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Author: Terri Schlichenmeyer

Terri Schlichenmeyer of "The Bookworm Sez" is based in Wisconsin.

“How to Stop Time” by Matt Haig

“How to Stop Time” by Matt Haig
c.2017, Viking
$26.00 U.S.
328 pages

Book review by Terri Schlichenmeyer.

 

The big hand is on the “12.”

And the little hand is, well, you’ve known how to tell time since you were small. It’s something you do so naturally now that you probably don’t even think about it anymore. You just do it… but in the new novel, “How to Stop Time” by Matt Haig, there’s so much more to tell.

Tom Hazard is old – over four hundred years old, and that’s all you need to know. If you knew anything more, you might have to die.

In the late 1800s, a doctor gave Tom’s affliction a name; but Hendrich, the man who “protects” Tom, calls him an “alba,” as in Albatross, a bird with rumored longevity and the name for the society Hendrich runs. But Tom doesn’t feel very protected; in fact, he doesn’t totally trust Hendrich. All Tom wants is to be back to as normal as he was in the year 1598.

He didn’t know Hendrich then. He only knew that, at age 26, he looked as though he was not yet a teenager and people noticed, accusing him of witchcraft. He’d fallen in love then; he and Rose were poor and happy and had a daughter but in 1599, he had to leave London to protect his family from the accusers.

That meant that Rose would die a cruel death filled with fever and sores but without Tom by her side. Her sister told him Rose was ill; he hurried to her, and before she breathed her last, she whispered a truth he’s carried for more than four centuries: their daughter, Marion, inherited his affliction.

Since then, Tom has scanned the faces of every young woman he sees, in Paris, Florida, London, Iceland. What would Marion look like now? Hendrich promises that the Albatross Society will find her, but Tom has his doubts. Heartbroken, depressed, and rightfully reserved, he has his doubts about a lot, including Marion. Is his daughter, his only family, his link to Rose, even still alive?

“How to Stop Time” is many things. It’s soft sci-fi. It’s history. It’s a mystery, literary tale, romance, and drama. And it’s also exceptionally good.

It takes a minute to get into it, though, beware: author Matt Haig starts in the middle, so don’t let a second of “Huh?” deter you from reading on. The story will make sense pretty quickly and – with its aching, Tom’s memories, and a gentle chase through the centuries – becomes irresistible even faster. It helps that this is an intriguing enough premise told with the kind of details that fans of time travel tales will relish. Although, of course, Haig takes license with some real-life characters. It turns out to be part of the appeal of this truly wonderful novel.

You may not think that this kind of book is “your thing,” but give it a try and you won’t be sorry. Fans of any kind of good story will love “How to Stop Time,” and you shouldn’t wait to get your hands on it, either.

Terri Schlichenmeyer is based in Wisconsin

“Grass Roots: The Rise and Fall and Rise of Marijuana in America” by Emily Dufton

Grass Roots: The Rise and Fall and Rise of Marijuana in America” by Emily Dufton

c.2017, Basic Books
$28.00 / $36.50 Canada
312 pages

BOOK REVIEW
by TERRI SCHLICHENMEYER

Is the grass greener on the other side of the fence?

It doesn’t seem to be. Your side looks just fine, healthy, and filled with weed. There’ll be no poison on that, though; weed is exactly what you want there and in the new book “Grass Roots” by Emily Dufton, you see how, historically, that’s been a good thing and it’s been bad.

Had you lived in Jamestown 400 years ago, you would’ve been under an interesting edict: all colonists were required by law to cultivate hemp plants. Hemp, a super-strong natural fiber, was important for the making of cloth and rope and, by the late 1800s, its by-product, cannabis, was used as medicine.

Just a few decades later, however,prohibition was on its way in and marijuana was on its way out. The 1937 Marijuana Tax Act made possession and transfer of cannabis illegal and that was the final word.

For awhile.

On August 16, 1964, Lowell Eggemeier stepped into San Francisco ’s Hall of Justice “and politely asked to be arrested for smoking pot,” which was a felony then. He got what he wanted: to “launch a revolution….” By 1968, “pot had become fiercely political” from coast to coast; by 1970, its usage had swept into suburbia.

