"Can I help you in any way?" "I came to arrange about a funeral." "Is it for yourself?"
This is a year of firsts for me as far as literature goes. I've finally read a Goosebumps book, sat down with one of chick-lit's heavy hitters, and now I have an Evelyn Waugh novel under my belt. There's something a little - okay, a lot - intimidating about the classics. Although I read my share of them in school, classics are by and large considered to be rather daunting. I never fail to be amazed at how relatively short certain novels are once I do manage to pick one up and The Loved One is one of the shortest I've seen yet.
Clocking in at a bite-size 164 pages, The Loved One tells of Dennis Barlow, poet and pet mortician. At this point in time there are only a tiny handful of Englishmen in Hollywood and the Cricket Club has decided Dennis' new position makes the rest of them look bad. When Sir Francis dies, they leave the funeral arrangements to Dennis ("to keep him busy" and take his mind off his newly deceased housemate).
Times without number since he first came to Hollywood he had heard the name of that great necropolis on the lips of others; he had read it in the local news-sheets when some more than usually illustrious body was given more than usually splendid honours or some new acquisition was made to its collected masterpieces of contemporary art. Of recent weeks his interest had been livelier and more technical for it was in humble emulation of its great neighbour that the Happier Hunting Ground was planned. The language he daily spoke in his new trade was a patois derived from that high pure source. More than once Mr. Schultz had exultantly exclaimed after one of his performances: "It was worthy of Whispering Glades." As a missionary priest making his first pilgrimage to the Vatican, as a paramount chief of equatorial Africa mounting the Eiffel Tower, Dennis Barlow, poet and pets' mortician, drove through the Golden Gates.
Whispering Glades is the funeral home Dennis wishes he had. The staff provides a ridiculous amount of options including wigs, outfits, and Zones where, for a fee, your Loved One (never referred to as the deceased) can rest eternally among statues of various poets, musicians, and other famous art pieces.
It is at Whispering Glades that Dennis not only receives a rather sizable amount of new ideas to pass along to his boss, but he first meets Aimee. Aimee Thanatogenos is one of the cosmeticians and is considered to be one of the best. She and the embalmer, Mr. Joyboy, are toeing a romance (he passes along Loved Ones to her with radiant smiles) that turns complicated once Dennis arrives.
"I think it's a very, very wonderful thing to be a poet." "But you have a very poetic occupation here." He spoke lightly, teasing, but she answered with great gravity. "Yes, I know. I know I have really. Only sometimes at the end of a day when I'm tired I feel as if it was all rather ephemeral. I mean you and Sophie Dalmeyer Krump write a poem and it's printed and maybe read of the radio and millions of people hear it and maybe they'll still be reading it in hundreds of years' time. While my work is burned sometimes within a few hours. At best it's put in the mausoleum and even there it deteriorates, you know. I've seen painting there not ten years old that's completely lost tonality."
Not wanting to soil his reputation further, Dennis avoids telling Aimee about his job and woos her with poetry. Unfortunately for Aimee, she doesn't realize the poems are actually written by famous poets from decades - and even centuries - ago, and consults a newspaper advice columnist for her next course of action. After numerous letters (resulting in much flip-flopping on her part and a disaster of a dinner with Mr. Joyboy's mother), Aimee finally makes up her mind and the truth comes to light.
I've recently read a few reviews for The Loved One and each one praised its dark humor and witty commentary. Looking for a quick and entertaining read - not to mention an introduction to Waugh's works - I hunted this one down at my library and devoured it in an hour or two. Whenever I love a book, it's all I can do to force myself to stop rambling about it, but The Loved One is so short, that anything more I might say would give away the entire story.
Not all his customers were as open-handed and tractable as the Heinkels. Some boggled at a ten-dollar burial, others had their pets embalmed and then went East and forgot them; one after filling half the ice-box for over a week with a dead she-bear changed her mind and called in the taxidermist. These were the dark days, to be set against the ritualistic, almost orgiastic cremation of a non-sectarian chimpanzee and the burial of a canary over whose tiny grave a squad of Marine buglers had sounded Taps. It is forbidden by Californian law to scatter human remains from an aeroplane, but the sky is free to the animal world, and on one occasion it fell to Dennis to commit the ashes of a tabby-cat to the slip-stream over Sunset Boulevard.
