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How to Train Your Dad–the art of dumpster diving

How to Train Your Dad

by Gary Paulsen

Carl is the twelve year old narrator of this middle grade book which has a very conversational style. The vocabulary is somewhat advanced for a twelve year old, but that is because Pooder, Carl’s best friend who helps him write the story, goes through phases of interest (British, Navy seal, etc.). His various fascinations show up in his speech. Pooder admires Carl’s dad who, besides a few odd jobs, lives by bartering. Carl’s dad is very intelligent, mechanically inclined, and very kind. He trades energy (labor) for goods. He considers himself rich as he recycles from dumpsters or his neighbor Oscar’s junk piles. He built a whole truck from discarded spare parts. He prizes function over form; so if an invention works, it doesn’t matter how it looks.

His dad’s philosophy has been fine with Carl until he reaches middle grades and suddenly becomes aware of Peg as “the” girl. His summer goal is to become “lookatable” by the time school starts which is hard to do when your dad barters for XL camo T-shirts and pink bib overalls decorated with words like “juicy.”

The book explores Carl’s efforts to train his father using the methods in a puppy training pamphlet. His efforts are hilarious as are the contraptions his father builds and the objects he brings home. A lot of the dumpster diving food goes to the pigs and chickens. Carl and his dad have a rescue pit bull Carol who is an integral part of their family and, despite her stinky habit of shredding skunks, is allowed to accompany them everywhere.

How to Train Your Dad is a fun story that tweenagers will enjoy. Its casual style and over the top anecdotes are sure to appeal.

I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Rating: 4/5

Category: Children’s Fiction, Middle Grades

Notes: Contains a very small amount of cussing

Intended ages: 10-14

Publication: October 5, 2021—Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group

Memorable Lines:

She’s in my grade at school and everyone likes her and I have never ever ever seen her be catty or crabby or phony to anyone ever which is something like a miracle in middle school, if you ask me.

Sometimes Pooder jumping from phase to phase without warning can be a little confusing. He might start things off an English lord before suddenly becoming an advertising mogul looking to make some coin and then turn into a Viking biting deep on a tomato-apple so the juice runs down into his beard-if-he-had-one while he’s thinking of pillaging a coast somewhere.

My father loved to barter. To trade, as he thought of it, energies, abilities, knowledge. Trade everything he could so as not to use money. “I have a widget,” he explained to me when I was very small, “and John Doe has an extra electric frying pan he doesn’t need, but he needs a widget and so we trade. We barter. Simple and clean. It’s the very best and purest way to do business.”

Tender is the Bite–K-9 narrator

Tender is the Bite

by Spencer Quinn

The dynamic duo of the Little Detective Agency are on the case again. In fact, it seems like several cases. Bernie is the human, and Chet is his canine side-kick. The story is told from Chet’s point of view. Bernie sees Chet as an equal partner and refers to the team as “we” in talking to clients, police officers, and friends. There is a lot of humor in the tale as Chet describes his communications with Bernie and references past mishaps where he has perhaps been a little too exuberant. Most people, even some “perps,” like and respect both members of the team. One thing you can be sure of is that Chet and Bernie will always have each other’s back.

In Tender is the Bite there is lots going on. Some Ukrainians with a secretive boss try to send them on a highly paid security detail in Hawaii. Two young ladies, a standup comedian, and a ferret keep cropping up. A politician and his wife are somehow involved with the others, and a thread emerges that introduces a woman on the police force to Bernie, but is complicated by an officer who seems to have some shady connections. I had a lot of fun with Chet’s view of events and his efforts to understand figures of speech. I also enjoyed watching the pair unravel the many secrets. There is plenty of action to keep you turning the pages.

I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Rating: 4/5

Category: Mystery, Humor

Notes: 1. Occasional foul language.
2. This is #11 in the Chet and Bernie series. I have read two others in the series. I didn’t enjoy #10 as much as I did the first or this one. This one checked the boxes for both humor and mystery, and can easily be read as a standalone.

