Posts Tagged ‘Humor’

Evil Genius by Catherine Jinks

November 13, 2014

Cadel Piggot is a genius. Most humans cannot keep up with his super-fast mind, which makes life pretty lonely for this foster kid. Alienating one foster family after another, he finds comfort in the world of computers and hacking, the only outlet where his intellect is challenged. Eventually Cadel finds himself in a psychologist’s office as punishment for hacking, and is shocked when his therapist advises him, “Next time, don’t get caught.” Turns out, his therapist, Thaddeus Roth, is a minion of Cadel’s real father, Dr. Darkkon, an evil mastermind currently in prison. He and Thaddeus have cooked up a scheme to get Cadel into the Axis Institute for World Domination, a school where kids like Cadel can learn skills far more useful than algebra, like forgery, embezzlement, and explosives. From the outside, the Axis Institute just looks like a school for wayward children, which makes it the miracle Cadel’s social worker has been waiting for.

For Cadel, it seems like a win-win situation – he gets to leave the expectations of his never-satisfied foster families behind, and in exchange he gets to work with souped-up computers and teachers who might be almost as smart as he is… almost. It’s a new world for Cadel, one in which the very skills he’s spent years hiding are the ones he now is encouraged to cultivate. It feels like, in a school where there is a class on lying, he’s finally found a place where he can truly be himself – and that he is, in fact, the Evil Genius of the title. But is he? As time goes on, Cadel realizes that he’s not the only one who excels at deception, and it’s tiring always wondering who he can trust. When he starts to question his own assumptions about who he is and what he wants, his world starts tumbling down.  Catherine Jinks is  an acclaimed YA author currently living in Wales.

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Church Folk by Michele Andrea Bowen

November 5, 2014

I am sure many First Ladies can attest, their job is not an easy one. They have nothing on Essie Lee Lane, a plain girl from a small town who knows her way around a kitchen (that means she can cook really well). Essie does not know what she is getting into when she marries the Reverend Theophilus Simmons. Reverend Simmons is an up and coming theological star in the 1960’s South. Not only is he easy on the eyes (that means he is handsome), but a respected Southern preacher is a position of power in the South especially as the Civil Rights Movement is taking hold. Reverend Simmons is everything you would ever want in a husband—let me re-phrase that, Reverend Simmons is everything every woman in the community wants as a husband. When Reverend Simmons chooses Essie as his wife, the townfolk do not silently sit with their hands folded on their lap, instead they put Essie and their marriage to the test.  Lots of drama ensues in this sometimes funny, sometimes serious but always lively book.

If you found my parenthetical definitions tedious and too obvious then I really think you will like this book. The loose vernacular style is a delight. The colloquial language is not just for show, it comes from the heart and captures precisely the emotions felt. This book is a real treat. And if you like it, be sure to read its sequel, More Church Folk.

Michele Andrea Bowen is one of several North Carolina authors visiting our regional libraries in November. You can meet her and learn about her work at Southeast Regional Library on Saturday, November 8, at 2:30 p.m.  Click here to register.

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Dog on It by Spencer Quinn

October 22, 2014

Dog On ItIf there is anything better than finding out one of your favorite authors has just written a new book, it must be finding out that one of your favorite authors has actually already published a whole series of books under another name. I enjoyed Peter Abrahams Echo Falls mystery series for teens, and his stand-alone thriller Oblivion is one of my favorites, so I felt really lucky when I recently learned that he has also published the Chet and Bernie mystery series under the pen name Spencer Quinn.

Bernie is an ex-military, ex-police, private investigator. He drives a “classic” (i.e. old and beat up) Porsche and is usually the smartest person in the room, according to his partner Chet. Chet is always ready to jump into the shotgun seat of the Porsche or sniff out a clue. Did I mention that Chet is a dog? He is highly trained – would have graduated from the police K-9 dog training school if it wasn’t for a minor incident involving a cat that occurred on his last day.

The series begins with Dog on It, where a distraught mother hires Chet and Bernie to find her missing teenage daughter. Madison Chambliss is a normal high school student, with no apparent reason to run away and there are no signs of foul play. Within a day she returns home on her own and Chet and Bernie are off the case. But when Madison soon disappears a second time and no one thinks it is a problem because she has done this before, Chet and Bernie feel obligated to find the truth about what happened to her.

