Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Stupidest Angel

The Stupidest Angel: A Heartwarming Tale of Christmas Terror
By Christopher Moore

"'Twas the night (okay, more like the week) before Christmas, and all through the tiny community of Pine Cove, California, people are busy buying, wrapping, packing, and generally getting into the holiday spirit.

"But not everybody is feeling the joy. Little Joshua Barker is in desperate need of a holiday miracle. No, he's not on his deathbed; no, his dog hasn't run away from home. But Josh is sure that he saw Santa take a shovel to the head, and now the seven-year-old has only one prayer: Please, Santa, come back from the dead.

"But hold on! There's an angel waiting in the wings. (Wings, get it?) It's none other than the Archangel Raziel come to Earth seeking a small child with a wish that needs granting. Unfortunately, our angel's not sporting the brightest halo in the bunch, and before you can say "Kris Kringle," he's botched his sacred mission and sent the residents of Pine Cove headlong into Christmas chaos, culminating in the most hilarious and horrifying holiday party the town has ever seen."

This was... unusual.  I had a hard time getting into it because it felt like the author was trying a little too hard to be clever.  Then I got used to it and thought, "You know, this isn't bad."  Then the end came and I decided, "Meh.  Well, it was ok.  I wouldn't mind reading more of Moore, but maybe a little later." (...That seems to be my reaction to most books/authors, lately.)  It didn't have me ROFLOLing, but to be fair, I think it's rare that I actually laugh out loud when reading silently to myself.  I guess my LOL instinct reacts better to the spoken word.

The Pine Cove universe sort of grew on me over time, even though there were things I didn't love about the book.  I've seen Pine Cove described as a "Margaritaville version of the world", and that captures the mood very well, I think.  (No wonder it felt familiar, even if it's set in far-away California.  The beach, the tourists, the warm winters... Jimmy Buffet is from around here, you know.)  I'll definitely give Christopher Moore another try, eventually.

Random Comments, Snippets, Observations, Etc.:

•  "Pine Cove, sleepy California coastal village-- a toy town, really, with more art galleries than gas stations, more wine-tasting rooms than hardware stores."  This description of Pine Cove reminded me a little of the local city I shall refer to as "FH".  (If you know me and are from "around here", you'll figure it out.  There simply aren't many local cities with names starting with an F...)  The artsy-ness.  The little boutiques with overpriced merchandise.  The pretentiousness.  (Oops. Sorry.  Didn't mean to let that slip out.)  It is a pretty town, though.  If I had to live in a town instead of out in the wilderness ;o), that's the sort of town I'd most want to live in-- somewhere small and pretty and charming, where I could walk my dog(s) along the sidewalks and go to watch the sunset across the bay whenever the mood struck me. 

•  "Dressed in their red suits and fake beards, they rand their bells like they were going for dog-spit gold at the Pavlov Olympics."  --AND--  "So what had started as a moment of sheer glee and a mild adrenaline surge for the six of them who were watching as Lena chased Dale through the parking lot, turned quickly to shock as the evil developer thwacked the Latin Santa-ette in the breadbasket with a satchel of minicubes." (See what I mean about trying too hard?  No?  Well then, I suggest you get your hands on some Christopher Moore, pronto.)

•  To the author's credit, he posts a warning at the beginning of the book that it's not for kids or anyone easily offended by cussing and various other things that commonly give offense.  Some of those things aren't my cup of tea, but they're not usually enough to stop me reading a book.  That said... Some of it is a little more over-the-top than I'd like, and Mavis is... gross, honestly.  Besides, isn't the elderly female bartender with a filthy mouth and mind somewhat cliché?  The character goes too far for me.  Not charming.  Not really even that funny.

•  I'm not crazy about the stupid angel and the resultant flippant references to Heaven/religion in general.  I mean, with the plot as it is, he had to be included, but... some of the jokes make me a little uncomfortable. (Uptight?  Me?  No way.)  It's just not my absolute very favorite sort of thing to read. 

•  How old are Josh and his friend supposed to be, again?  Because several times the kids think/say things that simply don't ring true for a six/seven/eight-year-old to think or say... Possibly this is part of the humor, but it's missing its mark with me.  Or maybe I'm out of touch with what kids these days think and say... But do kids really say "trippin'"?  Or this: "I could be wrong.  I'm a kid.  We make notoriously unreliable witnesses."  Also, the kid refers to CSI.  Parents, CSI is not appropriate viewing material for young children, for a variety of reasons.  Don't let your little kids watch CSI, m'kay?

