Marie’s Reading: “The Flood Girls” by Richard Fifield

Flood GirlsSometimes you need a novel that makes you snort with laughter every page or so.  One with a great sense of place, good characters, and enough weirdness, softball games, and drunken brawls to keep you engaged. The Flood Girls by Richard Fifield fits the bill.

Rachel Flood returns to her hometown in Montana as part of her “making amends” step in Alcoholics Anonymous.   The locals don’t exactly welcome her back, including her own mother.  The story follows Rachel’s attempts to mend fences, as well as the ups and downs of the characters in her periphery–Jake, the gay boy next door, and her mother, Laverna.

The pace is leisurely and the characters are quirky and fun.  Everyone drinks and fights and swears, but there are great steady friendships here, too.  Broken and downtrodden and dysfunctional as they are, the people of Quinn rely on each other and make spaces for themselves.  Hardly anyone is really alone in The Flood Girls.  Like the titular softball team, these characters come together and make it work.  Mostly.

Mostly, because the story takes a very dark and surprising turn very close to the end.  I can only speak for myself, but I found it jarring compared to the rest of the book–so much so that I ended up skimming the remainder of the story.  Your mileage, of course, may vary. But the rest of the book is so engaging, funny, and heartwarming in a totally bizarre way that it’s worth a read.

The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove by Christopher Moore might have more sea monsters named Steve than The Flood Girls does, but in lots of other ways they’re quite similar–quirky characters in a small town, their lives and relationships, poignancy in the oddest places, and lots of humor.  Mavis, the bar owner in Pine Cove has a lot in common with Laverna, actually.

This book also made me think of Joshilyn Jackson, particularly A Grown-Up Kind of Prettyabout a girl’s search for her mother and the strained relationships between three generations of women, told from all three perspectives.  The exploration of relationships in all their not-so-great glory, the strong women, as well as the sense of place, might appeal to those who liked The Flood Girls.  You might also enjoy The Good House by Ann Leary, if you enjoy Rachel and Laverna in this book, and the way alcoholism is handled with dark humor.  The small-town feel is good in that one as well.

–Marie

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Holiday Reading

santa-reading

What’s on your must-read list every holiday season?

While I enjoy Dickens and O. Henry as much as the next person, my personal Christmas favorites are The Stupidest Angel by Christopher Moore and Hogfather by Terry Pratchett.  I’ve talked about both on the blog in years past.  You can find the posts here and here.

This year, I found a surprising Christmas read in  Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh, one of my favorite books of the year.  It’s set during the lead-up to Christmas.  And it’s a dark one.  I wrote about it for a Halloween post, here.

One I’m planning to re-read this year is the adorable How Mrs. Claus Saved Christmas by Jeff Guinn (also author of the equally sweet and charming The Autobiography of Santa Claus).  It’s been years since I read either one, and I think dear old Mrs. Claus is due for a re-visit.  I particularly enjoy this one because it’s set in England in 1647, when the Puritans have taken control of Parliament and pass a law that will punish anyone who celebrates Christmas.  I recall this as a great blend of historical fiction and Christmas coziness.

Happy holidays!  I hope you all get lovely books to read this season!

–Marie

Marie’s Reading: “Secondhand Souls” by Christopher Moore

secondhandRecently I re-read one of my favorite Christopher Moore novels for the 26 Books to Read in 2015 reading challenge.  I just finished the sequel, Secondhand Souls, and I loved it just as much as the first.  It’s laugh-out-loud hilarious, zany, weird, and sweet.

Back again in San Francisco shortly after the events of A Dirty Job, the souls of the recently deceased are going missing.  The Death Merchants, those responsible for passing along the soul vessels of the dead to their next stop on the karmic journey, aren’t collecting souls any longer.  On the Golden Gate bridge, ghosts are beginning to appear.  And Charlie Asher, our hero from the first book, has his soul trapped in a piece of taxidermy.

Where A Dirty Job focused on death, grief, and coming to terms with mortality, Secondhand Souls has moved on to a discussion of the nature of the soul and the cosmic journey.  A lot of the poignancy in this one comes from the movement of souls, the power of intimate connection across time, and the idea of moving along the path of life and death.

Alongside a banshee wielding a taser.  A mysterious man in a lemon-yellow suit with car to match.  A precociously foul-mouthed seven-year-old Luminatus.  And Wiggly Charlie.  Oh, Wiggly Charlie.

sartorial creatures
Author Christopher Moore pictured with the Squirrel People, designed and built by artist Monique Motil. I’ll leave it up to you to figure out which are which.

