I read this... hoo boy, many, many years ago, when I was quite young and even at that age, though I'm sure some of the content and context went right...moreI read this... hoo boy, many, many years ago, when I was quite young and even at that age, though I'm sure some of the content and context went right over my head, I utterly loved this book. So while I can't comment on specific parts of the book (I really need to reread this, but I'm waiting until I can afford to get a "keeper" copy for myself), I can say that My Family and Other Animals is one of those books about eccentric, funny families (like those in Cheaper by the Dozen) that makes you wish your family was just as wacky and entertaining.
BTW the Masterpiece Theater adaptation from 2005 is just as delightful as the book. Naturally, I can't comment on how faithful it was to the source material, but it did seem to capture the casual insanity of Durrell's family and their experiences on Corfu in the months just before WWII. I highly recommend it, if only for Imelda Staunton's performance... but since the beautiful Matthew Goode is in the film as well, I can recommend it for the eye candy. Oh, and the gorgeous scenery doesn't hurt, either--talk about making you want to jump on a plane for Greece!(less)
I have been having the hardest time coming up with a review for this book. It's not because I didn't like it; quite the contrary, it was very entertai...moreI have been having the hardest time coming up with a review for this book. It's not because I didn't like it; quite the contrary, it was very entertaining. It's like... well, is it possible to make Cool Whip out of Greek yogurt? Because that's what this book is, fluff with a Greek flavor. It's a distant cousin to Neil Gaiman's American Gods in that it has many of the same elements--ancient gods living in modern times, weakened in power because no one believes in them anymore, as well a mortal (or, in the case of Gods Behaving Badly, two mortals) thrown in the mix, one of whom becomes "The Hero" who manages to rescue the damsel in distress and solve whatever problem is fueling the plot--just in a slightly "fluffier" version.
The gods in this novel are Greek (if you hadn't guessed), specifically the big 12 (the major gods of Olympus we've all heard about, one way or another) who are currently crowded together in a run-down London townhouse. They've fallen on hard times in the last thousand years or so and, my, how the mighty do fall: Artemis spends her time as a dog-walker, always looking for that one, modern dog which still has a trace of wolf in it and is always disappointed by the poor idiots; Dionysus still makes his own wine, but does a lot more damage with it in his role as nightclub owner, where his wine is the only thing on tap and weird, grotesque, erotic floor shows are the entertainment, which explains the club's draw; Hephaestus is still a mighty craftsman, though most of his efforts go into improvements around the house such as fixing broken furniture and improving the bathroom fittings; Aphrodite works off her mighty sex drive as a phone sex operator, panting, moaning, and faux-orgasming into her mobile phone at any time of day, to the disgust of Artemis; and Apollo has taken his Oracle to television, in a low-budget show where the set was "held together with safety pins and masking tape" and, just as in the good ol' days, the sybils did all the work. It's at the taping of the first (and last) episode of this show that Eros, who's now a Christian and suffering an existential crisis because of this, shoots an arrow of love into Apollo's heart at the behest of Aphrodite in a fit of "woman scorned" anger. Apollo falls instantly in love with Alice, a cleaner who's sneaked her friend, Neil, and herself onto the soundstage. Thus begins the complications and the drama: Alice is fired from the TV station, Neil convinces her to go freelance with her cleaning skills, as a result of which she ends up at the gods' townhouse where she's hired by Artemis and gleefully stalked by Apollo as he tries to convince the rather mousy woman of his love for her. And so the adventure begins.