Publication: July 6, 2021—Macmillan—Tor/Forge

Memorable Lines:

“I reckon he knows we’re talkin’ about him—tail’s a dead giveaway.” Something about my tail? Yes, I could feel it. I myself was perfectly still and calm, correct behavior in an interview. My tail is not always a team player. I got it back in line, and in no uncertain terms.

Soon I was in the shower too! Had I forgotten once again about the problem of the shower curtain and how the whole thing with all the poles and screws and rings can come crashing down? Show me the dude who can remember everything.

“On the other hand,” Bernie said, “sometimes it’s a good idea to stir up the hornet’s nest, see where they go.” I gazed at Bernie. He looked good—well rested, not hung over, certainly not sick or feverish. A joke, perhaps? Could there be anything good about hornets? Wasn’t stirring up the nest the last thing you wanted to do? As for seeing where the hornets go, they always go the same place, right at you. Take it from me.

Flora’s Travelling Christmas Shop–spreading the Christmas spirit

Flora’s Travelling Christmas Shop

by Rebecca Raisin

When you are Festive Flora, you have your almost dream job of assistant-cashier at Deck the Halls Christmas Emporium, you are dating adventurous poet Luke, and you are living in your best friend Livvie’s spare room, what could possibly go wrong? Well, for Flora, everything—all at once!

Flora is accused by various boyfriends of being eccentric, and she is. She’s passionate about the Christmas spirit and wants everyone to feel the same way. She is also kind and generous with a tendency to speak and act before she thinks. Flora is never “good enough” according to her parents’ standards. She and Livvie, who also had a difficult home life, received love and support as children from Flora’s Nan. At her house they created wonderful Christmas memories.

Livvie decides that the solution to some of Flora’s problems is “a Christmas van, like a pop-up shop.” Thus Flora becomes a Van Lifer and heads to Lapland, “the home of Santa Claus,” to sell all things Christmasy with Hallmark movies being the blueprint for her future: a meet-cute with a good looking young man, conflict between the two, followed by romance and a “happy ever after.”

The story pretty much follows that pattern as she meets some nice, helpful people along the way, but also has to deal with a group of jealous “mean girls” who apparently never developed emotionally past high school. The love interest is Collom, the handsome manager of the Christmas market, a never smiling loner who is passionate about ecology, not Christmas. Flora takes on the task of turning Collom from a Grinch to a believer in the Christmas spirit. She has to complete this goal before the Christmas market closes down for the season and they all go their separate ways.

Flora’s Travelling Christmas Shop is told from Flora’s point of view with dialogue interspersed with Flora’s thoughts which she sometimes wonders if she has spoken aloud. Whoops! Author Rebecca Raisin succeeds with another romantic comedy, sure to have you turning the pages to see if Flora’s next zany idea will win Collom over—to love Christmas and maybe Flora too. Along the way she has some embarrassing moments that will keep you in stitches, ranging from stage fright to being a naked Britisher in a Finnish sauna.

I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to HarperCollins (HQ) for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Romance, Women’s Fiction, General Fiction (Adult)

Notes: 1. This is the third in a series about Van Lifers, but stands completely alone from the first two.

2. Despite the Christmasy, festive atmosphere of this book, there is a surprising amount of foul language used casually throughout the book.

Publication: October 28, 2021—Harper Collins (HQ)

Memorable Lines:

It’s not just about holding down a job, it’s that my whole life keeps imploding at every turn. My parents think I’m on a desolate road to nowheresville.

“I probably sound unhinged, but what if we all lived as though our life were a Hallmark movie? What if we took chances, and said what we thought, and believed that true love would find a way, no matter what? What if we were honest about our feelings, knowing that it would all work out in the end? Then the world would be a better place!”

They give me those polite smiles that mange to convey they have absolutely no idea what I’ve said but they’ll tolerate me talking to them in halting Finnish because at least I’m giving it a go.

