The Guinea Pig Diaries by A.J. Jacobs

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The Guinea Pig Diaries
by A.J. Jacobs
Paperback: 272 pages
Publisher: Simon & Schuster; Reprint edition (July 13, 2010) 
ISBN-10: 1439104999
ISBN-13: 978-1439104996 

Annotation/Flashtalk: Could you live without telling a lie for 30 days? How hard is it to focus on just one task at a time? Can you successfully outsource an argument with your spouse?

A.J. Jacobs is up to it again, this time instead of one big experiment, like his "The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible" or "The Know-It-All: One Man's Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World," this time he does a series of 30-day experiments.  A.J. takes on:
  • Radical Honesty
  • Living like George Washington
  • Outsourcing his life
  • Walking the Red Carpet
  • Trying to be totally rational and remove bias from his life
  • Being a unitasker and focusing on one task at a time
  • Using his writing skills to get his nanny a date
  • Posing naked for Esquire
  • And for his "saintly" wife Julie, a month doing EVERYTHING she asks.
Jacobs writes of his "experiments" with his usual humor, insight, and journalistic approach that readers of his previous work have come to expect.

Genre/Subgenre: Non-Fiction/Humor

Evaluation: 3-stars

A Dirty Job by Christopher Moore

A Dirty Job
by Christopher Moore
Paperback: 405 pages
Publisher: HarperCollins (March 27, 2007)
ISBN-10: 0425150984
ISBN-13: 978-0060590284

Annotation/Flashtalk: "Congratulations, you've been chosen to act as Death. It's a dirty job, but someone has to do it."

The birth of your first child is supposed to be one of the highlights of your life; however, for Charlie Ascher, a mild-mannered beta-male, and second-hand store owner the day turns out to be so much more.  Charlie's wife Rachel dies shortly after childbirth, and Charlie sees a tall black man in a mint green suit by her bedside -- but no one else sees him.  The man turns out to be Minty Fresh, a soul-collector, or as Minty like to say - "death merchants." 

Charlie is coping with his grief and raising his daughter, Sophie, with the help of his sister and his neighbors, when strange things start to happen to him.  People start to die and objects near them begin to glow red.  Sophie begins to exhibit some unusual traits -- killing people by uttering the word "Kitty", and a very unlucky streak with pets, that is until she finds herself protected by two (big, like bear) hell hounds.  Minty steps in to help Charlie understand his new responsibility. 

In his new role, Charlie is tasked with collecting soul vessels of those people who passed, and then keeping them in his shop (which is the perfect cover for a death merchant) until the new owner comes in to buy it. He must strictly adhere to the names and dates that start showing up in his death datebook; for if he doesn't the underworld can take over.  As the story unfolds, the demons of the underworld, or in this case the San Francisco's sewers, start to get restless. Charlie and Minty, with the help of a police detective and Charlie's employee Lily work to keep the balance in order.

Genre/Subgenre: Absurdist Fiction/Paranormal

Evaluation: 3-stars

Immortal in Death by J. D. Robb

Immortal in Death
by J.D. Robb
Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: Berkley (July 1, 1996)
ISBN-10: 0425153789
ISBN-13: 978-0425153789

Annotation/Flashtalk: Will fashion or murder keep Eve from finally marrying Rourke?

The book opens with the murder of one of Eve's snitches.  He turns up dead with this face bashed in.  An inspection of his apartment turns up a formula and some unidentifiable blue powder.

Eve Dallas' best friend Mavis knows just the man to help Eve find the perfect wedding dress, Leonardo.  It just so happens that Leonardo is also dating Mavis and he used to date the famous supermodel, Pandora. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.  Pandora is not done with Leonardo and promises to ruin him if he doesn't leave Mavis immediately.  Pandora is soon found murdered, her face also bashed in, at Leonardo's studio and Leonardo and Mavis are the prime suspects.

Nothing links the two murders except the face bashing, but Eve is determined to prove that Mavis is not Pandora's killer. The mystery must revolve around the blue powder. With the help of Rourke's resources, Eve identifies the powder and is able to link it to the beautiful women and the fashion industry. She now just needs to link the youth-promising drug to its producer to find the killer.

