Friday, March 27, 2009

"Fool" by Christopher Moore

I love Christopher Moore. Love, love, love his works. The only one that I hadn't truly laughed out loud while reading was "Fluke" - until now. Yes, there are funny parts of this book. Yes, there is some really good writing in this book. But I must say that I didn't enjoy this book nearly as much as I had anticipated; I expected better from Moore. (Not to mention that my hubby read it first and just laughed himself silly the whole time. Not sure what that says about him...)

"Fool" is Moore's take on King Lear. Yes, that King Lear, the one written by none other than the Bard himself. One of Shakespeare's finest tragedies. As he did in "Lamb", a normally more minor character takes center stage and tells the tale. In this case, that would be Lear's fool, Pocket. Pocket knows all, sees all, and in this case, instigates all. Pocket himself has a sidekick, the fool-in-training Drool, a "natural" (one made not quite right by Nature, but usually just perfectly for a fool's job). All the usual suspects are here - Lear, his daughters Goneril, Regan and Cordelia, the Gloucester gang (the father and his sons, Edgar and Edmund). Also present are characters from other works of Shakespeare's, most notably the witches from "Macbeth". Moore probably lifts lines and/or scenes from a dozen or so of the Bard's works, so you know this is going to be anything but a faithful reworking.

The story is also still a tragedy, beginning with Lear being manipulated by the bastard son Edmund into having his daughters declare how much they love him, with the original results: Goneril and Regan lie through their teeth to get what they want and Cordelia tells the truth, resulting in her banishment. Lear divides his kingdom between the other two snakes, then can't believe how they treat him when he goes to visit. There's treachery around every turn, and of course, an eventual war. Lives are lost and Lear realizes what a fool he has been.

Pocket, being the narrator of this tale, is privy to it all. And maybe that's the problem here - Pocket has an incredibly foul mouth on him. Granted, Moore himself includes a "warning" page in which he tells the reader that "This is a bawdy tale. Herein you will find gratuitous shagging, murder, spanking, maiming, treason, and heretofore unexplored heights of vulgarity and profanity, as well as non-traditional grammar, split infinitives, and the odd wank." I read that warning, so yeah, I should have known what was coming. But... it was a LOT of vulgarity, so much so that I think it distracted from the story. It felt like Moore was relying on the crassness to bring about laughter, and in my case, he failed miserably. I'm used to Moore's sense of humor, and yes, he can and does range into the toilet-humor every now and then, as well as sexual comedy. But "Fool" was just over the top with it. If he had toned that down somewhat, I think I would have enjoyed the book more, perhaps even laughed a bit more. As it was, I found myself thinking that Pocket was the sort of fellow that I'd want to yell at for his lewdness. It made it difficult to sympathize with him, and since he is the narrator, that's not a good thing. Now, please understand that I am in no way a prude. F-bombs don't bother me a bit, talking about sex doesn't phase me, and bloody scenes are not a problem. But this? It's almost like reading a bad actor over-emoting for a scene. That's the best description I can come up with.

I'm hoping that Moore returns to finer form with his next book. Or maybe I'll just do myself a favor and reread "Lamb", undoubtedly one of his best. Yeah, that might wash the stink of "Fool" out of my brain.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

"The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death" by Charlie Huston

Wow. I've been reading Huston's stuff for some time now, both his regular mysteries and his Joe Pitt vampire casebooks, so when I learned he had a new book coming out, well, you know I put my name on it right away. And this one? Wow. It is good. Probably one of the best books he's written to date, which is saying quite a lot, seeing as how I'm a huge fan of Joe Pitt. Keep in mind, though, that Huston doesn't write happy touchy-feely works; these are gritty dramas with the some of the most dysfunctional characters you can find on the printed page.

Webster Fillmore Goodhue, slacker extraordinaire, is about to embark on a new career. Web used to be a grade-school teacher, but that career was ended by a senseless tragedy. Web has been slacking ever since, cutting people out of his life a little at a time with his sarcastic wit. OK, mostly alienating them due to his being a complete asshole. However, on this particular day, he's in need of a job, having just destroyed his only friend's cell phone. In order to keep his childhood friend (really, his only friend at this point) Chev from kicking him out of the apartment and leaving him homeless, Web agrees to do some work for Po Sin, the enormous Asian who picks up the hazardous waste from Chev's tattoo parlor on a weekly basis. Po Sin doesn't really let on to the type of work Web will be doing, just that he needs to be report for work early in the morning. Web informs him that he doesn't have any transportation, to which Po Sin tells him "Take the bus". Web can't or won't ride public transportation (you find out why later in a spectacular freak-out moment), so Po Sin sends his other employee, Gabe, to pick up Web before the sun has risen.