The Loved One really is extremely funny, and I feel it's a perfect starting point in Waugh's catalog. From what I understand, his other works aren't nearly as humorous, but if the writing is anything like it was with this book (quick, direct, and SO easy to read), I have a feeling Mr. Waugh and I will get along very well.(less)
Working in a bookstore has presented me with an ever-growing list of authors who I want to read. Carl Hiassen has been on that list for ages: the covers of his books immediately catch my eye and his quirky, oddball humor sounds like we'd be a perfect match.
When an ARC of Chomp arrived on my doorstep last week, I immediately tore into it. Wahoo Cray (yes, that's his real name and he was named after the wrestler not the fish, thank you very much!) and his father Mickey have what amounts to a zoo in their backyard. Mickey is a professional animal wrangler and over the years has amassed a wide variety of wild animals: a pair of century-old tortoises, an extremely laid back alligator named Alice, a gigantic python named Beulah, and a bobcat with a limp to name a few.
The Crays have fallen on hard times. A dead iguana fell out of a tree and landed on Mickey's head, giving him a serious concussion and double-vision. Many of his jobs were taken by rival wranglers. Wahoo's mother winds up heading off to China for a teaching job to help pay the mortgage.
One day they get a phone call from Expedition Survival!, a Man Vs. Wild-esque show, completely with an "Australian" host, Derek Badger. In reality, he was a folk dancer before an injury put him in the hospital. It was there that he was discovered and given a new identity (complete with matching accent). Despite what his program shows, Derek is a total phony: he rolls up to the location in a huge tourbus with a full staff - including chefs. It's not unusual for him to stay overnight in hotels rather than actually camping outdoors.
Derek is a huge star with an ego to match. After shooting a few scenes on the Crays' property, he decides he's more than capable of dealing with truly wild animals, not just tame critters living in a cozy backyard. Ignoring Mickey's protests (as well as the objections from his assistant, Raven), Derek announces he wants to shoot the Everglades episode in the Everglades and hires on the Crays as assistants.
While stopping for supplies at Walmart, Wahoo runs into one of his classmates, a girl named Tuna. Her father is an abusive drunk and Tuna has the black eye to prove it. She's determined to run away and Wahoo brings her along with them.
Chomp definitely reads more like a Middle Grade book than a Young Adult novel. This wasn't a bad thing, though! The writing was so engaging, before I knew it I was halfway through the book! I got the humor, but I feel it would be far more appreciated by a younger crowd. With all the reptiles taking centerstage, I can easily see boys being all over Chomp (though girls will absolutely love it as well!).
Scattered throughout the book are really interesting facts about the animals, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I love it when a book can be educational without making it blatantly obvious. Also, Tuna has a major obsession with learning the Latin names for plants, insects, and animals. Seeing her rattle off species was so much fun.
I wasn't at all prepared for the abusive father subplot, but Chomp handled it in a way that, while still bringing attention to the issue, didn't make it overly traumatic or upsetting.
Chomp is a funny, captivating novel guaranteed to be enjoyed by children and adults alike. The fast plot made it an extremely quick read and any book featuring a lazy alligator as a main character is automatically awesome.
"You've seen the program, of course," Raven said. "Sure," said Wahoo. "It's on Thursday nights." "And rerun every Sunday morning," she said. "So you already know that we're all about verisimilitude." Wahoo didn't even pretend to understand what the word meant. His father just looked at him and shrugged.
It was impossible for Wahoo to know what was going on in Alice's prehistoric brainpan as she rose to the surface of the pool. But, compared with all the epic disasters that her ancestors had endured, she probably wouldn't have viewed a flabby, fake Australian as a serious threat. On the other hand, she had never before encountered a human so foolhardy. Whether Alice failed to see Derek Badger because he was in the lily pads, or whether he purposely positioned himself to intercept her, the result was the same. Somehow he wound up straddling her back, like a tipsy cowboy on a bronco.
Derek had been doing a cave-camping scene in New Mexico when he'd brainlessly decided to use an ancient Navajo prayer pipe to scratch an itch on his back. The sacred relic had snapped into three pieces, greatly upsetting the tribal leaders. Derek had been ordered to depart the reservation and never return.
Prince Charming has no idea how to use a sword; Prince Charming has no patience for dwarfs; Prince Charming has an irrational hatred of capes.
