Thursday, April 24, 2014

Review: The Serpent of Venice by Christopher Moore

Fuckstockings. If that odd expletive offends you, Christopher Moore's books are not for you. On the other hand, if you find that to be an invaluable addition to your turn the air blue vocabulary, you should pick his books up immediately. If you are undecided, well, put some pants on and pick a side. Because there's no middle ground with a Moore book. He writes about vampires (human and animal), zombies, Jesus's childhood, the art world and artists, a dumb angel, demons, Shakespeare's characters, Native American myths, and more. This eclectic collection probably does not sound like something I'd read at all, aside from the inventive and genius swearing thing, because I do love a thumping great curse word. And yet, I love Moore's works. He's smart and witty and twisted in the best sense of the word. The Serpent of Venice, Moore's latest and a sequel of sorts (not really) to his earlier novel, Fool, may not be my favorite of his books but it has all the important hallmarks of a classic Christopher Moore. An inventive and head-spinningly complex mash-up of The Merchant of Venice, Othello, and Edgar Allan Poe's The Cask of Amontillado, The Serpent of Venice brings back Pocket the Fool from Moore's King Lear inspired novel.

Pocket is in Venice. He left his beloved Queen and wife Cordelia at her own behest to travel to Venice and prevent the start of another Crusade. His strength in negotiating is his very annoying manner, his irreverence, and his instinctive mocking lewdness. While the doge appreciates Pocket, the rest of Venice does not and his stance on another Crusade makes him and England very unpopular. When the novel opens, he is traveling to a clandestine dinner that promises much bawdiness. Instead, he finds plotters who want him as dead as his Queen, who they admit to poisoning. He is drugged with an old Amontillado and walled up in the basement dungeon of Brabantio (yes, Desdemona's father) and left to die. But Pocket is not so easily killed and he vows revenge for the death of his love.

With the help of a dragon, Shylock and his daughter Jessica, Othello and Desdemona, and even Marco Polo, Pocket will wreak vengeance on a whole cast of Shakespeare's baddies and their cohorts, Brabantio, Antonio, Iago, and more. Moore has tied well known Shakespeare plays up in knots but he has managed to rope his disparate source material together well, grounding his novel in a firm and legitimate knowledge of the works in question. The originals may be completely intertwined but they are still recognizable and his use of famous lines and speeches reinforces their presence. His Pocket the Fool is still a raucous and debauched character fond of willy waving and outright innuendo. His scheming machinations throughout the novel prove that revenge Moore-style is a dish best served cold. Shakespeare's characters remain true to their originals, for the most part, and somehow they fit in beautifully even when Pocket is wading through the deepest canals of vulgarity.

The novel is accomplished and entertaining, the sort of rollicking farce that readers have come to expect from Moore. Moore's end note about the original works and how he structured this warped mash-up is interesting indeed. Knowledge of the originals is not strictly necessary but helpful in catching all the allusions and nods. Likewise, a previous reading of Fool is not necessary either but again enhances and adds to the depth of the playing about here. There are moments where the plot stalls a bit and Pocket's long simmering plan for revenge can be a little over long but in general, Moore's latest version of the Bard on hallucinogens will satisfy fans and the not easily offended quite a bit.

For more information about Christopher Moore and the book, check out his website, his Facebook page, or follow him on Twitter. Follow the rest of the blog tour or look at the amazon reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.

Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and the publisher for sending me a copy of the book for review.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Review: A Rather Charming Invitation by C. A. Belmond

I first made the acquaintance of Penny Nichols and Jeremy Laidley in the first novel in this fun and frothy caper series, A Rather Lovely Inheritance and was pleased to revisit them again in this third book in the quartet, A Rather Charming Invitation. As a novel, it lives up to its title, being charming indeed.

As the story opens, Penny and Jeremy are engaged and living in London, having set up their own discreet business tracking down art and treasures when a previously unknown young cousin of Penny's arrives on their doorstep in the company of the police. Once the misunderstanding is cleared up, they are resolved to take Honorine back to France and her family. In so doing, they meet Penny's French relatives, who have a genteelly decaying manor house, gorgeous flower fields, and a perfumery. While there, they sense the hidden tensions in Honorine's family and Penny's Tante Leonora offers to let them marry beneath the gorgeous, antique, bridal tapestry woven by Oncle Philippe's ancestor, all the while assuming that they will be married in France. When they head back to England, with Honorine still in tow to work as their office assistant, they must also face Jeremy's rigid and proper upper crust grandmother, who naturally assumes that they will be married in England in the church of her choosing.

