Greta Helsing inherited the family's highly specialized, and highly peculiar, medical practice. In her consulting rooms, Dr. Helsing treats the undead for a host of ills - vocal strain in banshees, arthritis in barrow-wights, and entropy in mummies. Although barely making ends meet, this is just the quiet, supernatural-adjacent life Greta's been groomed for since childhood.
Until a sect of murderous monks emerges, killing human and undead Londoners alike. As terror takes hold of the city, Greta must use her unusual skills to stop the cult if she hopes to save her practice, and her life.
Thanks to my friends at Goodreads, I've been slowly resuming my relationship with urban fantasy. (As Alex recently pointed out, occasionally my statements that appear to be compliments may not be actual admiration. You people could just be enablers, you know). So, my fellow enablers, thanks! I tried this out on the strength of a fellow reader to compared it to Aaronovitch, and then on the largely positive reviews of a couple of friends. There's good and bad to be found here, but intriguing enough to be a quick read.
The setting is modern London, but due to characters, writing style, and a cover that looks strangely similar to Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, there's a definite Victorian feel. This is encouraged by a vampire and a vampyre that hail from the 16th century-ish and are prone to be rather... old-fashioned in their views. I experienced a mental stumble or two when a 'cab' actually turned out to be an actual car with an engine and everything, and not a carriage. I'll note that I'm not the only one, as in a review of her next book, Publisher's Weekly wrote: "This series is a fine example of how much (un)life remains in the historical urban fantasy genre."
Narration is shared among a number of characters, but initially focuses on Greta, doctor to the supernatural. She seemed fairly competent, but as the book progressed, I thought that characterization fell apart. Greta is supposedly focused, and determined to get things done, except when she is 'too tired to even think,' which is most of the time. I did like how she handled an attack, so hurrah! Not a shrinking violet. One of the vampires, Ruthven, gets more time, but honestly, the end result is Vampire Lestat. Sir Francis Varney, the vampyre, gets a bit of narrative time as well, but as it's usually guilt-ridden about his state of being or filled with ennui, it's a little more tiresome. Both are apparently named after two historical fiction vampires, although clearly, the stories get it wrong. Not having read either, the references missed their mark.
My favorite character was quite possibly Fastitocalon, chronically ill patient of Greta's I enjoyed the ghouls, although we don't get their viewpoint. They felt the most inhuman of the bunch.
Perhaps one of the best and most underused hooks is Greta's job as a physician to the supernatural community. In this book, the focus is on caring for Varney, after he is injured in an attack, and then caring for various other members of the group. There's a brief interlude where Greta returns to the office and makes a phone call to a local mummy, discussing upcoming surgery for foot-bone replacement. I immediately got caught up in the questions surrounding mummies, making it into one of the more interesting parts of the story.
Writing style is alright; certainly decent. For a few minutes, I wondered if this could be Kate Griffin (Clare North) under yet another pseudonym. But the author has a habit of italicizing certain words (not only not-English) as well as thoughts, and I found it more than a bit distracting. I think unless you are very, very sure of your wordsmithing, you should probably not attempt to do so in your urban fantasy book (example from 6% in: "The blood looked brighter now, somehow, which made no sense at all.")
In summation--this may be one of those compliments--it's a decent book. It didn't really offend me, and I was interested enough that I skimmed over what I didn't care about instead of shifting into annoyance gear. Eventually there is quite a bit of kind of philosophy, which may or may not be of interest. It does mostly fail the Bechdel test, and Greta has a serious case of daddy-worship going on (women! stop writing books where the female protag is surrounded by a coterie of men. Briggs--I'm looking at you as well). But nevertheless, if Shaw can follow Seanan McGuire's example of the InCryptid series by focusing more on the wide assortment of creatures, she'll have a hit on her hands.
This London based UF turned out to be a bit of a disappointment which is a real pity as the premise was good.
Greta Helsing might only be human but she runs an exclusive medical practice for London's supernatural creatures. She treats everything from vampires and ghouls to demons! Things get complicated for Greta when she is called to the home of an old friend, Lord Ruthven, to attend to one of his friends who has been attacked by a group of crazy cultists. It is the beginning of many such attacks and soon Greta and her friends are caught up trying to stop the cultists before her hospital is full to bursting!
The story was intriguing enough but I felt like the execution was poor. Shaw's writing felt weirdly formal and distant which made it hard to connect with any of the characters. Despite the fact that Greta is the headline character this book had more of an ensemble cast as the POV's jumped from Greta to her fellow cultist trackers. Lord Ruthven, a regular vampire. Francis Varney, a vampyre. Fastitocalon, a demon. All three are characters from literature Shaw has repurposed for the story! I even felt like all the character had decent potential which only made it more frustrating that this story never worked for me.
Another big issue was that the POV transitions were not particularly smooth. The just jumped back and forth from character to character with little warning.
All in all I was not a big fan of this one. I do feel like there was a good story in here somewhere but that I just failed to connect with the writing.
Rating: 2.5 stars.
Audio Note: I feel like Suzannah Hampton did a poor job with the audio. She had a clear voice and was well-spoken but had no talent for voice acting. She just read everything in a dull monotone and made little to no distinction between regular prose and dialogue. Another big issue was the way the POV transitions were handled in audio. There was no pause between switches which was actually a little confusing. A tiny pause would have made it clear a POV transition was occurring!
From the blurb, you might be forgiven for thinking this is the story of a plucky heroine stepping out of her unusual day job to solve crime. It's not. Greta is very much a reactive sort of character and she doesn't change or learn much over the course of the story. Her day job is visited precisely once, and briefly, after which we only hear of it in passing. She spends most of the novel playing nursemaid to various ailing gentlemen.
For a book set in the present day, the language is very formal, the attitudes almost Victorian - and I'm not referring to the vampire/ancient POV characters. The titular protagonist of the series is a fairly unremarkable, good (tm) sort of person, but the book can't help that she's hopelessly outmatched by the gaggle of (much more interesting and powerful) men around her. And let's be clear, although two female characters also exist in the story and are referred to as her friends, they're little more than props. The main cast is all male - except for Greta, whose daddy issues you'll be hard-pressed to miss.
As far as pacing and plot, I was hoping for something a bit more engaging than a bunch of pseudo-medical!speak, the domestic living arrangements of a quintessential wealthy (and quirky) vampire (but not the vampyre, that's a whole other character altogether), and Fastito-whatsit, who was way OP and provided a perplexing way to force a completely unnecessary deus ex machina.