Every once in a while you'll come across a book so magical, so wonderful that you think about it long after you've reached the end. The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom is that book. Part of me wants to end the review here and now and force all of you to go out and buy a copy. It was that good.
The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom tells the real story of the Princes Charming - yes, the Prince Charming we all know and love wasn't one guy. In fact, it turns out there were four. And their names definitely weren't Charming. Nope. Frederic, Duncan, Liam, and Gustav saved the day and got the girl only to have their identities forgotten.
Cinderella's Charming, Prince Frederic, isn't your typical hero. He would much rather have a nice picnic or look at art than face down hoards of monsters (it would ruin his clothes!). Prince Liam plays the hero to a fault. Unfortunately, his kingdom only praises him because his parents arranged a marriage with Sleeping Beauty and her kingdom is beyond rich. Snow White grew a little tired of Prince Duncan's...quirks. Any animal he sees he decides to name (dwarfs included - Flik, Frak, and Frank - and dubbed his horse Papa Scoots) and is convinced he has magical powers. Lastly, Prince Gustav. He set out to rescue Rapunzel from her tower only to meet a particularly nasty witch and his sixteen older brothers have yet to let him live it down.
"Oh, give me a break," Liam yelled, and stomped his foot in anger. "Why is there a dragon here? Nobody mentioned a dragon!"
When word gets out that the kingdoms' bards have been kidnapped, the princes decide that now is their chance to prove they really are heroes (and, you know, the bards will be so overjoyed they'll write new songs that make the princes look MUCH better). If only it were that simple. Along the way they have to face goblins, trolls, the Bandit King (who is actually only 10, so oh so very terrible), a very well-spoken giant, and even a dragon.
I could seriously go on and on about this book. At 430+ pages, it's definitely a meaty book - especially for MG! - but it could have been 1,000 pages and I would have loved every second. The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom had absolutely everything I wanted in a book - including pictures and a map! Christopher Healy is now on my autobuy list. Do yourself a favor and pick this book up. You'll be happy you did.(less)
I always celebrate Poe's birthday with cupcakes a reading or two of his work. I opted to forgo my usual picks and my favorites and instead chose a short story often overlooked: Some Words With a Mummy. Some Words With a Mummy is among Poe's latter works, this one being published in 1845, just a few years before his death. One thing I love about the Victorian era is what was considered a fun hobby: the occult and mysticism (as mentioned in my review of The Gathering Storm) as well as Egypt. I love the idea of socialites and other well-to-do members of society all gathered around someone's living room to poke and prod at mummies. I. Love. It.
The application of electricity to a mummy three or four thousand years old at the least, was an idea, if not very sage, still sufficiently original, and we all caught it at once. About one-tenth in earnest and nine-tenths in jest, we arranged a battery in the Doctor's study, and conveyed thither the Egyptian.
From what I've seen, people who don't read Poe outside class immediately write him off as a horror writer. While it's obviously true he wrote extensively for the genre, he also had a penchant for satire and humor and Some Words With a Mummy is the best of both.
Our narrator wakes up one morning and receives a letter from Doctor Ponnonner expressing excitement over having received permission to unwrap a mummy. Said narrator is one of the few special guests invited to attend the unwrapping.
Once the mummy is indeed unwrapped, Ponnonner begins his experimentation: attaching a battery to it! First the experiment with the forehead. After a few moments of...nothing, the men decide to head home for the night. However, our narrator then realizes the mummy's eyes are nearly closed (when they had previously been wide open).
I cannot say that I was alarmed at the phenomenon, because "alarmed" is, in my case, not exactly the word. It is possible, however, that, but for the Brown Stout, I might have been a little nervous. As for the rest of the company, they really made no attempt at concealing the downright fright which possessed them. Doctor Ponnonner was a man to be pitied. Mr. Gliddon, by some peculiar process, rendered himself invisible. Mr. Silk Buckingham, I fancy, will scarcely be so bold as to deny that he made his way, upon all fours, under the table.
In a flurry of excitement, the group tests the mummy's foot. The mummy promptly rears back and delivers a swift kick to Ponnonner's stomach. The assault actually sends the poor man through the window and down to the streets below. Hee!
The rest of the men immediately rush outside, fully convinced they'll find Ponnonner's mangled corpse lying in the street. However, they wind up meeting him on the staircase full of vigor and very eager to proceed with the experiments.