Genre/Subgenre: Mystery/Romance/Suspense

Evaluation: 3-stars

Glory in Death by J.D. Robb (Nora Roberts)

Glory in Death
by J.D. Robb $7.99
Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: Berkley (September 7, 2004)
ISBN-10: 0425150984
ISBN-13: 978-0425150986

Annotation/Flashtalk: Strong, famous, and public women are being found murdered with their throats cut.  Can Eve Dallas figure out who the killer is before she's the next victim?
Detective Eve Dallas is back on the job when she gets a call about a prominent female prosecutor found dead in seedy neighborhood; her throat has been slit and her umbrella is missing.  The suspects include her ex-husband, her son, and her son-in-law.  The next victim is a famous and beautiful television actress; her throat is slit too and she's missing a shoe.  What or who can these two women possibly have in common? Rourke, Eve's boyfriend, of course! But he has no reason to want them dead.  Realizing that the common thread is that they are both high-profile individuals, Eve uses her connections with the media to put herself out as bait.  When her plan backfires and a TV station employee ends up dead, Eve is racked with guilt. She must find the killer now. 

Genre/Subgenre: Mystery/Romance/Suspense

Evaluation: 3-stars

Blameless by Gail Carriger (The Parasol Protectorate #3)

Blameless (The Parasol Protectorate #3)
by Gail Carriger $7.99
Paperback: 384 pages
Publisher: Orbit; Original edition (September 1, 2010)
ISBN-10: 0316074152
ISBN-13: 978-0316074155
Annotation/Flashtalk: A preternatural pregnant by a werewolf? Unheard of! Alexia unfaithful to the gorgeous Lord Maccon? No way! But why won't anyone believe her?

At the onset of book three of the Parasol Protectorate, we find our heroine Alexia  pregnant, ousted from Woolesy Manner, a social pariah, removed from her post on the Shadow Council,and thoroughly in need of some tea.  She takes off on a journey with Floote and Madame Lefoux to Italy to find the Templars, the only people who might be able to explain her "infant inconvenience." Throughout their journey they are being stalked and attacked by vampires, only to be saved by an oddly-familiar dog, and on another occasion a hooded man.

Back in London, Professor Lyall is doing his best to maintain BURR business, and keep the Woolsey Pack together in the face of his inebriated Alpha, Lord Maccon, who has been drinking the formaldehyde, one of the few elixirs that can actually intoxicate a werewolf, out of Professor Lyall's specimens.  Lord Akeldama has left town, and his drones are also suspiciously missing.  Buffy, his best drone, has been taken captive and is being held underwater.  Once sober, Lord Maccon and Professor Lyall devise a plan to rescue Buffy, and in the post-rescue scuffle Buffy is shot.  The only way to save him is to turn him into a werewolf -- poaching a drone is going to cause some trouble, even if it was the only way to save his life. 

Coming to his senses and armed with new information, Lord Maccon reunites with Alexia as they wonder about the future of their offspring.

Genre/Subgenre: Fantasy/Romance/Humor/Steampunk

Evaluation: 4-stars

Changeless by Gail Carriger (The Parasol Protectorate #2)

Changeless (The Parasol Protectorate #2)
by Gail Carriger $7.99
Paperback: 400 pages
Publisher: Orbit; Original edition (April 1, 2010)
ISBN-10: 0316074144
ISBN-13: 978-0316074148

Annotation/Flashtalk:Word around London is that there is a localized plague that is neutralizing supernatural beings. Now married, Alexia wakes to find her werewolf husband, Lord Maccon, on his way to Scotland. Is he running from the plague, or toward its source?

A localized plague has struck a small area of London; werewolves and vampires are human and aging again.  The plague arrived with the return of supernatural soilders from overseas and then resolved as quickly as it came.  Lord Maccon, head of BUR in London, takes off on a mysterous trip to Scotland.  After hearing that the plague is headed north to Scotland, Alexia, Lady Maccon, is worried about her husband and takes a contingent of family and associates on a blimp ride to Scotland. When they arrive they find out that the plague has indeed hit Scotland and Lord Maccon and his old pack, have been affected. 