There are leaps of logic made early on in the novel that just don't seem earned, as well as plot-convenient idiocy .
What annoyed me most, though, is how the book sidelines Greta and ultimately turns her into a romantic interest for one of the male characters - possibly the most irritating of the lot. The epilogue made me see red. I can't think of many things more gross than a pseudo-father figure reassuring an equally ancient (and murderous) jealous dude that the girl he wants has gone shopping for nightgowns without underwire and also that her bedroom is right next door, wink wink. Just no.
I really liked this book it is a new take on monster stories it’s not just vampires but vampyers and gouls and mummies, demons , and angels. Greta Helsing is a doctor for the paranormal beings . She helps solve some murders and save London in the process. It was a very enjoyable book .
I tend to associate “beach read” with suspense/thriller novels, and I feel as though I need an equivalent term for the Urban Fantasy genre. I'm taking suggestions! For me they are those books that are exciting and gripping but ultimately ubiquitous. Not bad at all, just utterly forgettable.
With all that preamble, the good news about Strange Practice is that a few things elevated it just out of that category of entertainment for me:
-Greta Helsing is a doctor to the undead. This is a variation of the (fun but) common UF/detective riff that adds a fresh new flavour that I quite liked. I would gladly read a whole series of short novels just about the job itself, even without a dark sinister over-plot.
-Even though this book has a dark sinister over-plot, it seemed to me that Shaw made some effort, within the action, to show me who her characters are when they are at home. I could have done with more of it, but I felt like she worked it in fairly skillfully.
-Greta has potential, I think, but she has not hit her stride yet. Luckily and surprisingly, Strange Practice has an ensemble cast. The shifting points of view add interest and allow for an expanded view of Shaw's worldbuilding...
-...which I thought was pretty great. Digging deeper than your standard vampires, there is a ton of potential with all the creatures and the society that keeps them secret. And even with the vampires the author has created different 'types', which I thought was a nice touch.
Without doubt there are things that didn't impress me. Most frustrating were some unconvincing connecting threads in the story's big mystery. Nothing was polished quite as nicely as it could have been, and as I peruse other reviews I am identifying with much of the criticism.
After a bit of time away from it however, it is the fun stuff that stands out in my memory. That and a few surprising stylistic choices make me want to see how this trilogy plays out.
(still, this is a 'rounded up' rating. It's not quite a solid four stars on its own.)
This new Urban Fantasy was a rather slow starter for me. I was like... Oh, okay, a doctor for the monsters. What could go wrong? A little humor, a little less-well-known vamp, some old friendships with unknown monstrous types, and a serial murderer/s on the loose taking out all the good monsters who just want to get along.
The strength would have to rely on the writing rather than the concept for me.
Fortunately, I didn't mind the slow bits so much and after the action picked up I hopped along with the tale quite nicely. All in all, she pulled it off. The basic concept is okay but it's the characters that sold it. Add a pretty surprising run-in with a big bad and some cool worldbuilding with the supernaturals, and I'm quite happy. It may not be the most fascinating UF I've ever read but I may enjoy continuing it.
Admittedly, I was both excited and a little nervous about starting Strange Practice because of the mixed reviews, but as it turned out, I ended up really enjoying it. Swiftly paced at times, but also slow-moving at others, I can see how some readers would be put off by the story’s hodgepodge construction and eccentric writing style. Fortunately though, the book’s mix of humor, mystery, urban fantasy, and gothic horror ultimately struck all the right chords with me.
Our protagonist is Dr. Greta Helsing, a woman who hails from a long and illustrious line of monster experts, though her family has long dropped the “van” from their name. Following in the footsteps of her father, Greta is a doctor for the supernatural, specializing in providing care for London’s underground population of undead creatures, with patients ranging from vampires to mummies. One day, Greta receives a request for help from her vampire friend Ruthven, who brings to her a special case. Another vampire has been gravely injured, and the patient is none other than Sir Francis Varney himself, from the famed Victorian era gothic horror tale. Varney had been stabbed by a mysterious cross-shaped blade, following an ambush in his home by an intruder with glowing blue eyes dressed in monk robes. At once, Greta can sense something wrong, and not least because the vampire is unable to heal from his wound.
After stabilizing her patient, Greta and her friends set their sights on figuring out the culprit behind the heinous attack. Meanwhile, there’s also a Jack the Ripper-like serial killer on the loose, targeting prostitutes and leaving plastic rosaries in their mouths as a calling card. Although the methodologies are different, our protagonist is concerned that the recent string of killings and the attack on Varney may be connected, and all too soon those fears are realized as Greta becomes a victim of blue-eyed monk herself.
I was completely charmed by this novel from the very first page. Greta is such a great character, with her selfless mission to carry on her father’s work in serving the paranormal community of London. Of course, her specialized clinic keeps her pretty busy, and as a result she keeps mostly to herself, both out of necessity (it’s hard explaining what she does for a living to any new people she meets) as well as from the amount of work she gets from trying to help anyone who comes to her for care. Fortunately, she has some very good friends around to support her, and we are lucky to meet several of them here as well, including Edmund Ruthven, the wealthy vampire whom she treats for chronic depression (and who has the distinction of being one of the first vampires in literature), as well as Fastitocalon, a demon who has been a friend of the Helsings for generations (known as “Fass” to his friends, he quickly became a personal favorite).
At first, Greta may seem aloof, but over time we start to see her compassionate personality come through, and even a little bit of her wry sense of humor. To be honest, I was surprised at how often the jokes in the dialogue made me chuckle. In some ways this reminds of Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London, another series I love because of its dry, subtle, very British humor. As other reviews have noted, the language in Strange Practice is quite formal, despite the novel being an urban fantasy story set in the present day. The result is both strange and alluring, frequently transporting my mind back to the Victorian era, and the Ripper storyline simply added to this effect, even though the text is peppered with references to modern day amenities and technology.
However, I can easily see how this anachronistic writing style can be a deterrent for some readers. The prose got clunky at times, causing disruptions to the flow of the story, and unfortunately Greta’s medical jargon did little to help. Pacing was also slightly uneven, but certainly I’ve seen worse in a lot of other debuts, not to mention whenever things slowed down, I found that it was often due to character or relationship development and world-building, so I didn’t mind too much.