Rosie’s Travelling Tea Shop–home and business in a van

Rosie’s Travelling Tea Shop

by Rebecca Raisin

Personal Note: Fall is bringing glorious temps in my area along with some hints of winter to come. Days are too short and dark is uncomfortably extended. It’s the perfect time to mix up my stringent standards of reading books, excepting book club tomes, in the order in which they were published. It’s also a good time to again acknowledge that I am fearfully behind in my reading queue, but I am gradually catching up, mainly because I am requesting about half the number of Advanced Reader Copies that I did when I lived in Mexico. What does my sudden free-spiritedness have to do with this review?

I just finished reading Rosie’s Travelling Tea Shop, a fun romance and the first in a series that focuses on some nomadic souls. I’m going to jump into the next one tomorrow, soon to be followed by the third, which has a Christmas theme—perfect!

My Review: It’s Rosie’s birthday and she just turned 32. Her husband Callum has a surprise for her, but it is not a pleasant one. As the sous chef at a famous London restaurant, she works long hours, has almost total independence in creative decisions, but gets no credit for her contributions to the restaurant’s fame.

Can she be successful personally and financially as a Van Lifer, someone who lives out of a van, travelling with no schedule, following fairs and special events or his or her personal whim? Does she have what it takes to strike out on her own, preparing and selling special teas and comfort food in her tiny kitchen at these events? Can she recover from Callum’s betrayal and find love with either sensitive Ollie whom she met on the Internet or with hunky nomadic Max who draws her outside her cocoon of contentment with adventures?

I obviously enjoyed this book. Rosie’s Travelling Tea Shop has romantic themes, but it also addresses the serious events that the main characters have experienced that make them the way they are. Rosie is a really nice person and all through the book I wanted only the best for her, although life doesn’t always work out that way. Rosie is a planner with OCD tendencies. She has not had much time for friendships so interacting with romance book loving, free-spirited, kind hearted Aria is a challenge. I can’t forget to mention Poppy, Rosie’s fuchsia pink van; Poppy is as important to Rosie and to the plot as any flesh and bones character! The next book in the series will focus on Aria and her Travelling Bookshop; I’m hoping for a very bookish romance with some adventure and fun thrown in as Rosie and Aria continue their Van Life travels.

I would like to extend my thanks to Edelweiss and to HarperCollins for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Romance, Women’s Fiction

Notes: 1. #1 in The Travelling Shops Series 2. When I posted my review on Amazon on 12/6/2021, the Kindle version of this book was on sale for $.99.

Publication: February 16, 2021—Harper Collins

Memorable Lines:

“The right person is out there, you just have to take the leap and find him. But first you need to figure out what makes you happy, and then have it in spades.”

“Anomaly is just another word for extraordinary, and who wants to be ordinary, anyway? To me you’re a shining light in a crowd of beige.”

And now I see with such life-altering clarity, that all those material things did the exact opposite of fulfilling me, they held me back, kept me in debt, kept me working to maintain a lifestyle that didn’t satisfy me at all.

Love Your Life–another fun Kinsella main character

Love Your Life

by Sophie Kinsella

Ava is the latest in the line of Sophie Kinsella’s over the top lovable main characters. She rescues almost everything—from her mischievous beagle Harold to books no one else would want to buy. She is passionate about her ever-changing interests but never seems to achieve any of her goals. Her conversations with herself and others can best be described as stream of consciousness. The word “tidy” is not in her vocabulary.

Ava’s support group from university choir days is a cadre of unlike souls who nevertheless get along fabulously. Ava goes to Italy at their urging for a writer’s retreat where she meets Matt whose family business is all consuming. He has a sterile apartment, weird taste in art, and two odd roommates. Their dynamic is amusing in a male supportive kind of way.

The rules at the writer’s retreat keep everyone anonymous and focused on their writing—in theory. Ava and Matt quickly focus on each other and reveal their identities to continue their relationship when they return home. Watching Ava and Matt interact is like watching the proverbial train wreck. You know disaster will happen, yet you can’t look away. Although much of the book is pleasantly predictable, there are some stunning surprises along the way. Love Your Life is a fun foray into chick lit: twenty-first century romance featuring online dating and What’s App and wacky but lovable characters. It is a humorous look at the glue that hold friendships together and the ties that bind hearts in love.