I like the Chet and Bernie series because it is well plotted, with smart characters and dialog, and a healthy dose of humor. I especially like the fact that Chet narrates! He notices smells and sees really well in the dark, never passes up a bit of food, and falls asleep if the conversation gets too intellectual, just like a dog actually would. His observations are at once innocently simple-minded and astute.

The Chet and Bernie books are also especially good on audio.

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Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher

September 25, 2014

This is my favorite new book of the year so far. It’s composed of funny, angry letters, mostly letters of recommendation, written by a man who has been around too long and seen too much, but who can’t stop caring about his job and the people it touches. The book jacket promises that each letter is “a small masterpiece of high dudgeon, low spirits, and passive aggressive strategies”, and the author delivers on that promise.

Jay Fitger is a professor of English at the aptly named Payne University. Jay is 55 years old, divorced twice, the kind of guy who is just too honest and too smart for his own good. He’s also angry as he watches his department become more and more downsized and marginalized as the university budget constricts. His letters of recommendation for students and colleagues who need his help in applying for jobs, grants, etc. often tend to lack the tactfulness one expects in such missives.

Here’s an excerpt from a letter written on behalf of a student seeking an internship in the office of a state senator:

Malinda is intelligent; she is organized; she is well spoken. Given her aptitude for research (unlike most undergraduates, she has moved beyond Wikipedia), I am sure that she will soon learn that the senator, his leathern face permanently embossed with a gruesome rictus of feigned cheer, has consistently voted against funds for higher education and has cosponsored multiple narrow-minded backwater proposals that will make it ever more difficult for her to repay the roughly $38,000 in debt that the average graduate of our institution inherits—along with a lovely blue tassel—on the day of commencement.

Gee, with friends like these…

As the book progresses, the reader learns more about the failures of Jay’s personal life, and about the politics surrounding him at the university. By the time the book ends, both Jay and the reader encounter the sadness that any good comedy includes as well as a surprising satisfaction at how things turn out.

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Gone Fishin’ by Walter Mosley

September 22, 2014

Gone Fishin'Walter Mosley is perhaps best known for his Easy Rawlins mysteries (Devil in a Blue Dress, et al), but the man has written a lot and tackled many different genres. Therefore, it would be unfair to say that Gone Fishin’ is an unusual Walter Mosley book. But it is not a mystery. Instead, it is a Bildungsroman that contains some faces familiar to readers of the Easy Rawlins series.
The main characters are said Ezekiel “Easy” Rawlins and his friend Raymond “Mouse” Alexander, and the year is 1939 – nine years before the events of Devil in a Blue Dress; the novel that launched the Rawlins’ series.

Late one night, a racket breaks out on Easy’s apartment door: “I knew it couldn’t be the police,” Rawlins says, “they just broke down the door in that neighborhood”. Instead, Mouse is the one who interrupts his rest. Mouse is about to marry EttaMae, a hugely popular woman, and thus he needs some money. To overcome his shortage of currency Mouse wants Easy to drive him from their home in Houston’s Fifth Ward to a Texas town called Pariah (!), where Mouse hopes to access to his “Momma’s dowry.” The problem is that his stepfather Reese Corn stands between Mouse and the dowry, and Mouse – who isn’t easily scared – is afraid of Reese.

Easy is offered 15 dollars and agrees, although he is mad because he is about to lose his friend. He’d help Mouse out without the “threats and the IOU,” but to make sure that Mouse doesn’t realize this, Easy says, “I want my fifteen dollars, man. You know I ain’t doin’ this fo’my health.”

And in a three year old car that Mouse has “borrowed,” they leave Houston for Pariah.

As they reach the bayou, Mouse suggests that they should visit his friend, Momma Jo. On a ledge over her fireplace, Easy sees thirteen skulls, one of them clearly human.

“’Domaque,’ Momma Jo said, and I turned to see her looking at me.

‘What?’

‘My husband.’”

Yes. They have entered the land of voodoo, and soon enough, sex, revenge, and death keep them company, too.
It has been pointed out elsewhere that Mosley’s books have strong existentialist traits. This is true for Gone Fishin’ which portraits a morally ambiguous world. And it is a novel filled with all kinds of tensions and questions: “Who knows?” Easy says, “Maybe I would’ve died out there in Pariah if Mouse hadn’t held me to his black heart.”