Overall, I was pretty happy with my time with Strange Practice. It read like an urban fantasy but with a very cool twist, and I took to the story’s unique blend of genre elements instead of being turned off by them like I had feared. That said, this probably won’t be a book for everyone, but for me it was quick read and I found it hard to put down. I’m already looking forward to the next one.
Greta Helsing was thirty-four, unmarried, and had taken over her late father's medical practice...treating a patient base that to the majority of the population did not, technically, when you got right down to it, exist. It was a family thing.
Sometimes a book just hits every button - lucky me, that this did exactly that! Greta begins the novel responding to a medical emergency for a member of the "differently living", and we jump right into the action as it's discovered that there may be a group of killers on the loose with access to much more supernatural knowledge than they should have.
If I have one weakness, it's for a safe haven; somewhere our protagonists live/hide/retreat to that provides comfort and shelter from whichever storm they're welcoming. And bonus points for gradually increasing the numbers protected as they take in more!
For a book entitled "Strange Practice" it's true that the practice itself took a back seat; we touched on some fascinating details about mummy maintenance that really intrigued me but the idea was never fully explored. With some of the developments towards the end it looks like we may get to see more of that in the next book, and I'd love to get a proper look at what such a diverse client base really produces in a practice.
But where this book really shone was the details; a centuries-old vampire produces latte art because he's just so bored; the devil smokes Sobranie Cocktails; vampires head to Greece when they want to feel younger than their surroundings. Those little moments just hooked me and helped to make this one of my favourite books I've read this year.
Edit on reread - still really enjoyed it, but I did notice the odd sprinkling of italics through the text. I'd also remembered this as a novella - it was a nice surprise to get book length.
The story is based on a human doctor, Greta Helsing whose medical practice caters solely to the supernatural inhabitants of London. It features an ensemble cast of character, which makes for interesting reading as you uncover her various patients' species and their strengths and weaknesses. It's all another day of humdrum illnesses and ordinary treatments until a murderous cult starts killing Londoners--and no one's safe.
Not the supernatural and not the humans.
With the mystery set into motion and characters endangered, the plot ratchets up and we begin to appreciate the differences of each species. The theme of "the other" and the inherit right to exist is prevalent as the host of supernatural characters are humanized. It's pretty clear to see the relevance with events happening today. I liked this a lot. There were some pretty wide divergences in the species "talents", but they all offered something.
So the gang is all in trying to solve the problem before the "regulars" aka humans find out about the less "normal" citizens of London. It's entertaining and well paced. I liked it, but didn't love it. I had a few issues. Greta has some character inconsistencies. While secrecy about supernaturals is paramount, Great does not share intel of the murderous cult with her supernatural coworkers, there's no letting the cat out of the bag, so this doesn't make sense. Helsing is a dedicated doctor, yet, when a patient was at the point of needing more care, they were not forwarded to a proper hospital with all the advantages of equipment she lacked--this I don't understand. Finally, there's some issues with the ending both how Greta responds and acts and the appearance of another character popping in like deus ex machina. which just is great since things get resolved and explained, but very convenient. Too convenient.
Overall, I found it diverting, but not in-depth. A few quibbles, but definitely a vacation read.
A highly enjoyable urban fantasy, in which Greta Helsing (descendant of Abraham van) is a doctor for London's supernatural community. Lots of fun with monsters (Lord Ruthven and Sir Francis Varney) and a nice spooky plot. Plenty of horror elements but nevertheless very much a light read, with a not particularly complex plot, where the real fun is had in Greta's medical practice and her interactions with her monstrous crew. I read this in two sittings after DNFing two books in the same day and was grateful.
After a reread: the "black and white" version is just as nice as the audiobook, and in some ways better. The language, characters, and settings came across more vividly this time, and there were a decent number of minor passages that I must have spaced out through in audio, because I had no recollection of them. I'll stick with the paperbacks or ebooks from here on for the superior experience. I'm looking forward to reading the rest of this series!
Over the last year or so, I've been getting into "cozy" stories. Here's another one! Throughout Strange Practice, Greta and her friends treat others with sympathy and compassion, including one guy who was part of the cult that is trying to hunt them down. There's always a sense that they'll look out for each other, whether the problem is an injury or needing a hug. Greta's vampire friend Ruthven invites over a dozen people and creatures to stay in his home while the city is a danger to them. What a nice guy!
Cuddliness doesn't make for a story all by itself, of course, and the story in this book is fairly straightforward. It isn't a mystery, per se, or it doesn't stay a mystery for long. The aforementioned cult is both murdering ordinary citizens in a "ripper"-type scenario, and also hunting supernatural creatures. The "ripper" element is abandoned about halfway through, so maybe the narrative should have just stuck with the other thread.
The cultists' HQ is in the London underground, and clans of ghouls live there too, and let's say they aren't friendly neighbors. I enjoy stories with societies underneath cities, so that part of Strange Practice was a winner for me. There was even some scientific explanation about the workings of the London power grid in the early 20th century, which was quite cool. (Okay, sure, it probably also directly reflected some of the author's research.) The central enemy was interesting, too.
I could poke holes in a number of things about the book. For one, it passes the Bechdel by only the slimmest of margins. It would be nice to have some more women in the friendship group surrounding Greta, or at least for her two clinic assistants to have a more prominent role. (For a dedicated medical practitioner, Greta spends an awful lot of time out of the office.) As mentioned before, part of the mystery gets shrugged off and largely feels irrelevant. Toward the end there's what I'd call a deus ex machina if . And so on.
The audiobook narration also wasn't great, in my opinion--the reading was quick and somewhat flat, and at times I had trouble discerning which of several male characters was talking because, in this case, they literally sounded the same. I haven't listened to all that many audiobooks, but I do seem to enjoy audio that's more like a performance than a straightforward narration.
The middle of the book was rather slow and meandering, and the narration made it very easy to space out through these parts. And I wasn't confused at any point in the latter part of the book, so I didn't miss much! Maybe I'd have lost patience if I'd been reading the book rather than listening to it--any reread would certainly be in "black and white" form, so we'll see if my rating changes then.
Despite the grumbling, I liked this book a lot, and I'll definitely be reading the next one in the series. Part of it is the lack of overt romance, I think. There's some low-key initial romance between Greta and one of the other characters, but it doesn't take over the book. The friendships are much more center stage. It was very easy to let my inner cynic take a hike and bask in the warmth of this story.