I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to Random House (Dial Press) for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4/5

Category: Romance, Women’s Fiction

Notes: Some foul language

Publication: October 27, 2020—Random House (Dial)

Memorable Lines:

Maud’s basic conundrum in life is that she has three children but only two hands.

Nell doesn’t normally do hope. Not since she got ill. She describes her life philosophy as “managed pessimism.”

For a few minutes we’re both silent as rain starts to thunder down on the car roof. Hurt is crackling around the car like a lightning storm.

Out, Mouse!–cute Irish tale

Out, Mouse!

written by Valerie L. Egar

audio narration by Paul Collins

Finn, an elderly Irish man, has unwelcome visitors as a mice family makes themselves at home in his cottage. Finn takes advice from Professor Dunderbutt’s book and writes a series of kind letters to Mr. and Mrs. Mouse making suggestions of places they would probably prefer to live. Unfortunately for Finn, they always find something unsuitable about the places he suggests. I won’t spoil the ending, but I’ll say that it did make me smile.

I was referred to this book by blogging book reviewer Carla at Carla Loves to Read. She mentions in her review that she listened to the audio version while reading the printed text. I have been wanting to dip into the many audio versions of books currently offered. With an actor reading this with an Irish accent, this book seemed like the perfect one to begin my listening adventure. Although I will probably continue to prefer the written word, I did enjoy listening to this narration which was very well performed.

I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to Whistle Oak for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4/5

Category: Children’s Fiction, Humor, Multicultural

Notes: 1. Publisher Recommended Ages: 6-9 years
2. Includes a section that encourages students to create pictures of what they imagined as they read the story.

Publication: April 6, 2021—Whistle Oak

Memorable Lines:

Finn knew something was wrong as soon as he opened the door to his cottage. Something or someone, had made a mess of the breakfast he’d placed on the table before taking his morning walk.

If the mice don’t like your first idea, keep writing letters. Sooner or later, one of your letters will work and they will move. This method NEVER fails.

He found a scrap of red cloth and tied it around his neck. A tiny brass nail became a make-believe sword. He held it tightly in his hand, waving it back and forth.

Of Mutts and Men–a tired tale

Of Mutts and Men

by Spencer Quinn

Although I really enjoyed reading the first book in the Chet and Bernie Series, I was a little disappointed as I read Of Mutts and Men, the tenth book in the series. I felt like I was reading a clone of the first book, sporting a different cover and title and with the same jokes, but repeated too often. The mystery concerning a murder, an aquifer, and big business is fresh but somehow did not thrust me into a page turning mode. Chet, a K-9 school failure but faithful sidekick to P.I. Bernie, is always devotedly at Bernie’s side, but his role in capturing the “perps” in this book is less than I think he deserves. He has valuable deductions, but as a dog can not share them effectively in this tale. The story includes a personal side of Bernie’s life as a former flame reenters the picture, but there is no deep examination and it doesn’t seem believable.

I recommend this book if you like mysteries that involve canines and you want a light read. Unfortunately, although it reads well as a standalone, it does not compel me to read the eight books that I skipped over in the series. I am planning to read the next book in the series to inspire me to read more or to convince me that the series is not worth investing more time.

I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to Macmillan—Tor/Forge for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 3/5

Category: Mystery

Notes: 1. #10 in the Chet and Bernie Series, but can be read as a standalone.

  2. Contains some profanity.

  3. Link to my review of the first book in the series, Dog On It.

Publication:   July 7, 2020— Macmillan—Tor/Forge

Memorable Lines:

“Sometimes I don’t understand you.” Well, right back at ya. Which didn’t change how I felt about him, not the slightest bit. And just to show him, I put my paw on his leg and pressed down firmly, so he’d know how much I cared. We shot through the intersection, the light luckily turning green at that moment, or just about to. 