There is a spy among the pack and London-contingent in Scotland.  Alexia works to find out the culprit and discover the mysterous source of the plague along with the help of Floote, Professor Lyall and Lord Akeldama.
Genre/Subgenre: Fantasy/Romance/Humor/Steampunk

Evaluation: 4-stars

Naked in Death by J.D. Robb (Nora Roberts)

Naked in Death  
by J.D. Robb (Nora Roberts)
Paperback: 600 pages
Publisher: Vintage Crime / Black Lizard (June 23, 2009)
ISBN-10: 0307454541
ISBN-13: 978-0307454546

When a prostitute, or licensed companion as they are called in 2058, who happens to be the granddaughter of a US Senator winds up brutally murdered, can Detective Eve Dallas get to the bottom of it before leaks to the press threaten her career, not to mention her ability to close the case?

Set in 2058, Detective Eve Dallas is the lead investigator in the murder of a prostitute, who turns out to be the granddaughter of a US Senator.  The case is quickly shaping up to look like the work of a serial killer. Working the case brings to the surface many of Eve's childhood traumas. The grizzly murders have been comitted with handguns, antiquated novelties now only kept by rich collectors who are licensed to do so. It seems that the killer has fixated on Eve, and begins to send her videos of the murders just to unnerve her. One of the lead suspects in the case is Rourke, a well-off business entrepreneur who has taken a liking to Eve. In an undavised moment of weakness, Eve allows herself to be swept off her feet by Rourke. Their little tryst puts her investigation and her reputation in jeopary. Eve must work twice as hard to clear Rourke, because her gut tells her he didn't do it, and to find the real killer.

Genre/Subgenre: Mystery/Romance/Futuristic

Evaluation: 4-stars.

Ape House by Sara Gruen

Ape House
by Sara Gruen
Hardcover: 320 pages
Publisher: Spiegel & Grau; 1 edition (September 7, 2010)
ISBN-10: 0385523211
ISBN-13: 978-0385523219

As one, the bonobos turned to face the hallway. Isabel looked from face to face, puzzled. "What? What is it?" VISITOR, signed Bonzi. The rest of the apes remained motionless, their eyes trained on the door. "No, not a visitor. The visitors left," said Isabel.  The apes continued to stare down the hallway. Sam's hair rose until it stood on end, and a pricking like tiny spiders crept over Isabel's scalp…The rustling stopped, but all eyes—human and ape—remained on the hallway. Sam's nostrils flared. He turned to Isabel and signed urgently, VISITOR, SMOKE….In eight years of daily contact, she'd never seen the bonobos behave like this. Their adrenalin was contagious….The thunderous explosion blasted the door entirely out of its frame. As it carried her backward, she processed that she and the door were being propelled down the hall by a billowing, rolling wall of fire….Shadowy figures in black clothes and balaclavas swarmed in and spread out, strangely, frighteningly silent. Crowbars swung and glass flew, but the people didn't speak.

Scientist Isabel Duncan has been raising a family of bonobo apes as part of the Great Ape Language Lab. These incredible apes have acquired the ability to communicate with humans via a computer and American Sign Language (ASL). They have become like family to Isabel. Late one night the apes sense “Bad Strangers” in the lab and start frantically signing to Isabel – and then the explosion! When Isabel wakes up in the hospital, she finds out her beloved apes have been sold and she fears for their safety.

Once out of the hospital, Isabel begins the task of trying to track down the apes. Then serendipitously she sees a billboard advertising “Ape House” a new show coming to television. The apes in the show are her apes from the Great Ape Language Lab.  The entire world seems transfixed by sight of these apes living in a house using a computer to order food, toys and furniture; everyone that is but Isabel. She is both elated that the world is able to see the beauty and intelligence of these apes and their ability to communicate; however, she is also afraid that whoever is behind the show is not taking proper care of the apes.

Still trying to get to the bottom of where the apes are, Isabel reaches out to a reporter, John Thigpen, who once visited the lab. The matriarchal ape had trusted John, so Isabel feels she can trust him to.  Together with some friends, Isabel has found some interesting information about who was behind the explosion and wants to use it to get her family of apes back and into a suitable environment.  One day, Sam, one of the apes identifies using ASL that one of his caregivers is the one of the “bad stranger” kidnappers. The show’s producers immediately shut the show down. Can Isabel and John still save the apes before they are sold to an animal experimentation lab?