Still, despite that weed was widespread, it had its detractors: Richard Nixon “despised” marijuana and did everything he could to link it to society’s ills. Even so, as he “helped pass one of the most sweeping drug laws in American history,” many questioned whether those laws were fair, especially considering the number of arrests for possession of pot. Meanwhile in Oregon, a member of the House and a pig farmer helped decriminalize weed in 1973, becoming the first state to do so; no other state was willing to follow suit, until Richard Nixon resigned and the decriminalization movement began anew.

By 1978, it was reported that children had “easy access to head shops,” and parents went on the offensive. Nancy Reagan just said “no,” and everyone worried that joints led to crack cocaine. Anti-drug sentiment was everywhere, until we came full-circle: in the 1980s, AIDS brought back the idea of marijuana as medicine…

“Grass Roots” proves that marijuana has had its highs through the years – and its lows. But learning about it could have been so much more fun.

True, there’s a lot of historical information inside this book, so it can absolutely be said that author Emily Dufton offers what her subtitle promises. There are dates and stats and Presidents and activists here, plenty of laws and names, but all that info is pretty dry in its delivery. It’s not bad – it’s just not very lively. It should also be mentioned that it’s mostly about smoke-able marijuana, not hemp-as-crop.

And yet – anyone wanting to know about where weed’s been and where it’s going would be happy with this book. It’s comprehensive and fact-filled, which makes it a treasure-trove for the right reader. And if that’s you, then “Grass Roots” is a great place to spend your green.

Terri Schlichenmeyer is based in Wisconsin

“Driving Miss Norma” by Tim Bauerschmidt and Ramie Liddle

Driving Miss Norma” by Tim Bauerschmidt and Ramie Liddle

c.2017, HarperOne
$26.99 / $33.50 Canada
243 pages

BOOK REVIEW
by TERRI SCHLICHENMEYER

The car’s all packed with your gear.

The tent, sleeping bags, extra pillows, there was room for everything you’ll need and some things you won’t. You’ve really been looking forward to going. This trip will be remarkable – especially if, as in “Driving Miss Norma” by Tim Bauerschmidt and Ramie Liddle, your cargo is particularly precious.

What will we do with our parents when they’re too old to care for themselves?

It’s a question that Baby Boomers ask every day, and it’d crossed Bauerschmidt’s and Liddle’s minds. They decided they had time to make decisions. Their parents were older, but that didn’t seem any cause for concern; her mother and his mom and dad were in relatively good health.

Until they weren’t.

Bauerschmidt and Liddle are nomads, and they travel around the country wherever the roads take them. On their routine annual trip to northern Michigan , they found what they hoped never to find: his father was desperately ill and his mother wasn’t coping well. Then Bauerschmidt’s father died. Two days later, Bauerschmidt’s mother, Norma, was diagnosed with advanced uterine cancer.

Bauerschmidt and Liddle were facing a frontier they never expected. And so they did the unexpected: they offered to take Norma with them on their travels, cross-country.

Not wanting to live her last days in a hospital, she said “yes.”

The trip wasn’t without issues: their first days were stuck in Michigan because high winds kept the RV off local bridges but Norma’s wide-eyed excitement showed the benefits of living in the moment. After all, there were regional foods to sample, horses to ride, hot air balloons to soar in, and a Native American celebration to see. Norma visited Mt. Rushmore and Yellowstone for the first time. She fell in love with Ringo, a standard poodle. Prescription medicines stopped working for her, so the 90-year-old went to a “Pot Store” in Colorado for relief. She went to a World War II museum in Louisiana . She was in a parade, became famous, and blossomed.

“None of us knew what was coming next,” says Liddle. “But one thing we now knew was this: taking Norma on the road was… a good decision.”

I didn’t cry as much as I thought I would when I read “Driving Miss Norma.” I didn’t cry at all, in fact; there’s just too much joy here to cry.

While it bears mention that there are times when authors Tim Bauerschmidt and Ramie Liddle get a little sappy, it’s not all that bothersome. Readers can overlook it because the bulk of this travelogue is so charming: not only is it fun to watch “Miss Norma” go from housewife to hero for millions, but viewing the U.S. through her awe-struck eyes lends a fresher look at old monuments.