The big heat of summer was coming very soon, and the back of Bernie’s shirt—one of his nicest, with the flamingos drinking at a bar pattern—was getting sweaty, and he was huffing and puffing a bit. I followed him up the slope, first from behind and then from in front, where I do my best following.

I started feeling very good about the case. As for what it was about, exactly, those details would come to me soon, or later, or not at all. But the important thing was that we were cooking, me and Bernie.

The Thursday Murder Club–new life in cold cases

The Thursday Murder Club

by Richard Osman

Richard Osman’s first novel, The Thursday Murder Club, is a stellar mystery. Definitely not a thriller, the solving of a cold case or two gets mixed in with several current murders as four residents of a retirement community band together to solve crimes that have stumped law enforcement in the past.

The main characters stand out as individuals—Ron, a former trade union leader; Joyce, a retired nurse; Ibrahim, a psychiatrist occasionally still consulted by former patients; and the quite competent Elizabeth who has contacts all over the world from her secretive profession.  All play into the sleuthing with their personal strengths and break down stereotypes of senior citizens who have given up on life. Elizabeth is the leader as the one with the best skills at recognizing motives and relationships, understanding how a crime might have been committed, and devising plans to reveal  criminals.  Everyone recognizes that if Elizabeth wants something to happen, a meeting perhaps, she can indeed make it happen.

Even the law enforcement, PC Donna De Freitas and her boss DCI Chris Hudson, find themselves manipulated into cooperating in the investigations by Elizabeth and the other seniors. Since the plot is complicated, there are many characters including a priest, some gangsters, real estate developers, a sheep herder, and a famous boxer. There are even more, and some careful reading is involved as minor characters can have a bigger role than you might anticipate. For example, one important character never says a word: look for Penny in the story.  It is fascinating to watch the Thursday Murder Club pick at the threads of the various crimes until they unravel. There are some crimes that you don’t even realize occurred until they were solved. Now, that’s magical writing because there is nothing artificial about the way author Richard Osman makes it all come together.

The style of the writing is fantastic with lots of British humor to make you smile and a few absolutely laugh out loud scenes. Joyce records her views on the investigation and reflections on her personal life in a diary that we get to read; it is set off in bold print and interspersed with the other chapters which are written in the third person. None of the chapters are very long and some are less than a page making this many chaptered tome move quickly. The chapters change their focus from one crime and set of characters to another, and that also seems appropriate to the complexity of the plot. This is not a book with a lot of red herrings; it is replete with good solid clues. The reader is in for many surprises but discovers them as the characters do. With its intricate plot and characters with depth, The Thursday Murder Club gives you much to contemplate above and beyond the mystery itself. There are many ethical questions to ponder, but the author lays out the facts and leaves judgement up to the reader.

Rating: 5/5 

Category: Mystery, Humor

Notes: This award winning book has a sequel in the works: The Thursday Murder Club 2 is set for publication on September 16, 2021.

Publication:   September 3, 2020—Viking

Memorable Lines:

It looks out over the bowling green, and then farther down to the visitors’ car park, the permits for which are rationed to such an extent that the Parking Committee is the single most powerful cabal within Coopers Chase.

I think that if I have a special skill, it is that I am often overlooked. Is that the word? Underestimated, perhaps?…So everyone calms down through me. Quiet, sensible Joyce. There is no more shouting and the problem is fixed, more often than not in a way that benefits me—something no one ever seems to notice.

“I don’t think you’re supposed to use your mobile telephone in here, Elizabeth,” says John. She gives a kindly shrug. “Well, imagine if we only ever did what we were supposed to, John.”  “You have a point there, Elizabeth,” agrees John, and goes back to his book.

Dog On It–funny K-9 mystery

Dog On It

by Spencer Quinn

Dog On ItHave you ever looked at your dog and wondered what in the world he or she (Chet says, “no ’it’s’ please”) is thinking? In Dog On It, you will be treated to author Spencer Quinn’s take on the imagined inner workings of a dog’s thoughts and personality. His vehicle for sharing these insights is the very likable and competent K-9 sidekick named Chet. The story is humorously told from his point of view.