Dr Greta Helsing has a very special medical practice where she looks after London's "monster" population. When the vampyre Sir Francis Varney (of Varney the Vampire; or, The Feast of Blood fame) turns up badly injured after an encounter by an unknown supernatural assailant, Greta and her friends Lord Ruthven (of The Vampyre; A Tale) and Fastitocalon (from the Tolkien poem, although very different here) are faced with foes that threaten all of London, both supernatural and human alike.
This reminds me strongly of another recent book with characters lifted from literature (The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter) only set in the current day and without as much humor. The two were published at nearly the same time so a comparison is probably inevitable, and while I liked this book, I think the Goss book is probably the better of the two.
Greta herself comes across as an archetypal physician who cares more about her patients than her own welfare, but with her own set of vulnerabilities that go to just how much work there is for her rare specialization. The monsters of the book, vampire, vampyre and whatever Fastitocalon is (which does get revealed) are the true stars, and are all very likable. It's probably that complete evenness of character that is the biggest flaw here: all of these characters are pretty great people, which really only leaves the true villain of the story for flavor.
This is the first book in an urban fantasy series that upon looking at the cover, you just want to scream Halloween and perform witchcraft because of its aesthetic. Ahem, let’s continue.
This story begins with Greta, who’s a doctor for the undead (so she treats vampires, werewolves, banshees, ghouls) answering a house call for a vampire who had an expected visitor (also a vampyre, yes the “y” is necessary for this one) with a stab wound who needs help. It becomes very clear to Greta that the stab wound is unlike any she has ever seen thus begins our mystery.
That mystery started out so so good but unfortunately it does not progress gracefully when heavy religion is thrown into the mix. Sometimes this is necessary when a book takes place in a certain time period. This book is particularly set in modern day society with sports bars, the internet, cars. I actually went into this book thinking it was set in the past. Especially with Dracula-like vampires, old looking London with its secret tunnels, and even a murderer running amuck called The Rosary Ripper. THIS SCREAMS 1800’s TO ME. Nope. Modern day.
Greta Helsing as a character could not have been more perfect though. I was so worried she was going to be all scared and timid and.. *in whiney voice* “eh I’m a doctor to vampires and werewolves and I risk my life everyday. I’m terrified to do this..” But no she got down and dirty. She’s a professional at what she does, her name is known among the undead and she is not afraid to put those doctor gloves on.
I wish I could say the same with the other characters. (4 in particular) It was so hard to distinguish them apart. They were all the same person!! One big bowl of “same personality” soup.
One other thing I noticed while reading is the authors repetitive writing. I’m pretty I was told about Greta’s baby story 6 times and why a certain character didn’t like a certain food 11 times. Each characters suspicions concerning the mystery 48 times. These are all sarcastic numbers. I’d like to think so anyways..
ALSO THE POV’s! I love multiple point of view stories BUT.. it changed about every page in multiple times a chapter. The reader isn’t informed at all about who’s head we’re in. You kinda just have to figure it out as you go.
So those are my thoughts. Yes the book is clever, it has some wit to it and a backbone.. maybe a brittle backbone though. It definitely has its flaws and I couldn’t help but think of many ways this story could have been told in a more fun way.
I quite enjoyed this one. The writing was often clever and the characters were quirky. The weakest character was probably Dr. Helsing, but I'm hoping that changes in the next book. The various other monster characters were all really interesting.
The story felt a bit muddled in parts but what made this enjoyable for me were the interactions between the characters -- Ruthven, Varney, and Fastitocalon in particular. I would happily read another book featuring those three, with the hope that Greta Helsing becomes more well developed and interesting also.
Though kind of slow to get going, I enjoyed this story of strange murders, monks and vampires, and a doctor, Greta Helsing, who treats monsters for a living. Like Theodora Goss' The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter, this book uses characters from gothic lit, the vampires, in the story. (This story lacks the humour and lightness of Goss' work.) Greta is already friends with Lord Ruthven, who calls her in to treat Sir Francis Varney, after he's attacked by strange monks. Greta and the vampires, and a family friend, Fastiticalon, and a curator, August Cranwell, attempt to figure out why they're targets. The vampires and Fastiticalon are wonderful, and kind and they and Greta and August are kept constantly on edge and one step behind the monks. I loved the relationships amongst the characters. The one thing that I missed in this story was more female characters (not just those working in Greta's clinic).
"Without meaning to, he said out loud, “Why do you do this?” Greta looked up. “Do what?” she asked, with her mouth full. Varney was more than a little mortified, but made himself continue. “Why do you … help people like that creature upstairs? He would have killed you if he could.” She put down the piece of toast. “It’s my job,” she said. “Why do you do it, though?” “Because somebody needs to.” Greta shrugged. “There really are not that many supernatural physicians in the area—in fact, there aren’t many of us, period—and the need is never going to go away.” “But he’s an enemy,” Varney said, trying again. “I can perhaps understand the generalized motivation to provide care for a disenfranchised patient base, but he isn’t a patient, he’s an enemy captive.”
For those of you familiar with the vampire hunter, Van Helsing, apparently part of that family shortened their name when they took up residence in England. Greta is a relative but one who has chosen to follow somewhat in the family footsteps by becoming a medical doctor whose practice is almost exclusively devoted to those who are generally termed, monsters. This is Shaw’s first book of a series and she does a very thorough job of setting up this world, its conflicts and its domesticities, while giving the reader a plot that threatens Dr. Helsing as well those she cares about and cares for.
"It was one thing to know that her old friend wasn’t human—she was fine with that, most of her friends weren’t actually human at all—"
Here is an example of some of the metaphysical component of this world: "The two sides (Heaven and Hell, angels and demons, good and evil) were not in active competition. “You don’t go after souls,” Cranswell repeated. “No. Well. … see, this is the biggest misconception people have and I’m fairly sure Sam has left it this way for a reason, but we don’t actively try to tempt people into Hell. Hell just provides the torments, or the boredom, either way, which people believe at the most basic unconscious level that they deserve.” Cranswell stared at him, hand frozen halfway through reaching for the last pastry. “You’re kidding, right? Hell is what you make it?” “Well, not exactly. Your fate is sort of whatever you subconsciously know it ought to be.” He looked wretched. “This is not my field. I’m … I was an accountant, not an afterlife counselor.” “What if you’re an atheist?” Greta said. “What if you don’t believe there even is an afterlife, that you just die and decompose and are recycled?” Fastitocalon looked over at her. “Then that’s more or less what happens,"
But these people do believe, at least to some extent. And, the plot is driven by a group channeling a medieval band of monks known as, Gladius Sancti, that devoted themselves to ridding the world of all infidels and demons.