And the best part? As Bauerschmidt learns more about his mother, so do we – and it’s easy to like what we see, just as it’s easy to love this book. And you so will. For your vacation this summer, “Driving Miss Norma” is the book to pack.

Terri Schlichenmeyer is based in Wisconsin

“Blue Suede Shoes: The Culture of Elvis” by Thom Gilbert

Blue Suede Shoes: The Culture of Elvis” by Thom Gilbert, foreword by Kim Novak

c.2017, Glitterati Incorporated
$65.00 / $84.00 Canada
252 pages

BOOK REVIEW
by TERRI SCHLICHENMEYER

Forty years ago, you were All Shook Up.

The death of The King was unexpected and chances are, you remember exactly where you were when you heard the news that he was gone. It wasn’t Alright, Mama; it was devastating and you still miss Elvis Presley terribly. In “Blue Suede Shoes: The Culture of Elvis” by Thom Gilbert, you’ll read about others who miss him, too.

Elvis Presley, says Gilbert in his introduction, “was nothing like what you heard about him.” Presley’s career, for example, almost didn’t happen: according to one story here, young Presley didn’t initially want his first guitar. He wanted a rifle but his mother talked him out of it.

Early in his career, Presley was publicly shy and self-conscious, sometimes questioning his purpose in life. Live mics made him tongue-tied and nervous. Still, he loved a good time, and he had more than his share of girlfriends – including one who wanted to marry him and one who definitely did not.

Unfailingly polite, Presley was respectful of his elders (even two-years-older-elders), and was complimentary to fellow musicians and kind to fans. He loved to read the Bible, and he carried the New Testament with him in a travelling box, which also held jewelry he impulsively bought as gifts.

“Sweet,” in fact, is a word used often in this book. “Nice” is another one, and that didn’t change as Presley’s career grew. Never taking on airs, he was “plain as a shoe” but fame had its price, even so: friends had to disguise Presley so he could enjoy everyday pleasures like restaurants and nightclubs.

Yes, some things were off-limits (Elvis wanted to be on TV’s “Laugh-In,” but Colonel Parker wouldn’t allow it), yet when someone came up with an idea, Presley would “make it happen.”

“Once Elvis touched your life,” said one friend, “you were never the same.”

It’s maybe hard to tell by the photo you’re looking at here, but that’s fringe on the edge of “Blue Suede Shoes.” It’s gaudy, like an old Las Vegas showgirl costume, perhaps the kitschiest book you’d have on your shelf – but if you loved Elvis Presley, it’d be the most popular one, too.

And what’s between those blue faux-suede-fabric covers? Interviews, of course: author Thom Gilbert spoke with musicians who worked with Presley, as well as co-stars, body guards, love interests, and others. But that’s not all: readers will find pages absolutely packed with photos of things Elvis owned, gave away, lived in, wore, treasured, and used throughout his career.

Beware, though: despite the uniqueness and abundance of memories here, it cannot be said that this is a wide-arcing book. That’s okay; it has the feel of a lush secret that’s whispered from the dressing room of a smoky casino. Who could resist?

Fans can’t, that’s for sure. This book may be pricey, but you’ll know “Blue Suede Shoes” is worth it once you take a quick peek inside. If you’re a die-hard Elvis aficionado, you Can’t Help Falling in Love with this book.

Terri Schlichenmeyer is based in Wisconsin

Terri Schlichenmeyer presents: “A Canine Christmas”

“A Canine Christmas” by various authors

All books, c. 2017
various prices, paperback and hardcover

BOOK REVIEW
by TERRI SCHLICHENMEYER

Your Holiday shopping list is almost finished.

Everything’s bought and wrapped except the gift you’re giving to the furriest member of your family. That’s the easy gift, though, because you know what your dog likes. He knows what you like, too: snuggling together with a good book. So why not try these Canine Christmas books?

