The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

January 21, 2013

Patty Crane: Spy series, trivia book captivate

By Patty Crane
Globe Columnist

JOPLIN, Mo. — I have another Janet Evanovich read-alike to share: I wanted to include Lisa Lutz's "Spellman" series when I wrote about Donna Andrews and Deborah Coonts in my last column, but I ran out of room.

The author of "The Spellman Files" -- which has become a five-book series -- was a panelist at a session I attended at the Public Library Association Conference. She good-naturedly shared some emails from her "fans" who wrote to tell her how awful her characters are and that reading a Spellman book is like staring at traffic accident as you drive by.

I was intrigued. I just had to read an author who could laugh with us about all the terrible things people were saying about her books. Plus, she now has five books in the series, so they can't be that bad, right?

About halfway through the first book of the series, the aforementioned traffic accident comment made sense to me.

The Spellmans are a family of private investigators that's best described as dysfunctional. They spy on each other, lie, scheme, bribe each other and are fascinating in a rubbernecking way.

Twenty-eight-year-old Izzie Spellman, who has been working for the family firm since age 12, is a quirky, appealing heroine with some not-very-admirable traits. The rest of the clan is Mom and Dad Spellman, perfect brother David, 14-year-old sister Rae, who follows strangers for fun, and Uncle Ray.

The first book, "The Spellman Files," is our introduction to the family, and it takes half the book to complete the initial introduction. As I neared the halfway point, I thought to myself, "I don't know if I like these people," and I wondered where it was all going.

But by the last page a mystery had been solved, the Spellmans revealed they have some redeeming qualities, and I was fascinated and entertained in a way I'm not sure I can explain.

If reading about a dysfunctional family of PIs doesn't sound appealing, you might want to check out "A World of Curiosities: Surprising, Interesting, and Downright Unbelievable Facts from Every Nation on the Planet." Author John Oldale has compiled a collection of unusual facts about every country on Earth.

Some of his facts come from personal experience -- he has visited 90 nations. For the rest, he has more than 150,000 references, which can be perused on the Internet.

The book reads like an almanac, listing each country along with at least one page of facts. For some of the entries the source is cited on the page -- New Zealand is listed No. 1 among Most Peaceful States, with the reference listed as the Global Peace Index, for example. New Zealand scores a 100, and Iraq scores a 0.

This is not a book you will read cover to cover but one you'll pick up from time to time to get lost in the trivia.

For instance, did you know that the most dangerous female sport in the U.S. is cheerleading? Seventy-one percent of all college-level female sports injuries are from cheerleading. Other interesting U.S. facts: We eat almost a ton of pizza each minute; the average life span of a major league baseball is six pitches; and some of our presidents had unusual pets, such as Thomas Jefferson's bears, Herbert Hoover's alligators and George W. Bush's cow.

As you travel around the globe you will also find that the country with the most pyramids is not Egypt, but Sudan. Moldova has the highest per-capita rate of death by powered lawnmower. And in Paraguay, 93 percent of the prison population is awaiting trial.

Did you know that the first brand of instant coffee was developed in Guatemala in 1906 by Englishman George Washington? Or that Denmark has the world's highest taxes, the most expensive electricity and, according to the U.S. National Science Foundation, is the happiest country in the world?

All of this and so much more await you as you browse this entertaining book covering the nations of the world.


Patty Crane is reference librarian for the Joplin Public Library.