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The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

September 16, 2014

“Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so.”

I first experienced The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy in high school, and I think I have not gone more than a week without thinking about that one particular line since then. I chose the word “experienced” rather than read because H2G2, as Neil Gaiman dubbed it, comes in many forms. It was initially a radio play for the BBC, then became a five volume trilogy of books (don’t try to make sense of this), a legendarily difficult computer game, a BBC miniseries and a feature film, among other incarnations. I first encountered the story as an audiobook read by the author, and among the many lines and ideas that have been swimming around in my brain like a Babel Fish ever since, this notion of the illusory nature of time is at the forefront.

It’s illustrative of the real genius of Douglas Adams, which is often found in the footnotes and at the margins, in his gift for amazing throwaway lines and casual asides that are simultaneously make the reader laugh and reconsider everything that they know about the nature of the universe. The story of H2G2 begins with ordinary Englishman Arthur Dent attempting to prevent his house from being demolished, continues with the destruction of the Earth, joining up with the two-headed galactic president as he absconds with a new spaceship and then arriving at an ancient planet where they discover the answer to life, the universe and everything. This is only the first book, mind you.

It’s an engaging and entertaining story, and the characters are instantly memorable and iconic. Besides the lovable everyman Arthur the reader gets to know and adore Ford Prefect, an alien who had been working undercover on Earth to compile the entry about earth for the titular intergalactic guidebook and encyclopedia, the aforementioned two headed president Zaphod Beeblebrox, Marvin, the depressed, paranoid android and the Vogons, a vile race of aliens known for their love of truly abysmal poetry, and that only scratches the surface of this staggering, multimedia comedic achievement. If you’ve never experienced H2G2, hang on to your towel and don’t panic. It’s mostly harmless.

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Still Foolin’ ‘Em : Where I’ve Been, Where I’m Going, and Where the Hell Are My Keys? by Billy Crystal

September 9, 2014

Still Foolin' 'EmI am a child of the 80’s, so my first memories of Billy Crystal are of him as Miracle Max in one of my all-time favorite movies, “The Princess Bride”. So when I saw he had a new book out, Still Foolin’ em, I had to read it.

Billy Crystal has just turned 65 and is looking back on his life with grace and humor. He’s been responsible for many iconic moments of comedic history in the last several decades. The book is part memoir about his accomplished career and part musings on random, relatable topics. It is funny, charming and at times emotional.

Billy Crystal has been in the business for decades and has had a remarkably unscandalous life and career, which is rare for a celebrity these days. As he writes of his young life, “Growing up Crystal was great” and he enjoyed his loving and supportive family as a young child. Billy tells of his rise to celebrity as well as tales of being a dad and more recently the joys of grand-kids. Billy has been happily married to his wife for over 35 years and they are still going strong.

Along the way, Billy Crystal has made some lasting relationships in his showbiz career. He has a particularly touching relationship with Muhammad Ali, who lovingly calls Billy, “little brother”. Another friendship that he mentions that is more significant of late, is that with Robin Williams who he worked with on their successful Comic Relief charity fundraiser. Just a few days ago, after the sudden and tragic passing of Williams, I watched a clip of Robin Williams winning an academy award for “Good Will Hunting” at one of the Oscars that Crystal hosted. The two shared a joyous and intimate hug after Williams’s acceptance speech. I looked at that Oscars a little differently having just read Billy’s book.

I read this book but wanted to mention that the audio is narrated by Billy Crystal and that he won an “Audie” for it, which is an award that honors achievement in audiobooks. Wake County Public libraries has the downloadable audio version and I’m sure it’s “Marvelous”!

This book is a treat, filled with anecdotes that only Billy Crystal could tell, so if you are looking for a light and entertaining read (or listen), this book is for you!

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The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery

August 27, 2014

The Elegance of the HedgehogElegance of the Hedgehog was a selection for my book club. I never wanted to read this book. I felt it would be too anecdotal and not enough plot for my taste. This is what I love about book club (aside from my friends and the food)—it gets me reading books I would not normally choose to read. I decided to listen to the audio book so this review is based on that version of the book. The audiobook is delightful.