Big brown eyes. Who can resist them? Not author Joal Derse Dauer, and in the true story “Saving Sadie” (with Elizabeth Ridley), she writes about how she found a disabled, depressed dog at a no-kill shelter and she knew she had to so something. It’s a book about love, perseverance, and willingness to open your heart to the dog that needs you most (and vice versa!).

The dog-lover who also loves a little mystery will want “The Twelve Dogs of Christmas” by David Rosenfelt. In it, defense lawyer Andy Carpenter takes on the case of a complaint about Carpenter’s friend’s dog-rescue organization. Martha “Pups” Boyer rescues stray puppies, makes them good dog citizens and finds them good homes, but Pup’s neighbor filed a too-many-dogs report with the city. When that neighbor turns up dead, you can guess who’s got fingers (claws?) pointed at her…

Who doesn’t want a little romance at Christmas – especially if there’s a dog involved? “The Dog Who Came for Christmas” by Sue Pethick is a novel about a single mom who’s near the end of her rope, until her son brings home a stray dog. Of course, the whole family falls in love with the pup – until the dog’s supposed owner shows up to claim the pooch from the boy. He’s single, too, but only barely. Will whoever gets the man, keep the dog, too?

If you know the answer to that book without even trying, then you’ll like “Pupcakes: A Christmas Novel” by Annie England Noblin, the story of a newly-divorced woman, a pug on her doorstep, a new business, and an intriguing man with an Irish wolfhound. Toss in a curmudgeonly neighbor and there’s a good tail.

Here’s no big news: celebrities love their dogs, too, and you can read some of their thoughts on Fido and Rover inside “Life’s a Pooch” by Boze Hadleigh. It’s chock-full of quotations about dogs (both in film and out), people who love dogs (both in film and out), and people who hate dogs (gasp!), broken into categories that make for easy browsing.

And finally, speaking of celebrities, if you’re familiar with author Shirley MacLaine’s terrier, Terry, then you’ll want to read the updated “Out on a Leash.” I’m not ruining the ending by saying that Terry died, but there’s more to the story here. Suffice it to say that if you lost a dog this year, you’ve got to read it all.

If these books don’t satisfy your craving for canines, then sniff around at your local bookstore or library. There’s a gift beneath your tree for Pupsie. Put one there for you, too, because a gift list without a dog book is really not finished.

Terri Schlichenmeyer is based in Wisconsin

“The American Spirit: Who We Are and What We Stand For” by David McCullough

The American Spirit: Who We Are and What We Stand For” by David McCullough

c.2017, Simon & Schuster
$25.00 / $34.00 Canada
176 pages

BOOK REVIEW
by TERRI SCHLICHENMEYER

One nation, under God, indivisible.

Those words deeply mean something to you. Maybe you’ve fought for them. Maybe you say them daily. You see the news and they leap to mind, whether you’re optimistic for the future or pessimistic about current events. And in the book “The American Spirit” by David McCullough, you’ll see how the former better describes our nation.

For the past fifty years or so, author and historian McCullough has given many speeches. He’s been honored to talk to graduating classes, business organizations, and politicians throughout that time, and he says he often returns home knowing that “the American spirit [is] still at work.”

Yes, we’ve always been divided – and united.

We were united by people like John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and Manasseh Cutler, men about whom much has been written. And yet, says McCullough, there were other “giants” in history that we never hear much about: Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr., Speaker Joe Martin, Margaret Chase Smith, Frank Church, the list is endless.

“How can we know who we are and where we are headed,” asks McCullough, “if we don’t know where we have come from?”

Knowing why our cities grew, and why they were important explains us in better detail; take “Pitt from Pittsburgh and the loss would be devastating,” McCullough says, as an example. We also should study the “energy” of the documents created by the Founding Fathers – and about those Fathers, we must remember that they were “living men” and fallible humans. They wrote with their reputations in mind, “staking their lives on what they believed…”

We are a country that values education. We mostly “want to belong to something larger than ourselves.” We are a nation made of people born here, and around the world. We are stewards of and teachers for historic sites. And “When bad news is riding high…” says McCullough, “… and some keep crying that the country is going to the dogs, remember it’s always been going to the dogs in the eyes of some, and that 90 percent, or more, of the people are good people…”

“We all know that. Let’s all pitch in. And never lose heart.”