This is a fun and funny book; it's entertaining and a quick read. While it may not offer up any great moments of genius, there's a tremendous amount of skill shown in the actual writing: clever and occasionally witty prose, authentic characters, and a story which evokes a genuine emotional involvement in the reader. (Yes, even in fluff, such things are possible.) Considering that this is a first novel, the high level of talent in Marie Phillips' writing is pleasantly unexpected.(less)
I have found a new favorite author. It's obvious Simon Brett has a deep and abiding love for P.G. Wodehouse and Agatha Christie and their ilk, but tha...moreI have found a new favorite author. It's obvious Simon Brett has a deep and abiding love for P.G. Wodehouse and Agatha Christie and their ilk, but that hasn't stopped him from taking the staples of the English-country-set cozy mystery and skewered them one by one with a red-hot cricket bat. From the amateur sleuth who's always on-scene and can find the answer to any conundrum just by licking the backside of a dust bunny, in this case Twinks, aka Lady Honoria Lyminster: [regarding two pieces of carpet fibre, one plucked from the victim's shoe, the other a sample from the victim's room] "Both pieces, as you can see, are from the same carpet. It's a Turkish fine-weave, probably manufactured in the workshop of the Hassan brothers in the village of Akgurglu just to the north of Izmir, and almost definitely originally bought from the emporium of their cousin Mustapha Khalid on the Golden Alley of the main Istanbul souk. Not that any of that's important. The important thing is that both samples came from the same carpet." to the bumbling, stumbling, plodding, thick-headed police force that's always being shown up by said amateur sleuth, in this case taking the form of Chief Inspector Trumbull and Sergeant Knatchbull: "Chief Inspector Trumbull had not been at the front of the queue when the intellect was handed out. Indeed, he appeared not to have been in the same county. But that did not prevent him from rising through the ranks of his chosen profession. Indeed, in those days for anyone in that profession to have shown intelligence or originality would have been a positive disqualification. The role of the police was to do a lot of boring legwork and paperwork, to trail up investigatory cul-de-sacs, to be constantly baffled, and dutifully amazed when an amateur sleuth revealed the solution to a murder mystery." In between are the battle-axe of a mother, the Dowager Duchess of Tawcester (pronounced "Taster," everyone knows that): "She was constructed on the lines of a transatlantic steamer and it was comparably difficult to make her change her course once she was under way." as well as various scions and breeders of the ruling class, ridiculous nicknames included, as with Twinks's brother, the Right Honourable Devereux Lyminster, who was known by one and all as Blotto: "His nickname certainly did not derive from his drinking habits. Amongst people of his class it was thought bad form for nicknames to have logical explanations; they were items to be scattered about with random largesse, like small donations to a charity."
The story here is pretty much incidental. The entertainment comes from the characters and Brett's assassination of the genre in which he's writing. By parodying the situations, the characters, the language and lingo, he's creating a pitch-perfect yet exaggerated English-country-set story along the lines of P.G. Wodehouse (most especially Wodehouse's classic Jeeves & Wooster tales), with a pinch of cozy mystery thrown in a la Agatha Christie (reminiscent of the interfering and prescient Miss Marple) though the mystery isn't nearly as mysterious as Christie's. But, again, that doesn't matter. What matters is the experiences you encounter as the story sweeps you up and gallops away, with you hanging on to the tail for dear life. Every time Blotto grows confused about a situation (which is nearly always as "Blotto's thoughts rarely ran deep enough to dampen the soles of his handmade brogues."); every time Twinks comes to his rescue (which is nearly always, with Blotto responding to her brilliance with a "Toad-in-the-hole, Twinks, you are absolutely the lark's larynx."); basically at every harebrained scheme come up by Twinks and gamely put into place by Blotto, you know Brett is skewering the genre and poking fun at the stereotypes, yet he does it so well, with such marvelous turns of phrases and side-splitting, original descriptions, that you don't care--you just keep reading... and laughing your ass off.
This is a book which doesn't require much brain power to enjoy and can be gotten through quickly. (I breezed through it in two days.) The only thing is does require is your willingness to suspend higher thinking for a while and enjoy the ride.
Occasionally funny, occasionally insightful, I found The Anglo Files less "A field guide to the British" (as the book is erroneously subtitle...more2.5 stars
Occasionally funny, occasionally insightful, I found The Anglo Files less "A field guide to the British" (as the book is erroneously subtitled, in my opinion) and more a window into Sarah Lyall's quirks and hang-ups. Yes, the clash of cultures aspect could be amusing at times and it's true, the Brits have their share of oddball ticks. Then again, so does a transplanted New York-er. It's all a matter of perspective. Not to mention the fact the book focuses on a specific upper-class stratum of British life, something honestly acknowledged by Lyall in her introduction. And while it's true, some of the behaviors witnessed are unbelievably far-fetched (the House of Lords debating the existence of UFOs during the Winter of Discontent, when the country was basically falling apart, but all the Lords were concerned with was whether little green men had visited our planet, among other such vignettes), other tales I found less outlandish. Perhaps it's my Anglo brain, but the tales of picnicking in inclement weather didn't seem so outrageous, seeing as how, on my visit to the UK, I sat on a Scottish beach, in March, during a drizzle, to eat my fish 'n chips. Or Lyall's report of how the Brits she knew would put up with almost any climatic discomfort with only the mildest of a "My, the weather seems rather grumpy today" comment didn't seem so note-worthy. After all, I sat on the top of a double-decker bus to tour Bath, again in March, chill wind blowing in my hair, a light spray of snow dusting my cheeks, with my nose an icicle and fingers numb, with nary a complaint. While the others huddled below-deck, in the stuffy warmth, I and a couple of other daring individuals braved the unpleasant weather to fully experience the sights of the city and underneath the veneer of misery, I enjoyed every minute of it.
