How to Fix Everything in America Forever: The Plan to Keep America Awesome by Frank J. Fleming

I don’t hide anything I read from you all. Yes, I read this book. It made me laugh out loud. I’m that kind of person.

The Crimson Rooms by Katharine McMahon

This is one of the books I picked up when I was going through Downton Abbey withdrawal. It’s not at all like Downton Abbey, but it is set during the same time period, so that’s good enough, right? That’s what Google told me when I searched for “books that will remind me of Downton Abbey.” Those weren’t my exact search terms, but close enough and now I’m veering off the topic. This book is about an English lady lawyer during that time when lady lawyers were rare and not that acceptable. She is working on the defense of a man who’s been accused of murdering his wife. There’s something fishy about this murder. There’s also something fishy about the woman who shows up with a little boy she claims is the lady lawyer’s dead brother’s son. In addition, the lady lawyer is falling in love with a handsome man lawyer and the handsome man lawyer seems to be wooing her, and that is so unexpected that there might be something fishy there too.

For as many times as I used “fishy” in this review, I don’t believe there are any actual fish in the book. But I can’t even remember the lady lawyer’s name, so what would I know?

I enjoyed this book very much. The murder mystery is sufficiently intriguing, but there’s all this other angst about her brother possibly not being the man she thought he was and about being a lady lawyer before lady-lawyering is cool and about falling in love with someone you can never be with. So maybe it’s a little like Downton Abbey, except with a lot fewer servants. Unfortunately, I saw the ending coming about a half-mile away. Not as bad as seeing it coming a mile away, but as a general rule I don’t like to see an ending until it’s maybe a quarter-mile out there. But it was still a great book.

The Gun Seller by Hugh Laurie

Reading this book was like listening to Hugh Laurie do a monologue. Only it would be a really long monologue, since it’s a whole novel. The main character finds himself involved in this conspiracy with arms dealers and terrorists–I say “finds himself” because he didn’t really want to get involved with arms dealers or terrorists at all, but he was sort of set up by some other folks and then he met a beautiful woman who was already involved, so then what was he supposed to do, just walk away? Well, that wouldn’t be a very interesting book, would it? I don’t think I would have enjoyed this book for the story except that the narration was so funny. It was like turning on A Bit of Fry and Laurie and Laurie’s gone all James Bond/Jason Bourne on you. Except he’s still funny.

Now I feel like I have to share this YouTube video.

The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber

This is a very long book, but it’s about prostitution, so naturally I was engrossed. It’s set in nineteenth century England. Sugar is a prostitute of some notoriety who gets to leave her sleazy life behind when a wealthy perfume merchant becomes infatuated with her and decides to make her his exclusive mistress. Okay, maybe that’s still technically a bit sleazy…but a lot less dirty. (Prostitutes led very dirty, rather unhealthy lives in the nineteenth century. Mistresses had it much better.) Actually, the perfume merchant, William, isn’t technically wealthy in the beginning–he’s actually kind of a spoiled dandy layabout type who’s been living off his father’s largesse, but when he realizes he simply must have Sugar for his very own, he finally gets motivated to make something of his life and he becomes very successful very quickly. You see what men are capable of when properly motivated. Sugar is cynical and self-educated–she’s secretly writing a novel about what disgusting pigs men are–but she finds herself increasingly dependent on William and not just financially. This sort of thing can only lead to tears.

I enjoyed this book more than I probably should have. There is a fair amount of sex in it, and it’s occasionally gross. But I found the story-telling very engaging. I was disappointed in the ending. Ultimately the story didn’t seem to add up to anything, at least nothing I could discern. But getting there was very interesting. I will definitely read this author again.

Dracula by Bram Stoker

This is one of those books I’ve always meant to read but never got around to, so I finally got around to it. It’s not actually that great. It starts out good, when that Harker guy goes to Transylvania and meets Dracula–nice and creepy–but when it goes back to England, it becomes less interesting. Only a little less interesting–I was still interested, but just hoping that things would get more interesting, eventually, but instead they just got duller and duller and duller until I was like, “OKAY, GUYS, JUST STAKE HIM ALREADY OHMYHELL HOW LONG CAN THIS GO ON–oh, wait, is he dead? They killed him? Great! LET’S END THIS!” After reading the book, I can see why lots of people have been fascinated by the Dracula story. I can also see why movies based on Dracula bear little resemblance to the novel. Because holy crap, what a drag.