The news makes you want to scream? Come over here and join the club – but bring your copy of “The American Spirit.” There’s a lot we can learn together.

We can do that, says author David McCullough, by reading history to get a bigger picture of the arms-wide-open optimism shared by America’s brightest citizens. Here, in this anthology of speeches, McCullough displays unparalleled storytelling skills with tales of those preachers, politicians, visionaries, men, and women whose work meant everything to a growing nation. It’s hard not to get caught up in McCullough’s eagerness to know those tales, and it’s hard not to be stirred by them.

This book is small but its message is huge so, if you’re a student of current events, give it the introspection and time it demands. Do that, and “The American Spirit” could pledge for you a new outlook.

Terri Schlichenmeyer is based in Wisconsin

“Lightning Men” by Thomas Mullen

Lightning Men” by Thomas Mullen

c.2017, 37 Ink / Atria
$26.00 / $32.00 Canada
375 pages

BOOK REVIEW
by TERRI SCHLICHENMEYER

It struck in a second.

If you’d have blinked, you would have missed the flash but you’d’ve known it was there by the rumble that followed. There’s nothing like the power and beauty of a summer thunderstorm to put respect into you – except, as in the new novel “Lightning Men” by Thomas Mullen, maybe the crack of a gun.

Even from the front of the truck, Officers Lucian Boggs and Tommy Smith could see that this was trouble.

They’d known for a time that if anyone was going to stop illegal substances from flowing into the part of Atlanta known as “Darktown,” it would have to be them. White police officers wouldn’t bother arresting “Lightning Men” who brought drugs and moonshine in; they didn’t care, but Boggs and Smith knew what those things were doing to the people of their community. And so, there they were, approaching a delivery truck in a narrow alley one night, guns in hand.

The subsequent lack of support from fellow officers came as no surprise, nor did the release of the men Boggs and Smith had arrested. That was the latest in a long line of slights from White Atlanta, which was busy being outraged that Black families were moving into formerly-white neighborhoods.

One of those neighborhoods was where Officer Dennis Rakestraw lived.

Rake really had no issue with “Negroes” moving into his neighborhood, but he knew his brother-in-law, Dale, did. Dale was an idiot, that was sure, and Rake was dismayed to know that he was also Klan. It was that part that got Dale into trouble before – but never as much trouble as Dale was in now, and he’d pulled Rake straight in the middle of the storm.

As tension heated up over neighborhood segregation, a similar tension simmered within the APD over “the colored experiment” within the department, a white banker assaulted by Klansmen, shoot-outs, beatings, and the return of someone who should’ve stayed away. Trust in Atlanta that summer was a rare commodity – between man and woman, between relatives-by-marriage, and even between two APD partners.

There’s a lot going on inside “Lightning Men” – which is good, and it’s not.

Rich in detail

and flavored by the presence of real-life people, this novel, set in 1950, also contains snippets of authentic racism, Jim Crow laws, and social mores of the post-War American South. This offers readers a fine tale with an atmosphere of confusion, beauty, and horror, in which author Thomas Mullen inserts two officers, both of whom are likeable characters and fit perfectly into this story.

But oh, it’s a long story. Too long, in fact: plot lines stretch forever before tying up; dead characters strut on the sidelines; and a rotating cast numbers in the dozens, which can make a reader disoriented. A too-convenient ending is no fun, either.

And yet, readers of noir crime dramas might relish tackling this book and its meticulously-written lushness; if that’s you, this is your kind o’book. For lighter readers or cozy-mystery fans, though, “Lightning Men” probably won’t strike you.

Terri Schlichenmeyer is based in Wisconsin

“The Rules of Magic” by Alice Hoffman

The Rules of Magic” by Alice Hoffman

c.2017, Simon & Schuster
$27.99 / $36.99 Canada
367 pages

BOOK REVIEW
by TERRI SCHLICHENMEYER

Once upon a time, your heart was broken.