What's the job? Cleanup man. Big time cleanup, too; Po Sin owns Clean Team, one of the many crime scene cleanup crews in Los Angeles County. Web's first job? A suicide; guy blew his brains out and left the mess for his daughter to find. Enter Soledad, beautiful young thing that Web is a bit attracted to. Enter the next problem for Web - Soledad calls him later that night and asks him to a hotel room, saying she needs help. Yeah, does she ever. Turns out her worthless half-brother, Jamie, has cut someone in said hotel room and now there's a lot of blood that needs to disappear and fast. Web knows he's being pulled into some heavy stuff, but he does it anyway. And puts himself right in the middle of a smuggling operation gone wrong. Not to mention the turf war between his boss and Morton, another crime scene cleanup guy.

This is definitely Huston at his best. The writing is crisp, the characters are well-developed if not entirely likable at times, and the action is non-stop. Web gets the snot beat out of him on a fairly regular basis, and is in the dark most of the book as to why said snot is being beaten out of him. This is one of the few books of Huston's, though, where I felt the twinge of a happy ending, which was kind of nice. Granted, it's not all sunshine and rainbows, but I liked it. Huston is one of the best authors of modern crime noir out there, and I highly recommend his work.

Monday, March 23, 2009

"What Was I Thinking? 58 Bad Boyfriend Stories" edited by Barbara Davilman and Liz Dubelman

Ah, boyfriends. Husbands. Lovers. Men in general. Most of them are wonderful, if you meet them at the right time and right place in your life. But we usually have to go through at least one "bad boyfriend" before Mr. Right; it's so prevalent that it's almost a female rite of passage. Davilman and Dubelman started asking around and yep, just about every woman they talked to had a bad boyfriend story. More importantly, there was usually a defining moment where each woman realized "This is never going to work." The breakup might have happened immediately after that "aha!" moment, or it might have taken a couple months or years for said woman to finally throw in the towel. But they all that distinct "aha" moment where they just knew this guy wasn't going to be the one.

I had requested that our Collection Development department order my branch a copy of this collection, and when it showed up last week on a return, I thought I should read it. Why not? I mean, it was my idea to order it, right? Well, I sat down yesterday afternoon to read some of it - and ended up finishing the whole thing in just a few hours. The stories are addictive in a way I hadn't anticipated, and also very reminiscent of parts of my own life. Some are more literary than others, some are downright hilarious, some are just sad. And the "aha" moments are all so different, everything from a prospective beau mangling the French language in a restaurant to another boyfriend yelling about the "right" size noodles to use in soup. One of the funnier ones is "My Date with Homer", where the date in question starts talking about his childhood and inadvertently plants the seed in the woman's mind that she's on a date with Homer Simpson. Try as she might, she can no longer see him as her date - only as the goofy, doughnut lovin' cartoon father to Bart, Lisa and baby Maggie. Needless to say, she was over him in a hurry!

If you've ever had a relationship gone bad, if you've ever hung in long past that point when you knew you should've gotten out, if you've ever said to yourself "He'll realize how wonderful I am IF...", then you should read this book. You'll laugh, you might cry - but I guarantee that you'll nod your head in complete understanding. We've all had an "aha" moment - and we've all had a bad boyfriend.

Friday, March 20, 2009

"We Thought You Would Be Prettier" by Laurie Notaro

The subtitle says it all - "True Tales of the Dorkiest Girl Alive". I thought that was me, but after reading Notaro's tales of everyday life, I have to say she's got the crown. Laurie is back with tales of her day-to-day struggle through life, and she's funnier than ever.

Witness "I'm Gonna Kick Your Ass", which is said not to a person, but to his hair. The completely weenie-ass kid at the pet food store, the one who can barely lift a 20 lb bag of dog food into Laurie's cart, has Flippy Hair. Yes, the hair that every girl in the 70s wanted to have - desperately. Laurie is so entranced by this kid's hair that she actually threatens the hair (under her breath, of course). When her hubby demands to see this guy and the damn Flippy Hair, things take an even stranger turn... Never underestimate the power of a good 'do.