I don’t read extensively in this genre. Yet, I found this book immediately captivating and the world well-conceived. The characters have depth and their interactions have a note of validity. It was a very satisfying read. My thanks to GR friend, Fiona, whose recent review of the second book in the series got me interested in Vivian Shaw. https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...
If you've ever wondered what would happen if you took monsters like ghouls, vampires, vampyres, and demons and stuff and married it to British middle-class secular humanism, then wonder no more. Greta runs a health clinic for monsters and treats ear infections in ghouls, bronchitis in demons, and bone degeneration on mummies and has established her practice on a moralistic push because "these people need her". And they certainly do need her. All the monsters are just regular blokes trying to get by now that all their more murderous inclinations have been shown to be counter-productive and they've adapted to life in the new British melting-pot that is London.
The story is every bit as bland as that makes it sound. Well, okay, Shaw does a fair job with characterization and her world building holds together, more or less. But the plot is thin, the bits from the villain perspective rob the story of all tension, and there's a whole lot of free-floating guilt for everybody over things they cannot change.
It was bad enough when the vampire was all "I'm a blight on the modern landscape and the world would be better off without me" (I'm not overstating that, I promise), but it was worse when the main character starts blaming herself for the depredations of the real bad guys. You know the refrain: "my friend was hurt because she was targeted for being my friend so it's all my fault." I absolutely hate this reasoning. It's understandable as a feeling. You feel sorrow at the pain of your friend and search for any culpability you might have in it. And frankly, Greta deserves some blame but not for the reasons she thinks. I mean, she's all "if they weren't my friends, they wouldn't be hurt" and I'm all "if you hadn't kept them in the dark so they didn't know to be careful, they wouldn't be hurt". This is what finally broke me enough to quit. It was bad enough when I was just a bit bored. Greta being all "wo is me" in such a shallow, self-centered way was the final straw.
Anyway, this gets props for an original take on a monster book. That the original take leads to bland monsters may be interesting in a modern-lit kind of way. Personally, I found it boring and wish I had stopped hours earlier.
I DNFed at page 229 - so a little more than 2/3 of the way through.
The details of where the characters lived, from their furnishings to their cars, were spot on and gave great flavor. I also enjoyed various secondary characters a great deal, each had interestingly different physicality, emotions, backstories and viewpoints. I could see how this would be an interesting group of people I'd like to follow from book to book.
Except, two things.
Firstly, each member of the group is detailed enough, including scenes from their POV, that I might not have known who was the hero except for the fact it says, 'A Dr Greta Helsing Novel' on the cover of the book. It's really more of an ensemble piece. Which is fine I guess, but it made it harder for me to sink into caring about anyone in particular. (In the end I was most interested in the people living in the basement, which I don't think was the author's intention.)
Secondly, of the core ensemble of five main characters, Greta is the ONLY woman. She has two female friends who help with her medical practice, but they are largely offstage. The people onstage are all male. It's just like one of those Hollywood movies where the entire crew is male with a token woman. In this case, even the bad guys are all men. And oh, God and Satan are male as well.
Plus, Greta's role as a woman doctoring the supernatural world is explained as following in her father's footsteps. Not mother's. No, her mom birthed her and then conveniently died, as moms's are wont to do in much of fiction because authors don't want adult's mothers cluttering up the place. (Do I sound bitter? Well....)
Greta also starts the book already tired. She's just pulled an all-nighter (we are not told why.) Then, as you can imagine what with pell mell adventures, she doesn't get much chance to sleep. So, one of my pet peeves, the hero who has to battle crazy exhaustion as well as the actual battle, is rearing its head for no good reason that I can see plotwise.
Lastly, the bad guys' passages go on too long. I don't care that much about them - they are fairly dull. OK bad, sure, fine. But aside from that, not terribly interesting, some Christian mumbo jumbo and a disembodied blue thingy which didn't seem to have any motivation beyond being generically evil. Whenever a passage involving them came up, I began to skip ahead.
So, there I was actually liking the ensemble, but bored of the bad guys and annoyed by what felt like sexism with 'the only' woman thing. So I tapped out. Sorry.
Dr. Greta Helsing has a family reputation to uphold. She spends her time administering care to the undead, a lucrative yet quiet life. Quiet, that is, until she uncovers a a group of murderous monks in London’s midst. Now Greta must use her unusual knowledge and profession to put an end to their deadly tirade, before she becomes the next victim. I always love a good twist on a classic character!
Backlist bump: The Diabolical Miss Hyde by Viola Carr
I received a free ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Greta Helsing follows in her family's footsteps by inheriting an extremely specialized, and sometimes just plain freaky, medical practice. She's one of very few doctors to supernatural creatures and everything that goes bump in the night. Greta doesn't have magical powers herself, unless you count treating banshees for vocal strain, mummies from coming completely unraveled, and the like. It's fairly quiet and doesn't pay a lot, but she's been prepared for this all of her just supernatural-adjacent life. Then, a group of monks suddenly begins killing fellow Londoners - the living and the undead - and Greta has to put all of her not inconsiderable skills to the test if she wants to stop these deranged murderers, save her life, clients, and her medical practice.
Strange Practice by Vivian Shaw is an incredibly promising beginning for a brand new urban fantasy series. I'm so glad that I got selected via NetGalley to review this novel. It has so much to love about it from a great central mystery, an intriguingly quirky cast of characters, a great monster lineup, and it's plenty creepy. Although some of the medical aspects comes across as a bit overly technical and clinical, the characters are what really make the story come to life. My favorites from the story are Ruthven and Fastitocolon (you can call him Fass). Ruthven is a vampire, of the classic draculine type, and a long time friend of Greta's and Fass has known her family for generations, he's definitely powerful but no one really wants to be the one to directly ask him what he is exactly - that would be rude. Another character that's really cool to see get a modern treatment is Francis Varney, aka the title character from the gothic penny dreadful Varney the Vampyre. And, yes, there is quite a difference between vampires and vampyres!