It was ripped out of your chest, stomped flat, shattered into a thousand pieces. Romance, you decided then, was something you didn’t want anyway. Love is for dreamers and optimists. Love, you were sure, is for suckers. Or, as in the new book “The Rules of Magic” by Alice Hoffman, love is cursed.

Despite that their parents enjoyed a relatively happy marriage, the Owens siblings had always known that they should never fall in love.

It wasn’t safe, they were told. The one they’d fall in love with would be doomed to die young, a heartache that could be blamed on only one thing: as descendants of Boston’s Maria Owens, and her daughter and her daughter’s daughter and so on, the Owens siblings were witches.

As the eldest, Franny scoffed at her “gifts,” but she secretly loved them.

Tall, with long red hair and fair skin, she was the responsible sister who could see auras and talk with birds. At seventeen, she learned to make potions from her Aunt Isabelle; also at age seventeen, Franny turned away the boy who adored her. It just wouldn’t do to keep him around. It was too dangerous.

People always said second daughter, Jet, was a dead-ringer for Elizabeth Taylor. With long black hair and luminous gray eyes, Jet was a boy-magnet and could read minds. She, however, only had eyes for one boy and though he was exactly the wrong person to fall in love with, she was sure she could outwit the Owens curse.

As the only son born in many generations, Vincent was unusual the minute he entered the world surrounded by an aura. Dark-haired and tall, he was a charming, talented musician and magician – the latter perfected, thanks to an ancient, forbidden book that had found him, more than the other way around. Girls swooned over Vincent, though he sneered at the very idea of love. He couldn’t escape the family curse anyhow, could he, so why bother?

“The Rules of Magic” is one of those books that, when presented with a hint of things to come, you’ll say, “Wait. But…”

And yet, here’s a light warning: if you’re not familiar with author Alice Hoffman, it might take a few pages to see where you’re going. Dip your toes, stick your whole foot in, though, and you’ll soon be immersed in a tale that’s believable and not, both at the same time, which is exactly what you want in a gauzy novel like this. Fantasy swirls in and out with the characters here, as they also suffer from the same human foibles and desires that we mortals have and it’s all held together by magic.

If that’s not a great way to imagine love, I don’t know what is.

“The Rules of Magic” serves as a prequel for Hoffman’s 1995 novel, “Practical Magic,” but with a small dram of patience, you can read it first just as easily. And read it you should – or miss it, be heartbroken.

Terri Schlichenmeyer is based in Wisconsin

“Strange Weather” by Joe Hill

Strange Weather” by Joe Hill

c.2017, Wm. Morrow
$27.99 / $34.99  Canada
433 pages

BOOK REVIEW
by TERRI SCHLICHENMEYER

Sometimes, you just need a little fresh air.

A gasp of ice on a sub-zero night. A whiff of sunshine and hot concrete. The smell of fallen leaves and crisp bonfires. Each inhalation reminds you of the season, so with the new book “Strange Weather” by Joe Hillbreathe deep.

You’re about to scream.

Michael Figlione had known Mrs. Beukes for most of his life. She’d always lived just down the block and was his family’s housekeeper once but by that summer of ‘88, those days were over. By then, she could only wander the neighborhood, addled and half-dressed, mumbling about a man with a Polaroid camera. Thirteen-year-old Michael figured – as did every adult on the block – that she’d become some crazy old lady but, in “Snapshot,” the truth was nothing to say “cheese” about.

In “Loaded,” Randall Kellaway said he didn’t do it. He never put a gun to his six-year-old son’s head, never threatened his wife, but that accusation was the latest of a long string that began when he was kicked out of the Armed Forces in disgrace. Now he wasn’t even allowed to own guns and he certainly wasn’t allowed to have one at his Mall Security job; still, it was a good thing he was armed when a love-affair-gone-wrong turned into a bloodbath at the mall’s jewelry store.

Rand had shut the situation down and everyone was calling him a hero – everybody, except that female reporter from the local newspaper, who’d been digging a little too much into  Rand ’s past.

She’d pay for that. She’d burn for it.

Aubrey loved Harriet. Though it wasn’t reciprocated, he loved her enough to parachute from a plane in honor of her best friend, who’d died. He didn’t love parachuting above the clouds, though, but he jumped anyhow and in “Aloft,” he fell…. and landed on something frighteningly solid.