I also give her a big "Hell Yeah!" for "Attack of the XL Girl". Laurie is confronted with fat discrimination when shopping with her cute friend in several boutiques. Yeah, fat discrimination - not because they won't wait on her but because these lame-ass stores don't carry anything larger than an 8. Maybe a 10, if you're lucky. Considering that Notaro wears - gasp! - a 14, which is evidently way too fat to shop in said stores. As Notaro points out to several sales clerks, a 14 is pretty much the AVERAGE size of the American female. Even worse? Some stores did have her size, but they kept them stowed away in a back room of the store, much too embarassed that there might be clients that size. I was right there with her in my outrage. I'm sorry, but considering anything about an 8 to be "plus-size" is just evil. If you're going to market your clothing that way, put something on the damn sign outside - "Fashions for the Painfully Thin" or "Clothes for the Very Trim".

The best one of all, though, has to be "Curse of the Squinky Eye". Never heard of the Squinky Eye? I bet you've had one before. Really, you have! Ever have one of your eyelids start twiching on you, sort of spasmodically, not really enough to be noticeable but enough to drive you nuts? Yeah, you've had the Squinky Eye!

Do yourself a favor and find this book, along with the others by Notaro. You won't be sorry!

"I Love Everybody (and Other Atrocious Lies)" by Laurie Notaro

Laurie is married, mortgaged, and now-miraculously-employed in the corporate world, discovering that bosses come in all shapes, sizes, and degrees of mental stability. After maxing out her last good credit card at Banana Republic, she's dressed for success and ready to face the jungle: surviving feral, six-foot-plus Gretchen ("The Three Thousand Faces of Eve") before battling the overbearing, overstuffed (in way-too-small pants) new mom Suzzi, who ruthlessly cancels Laurie's newspaper column and learns that payback can be a bitch. Laurie also explores the backstabbing world of preschoolers at a Halloween party, the X-rated madness of a family trip to Disneyland, and the pressure from her QVC-addicted mother and the rest of the world to reproduce. But while losing more friends to babies than to booze, she realizes there's a plus side: for at least a couple of months, she gets to be the thinner friend. I Love Everybody is Laurie Notaro at her deliciously quirky best. Can a woman prone to what her loved ones might term "meltdowns" (she considers them "Opportunities to Enlighten") put a smile on her face and love everybody? Take a guess.

Yeah, I'm quoting from the back of the book, but it's a very apt description of Notaro's third offering. What the back doesn't tell you is that there are little gems in here that have nothing to do with work or babies - witness the essays about Jerry, the drunken bum/handyman that Laurie hires to do some tree-trimming. I about fell over reading about Jerry's rather unique method of pruning! Also equally entertaining is an entry about something almost all of us can relate to - the ever-rising cost of prescription drugs. Especially when said allergy drug is made over-the-counter, which means that insurance will NOT cover said drug anymore. Notaro and her hubby make a run for the border (the southern one, that is), then feel like criminals trying to get back into the USA with their contraband.

My favorite essay, though, has got to be the title one, "I Love Everybody". Notaro has managed to get her first book published, only to have a rather mean review provided by a reputable reviewer. She decides that in order to garner some good reviews, she is going to have to be nice to people and find the good in them, build up some karma points as it were. Well, you know this is much easier said than done. Things go from mildly irritating to frustrating to much, much worse, and all this on a short shopping trip. Does Laurie love everybody? Are you kidding?!

Doesn't matter - I love her writing and I think you will, too.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

"Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive" by Noah J. Goldstein, Steve J. Martin, and Robert B. Cialdini

This book was recommended by one of my patrons, and with a glowing review - she said she'd started using several of the techniques suggested by the authors and they worked for her. I decided it wouldn't hurt to read this myself; after all, I want to be able to persuade patrons to read a book, checkout a DVD, or even attend one of our programs.

I have to say that while it's well-written with short chapters, it's not exactly anything new. There were several ideas that I was already familiar with, such as using a "genuine" smile rather than one that is forced. Also, be nice when asking for something, along the lines that you catch more flies with honey than vinegar. Be personal to be persuasive - write it down, have people identify with you, etc.

Some were things that I hadn't thought of, but that I caught on to right away: use a simple name for your product rather than one that's hard to pronounce or remember, use rhymes to help people remember the product, etc. Not exactly earth-shattering news, but something to think about.

Then there were the things that did surprise me: your name can influence other people as well as yourself. Did you know that there are quite a large number of dentists who are named Dennis? The authors did the research and found that if you name in any way sounds like or has the same first letters as the person you're trying to persuade, there's a better connection between you and that person. It's the same sort of thing with a behavior known as "mirroring". Most people in negotiations actually try to make themselves behave differently than the person across the table from them, believing it gives them more leverage. But the research showed that by mirroring the other person, you actually gain from the behavior - you're seen as more "like me", more trustworthy, etc - even if you aren't any of those things.