Overall, if you love dark urban fantasy, gothic horror, a solid mystery, and memorable characters, Vivian Shaw's newest novel, Strange Practice is a real treat. I'm dying to see what's next up in the Dr. Greta Helsing series. Do yourself a favorite and try your next favorite!
I'm going to turn to Strange Practice, as the subject of the review today, but before I do, as you may choose -- instead of addressing the content-- to simply attack me, consistent with virulent fans of this brand of urban fantasy, I do want to respond in this way.
You might think it’s okay that the protagonist chose to serve those hidden members of London society labelled as the undead, the unclean, the monstrous, at the expense of her own career potential.
You might think it’s okay to impoverish yourself in order to be a doctor to clients that can reimburse you with, at best, a sack of rat carcasses.
You might think it’s okay to run a medical clinic and employ other care providers with no evident source of financial income.
You might think it’s okay to keep referring to your beat-up old Mini Cooper as the only vehicle that you, a committed and promising physician, can afford. You might think that's okay.
You might think it's okay that during a time when a few humans, mostly prostititutes, have been found murdered by single individuals, and then it was discovered that a vampyre was attacked by a large group of cowled monks with a mysterious archaic weapon after coating his apartment with garlic, the protagonist immediately thinks, "These two things are clearly connected!" with no actual evidence relating the two events. You might think that's okay -- I don't.
You might think it's okay that a vampyre is significantly different from a vampire. You might think that's okay -- I don't.
You might think it's okay that the first half of the book is littered with unnecessarily italicized statements, emphasizing things that have no reason to be emphasized -- I don't think that's okay.
You might think it's okay that this frequent use of italicized statements then vanishes from the second half of the book. I guess nothing is suprising to the protagonist after that point; she finally saw enough eyes with a blue glow to get over the shock, although it took several occurrences. This from a woman who routinely treats all manner of monstrous beings.
You might think it's interesting that a centuries-old creature of the night, gentle and refined, and with virtually unlimited funds available, suffers greatly from boredom and struggles to find new hobbies and things to learn, and that this is his biggest problem in life -- I don't think that's interesting.
You might think that it's okay that the aforementioned financially strapped protagonist, daughter of the rich, kind vampire's now-deceased friend, and his friend in her own right, never even thought to ask him for financial support for her medical clinic for his kind -- I don’t think that’s okay.
You might think that it’s okay for another long-lived and bored undead gentleman-of-means develops romantic feelings of a kind he has never had before towards the protagonist and is shy as a teenage introvert about it.
You might think it’s okay that nothing happens for the entire middle half of the book, other than grocery shopping, feeling melancholy, and vaguely making plans to confront the great evil that you have deduced poses a threat to the entire city, despite actual evidence of this scope.
You might say that’s all okay. You might say that’s just what you need to do to write a supernatural urban fantasy.
But I don’t think it’s okay: I think it’s dull. I think it’s lacking in interest. I think it’s simply not for me. And, yes, I think I will not read the sequels to this book.
Now, I have always said that the question of whether this amounts to a good novel was another matter. Whether the author can write well and generate unique ideas is not necessarily in question. She is doubtless a good and honorable woman, and she is a good writer for her audience. But I do not think that this genre is okay. For me. And the day I do think that's okay is the day I will look back and say that is the day my reading tastes changed their ways.
And I will tell you one more thing that is apropos of the review today. I don't think it's okay to take my complaints here too seriously. I sought the congressman's words to help to frame a negative review that in reality hardly anyone will read and will not make me a fortune -- according to the statistics, dozens of zeroes.
I don't think it's okay to conceal my thoughts from the public.
I don't think it's okay to harp on minor negatives that will matter not at all to many readers, particularly those who are already fans of the supernatural urban fantasy sub-genre -- to generate likes.
I do think it's okay I just didn't like this book, didn't care for the characters of the depiction of the supernatural, the plot arc, or the story foundations. There's a different word for that than criticism-- and it's called "my personal opinion." And that is the subject of our review today.
Greta Helsing is a descendant of The Van Helsing line, of famous vampire-slaying fame. For reasons that probably don't require a lot of thought, the family opted to drop the Van portion from their surname. Greta is also a doctor with a peculiar specialty. She treats any and all members of the supernatural community in London, a medical practice she inherited from her father. Something else she inherited from her father is the friendship and protection of Lord Edmund Ruthven, a vampire, and Fastitocalon (aka Fass), a demon with a bad cough. Both men had been good friends with Greta's father and had promised to look after her following his death, an event which preceded the events in this book by several years.
The story kicks off when Sir Francis Varney (a vampire vampyre) shows up on Ruthven's doorstep in the wee hours of the morning, an obvious victim of an attack. His failure to heal from the mysterious stab wounds puzzle and concern both Greta and Ruthven. When Varney is conscious enough to relate the religious comments made by his attackers, in addition to their monk-like attire, Greta begins to wonder if the attack could be related to numerous other religiously themed murders that have been happening around London.
The overall plot was okay though I never really got a sense of the direness of the situation and I think the author could have done a better job of building a sense of fear and tension. One factor that I think hindered the story is that it had a relatively small feel to it. These killer monks have supposedly killed multiple people around London but we never see or feel the terror the city's citizens must be feeling and London itself is wasted as a setting because we never get a true sense of the place as its own character. Instead the story maintains a tight focus on Greta and her group of sleuthing supernaturals and, in fact, most of the story is set in Ruthvens house. That kind of approach works well as a theatrical play but as a book the story comes off feeling a bit muted.
The characters themselves also never really popped for me. They were all likable but none were particularly memorable. I appreciated that Greta is a healer. She's not some amazing fighter with mad ninja skills. She's a regular human - and a 34 year old one at that! - with not an ounce of supernatural ability. I liked her, I just didn't love her. Sir Varney, her apparent love interest, was just a wet noodle and there was zero spark between them in my humble opinion. he's been a vampyre (and I'll get to the change in spelling in a minute) for several centuries now but he's still throwing himself a woe-is-me-I'm-a-monster pity party over the fact. I mean really, who has time for that nonsense? Ruthven and Fastitocalon were the more interesting characters to me and their relationship with Greta held more story promise and richness than any potential romantic liaison she might make.
It should be pointed out that the author mined vampire literature to get the characters of Ruthven and Sir Varney. Lord Edmund Ruthven may have been the first literary vampire, having made his appearance way back in 1819 (pre-dating Bram Stoker's Dracula by some 78 years) and Sir Francis Varney was the star in some of the penny dreadfuls in the late 1840s. For the purposes of this story, Ruthven is a vampire of the Draculine line and Varney is a vampyre of, uh, some other line the name of which I can't now recall. It's an interesting tweak if a bit unnecessary.