And finally, Honeysuckle Speck was over-the-moon that her girlfriend, Yolanda, was moving to  Denver . Finally!  It even looked like a good day to do it: sunny, with sprinkles possible, but in “Rain,” the weatherman was dead wrong…

I need a new easy chair. I read “Strange Weather” and ruined the old one by repeatedly hanging on to the edge of my seat.

That’s when I wasn’t clenching my teeth, grimacing or gasping, or forgetting that what author Joe Hill has written about is not real.

Or is it? Hill has a way of turning words to make them glitter, and casually speaking to readers to convince us that the world he presents entirely, physically exists. There’s actually a man with a camera. People are walking around on clouds right now. And guns…? Entirely plausible, considering current events, which only makes that story, and its three individual companion tales, psychologically tighter, OMG surprising, and hard to shake for hours after you’ve finished them.

Yes, these stories are creepy, but not too Out There. They’re tense, and absolutely scream-worthy. “Strange Weather” will leave you with an atmospheric chill but sometimes, you just need a little fresh scare.

Terri Schlichenmeyer is based in Wisconsin

“It’s All Relative: Adventures Up and Down the World’s Family Tree” by A.J. Jacobs

It’s All Relative: Adventures Up and Down the World’s Family Tree” by A.J. Jacobs

c.2017, Simon & Schuster
$27.00 / $36.00 Canada
338 pages

BOOK REVIEW
by TERRI SCHLICHENMEYER

The woman in the cubicle next to yours is a real piece of work.

No tidbit is too small for gossiping. Unsolicited advice is her expertise, and she seems to think complaints are in her job description. Ugh, she’s so hard to work with but be aware. As you’ll see in the new book “It’s All Relative” by A.J. Jacobs, she’s probably related to you.

And so is everyone else, says Jacobs, if you go back far enough. Somewhere several thousand years ago, a man and a woman who probably didn’t even known one another happened both to have DNA with exceptional staying power. Their genes have been passed down to every single person since then. Even you.

That’s, of course, a simple explanation to a complex thing but it got Jacobs thinking. In his own family tree, he says, “I’d be happy to trim a few branches,” but the idea of having several million cousins was an intriguing one. He decided to throw a party for his new family. Everyone was invited. Even you.

These days, genealogy is big-business: over the course of a year, “Americans spend a mind-boggling $3 billion…” and untold hours building their family trees, learning their DNAs, and locating official government records, photos, and documents. You can go online and easily see who you’re related to, even distantly, but the shocker is that “we are a startlingly close-knit species” – so close, in fact, that you could be “at most seventieth cousins with all other humans.” Genetically, we’re awfully close to some animals, too: forebears, as it turns out, might be exactly right.

But you can’t think about who you’re related to without peeking backward. In his zeal for connection-collection, Jacobs amassed family stories and FBI dossiers, contacted celebrities (new cousins!), and found “black sheep” and changing names. He looked at our caveman lineage (yes, even you) and he discovered that, evolutionarily speaking, learning our connections “nudges us to treat strangers with more kindness.”

Soon, you’ll be sitting down to a nice Thanksgiving meal. The whole family’s invited, and in “It’s All Relative,” you’ll see that you’re gonna need more chairs.

In his mega-reunion planning, author A.J. Jacobs learned that early, but that’s only half the fun of this dual look at genealogy. The main part – the appeal of the whole book – is that Jacobs is a truly funny writer, putting himself squarely in the middle of his story, holding up his own family as examples, and using himself as foil to his plans and discoveries.

That, however, is no indication of a lack of seriousness to this book.

Jacobs educates as he entertains, and readers will learn about basic genetics, genealogy, and searching for ancestors far and not-so-far. Indeed, reading this book may spur you to see who you’re related to. (Hint: everybody).

So be nice to that cousin in the next cube. Be sure to tell everyone that you’re actually related to a famous author named Jacobs. And read “It’s All Relative.” You’ll love it because you’re kin.

Terri Schlichenmeyer is based in Wisconsin