Best. State. Ever. A Florida Man Defends His Homeland by Dave Barry

Best State Ever

Best. State. Ever. A Florida Man Defends His Homeland

Dave Barry (Adult Non-Fiction)

Poor Florida.  A state that has become synonymous with all things weird, daft, looney, loco, nutty, and just plain one-beer-short-of-a-six-pack crazy.  Don’t believe me?  Just Google “Florida Man” along with your birth month and day and ten times out of ten (or REALLY close to it), a corresponding headline will pop up.  For example, on my birthday, this made the headlines: “Naked Florida man breaks into home, tries on woman’s clothes, police say”.  See?  Well let me tell you something.  Dave Barry is S-I-C-K of people wrongfully labeling his beloved state and he’s set out to defend the good name of his hometown by showing us the lighter and brighter (and not necessarily saner) side of “The Sunshine State”.  So, buckle up because you’re in for an interesting and unforgettable ride!

According to Cosmopolitan magazine, women are attracted to guys with a sense of humor.  If that’s the case, then Dave Barry is one of the sexiest men alive.  With Best. State. Ever. A Florida Man Defends His Homeland, Barry gives us Fodor’s on laughing gas.  His book contains countless (truly) laugh-out-loud moments that makes reading in public a somewhat perilous undertaking…unless you love awkward moments and getting suspicious side glances from complete strangers.  Barry lovingly introduces us to real-life, overlooked treasures and he does so with the warmth, adoration, and pride as a parent would present his first-born to the world.  Through wit and black and white photos, we meet Dave Shealy, operator of Skunk-Ape Research Headquarters in Ochopee; we delight in watching mermaids eat underwater (they get hungry, you know) and waving an American flag at Weeki Wachee Springs; and we get to know more than we ever thought imaginable at the Spongeorama in Tarpon Springs.  Using a Florida Tourist Attraction rating system of Out-of-Order Mold-A-Matics, Barry ranks these unsung heroes on a scale from one to five (five being the BEST…and he even rates one attraction a six, but you have to read the book to discover this hidden gem) and offers valuable insights that only a native can appreciate and share.

Read Best. State. Ever. and I promise (or at least hope) that you’ll laugh, you’ll cry (from laughing), and you’ll probably Google “Florida Man” and your birthday as soon as you finish reading this review.  But mostly, you’ll have fun gaining a whole new perspective and appreciation for a state that was not only known as the birthplace of the “hanging chad”, but is also chockful of anything and everything that is weird, daft, looney, loco, nutty, and just plain one-beer-short-of-a-six-pack crazy.

(Reviewer’s Note: If you love the gloriously quirky, kitschy, and sometimes tacky roadside attractions that are a part of our unique culture, then I highly recommend you continue your journey with Betsy Carter’s book entitled Swim to Me about the mermaids of Weeki Wachee.  I think Dave would approve.)

Rating: 5/5

*Book cover image attributed to

The Wishing Trees by John Shors

The Wishing Trees

The Wishing Trees  

John Shors (Adult Fiction)

Kate McCray died ten months ago, but her absence remains as fresh and painful for her husband, Ian, and their ten-year-old daughter, Mattie as the day she slipped away from them.  Upon her death, Kate leaves a letter for Ian expressing her dying wish: “Be happy.  Learn to laugh again.  To joke.  To wrestle together like you once did.  Learn to be free again.”  To achieve these things, Kate wants Ian to take Mattie on the trip the two of them intended to make to celebrate their fifteenth anniversary.  A trip across Asia that would allow Mattie to experience what her parents once shared in so many diverse and wondrous countries: Japan, Nepal, Thailand, India, Hong Kong, and Vietnam.  But can Ian do it?  Can he revisit a past full of memories of his wife in order to forge a future without her?

John Shors delivers a touching and bittersweet story of a husband and daughter embarking on a journey of self-discovery, healing, and enlightenment.  Although deceased, Kate remains a prominent presence and central figure throughout the story.  She has left handwritten notes inside twelve film canisters—six each for Ian and Mattie—which are to be opened upon the pair’s arrival in each country.  Kate’s words of love and encouragement are a constant reminder of the tender and altruistic person so tragically torn from our main characters.  Her careful planning of this trip, despite her weakened state, and her desire for her family to move on without her is heartbreaking in its selflessness and hopeful in its intent.  What’s most striking is Kate’s constant encouragement for her loved ones to make a positive difference in the world.  In one of her letters to Mattie, Kate writes of Buddha, “Do you know what Buddha says about happiness?  He said, ‘Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened.  Happiness never decreases by being shared.’”  With each canister that is opened and with each note that is read, we can easily understand how indomitable a task it is for Ian and Mattie to emotionally recover from their loss.

The Wishing Trees is a beautifully written love letter to anyone who has ever lost a love and hungers for a sign—any sign—that they’re still with us.  That they still see us.  That they still remember us.   It’s also a story about the power of kindness and the extraordinary healing powers in doing good.  Numerous books have been written on research connecting helping others to health benefits or, simply stated, doing good is good for you.  Perhaps Kate knew this all the time or perhaps she remembered an Indian saying during her travels, “When you were born, you cried and the world rejoiced.  Live your life so that when you die, the world cries and you rejoice.”

Rating: 4/5

*Book cover image attributed to

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