Will these tactics work for me personally? I don't really know. I'll certainly keep them in mind, though, the next time I want to be persuasive!

"Autobiography of a Fat Bride" by Laurie Notaro

Little Laurie is growing up in this book. Don't worry - her life is still pretty much a train wreck and she mines it for all the laughs she can get. She has, however, managed to find a "good guy", one who doesn't turn her into Princess Enabler, one who shows no sign of packing up his stuff and moving away with an ex-girlfriend. He's so good that she needs to find a way to keep him and turns to the ultimate bribe - fried cutlets. Never mind that she might kill him with a heart attack before the actual wedding.

Not only is Laurie being sucked into the hell that is planning a wedding, she's also buying a home. A little, sad, brown house. A little house in a not-so-great neighborhood, but one that they can afford, which is pretty important. She's getting all sorts of wedding advice, some of it helpful, most of it along the lines of threats from her mother ("If you get divorced within a year, you owe you father $35.78 a dinner times two hundred!"). Now if she could only find a job...

Notaro once again shows us that it's OK to be an Idiot Girl, to fall down in life as long as you pick yourself back up, and that no matter how crazy they make you, your family will stand by you (or maybe that's hide behind you - whatever). Don't miss out on her books, especially if you're in need of some humor in your life.

Friday, March 13, 2009

"The Idiot Girls' Action-Adventure Club" by Laurie Notaro

Laurie Notaro is a humor columnist living in the dry, dusty land of Phoenix, Arizona. This book is basically a collection of her columns, but if you don't happen to live in Phoenix or you don't have access to her paper online, this is a wonderful way to catch up. I had heard of her, mostly because of the fictional book she released almost two years ago. My friend back in Indiana read this and immediately thought of me. Why, I'm not sure, unless she was thinking of my innate klutziness - I have never drank as much as Notaro nor been a "party girl".

So what sort of things does Notaro cover in her columns? Well, her mom plays a big part, and there's some pretty funny stuff about parents in general. She also covers drinking, drugging, getting fired, and bras. She discusses her ex-boyfriends and how bad a lot of her relationships have been. Stuff like that, which doesn't sound all that humorous, I know. Trust me when I tell you that in Notaro's hands these topics take on great hilarity.

I think the best column in this collection is "Open Wide", which I can personally relate to, as I'm sure several other women out there can. No one, and I'm fairly certain I'm right about this, no one enjoys going in for their annual "womanly" exam. It's about the most vulnerable you can feel, none of the instruments are warm, and let's face it - for most of us it's also when someone tells us our real weight (we all fudge a bit on the home scale, right?) Laurie has not only gone in for the exam, but had a call back for another test - seems something has come back as "abnormal" on her first Pap smear and they need to get a better look. I, personally, have gone through this hell, and I knew exactly how she felt - the fear is just unbelievable, even though they tell you "Oh, it's probably nothing, so don't worry about it." Luckily, Notaro didn't have the big C, but did have further humiliation to go through; I won't tell you any more than that for fear of ruining the funny.

If you're ever felt like a dork, ever regretted a night out, ever had a complete loser of a boyfriend, and definitely had a mother that felt it her God-given right to tell you what to do even after you've left home, Notaro is an author that you can't pass up. I now consider myself to be an Idiot Girl - and I'm damn proud of it!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

"Pure Dead Frozen" by Debi Gliori

Gliori wraps up her Pure Dead series with a most satisfying book. The Strega-Borgia family has their beloved nanny, Flora McLachlan, back in the fold, and they're awaiting the birth of a new child, Little No-Name. This being the SB brood, there's danger lurking around the corner, and things are about to get as wild as can be...

After losing the Chronostone, S'tan, First Minister of the Hadean Executive, has become a television chef. He's not quite the S'tan he used to be, as can be witnessed by the fact that it is snowing in Hell. Isagoth, demonic defense minister, is trying to track down said Chronostone for S'tan, but not having much luck. And none other than Don Lucifer di S'embowelli Borgia, Luciano's evil half-brother, is still trying to kill him, and has made a deal with S'tan if the big guy can pull it off.

When Baci goes into labor with Little No-Name, things take a dark turn. The family is noticed by Isagoth, who then kidnaps Little No-Name and replaces him with a changeling. Most of the family remain oblivious to the switch, all except Papa dearest, who quickly tells Mrs. McLachlan that something is amiss with his new son. Flora takes control and begins to rally the Strega-Borgia family for battle, aided by the various beasts of the mansion, not to mention baby Damp's nanny, Miss Araminta Fraser, and her paramour, Latch, the butler.