I figure my dogs have the mentality of a two-year-old. They have a little understanding of the English language, even a smattering of Spanish, but I’m sure most of what I say goes over their heads. In a similar way, P.I. Bernie Little of Little Detective Agency talks over his cases with Chet. Chet picks up on the tone of the conversation, and over the years they have developed cues and routines that make them an outstanding team. When it comes to expressions like “wild good chase,” however, Chet is excited but confused.

We get to know Chet very well as he tells the story emphasizing what he and his “tribe” can do and how they are different from humans. Seen from his perspective, we learn the importance of scents, what delights Chet, and how easily distractible he is. Bernie does the thinking, but Chet’s role is equally important in following even the faintest whiffs and intimidating criminals.

Chet says that Bernie often has a cash flow problem although he doesn’t understand what that is. The source of the problem seems to be undercharging and an abundance of pro bono work. Bernie works to control his smoking and drinking. He has a combat past that Chet only shares a little about. Bernie is divorced and has a young son he adores. The detective displays intelligence, courage, and physical prowess. He isn’t perfect, but he is a very likable character.

Although this book truly brought a smile to my face throughout, don’t be deceived. Packing a good solid mystery with plenty of leads and some adventure as well, Dog On It is much more than a humorous book. On the other hand, don’t expect a deep plot exploring heavy issues; that’s not what this book is about. It is a quick read because it is so entertaining. I never tire of hearing what Chet is thinking or even why he is not thinking at all. This work is the most exquisitely funny example of anthropomorphism I have read in a very long time. I am looking forward to more reading pleasure with this series which currently has ten books.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Mystery, Humor

Notes: 1. This book does not contain much in the way of casual inappropriate language, but it does take God’s name in vain multiple times.

2. #1 in the Chet and Bernie Mystery Series

Publication:  February 10, 2009—Atria Books

Memorable Lines:

At that moment I heard a funny swishing sound. Susie glanced over. “Getting close to home, huh?” I realized the funny swishing sound came from my own tail, whipping back and forth against the seat.

The woman’s mouth opened and closed, but no sound came out. I loved when Bernie made that happen. We walked outside feeling like winners, at least I did.

I’d been in a few car chases like this—one of the very best perks in our line of work, car chases—and they always ended the same way, with some perp’s pant leg between my teeth.

Eats MORE, Shoots & Leaves: Why, ALL Punctuation Marks Matter!

Eats MORE, Shoots & Leaves: Why, ALL Punctuation Marks Matter!

by Lynne Truss

illustrated by Bonnie Timmons

Eats MORE, Shoots & LeavesHaving enjoyed the adult book Eats, Shoots and Leaves years ago, I knew I would love Lynne Truss’ book Eats MORE, Shoots & Leaves: Why, ALL Punctuation Marks Matter! It is written and illustrated appropriately for children but could also be helpful for teenagers and adults who just don’t understand that a few tiny punctuation marks can change the whole meaning of a sentence. Bonnie Timmons’ drawings are hysterically funny and illustrate so well the concepts.

The pages are set up so the differences in meaning are clear. On one page, for example, the words are “Eat here, and get gas.” The illustration shows cars getting gas at a place that also sells food. On the facing page, the reader is admonished: “Eat here and get gas.” with the illustration depicting a restaurant where a patron flies through the air with a tremendous burp. (Now what grade school boy is not going to laugh at that?) Under each picture, upside down, is an adult explanation of the effect of punctuation or lack of it. The inserted punctuation is always clearly indicated in red. This book is a winner. It achieves its purpose of explaining why punctuation is so important. Who knew grammar could be so funny?

I would like to extend my thanks to Edelweiss and to G.P. Putnam for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Children’s Nonfiction

Notes: Ages 6-9

Grades 1-4

Publication:  October 22, 2019—G.P. Putnam

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