So perhaps I'm not "American" enough to fully laugh at the "strange" behaviors and quirks of the British. Because, in the end, I just didn't find the book all that funny.(less)
2.5 stars The first two-thirds of this book started out in a rip-roaring manner, easily earning it a four-, even five-star rating for its originality a...more2.5 stars The first two-thirds of this book started out in a rip-roaring manner, easily earning it a four-, even five-star rating for its originality and storytelling. The back third, however, fell off steeply into one- and two-star territory as the story descended into schmaltz and religious proselytizing. I realize there will be some well-trodden referrals to Christianity in association with Christmas (and as much as that bugs me, have no fear, I'm not going to give a dissertation on the fact that Christmas is a usurpation and amalgamation of various pagan midwinter celebrations and festivals, done so in an attempt to bring those pagans in line with the new dominant religion of Christianity), but the heavy-handed way in which they ruled the last third of the book, thereby giving the story a rather weak ending, felt too out-of-character for the genre. The reader is moved out of a Raymond Chandler-esque North Pole and into a suffocatingly preachy Thomas Kincade winter wonderland. What could've been an original take on noir, reminiscent of Jasper Fforde's Nursery Crime series, ended up a thinly-veiled reference to the joys of having faith in God. That's not what I had been anticipating at the start of the story. However, if that sounds like something right up your Christmas tree (which is actually based on the ancient Egyptian ritual of bringing palm fronds into the house at midwinter to symbolize renewal, but that kind of info really belongs in my aforementioned dissertation, which I'm not writing...really I'm not), give this peppermint twist of a tale a try.(less)
Covering much the same ground as the previous book I read on the subject, Vampire Forensics: Uncovering the Origins of an Enduring Legend, but in a mu...moreCovering much the same ground as the previous book I read on the subject, Vampire Forensics: Uncovering the Origins of an Enduring Legend, but in a much more succinct and personal (read: snarky) manner, The Dead Travel Fast is an entertaining romp through the author's explorations of the vampire. Part scholarly essay on the origins of the vampire--from the history of vampires in folklore and fiction to the evolution of the creature from a thing to be feared in the dead of night to a thing to be desired and emulated in the light of day--part personal journal detailing his travels both in the United States and abroad as he searches for the answer to his question: What is it about the vampire that inspires such lust in people? From wannabes to true believers, from tour guides to tour groups, Eric Nuzum unearths many fascinating characters, all of whom share one passion, that of the vampire, to a varying degree of pity-inducing fervor. And while you can tell that Mr. Nuzum spends the entire book rather bewildered by this phenomenon, he is never quite mean or condescending about it; he maintains a sense of wry sarcasm or gentle teasing towards his subjects, staying just this side of smug self-superiority. (Okay, maybe he slipped over the edge a couple of times, but really, who wouldn't considering some of the circumstances he got himself into?)
It's quite obvious that though the author probably had his fair share of geek moments growing up, they were probably of the marching band/school newspaper/AV club type. While those groups were still far below the radar of the popular kids--cheerleaders and jocks, prom royals and school rulers--they were still social activities. Nuzum has probably never felt nor dealt with the isolation of being a loner, an outsider, a non-joiner, exactly the type of person who would be drawn to the glamour and strength which the idea of a vampire represents. Not that I'm speaking from experience, mind you- pardon me, my cape got caught under the wheels of my deskchair. *rip* That's going to cost me a pretty penny to repair. Anyway, as I was saying, I might not quite understand the lure of dressing up in fangs and a corset to attend a nightclub packed with similarly dressed individuals, but I can understand the desire to associate with something that has come to represent sex, power, and success over your enemies and/or your lovers.
In the end, Eric Nuzum's book is an enjoyable and informative tour of the vampire and its transformation from a hideous and diabolical fiend to a kid-friendly, ubiquitous cult icon.
On a side note: One of the author's quests was to watch every vampire movie ever made, which amounted to something over 200 titles. He didn't quite make it. However, he lumped one movie in with several others and said they were all vampire pornos. The movie I'm speaking of is called Rockula and I take exception to his categorization. Rockula is not a porno. It is a fine example of 1989 B-movie cheese. Starring Dean Cameron, Toni Basil, Thomas Dolby, and Bo Diddley (yes, that is correct, the Bo Diddley), it is a movie which aspires to be a rock opera about a vampire and his true love, but falls far short. Nevertheless, for the over-the-top '80s production value alone, it is a hoot to watch. The saddest part is that it is only available on VHS; I can only hope that someday soon it'll get the DVD release it deserves.(less)