Overall, this wasn't a bad start to a new series and I'm open to reading the next book in hopes that the author fleshes out the characters and the world a bit more. I listened to it on audiobook but if I do move on to the second book I'll be reading it myself. The author's delivery had a breathy quality to it that imbued the events with a melodramatic air that leached away some of the seriousness. The story was also told in third person and every chapter had multiple switches in POV. This is generally not an issue for me except that in this case the narrator would never take a pause to indicate those POV shifts. This made things a little confusing until I got accustomed to the rhythm of the story. It didn't help matters that the narrator did nothing to differentiate the voices of the different characters. Everyone sounded the same, male or female.
It was very cute. I think the beginning and end were the best parts. I loved how it started--it was an adorable mash up with funny Easter eggs for people who like vampiric lore and a lot of wit. I expected it to be a cozy mystery, with the hapless yet reasonably skilled person saving the day with affection and chutzpah. It got a little wacky on that front, but the end tucked it back nicely into bed.
CONTENT WARNING: (no actual spoilers, just a list of topics)
Things to love:
-The monsters. They're all great! I loved how they were visualized, how the folklore and romanticized accounts of these famous people became more real.
-The wit. Especially early on, it's really very cheeky in tone. And then the monsters are great because they all talk a little like folks from Edwardian England while discussing their iPhones and Yelp reviews and such, which is just an adorable and hilarious blend of sensibilities that I just loved.
-The vocabulary. Shaw loves words. Not in a pretentious way, I didn't think. But there were some really wonderful word choices and sentence structures that I enjoyed simply for the flourish.
-The friendship. It's so rare that we get to see groups of friends and the kindness of platonic love! I was very happy that this was so apparent throughout the book.
-Flipping the script. It was really cool that an urban fantasy focused on protecting the monsters and made us hate monster hunters. That was a novelty and I really enjoyed it.
Things that threw me out of the story:
-The plot. It was a bit improbable, and a pretty high-stakes place to start, which seems a bit out of character for a cozy.
-The resolution. I don't get what happened? I actually had to go back and re-read the scene to make sure I understood what everyone was doing, and how actually none of them solved the problem. Like, according to how it played out, there was no way for them to have solved it.
-Religion. Argh. This is always tricky. I always roll my eyes when someone who deals with the supernatural on a regular basis has no faith. When actual angels and demons get added in, it's ludicrous that there's no epiphany. I think the author tried to sidestep the issue by saying that all three major Abrahamic religions are entirely wrong in their concept of the divine, while using all the structures of Christianity to tell the story. That's a pretty weird flex, and I say that as a nontheist. Also, bringing in angels and demons changes the scope of the issue. If mere mortals have access to warriors and scribes of God or Lucifer, the cozy mystery things of the missing car keys that lead to a "Murder She Wrote" episode have to get scrapped.
-Constraints of reality. We take it she is poor, surrounded by the superlatively wealthy and generous. Her wards work but not really. Supernaturals are a secret except from at least 6 mortals and mortal-adjacents in one neighborhood of London. Her friends can just drop what they're doing and take over her business entirely for several weeks and no notice. There are a lot of inconsistencies like this that don't add up when you place yourself in the modern day world we know.
-Stress words. They're all over the place, and like exclamation points, if you use them a lot, they stop carrying weight and rather just become a sort of yelp in your mind as you read it, which is very distracting for me.
-The great swampy middle. Things got a little lost in the middle. We repeated things a lot, we slowed down for deep lingering looks, undid the work of previous scenes, branched and scattered...it was a lot, and I don't think it did much in service of the story.
But what the hell, I had fun and I liked the characters. Not sure I'll continue, and I wouldn't recommend without reservation, which is sad because I was so excited at the beginning and told my sister how they even have responsible art conservation of artifacts in this book, and now I might have to walk back my praise.
This urban fantasy has a vampire and a vampyre (I can’t remember the difference), an undefined demon-like creature, a couple of humans, and a clan of ghouls. Every mention of the vampyre brought up this image in my mind:
I found the writing style enjoyable despite a few run-on sentences and sentence fragments. I appreciated all the little references to Monty Python and Hitchhiker’s Guide and others.
The plot is quite simple with no competing subplots. There’s some danger, some investigation that is straightforward and not difficult, and then some final danger. The climax has a nice collection of dangerous situations. And there’s NO ROMANCE; well, a teensy bit. Thank you thank you thank you.
The POV jumps about every page—too much. It’s hard to remember whose head we’re in now. Some of the characters are called by several names, and it took me a while to realize that there were only four main characters and not six or seven.
I found it odd that Heaven and Hell were merely competing bureaucracies. I guess it was hard to suspend my belief that far. Overall, it’s one of the better urban fantasies I’ve found.
Gah!!!! I love this book! I love this book so much it has turned me into a blathering, incoherent mess. (Someone send help.) This book was SO much fun that I immediately bought the second one as soon as I finished it, saying ‘to hell with my reading schedule! Weeee!’
Strange Practice is very much urban fantasy, but also it’s kind of side-stepping a lot of the usual tropes of that subgenre (which, let’s face it, has become pretty trope-y–which is totally fine! But this felt so fresh and new in comparison). Most of the supernatural folks are kind of like regular people just going about their business and such. Our main protagonist is Dr. Greta Helsing, a physician to the supernatural community of greater London. She runs a clinic where she caters to her special clients. Apparently monsters can get the flu too!
The characters in this are probably the best thing about it. Since I’m almost always all about the characters in a story, this worked really well for me. Greta’s friends with a vampire, Ruthven, who instead of being all ‘vampire-y’ likes making breakfast and coffee for people and remodeling his kitchens. He’s a perfect host, really. Having been around for a few hundred years, Ruthven is a very old friend of the Helsing family and was friends with Greta’s father before her, he��s known her since she was a child. Their relationship is interesting because Ruthven has always been around, kind of the same, like a fixture, but Greta has grown up during that time. At times he seems almost fatherly in regard, but it’s clear he is a friend and has her best welfare at heart.