It's a dramatic race to the finish of the book, and the series. I really love the Strega-Borgias; they're a bit dysfunctional but they obviously love each other and would do anything to protect the family. All of the beasts have good hearts, too, so you really need to count them as family members. And then there's Flora McLachlan, probably my favorite supernatural nanny of all time. Yes, I love her more than Mary Poppins!

What really surprises me is that this series hasn't been more popular. I originally picked it up because it had a blurb on the back about the Lemony Snicket series, which I tried to read and gave up on after Book 4. The writing in the Pure Dead series is funny and touching, the plot is never the same twice (my main complaint about the Snicket series), the characters are well-developed - what more can you ask for from a book? Do yourself a big favor and find the whole Pure Dead series, read them, love them, laugh out loud. You won't be sorry.

"The Witch's Grave" by Shirley Damsgaard

It took six books, but Ophelia Jensen has finally come to terms with her powers as a witch. "The Witch's Grave" by Damsgaard is really no different from the other entries in this series: there's a mystery that Ophelia and her grandmother Abby become involved in, much to the dismay of the local police. There's a bit of danger, some laughs, and yes, witchcraft. The violence that usually takes place off-stage is actually front-page this time, beginning our story...

Ophelia is at a fund-raiser at a local winery when she spies a very familiar-looking man. She's been having some rather interesting dreams featuring this man, so she's shocked to see him in the flesh. It turns out to be none other than Stephen Larsen, a well-known author of both fiction and true-crime books. Stephen seems just as drawn to our librarian as she is to him, resulting in a walk towards the woods for a bit of privacy. The two share a kiss, pull away to discuss said kiss, and then Stephen is shot. The bullet came from the direction of the forest, and no one is sure if it was a hunter with bad aim or something more sinister. Ophelia, of course, is devastated and once again believes that her "talent" has let her down; she should have been able to see the danger to Stephen and prevented it.

Stephen has good luck, though, and doesn't die. Ophelia is glad, but worried that someone might make another attempt on his life. Then it becomes clear that someone is making attempts on her life, which draws her into solving the mystery. As I said, it's the usual sort of fare for this series, which isn't to say that it's not a good book! I really enjoy this series, probably because it's more of a cozy and less of an all-out gore/paranormal fest. What I liked best about this entry is that Ophelia finally comes to terms with her abilities, something that Abby has been gently steering her toward all along. It makes me wonder what the next book will hold, as most of the tension so far has been Ophelia fighting her talent and trying to be "normal".

The only thing that felt out of place were Ophelia's dreams of the past. It's never fully explained if she's having some previous-life memories flashing into dream status, or if it's just coincidence that she's dreaming about these people in WWII, reliving out the female lead. A bit confusing, but probably necessary to fill out the book some. Finally, I hope in the next installment to see more of her friend, undercover agent Ethan, who only puts in an appearance via cell phone in this entry. Sigh. Ethan is hopefully the right man for Ophelia, and I'd like to see Damsgaard explore that storyline, especially since Ethan believes in Ophelia's powers. Hopefully my wish will be granted!

Monday, March 9, 2009

"Poe's Children" edited by Peter Straub

This is one of those cases where the blurbs on the dust jacket led me to believe this was going to be a fantastic short story collection. My friend sent this to me, saying that it looked like my sort of book, and from the outward appearance of the volume, she's totally right. And when the jacket promises "new horror" and says that these authors have "more in common with the wildly inventive, evocative spookiness of Edgar Allan Poe than with the sometimes predictable hallmarks of their peers", well, I'm all in. Anytime you mention Poe, I get excited; I consider him to be one of the best writers of all time, even if a lot of it might have been fueled by his addictions. None of us are perfect, right?

Imagine my disappointment as I waded my way through story after story, trying to decipher just what it was that the author was trying to make me feel. I also found myself wondering just what the hell was happening in a lot of the stories, not a good thing. There are some good ones, lest you believe I'm trying to completely steer you away from this work: Jonathan Carroll, Stephen King, Joe Hill, Graham Joyce, Ellen Klages, and Straub himself turn in some fairly good work. The other authors, however, went for overly "literary" horror stories, which in my humble opinion, just did not work.

My biggest complaint is that the authors that went cerebral went so far that I felt too stupid to understand their stories. That, my friends, is not what an author is striving for, I hope, when they pen their work - why alienate your audience? I consider myself to be a pretty intelligent person, but story after story left me thinking "HUH?" I don't particularly enjoy work that deliberately goes over my head, and I don't think you will either.

Pick it up for the select few, wade through them all if you're brave enough (or smart enough), but don't force yourself as I did. It's just not worth it.