Guests of the Ayatollah: The Iran Hostage Crisis, The First Battle in America’s War with Militant Islam by Mark Bowden

I was eight when the hostage crisis happened, so I didn’t really appreciate what was going on at the time. I never really did learn much about it before reading this book, but now I feel totally informed because, hey, I read a book. Just kidding. Well, I am a lot better informed than I was before. There isn’t an in-depth discussion of the historical background, but the demonstration that led to the hostage situation is placed in context. Mostly the book focuses on the personal stories of the individual hostages as well as the behind-the-scenes diplomatic stuff with President Carter and the secret military rescue plot that ultimately failed. That is a very sad story. Well, the whole thing’s sad. Especially for Iran. I have to tell you, I don’t like Jimmy Carter at all, but I felt sorry for him after reading this book. I’ve always heard people talk about the significance of the hostages being released the very morning Ronald Reagan was inaugurated, and some people think there was something fishy there and other people are like, “Well, of course they released the hostages once Reagan was in office because they knew Reagan wasn’t going to take this crap,” but really, they were just sticking it to Jimmy Carter–a president who, despite his many flaws, was in kind of an impossible situation and did what he could, but there were just some crazy psychos running Iran in those days. Good thing that’s all changed. Oh, wait.

A Time to Betray: The Astonishing Double Life of a CIA Agent Inside the Revolutionary Guards of Iran by Reza Kahlili

Yeah, when I decide to read about some depressing piece of history in some other country, I just go whole hog. This book isn’t about the hostage crisis but about the Islamic Revolution. Or rather, it’s the personal memoir of an Iranian man who lived through the Islamic Revolution and was a true believer and joined the Revolutionary Guard and then became disillusioned and started spying for the CIA. No, really. True story. Reza Kahlili (not his real name) started spying for the CIA because he hoped that telling the truth about what was going on in Iran would lead to U.S. action that would change the situation there. It would appear that all it actually led to was a lot of him endangering himself and having to lie to his family and feeling isolated and afraid until he just couldn’t stand it anymore. The good news is that the CIA paid him and set him up with a new identity in America when he was all done, and he’s really happy now. Unfortunately, a lot of his friends were killed and Iran is still a mess. What to do. I dunno, but I was in dire need of some light reading after this one.

Tempting by Susan Mallery

Let me start by saying that this book was way better than it had any right to be. I mean, click on that link and tell me you think that book might be a good idea. You can’t possibly. So why did I read it? Because I just finished reading two depressing books about Iran, okay? I earned the right to read this book. You’d lose respect for me when I told you what it was about, except if you’ve been reading this blog for very long, little will shock you anymore. So Dani has just found out that the man she thought was her father was not her father. Her father is this rich and famous senator who is planning to run for president. To Dani this seems like just the right time to search out her roots. Okay, maybe it’s a little inconvenient, but what is she supposed to do, just leave it alone? Just not go marching into the senator’s office demanding to see him and not meet his drop-dead gorgeous son who is conveniently adopted but not-so-conveniently technically related to her? Is this going to be a problem? Maybe not as big a one as it should be. I kind of had to suspend a little disbelief here. Once I did that, I was free to enjoy the silly romance of this story. Okay, the technically-her-brother-or-technically-not-depending-how-you-look-at-it guy was kind of a douche, in retrospect, but at the time I really hoped those crazy kids could make it work.

The more romance novels I read, the more I notice a disturbing trend: When you want to make a character appear deep, give him or her a disabled relative. Works every time. People who know disabled people are always deep. So deep you might just fall in love with them. Just as long as you’re legally allowed to marry, that’s all that matters.

Love Story by Janine Boissard

This romance is very French. What do I know about the French? Very little, actually. I read The Elegance of the Hedgehog in 2011, and that was translated from the French, so now I read another book translated from the French and I think, “Hmmm. Very French.” This book isn’t anything like The Elegance of the Hedgehog. It’s very much like your typical romance–insecure woman falls for an emotionally damaged man, her love turns him into a decent human being, he then falls for her because she saved him from himself, and voila (that’s French!), they lived happily ever after. But it’s French, you see, so it’s classy. The heroine is Laura, a simple girl from the country who has always believed herself to be beneath notice. She goes to work as the personal assistant for a famous opera singer who was blinded…in an accident? in a freak acid attack? I don’t remember. Anyway, his name is Claudio, and his dreams of playing the lead in La Traviata are over because apparently if you’re blind, you can’t act on a stage. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but there it is. He’s pretty bitter about it. But he has a beautiful voice. So beautiful that Laura falls in love with him even though he’s kind of a jerk. It’s okay, he becomes less of a jerk later. And oh, the Frenchness of it all.

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Well, that concludes Bookapalooza! I’ve read a ton of books since that last one, but I’ll save them for the next book-review mini-series I do, which does not have a fancy name yet.