “love” it. I actually did love the sound bytes of Italian history interspersed within the story. I know very little history of that entire region so those were fascinating. The information on medicinal use of spices and herbs was also interesting. This was based on a true story which helped me stay interested. This was a sort of Sicilian version of Taylor Caldwell’s The Captains and the Kings, but sadly pretty dull. None of the characters really “came alive” in this book. I’m not sure if that was due to the author or the translator. At nearly 500 pages, it was a job to stay with it once I discovered no one was really firing my imagination.

Annoying thing: Unless “valet” means “butler” in Italian, the translator messed this up. I’ve never heard of a valet serving at table unless maybe the butler was just murdered and Hercule Piorot hasn’t figured it out yet! A man who looks after another man’s wardrobe, shaves, and possibly even barbers and helps dress him, wouldn’t know a lot about saucing the fish at table.

My Verdict

3.0

The Florios of Sicily: A Novel by Stephania Auci, translated by Katherine Gregor

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Historical Fiction

 

Book Reviews

Spell the Month in Books: August

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I love this fun book meme hosted by Reviews From the Stacks.

August?? How?? Sigh. It all goes by to fast!

I’m trying to use books I’ve not used before for this challenge. All books are either on my Goodreads TBR or ones that I’ve reviewed on this blog.

A

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The Ardent Swarm: A Novel by Yamen Manai, translated by Lara Vergnand

U

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An Unorthodox Match: A Novel by Naomi Ragen

G

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Groundskeeping: A Novel by Lee Cole

U

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From my TBR. An Unsuitable Match by Joanna Trollope

S

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The Swimmers: A Novel by Julia Otsuka

 

T

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Another from my TBR. Three Colonels: Jane Austen’s Fighting Men by Jack Caldwell

Did you participate in Spell the Month? Leave me a comment or a link to your own post.

Book Reviews

Review: Full Tilt: Ireland to India With a Bicycle by Dervla Murphy

My Interest

I learned of this book first from blogger Bookish Beck. This year I was reminded of it by blogger Swirl and Thread. Please be kind and visit their blogs and leave a comment. We bloggers live for comments.

Dervla’s journey took place in 1963–the year after I was born. How interesting to see what the world was like 60 years ago outside of the USA or Europe. I had many strong, independent female relatives and love to travel so I knew this book would be a good fit for me.

The Story

Dervla took off on her bike called Roz and headed to India. This, however, was not completely a bike journey. The title tells it all–“with” a bike, not necessarily “on” a bike. There were times out of politeness, sanity, or politics that she accepted rides or boarded a bus or train to get farther a long. In some countries it was completely against the culture for a woman to be alone. In other places threatening men made it quite an ordeal to be alone. She was brave, resourceful and usually very canny about who to trust.

Dervla developed an affinity for the Afghani people–citing the men as “gentlemen” always. Pakistani men often got her admiration, too. She disliked India. This soon after partition and the creation of Pakistan and India that might been a more common opinion–I’m not sure. She got frustrated, but stayed polite, when people mistook Ireland for part of the U.K.

Her journey was often very physically taxing and dangerous. From snow to heat she experienced it all. I’m sure she wanted to quit many times, but did not record much in the way of self-doubt.

Here are some of the quotes that struck me:

I don’t claim to know the right answer to the under-developed problem, but I feel most strongly that the communist answer is less wrong than the Western.” 

Odd to hear about communism from a non-American perspective and to hear it referenced in a good way, but this was 1962 before the Cuban Missile Crisis.

“nothing like religion for spreading ‘brotherly love'”

“having to be noncommittal irritates me more than anything in the world” 

I love that she declared a road “jeep-able.” The motor sport of off-roading was in its infancy then, but she saw it clearly.

Paraphrase: The wealth of the West and the poverty of the East are equally detrimental.

My Thoughts

I’ve left this book un-reviewed for several weeks. I just couldn’t get a good handle on where to start with it. I admired Dervla’s courage and tenacity on her journey. Her political observations (albeit with 60 years of hindsight!!) sometimes seemed very naive–but would they have been thought so at the time? I’m not sure. She was writing in the era in which the First World discovered what was then called the “Third World Countries” and began sending out a new sort of missionaries–Peace Corps volunteers, VSOs, and similar, going forth to boldly proclaim the religion of free enterprise, human rights, and democratic government. Most of those young, idealistic volunteers would have devoured this book and probably agreed with her.

I do plan to read her late 80’s/early 90’s African book as she goes through Malawi at the time I was serving there as….wait for it….a Peace Corps volunteer. (I was a little older than the volunteers of the early ’60s–I would turn 30 months after my service ended).

I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys travel literature about unusual trips though her prose isn’t always novel-like. I listened to the audio version.

My Verdict

3.5

Full Tilt: Ireland to India With a Bicycle by Dervla Murphy

Book Reviews

Top Ten Tuesday: Hilarious Book Titles

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I’ve done a few versions of this–either on my own or in previous TTT posts. I really like finding funny book titles. I will link to my past posts at the bottom of today’s list.

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Your Inner Hedgehog by Alexander McCall Smith. One of his that I haven’t read.

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How to Appear Normal at Social Events–this appeals to me. I’m awkward. I bet you never guessed.

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Because who doesn’t want a bilingual cat. I have one who snores like she needs a CPAP machine–I think she’d do well with Welsh. Teach Your Cat Welsh. (There’s a version for dogs, too).

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Cyril is a favorite of mine in this wonderful series. He is artist Angus Lordie’s dog with the gold tooth. An ankle is just so inviting…for the teeth–isn’t it. A Promise of Ankles by Alexander McCall Smith

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Poor Seamas is a little boy when his mother, or “Mammy” to the Irish, dies. He keeps going up to folks at her wake and asking if they know she died. Tough one, but funny. Did Ye Hear Mammy Died? by Seamas O’Reilly. [Link is to my review].

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Just how would you choose to cook YOUR husband? The African way would have been appropriate in my case for reasons I won’t disclose!! How to Cook Your Husband the African Way by Calixthe Beyala. [Link is to my review].

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This book has some very funny moments. The title is hard to top. A Short History of Tractors in Ukranian. (My review was on my old blog).

Here is my post from 2021’s version of this topic. Funny Book Titles.

 

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