When the men return to the room, they discover the mummy is very much alive:
Morally and physically -- figuratively and literally -- was the effect electric. In the first place, the corpse opened its eyes and winked very rapidly for several minutes, as does Mr. Barnes in the pantomime, in the second place, it sneezed; in the third, it sat upon end; in the fourth, it shook its fist in Doctor Ponnonner's face; in the fifth, turning to Messieurs Gliddon and Buckingham, it addressed them, in very capital Egyptian, thus:
"I must say, gentlemen, that I am as much surprised as I am mortified at your behaviour. Of Doctor Ponnonner nothing better was to be expected. He is a poor little fat fool who knows no better. I pity and forgive him. But you, Mr. Gliddon- and you, Silk -- who have travelled and resided in Egypt until one might imagine you to the manner born -- you, I say who have been so much among us that you speak Egyptian fully as well, I think, as you write your mother tongue -- you, whom I have always been led to regard as the firm friend of the mummies -- I really did anticipate more gentlemanly conduct from you. What am I to think of your standing quietly by and seeing me thus unhandsomely used? What am I to suppose by your permitting Tom, Dick, and Harry to strip me of my coffins, and my clothes, in this wretchedly cold climate? In what light (to come to the point) am I to regard your aiding and abetting that miserable little villain, Doctor Ponnonner, in pulling me by the nose?"
From then on, it's really nothing but a lovely sit-down with the mummy (Count Allamistakeo - haha!). The men ask Allamistakeo about his world and try to impress him with theirs (steam? BAH! Fancy machines? POO!) It's pretty cute, really. Allamistakeo reminded me of a lovely, wizened father figure humoring these supposed modern men.
At the end of the night the narrator returns home and climbs into bed. After only a few short hours, he pens his thoughts (which eerily hold true today):
The truth is, I am heartily sick of this life and of the nineteenth century in general. I am convinced that every thing is going wrong. Besides, I am anxious to know who will be President in 2045. As soon, therefore, as I shave and swallow a cup of coffee, I shall just step over to Ponnonner's and get embalmed for a couple of hundred years.
Some Words With a Mummy is a super quick and very fun read and highlight's Poe's strength as a writer of humor.
A light supper of course. I am exceedingly fond of Welsh rabbit. More than a pound at once, however, may not at all times be advisable. Still, there can be no material objection to two. And really between two and three, there is merely a single unit of difference. I ventured, perhaps, upon four. My wife will have it five; -- but, clearly, she has confounded two very distinct affairs.
"Why, it is the general custom in Egypt to deprive a corpse, before embalmment, of its bowels and brains; the race of the Scarabaei alone did not coincide with the custom. Had I not been a Scarabeus, therefore, I should have been without bowels and brains; and without either it is inconvenient to live."
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 nontraditional grammar, split infinitives, and the odd wank . . . If that’s the sort of thing you think you might enjoy, then you have happened upon the perfect story!
The world is a better place for having Christopher Moore in it. I could end this review with that one lone sentence and it would sum up my feelings perfectly.
Unfortunately - and I hate myself for this! - I wasn't able to finish Fool before it was due back at the library. A nasty cold found me earlier this week and I wasn't able to do much of anything. However, as I've mentioned before I work at a bookstore and one of our perks is being able to borrow anything from the store. :) So I have no doubts I'll be finishing this one shortly.
Christopher Moore definitely is not an author for everyone. His humor is pretty off-the-wall and is something a person will either adore or absolutely detest. Fortunately I'm in the "OMG I LUV U" group. I first fell in love with him through Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal (♥ I have the leather-bound cover and it's so, so gorgeous!!) and have been on a quest to gobble up everything else he's released.
Fool is a retelling of King Lear, one of the many Shakespeare plays I have never read. I don't feel that hinders my understanding - or enjoyment - of the novel in any way, however.
I only managed to get halfway through the novel, but there were so many passages and lines that made me snort and laugh to the point of crying.
Despite not being able to finish, I thoroughly enjoyed what I did read. That said, if someone is reading Moore for the first time, I'd definitely recommend Lamb instead.(less)
I am not a shoujo fan in the slightest. I haven't a clue what made me read this series, but I couldn't be happier I did. YNSH is absolutely hysterical...moreI am not a shoujo fan in the slightest. I haven't a clue what made me read this series, but I couldn't be happier I did. YNSH is absolutely hysterical (although chibi!Sunako appears a bit too often for my liking).(less)