Genre/Subgenre: Fiction/General

Evaluation: 3-stars.

The Shack by William P. Young

The Shack
 by William P. Young
Paperback: 256 pages
Publisher: Windblown Media; 1st edition (July 1, 2007)
ISBN-10: 0964729237
ISBN-13: 978-0964729230

One icy day, Mack Philips finds a note in his mailbox.  “Mackenzie, It’s been a while. I’ve missed you.  I’ll be at the shack next weekend if you want to get together. – Papa”   Is this a cruel joke being played on him by his daughter’s killer? Or is it really God (Papa, as his wife Nan calls him) inviting Mack to chat? If it is really God, why would he want to make Mack go back to such a horrific place?

Mack, his wife Nan and their children lived a happy existence out in the woods on the outskirts of town.  One day, Mack took the kids on a camping trip while Nan went to Seattle to take a continuing education course.  While camping, the unthinkable happened, their youngest daughter Missy was kidnapped and presumed murdered by a serial kidnapper/killer the “Little Ladykiller.” The only remains they found were Missy’s torn and blood-soaked dress in a rundown cabin about two hours away from where Missy was taken. 

Flash forward to the day Mack found a cryptic note in his mailbox. “Mackenzie, It’s been a while. I’ve missed you.  I’ll be at the shack next weekend if you want to get together. – Papa.” Papa was Nan’s name for God.  Unsure if it was a trap, a cruel joke, or a real invitation from God, Mack makes plans to head back out to the old shack. 

Once at the shack, Mack begins to have an amazing experience. The ramshackle shack is converted a new, and the barren cold and icy landscape is transformed into a beautiful garden paradise.  At the cabin Mack meets God first in the form of a matriarch African-American woman; Jesus in the form of an immigrant carpenter/handyman; and the holy spirit in the form of a graceful and ethereal gardener. Together they explore Mack’s loss, pain, and his questions about faith and God’s plan. 

Genre/Subgenre: Christian Fiction

Evaluation: 2-stars.

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

Water for Elephants
by Sara Gruen
Paperback: 350 pages
Publisher: Algonquin Books (April 9, 2007)
ISBN-10: 1565125606
ISBN-13: 978-1565125605

I DON’T TALK MUCH about those days. Never did. I don’t know why—I worked on circuses for nearly seven years, and if that isn’t fodder for conversation, I don’t know what is.

Actually I do know why: I never trusted myself. I was afraid I’d let it slip. I knew how important it was to keep her secret, and keep it I did—for the rest of her life, and then beyond.
In seventy years, I’ve never told a blessed soul.”

The novel opens almost immediately with the murder of August, the animal trainer for the Benzini Bros Most Spectacular Show on Earth.  Gruen proceeds to tell the story, from the perspective of a 90+ year old Jacob Jankowski and his current life in a nursing home and a much younger Jacob as he is working on the Depression-era circus so many years ago, including how he came to witness August’s murder.

After the sudden death of Jacob’s parents, he finds himself just 0ne exam sort of his veterinary license, but without a penny to his name.  The shock of the events sends Jacob adrift, where he winds up as part of the Benzini Bros Most Spectacular Show on Earth. There he meets Camel, part of the circus’ menagerie crew; Walter and Queenie, the show’s resident dwarf clown and his dog; August and Marlena, the animal trainer and his wife the show-horse rider; Uncle Al, the owner and ringmaster; and a host of other circus workers and performers (kinkers, but not to their faces).

Gruen’s level of research is apparent in the details she brings to the story, the language of the circus, the workings of the circus, the politics of the circus, and the subtle nuances of the time, including a real Depression-era affliction called “Jake leg.”

It is only at the end of the novel that the murder is solved, and the murder identified. Gruen leaves several breadcrumbs so that the astute reader may figure out the shocking truth.

Genre/Subgenre: Historical Fiction/Romance/Mystery

Evaluation: 4-stars.