There are a bunch of other characters we get to meet, some of them supernatural and some of them are humans like Greta. They team up when they become involved in the search for a murderer after members of the community, and even Greta herself, is targeted. Greta has a similar relationship as she does with Ruthven with Fass, another supernatural being that has been around for a while. Although their dynamic is a little different because Fass doesn’t take very good care of himself and so, as a doctor, she’s taken on a care-taker role to him. But Fass is very much in the same position as Ruthven, being an old friend of the family who cares very much about Greta’s welfare.
This is very much a ‘found family’ story. The characters don’t really have much family on their own, each of them are sort of alone for various reasons, but together they form a group that works better together and it’s clear they come to care about each other. These are my favorite types of stories. I love that Ruthven lets everyone stay at his place (it’s not as if he didn’t have the room). He really is a great host.
But, just because the monsters in this story are nice, doesn’t mean they can’t kick ass when needed. There is an edge of danger to them, the vampires and other monsters. They’ll defend their friends and fight against those that threaten their community’s safety if they have to. There isn’t really that much to the ‘big bad’ in the story but since I didn’t really mind that at all. The story is more about the characters coming together to help one another than the mystery plot itself.
Everything about this just felt so smartly done, and yet it’s also highly entertaining. I laughed out lout a few times while listening to the book (the narration is excellent!).
Strange Practice is clever and funny and, at times, poignant. I loved it. I’m only sorry that it took me so long to get to it. 5/5 stars.
I’ve been hoping for some decent urban fantasy to come along, there are a few series out there that I love and follow but not nearly enough – so here we have Greta Helsing and her unconventional medical practice and yay, its all the good stuff.
Strange Practice is a fun and often very dark read, peppered with ghouls and vampires and anything else you could hope for all hanging out in our world, living under the radar, when they are unwell it is Greta they turn to. So that’s the basis, then of course in the spirit of Buffy a big bad comes along and messes with the status quo. Cue an adventurous and highly engaging romp of a tale, layering strange and wonderful characters into a tightly woven supernatural plot setting good against evil when neither side is either one thing or the other. Really great.
Taking some inspiration from Dracula in it’s world building, throwing in a diverse and ever absorbing community of beings, Vivian Shaw delves into the vagaries of human nature using more than mere mortals to do so. It is a beautifully woven page turner, a character driven mish mash of weirdness and wonder and overall I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Definitely recommended – if only so you can meet Fass, perhaps one of my favourite characters of the year so far.
I received a free copy of this book courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Strange Practice tells the story of Greta Helsing (yes, of the same name as Van Helsing), a doctor but not a doctor to us mere mortals. Oh no, Greta is a doctor for the supernatural looking after an assortment of creatures and their ailments. After all, creatures get sick, depressed and need their boo-boo's and owies looking after too!
There has been a spate of murders taking place in London and with each death, a set of rosary beads are left with the body, it's not just humans that are being targeted by the killer but the supernatural creatures too. One night, Greta receives a call from the vampire Edmund Ruthven, a fellow vampyre has been stabbed and isn't healing in the way that he should be, this is cause for alarm as vampires/vampyres have healing abilities. The stabbing in question was done by a monk with glowing blue eyes, a member of a newly resurrected olden day sect of religious zealots, who believe that all supernatural creatures are an affront to God and need purging from London. Unfortunately for Greta, this also includes her as she is guilty by association due to her being a doctor to the supernatural. What follows is Greta's attempt to decipher the mystery behind the persecution, stop the mad monks and thwart the entity behind it all.
I have to admit that I wasn't instantly enamoured with Greta as a character finding her to be slightly stuffy and bossy. I was ambiguous towards her, I didn't dislike her but I wasn't immediately drawn to her either. However, as the story progressed I found myself growing to like her, her personality and the role that she played.
While Greta is the main character and the book is labelled as 'A Dr. Greta Helsing novel'. She's part of a core group of characters that are all fundamentally involved in the story told in Strange Practice. You have Greta Helsing herself and also, Lord Edmund Ruthven (a vampire, standard bloodsucker who gets on well with others, fits in and has a polite disposition), Sir Francis Varney (a vampyre, only drinks maiden's blood, feels like an outcast and has a morose disposition), August Cranswell (a human acquaintance of Ruthven who works at the British Museum, sort of the lighter relief and the imbecile of the group) and Fastitocalon/Fass (an accountant with a chronic cough and a former demon).
As I mentioned, Greta, didn't do it for me straight away. Luckily, that wasn't the case with a couple of the other characters, Fass is instantly likeable and Ruthven with his slicked back black hair and pale pallor is a modern day Dracula and is such an eccentric character that you can't help but like him. The ghouls are also pretty cool too and we are even treated to an appearance by Samael himself, devil horns baby!
The group have a great dynamic and each of the individuals has their own personality and strengths and weaknesses. The bonds and relationships between them are very deep, Fass was a friend of Greta's father and after his passing took to keeping an eye on her well-being and Ruthven and Varney have known each other for many years. Intertwined together, for me, the group forms an integral core component of the book.
The world building is quite subtle with the book taking place in a few locations in and around modern day London (Greta's practice, Ruthven's house and the underground) and isn't epic in scale. The supernatural live in secret, often hidden away, lurking in shadows but, also using magic, glamours and thralling to remain undetected in plain sight with most humans unaware that they exist and that's how the supernatural want things to stay. The aspect of heaven and hell is well done and adds an extra dimension to the world. With heaven and hell both trying to keep some semblance of balance and get along in a bureaucratic, too much paperwork, suit wearing type of way.
I'd like to see more of Dez and Anna in future books, Greta's acquaintances and helpers at her surgery, from the limited page time they receive in Strange Practice they both seem like they could be interesting characters. And, also more supernatural creatures, werewolves and mummies amongst others are mentioned, specifically a mummy in need of surgery and it'd be nice to see more in future instalments.
Strange Practice is an absorbing and fast-paced read that is well-written by Shaw, incorporating fun and humour into the story whilst also keeping the overall tone of the book dark. I'm not a fan of the standard urban fantasy and while Strange Practice is classed as 'urban fantasy' it's anything but normal veering far more towards the wacky. As the first book in a new series, Strange Practice does a great job of serving as an introduction to both Greta et al and the world Shaw has created, room for expansion?? Yes, but nonetheless it's a damn fine start.
I enjoyed Strange Practice, featuring sinister goings-on and an eclectic mix of weird and wonderful characters attempting to unravel the mystery, it's a quirky and often kooky read that is well worth your time.