•  One thing that did make me laugh was that Dale is consistently referred to as "evil developer Dale Pearson".  (It would've been even funnier if the character hadn't been so genuinely despicable, though.)  And then later on, there's a reference to him having owned a "vintage German SS uniform", which I must admit struck me as pretty funny.  Of course he has one of those tucked away for special occasions. What evil developer worth his salt does not? 

•  The trendy, faddy slang in this book's dialogue reminded me of how much I dislike such slang.  It sounds stupid.  Furthermore, it will seriously date this book, in a few years (if it hasn't already).  

•  Maybe you aren't supposed to take anything in this book too seriously ("Ya think?"), but the thirty-foot Christmas tree keeps nagging at the back of my mind...  I'm thinking a 30-ft tree would be awfully heavy and unwieldy.  Impossible for a man and a woman to drag into a church-- not to mention that the woman is supposed to have somehow maneuvered it onto her vehicle all her own.  I don't care if she is Pine Cove's answer to Xena: Warrior Princess, that's just not gonna work. (Right?)

•  Funny how nearly all the main characters seem to be in their forties.  I found it comforting, honestly.  There is life beyond the thirties, even for the childless.  (g)  It's one of those things you already know, but it's still nice to read a book where 40+ characters are the norm and not just some stock character thrown in to round out the cast.  

•  Apparently, all the main characters (and there are several) are from Moore's earlier books.  That may mean that this book has a different feel from his "regular" novels.  I haven't read any of them, so I can't make a comparison.  

Spoilery Comment:

This book was recommended to me as a humorous zombie book set at Christmastime.  I began reading it on the strength of that recommendation, so imagine my dismay when chapter after chapter passed with no mention of zombies!  When they do finally make an appearance, you're about 65% of the way through the book.  Also, the zombies talk.  (That's right.  They use words like a normal, living person.  And the living can hear and understand them.  Have conversations with them.  It's very odd.)  So.  If you're strictly looking for traditional zombies or a zombie-centric book, this isn't your best bet.  If you like humorous zombie tales where the zombies don't show up until the second half of the book-- and can talk-- then it might be worth your time. 

Incidentally, I wonder how it would've affected my enjoyment of the novel if I hadn't been aware that "they" would eventually show up.  It probably would've been an amusing and surprising plot twist instead of a "well, finally" moment.  


Thursday, December 8, 2011

Diary of a Nobody

Diary of a Nobody, by George & Weedon Grossmith

(Also published as The Diary of a Nobody.)

"'The Diary Of A Nobody' began as a serial in 'Punch' and the book which followed in 1892 has never been out of print. The Grossmith brothers not only created an immortal comic character but produced a clever satire of their society. Mr Pooter is an office clerk and upright family man in a dull 1880s suburb. His diary is a wonderful portrait of the class system and the inherent snobbishness of the suburban middle classes. It sends up contemporary crazes for Aestheticism, spiritualism and bicycling, as well as the fashion for publishing diaries by anybody and everybody."
Well, that blurb just about covers it.  This was a "read aloud" book and suffered slightly in my estimation from my expectation that it would be even shorter than it was, the length being the deciding factor in my choice of it over a couple of other titles.

I went in hoping for something in the style of P.G. Wodehouse, and this faux diary is humorous-- but it offered fewer laugh-out-loud moments than a Jeeves and Wooster novel.  However, it's also more realistic and relatable, perhaps, as the main character is a middle class working man rather than the independently wealthy Bertie Wooster, whose whole life seems to be a series of vacations abroad or to various country estates. 

In short, this isn't one I'm planning to re-read obsessively, but it was nice for a once-through.  Gentle, friendly humor and full of reminders that that more things change, the more they stay the same.

Note:  We were reading an Amazon freebie e-book version on the Kindle.  It's still available for free, but be warned that the free e-versions do not include the original illustrations (or any illustrations at all, in fact).  I'm not sure how much we missed through the absence of those illustrations-- but not enough to make them worth paying for, I think.  If I read the book and loved it, then maybe I'd consider finding a nicer copy for next time.