Readers who don’t like sex jokes, strong language, and sexual references might be put off by Moore’s sense of humor, but those who do like their comedy on the bawdier, blacker, and zanier side will find a lot to like.  Moore is fantastic with character voices and setting a scene.  The quick back and forth of his dialogue and his deft and clever descriptions are almost cinematic, and the pace is quick everywhere except where Moore wants you to take some time to think (the funeral scene midway through the book is a good example).

Those elements are a wonderful counterpoint to the real depth and heart behind it all.  These characters, crazy as they and their circumstances might be, still always manage to come across as real, dimensional people, never merely joke-delivery-systems.  Each character has stakes (emotional and physical), each one has relationships and motivations in regard to everyone else.  There are some supernatural elements and references to mythology and concepts of death and dying from many different cultures.  Minty Fresh fans will be pleased to hear this story becomes his by the end, and there’s even a nod to an early Christopher Moore novel, Coyote Blue.  The Squirrel People are also given a bit more to do this time around.

If you’re after a black comedy about the nature of death and of the soul, about love and friendship, and about cheese sticks, you might want to give this one a look.  Those who loved A Dirty Job don’t want to miss this one.

–Marie

ETA:
I just realized that under my new cheating-is-totally-allowed protocol I can double-dip!  Secondhand Souls was a book from the library!  I stayed a couple minutes late at work one day to finish cataloging it so that I could take it home.  There, I’ve covered #23 for the 26 Books to Read in 2015 Challenge!  Boom.

26 Books to Read in 2015: #24

Challenge item #24: A book you loved–read it again!

Don’t have to tell me twice.  I picked A Dirty Job by Christopher Moore.

a dirty job

Not only is this my second-favorite Christopher Moore novel (the first favorite being The Stupidest Angel, which I’ve talked about on the blog several times), but the sequel, Secondhand Souls, is due out in August!  So I thought I’d get caught up on the story and characters.

After the death of his wife, Rachel, second-hand shop owner Charlie Asher realizes that he can see people’s souls in objects.  He’s a Death Merchant–a person charged with collecting the souls of the recently deceased, and then making sure that they find their next karmic stop.  Then the really weird stuff starts happening: giant ravens, voices from the sewer, and giant hounds, and a little daughter who seems to have odd powers.  From there it’s a race to save the souls of San Francisco, the other death merchants, and maybe the world from a dark uprising from the Underworld.

This is the fourth time I’ve read this book.  I found that I enjoyed it differently this time around.   It took me longer to get into the story, but once I was in I was struck more than usual by the depth of heart and intelligence that lies behind the bawdy goofiness of Moore’s work.  I think that’s why I enjoy him so much.  I love the goofiness, and I love the humanity that lies underneath it.  I took more time with the climax and ending of the story this time around, and found myself touched.

In this book in particular there’s a lot of poignant musing about death, life, grief, and loss.  All with the counterpoint of sex jokes and slapstick and car chases.  The dynamic is almost Shakespearean.  General lunacy and very black humor abound, alongside fantastic descriptions of San Francisco and references to dozens of depictions of death and dying from all over the world.

I’m glad I picked this up again, and can’t wait for the next installment.  You can visit Christopher Moore’s website, here, and take a look around to see whether you might enjoy his work.

–Marie

Marie’s Re-Reading A Christmas Favorite

My personal Christmas favorite, anyway.  It’s got love, friendship, reunions, an angel, zombies, lasagna, and a Christmas Miracle.  What’s not to love?

The_Stupidist_Angel_hardcoverThe Archangel Raziel is on a special Christmas mission: He is to find one child and grant a Christmas wish.   And little Josh Barker has a very special wish: for Santa to come back from the dead.  Throw in just about every other Christopher Moore character you can think of, and you’ve got a chaotic Christmas party in the little town of Pine Cove.

Admittedly, Moore’s style isn’t for everyone.  But if you’re one of the people it’s for, like me, then you’ll love this.  The bawdy humor, the ear for dialogue, the wonderful characters, the creativity, and the genuine sweetness and affection for the characters.

And yes, shovels to the head.  And talking fruit bats.  And Zombie Santa.

Hey.  You keep Christmas in your own way, let me keep it in mine.

Happy Holidays!

–Marie

“I Walked With a Zombie.” I Couldn’t Help It. They’re All Over the Place.

You cannot swing an undead cat in pop culture right now without hitting a zombie.

Whatever genre you’re in the market for, there’s a zombie for it.  There are horror zombies.  There are romantic comedy zombies.  There are existential crisis zombies.   There are medical thriller zombies.  There are political thriller zombies.  Sad zombies, happy zombies, funny zombies, terrifying zombies.  Zombies who are metaphors for apathy, zombies who are metaphors for racism.  Zombies who aren’t metaphors for anything, but exist to fuel gun-totin’ survivalist fantasies.