The novel takes place in a high end Paris apartment building with the narrative alternating between precociously intelligent 12-year old Paloma and Renée the grumpy concierge. We learn very quickly that these narrators are not who they seem to be. Both have an appreciation of the finer things in life. This not only includes tangible pieces of fine art but also philosophy and Japanese culture. Paloma, tired of living amongst those who will never understand her, decides to commit suicide on her 13th birthday.

Renée takes pleasure in deceiving her witless employers who believe her to be a simple, pedestrian concierge. All of this changes when a mysterious Japanese gentleman, Ozu, moves in the building. He befriends Paloma whose admiration of Japanese culture breaks down any of the usual barriers she so deftly constructs. He sees through Renée’s guise and becomes determined to spend more time with her since they have so much in common. Through Ozu, Renée and Paloma discover each other and these kindred spirits existing under the same roof for years, become fast friends and allies against the gauche residents.

What I thought was to be an artsy, disjointed book is really very heartwarming and humorous. For the audio book two readers give life to Renée and Paloma which to me, makes the characters real. So if you are on the fence about reading this book, or appreciate a really well done audio book, give this a listen!

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Charms for the Easy Life by Kaye Gibbons

July 15, 2014

Charms for the Easy LifeI have been purposely avoiding reading any of Kaye Gibbons‘ novels because I had met her during my college years in Raleigh and was not sure I could read them without preconceived notions. I have finally arrived at a maturity level where I can do so with a totally open mind. I jumped in with both feet, and never looked back. This book fit my criteria for a good read as I could not put it down after the first chapter.

Let me begin my review by recommending that readers first become acquainted with the layout of our beautiful state, North Carolina. It also helps to be knowledgeable about Raleigh and the distinctions of the older, surrounding neighborhoods near downtown. The author seamlessly weaves these locations into the novel. She was born in Rocky Mount and went to college in the Triangle. It was so easy to hear the southern drawl flowing right out of the dialogue. The story cannot be fully enjoyed without at least a familiarity of the key landmarks and major cities of North Carolina. The imagery just cannot be maximized otherwise.

Published in 1993, Charms for the Easy Life is Gibbons’ fourth novel. Her commercial literary success began with the award winning Ellen Foster. There is no doubt that this novel was also meant to inspire her own three daughters. It continues her tradition of creating strong female main characters: Charlie Kate is the no-nonsense grandmother and matriarch; Sophia is her rebellious daughter; and Margaret is the perfectionist granddaughter. All three show extraordinary independent spirit as well as quick wit and intellect. The time period of the novel covers 1910-1945. It was a time where these characteristics were neither attractive nor acceptable for a female. Charlie Kate and Sophia are both mistreated, deserted, and eventually widowed by their husbands. They show the world that they can succeed without having a man to hold their hand. Understandably, Margaret becomes overly cautious around males. Will she be an old maid? Read Charms for the Easy Life and find out.

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Ungifted by Gordon Korman

July 8, 2014

UngiftedLooking for an audio book the whole family can listen to? Try Ungifted by Gordon Korman, where we meet Donovan Curtis, aka Donny. Donny is a middle schooler who has lots going on his life. He frequently gets in trouble for the poor choices he makes, usually with his two best buds, the Daniels.

Donny’s home life has become very strange as well. His very pregnant sister has moved back home while her husband is serving as a tank commander in Afghanistan. She has brought with her his brother-in-law’s dog, a Chow-Chow named Beatrice, who hates everybody but Donny.

Donny’s life becomes more complicated when he impulsively smacks a statue at school, causing the globe Atlas is holding on his shoulder to be dislodged. Once loose, the globe races down through the parking lot ultimately crashing through the gym doors into a basketball game being watched by the Superintendent of Schools. Donny is caught almost red-handed.

In a bizarre twist of fate, Donny ends up as a student at the gifted school. He is not sure how this happened, but he’s counting his lucky stars that he escaped punishment for the Atlas incident. However, Donny does not belong with the gifted kids. He knows it, his classmates know it, and even the teachers know it. What Donny lacks in school smarts, he makes up for by helping his new classmates be more “normal.” Well, that, and helping with the robotics project. The gifted students are trying to beat their archrivals for the state championship.

Ungifted is a story about finding your place wherever you land. It also explores the gifts of friendship and what it really means to be accepted for who you are.

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