Shamble with me after the jump for some zombi-riffic (zombo-riffic?) Halloween Reads. Continue reading

Marie’s Reading: “The Painted Girls” by Cathy Marie Buchanan

painted girlsSet in Paris in the late 19th century, The Painted Girls tells the story of the Van Goethem sisters, Marie, Antoinette, and Charlotte.  The family is in dire straits after their father dies.  Their mother takes work as a laundress, but drinks up most of the profits.  It’s up to Marie and Antoinette to take care of themselves, each other, and Charlotte.  Marie becomes a dancer at the Paris Opera, while Antoinette takes a job at a theatre.  Eventually Marie winds up as a model for the artist Degas, and Antoinette falls in with a young man who is not as wonderful as he seems.  Through hardships, challenges, and betrayals of many kinds, Marie and Antoinette remain devoted to one another, leading eventually to a relatively happy ending.

Continue reading

Spotlight On: Humor!

Preeeee-senting the “Spotlight On!” Display!

Every month we’ll dedicate one of our display spaces to a different genre or topic.  This month it’s HUMOR!

The joke is that it took me forever to find this picture.
The joke is that it took me forever to find this picture.

Humor is very subjective.  What makes one reader shoot milk out of his or her nose might leave the next stony-(and clean)-faced.  Some people enjoy satire, some enjoy situational comedy.  Subtle or over-the-top, puns and sight-gags and pratfalls to wordplay and references and wit.  There are so many different ways to make people laugh.

If we were to define humor as a genre of fiction, I would say that the point is to make a reader laugh, to entertain and amuse.  Yet there’s always another layer to great comedy, and that is to make you think–whether about society, politics, or the human condition.  Humor is, and always has been, a way to point out hypocrisy in politics and power, as well as to examine the sheer absurdity of some (if not most) aspects of life.

Wouldn’t you know, I could not find a professional Readers Advisory definition for humor or comic fiction.  Perhaps because it overlaps with so many other genres?  Maybe.  Here’s a great list, subdivided by genre, from the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilon County.  It ends with a list of recommended authors, and includes many different kinds of humor!  Psychology Today also has a list, compiled by Gina Barreca.

I’ve made a list of a few of my personal favorite comedic authors.  They’re all funny in different ways, for different reasons, and to different ends.  Perhaps you’ll get a chuckle, a knowing nod, or a wry smile out of them as well.

(EDIT: I’ve finally put up a list of my own, find it here, under Suggested Reading)

Christopher Moore
For zany, goofy, screwball comedy with lots of farcical elements, he’s your man.  My favorites are A Dirty Job, The Stupidest Angel, Lamb, and Fool.

S.J. Perelman
If you’re a Marx Brothers fan, you must read his work.  Wordplay, satire, general wackiness…it’s a Marx routine in prose form. Most of the Most of S.J. Perelman is a good start.

P.G. Wodehouse
Witty and fun, every piece of his is a gem!  The anthology Weekend Wodehouse is great.

Terry Pratchett
The Discworld novels employ every kind of joke that exists.  Really, they do.  With the added bonus of smarts, heart, and great characters.  Try Unseen Academicals, Eric, or Hogfather.

Jasper Fforde
In-jokes and referential humor ahoy! Plus wordplay, clever plots, and some great situational comedy.  The Thursday Next books are my favorites, but The Big Over-Easy is lots of fun, too.

I should also mention Mark Twain, Kurt Vonnegut, Helen Fielding, Bill Bryson, A.J. Jacobs, Charles Dickens, Shakespeare, and Dorothy Parker as writers who amuse me to no end.  What books or authors never fail to make you laugh?  Tell us in the comments!

Stay tuned for next month, when we’ll have the spotlight on something new!

–Marie

P.S.

I’ll just leave you with a little something that makes me cry with laughter every time I see it.  Maybe you’ll like it, too.  From the BBC show QI, wherein Stephen Fry has a spot of trouble telling us something interesting about the Acropolis, where the Parthenon is.

Christmas Preview!! A Few of Marie’s Christmas Favorites

Christmas starts when Santa gets to Macy’s after the parade.

Yup.  Noon on Thanksgiving Day.
Yup. Noon on Thanksgiving Day.  Will not hear otherwise.

If you are the type to agree with my husband, who believes one can begin to ease into the holidays no earlier than December 10th, and Christmas proper does not begin until the 22nd or so…uh…save reading my posts until then, I guess?

For those who side with me on this one, let’s get a jump-start on December with a few of my personal favorite Christmas reads! Continue reading