With so many people weighing in, Penny agonizes and dithers over the wedding particulars, unable to pin anything down, including which country they'll be married in, and uncertain why she's suddenly so indecisive. What it boils down to is that she's got cold feet. When she does finally overcome her concerns and come up with the perfect compromise that still reflects Jeremy's and her taste and feelings, things start to go tits up. The priceless tapestry is stolen and it is up to Penny and Jeremy to find it and get it back, not only to maintain family harmony, but also so that they can get married underneath it as planned. That the elaborate tapestry appears to be telling a story long thought to be apocryphal and that makes it that much more valuable to whomever can decipher its meaning first ups the ante on the search.  Add in the fact that the time frame to find it is rapidly shrinking almost to nothing and you know you're in for another careening search a la Nichols and Laidley.

Penny and Jeremy as characters are as appealing as ever. They clearly love each other and their relationship is supportive and sweet without being sappy. Their lifestyle is definitely glamorous and luxurious and that gives it a sort of golden age feel although technology firmly grounds it in the here and now. Penny's worries about other people telling her that marriage spells the end of love does seem a bit far-fetched given that her own parents are still so happily married and that fact that many people who offer this sort of advice are joking but that's a minor quibble for this lighthearted and delightful romantic caper. Those who have read the others in the series will enjoy this one as well and those who haven't yet read the preceding books should.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of the book to review.

Waiting on Wednesday

This meme is hosted by Breaking the Spine and is meant to highlight some great pre-publication books we all can't wait to get our grubby little mitts on.

Graduates in Wonderland by Jessica Pan and Rachel Kapelke-Dale. The book is being released by Gotham on May 6, 2014.

Amazon says this about the book: Two best friends document their post-college lives in a hilarious, relatable, and powerfully honest epistolary memoir.

Fast friends since they met at Brown University during their freshman year, Jessica Pan and Rachel Kapelke-Dale vowed to keep in touch after their senior year through in-depth—and brutally honest—weekly e-mails. After graduation, Jess packs up everything she owns and moves to Beijing on a whim, while Rachel heads to New York to work for an art gallery and to figure out her love life. Each spends the next few years tumbling through adulthood and reinventing themselves in various countries, including France, China, and Australia. Through their messages from around the world, they swap tales of teaching classes of military men, running a magazine, and flirting in foreign languages, along with the hard stuff: from harrowing accidents to breakups and breakdowns.

Reminiscent of Sloan Crosley’s essays and Lena Dunham’s Girls, Graduates in Wonderland is an intimate, no-holds-barred portrait of two young women as they embark upon adulthood.

Monday, April 21, 2014

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

Books I completed this past week are:

Quiet by Susan Cain
Recklessly Royal by Nichole Chase
Where Somebody Waits by Margaret Kaufman
Dinner With the Smileys by Sarah Smiley
The Serpent of Venice by Christopher Moore

Bookmarks are still living in the middle of:

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Reviews posted this week:

Bread and Butter by Michelle Wildgen
Encounters with Animals by Gerald Durrell
Wash by Margaret Wrinkle

Books still needing to have reviews written (as opposed to the ones that are simply awaiting posting):

A Rather Charming Invitation by C.A. Belmond
Quiet by Susan Cain
Recklessly Royal by Nichole Chase
Where Somebody Waits by Margaret Kaufman
Dinner With the Smileys by Sarah Smiley
The Serpent of Venice by Christopher Moore

Monday Mailbox

I came home from the kids' spring break and Easter to an embarrassment of riches. Happy, happy me! This week's mailbox arrivals:

Long Live the King by Fay Weldon came from St. Martin's Griffin.

The second in an Edwardian trilogy about a noble family in the exciting time leading up to Edward VII's coronation, this sounds perfectly delectable.

The Bear by Claire Cameron came from Little, Brown.

A five year old whose parents are killed by a bear while on a family camping trip must find a way for she and her brother to survive after they escape the raging animal. I suspect that this one will keep me up at night hoping for a good outcome (and because I'm guaranteed to be a scaredy pants).

Angels Make Their Hope Here by Breena Clarke came from Little, Brown.

I'm very curious to read about a racially tolerant community in the Civil War era and the young black woman who escaped to live there until something terrible drove her out.

Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932 by Francine Prose came from Harper and TLC Book Tours for a blog tour.

Paris in the fabulous 1920s and 1930s. Need I say more?! Ok, a bit more. This is also about art and love and evil, an intoxicating combo, no?

Mimi Malloy, At Last! by Julia McDonnell came from Picador.

About an elderly divorced Irish Catholic woman starting to have memory problems who faces life, her family, love, and the long-buried memories that suddenly make a reappearance, this looks like it features one of those main characters you just take to your heart.

The From-Aways by C.J. Hauser came from William Morrow and LibraryThing Early Reviewers.

Two Maine outsiders shake up their small Maine town. Doesn't the thought of all that "from-away" turmoil make you want to pick this up and read it?

Marrying Mr. Darcy: The Pride and Prejudice Card Game came from Marrying Mr. Darcy.

Because I helped fund the Kickstarter campaign for this game, I got my very own copy in the mail. Yes, a Jane Austen card game. Swoon! Now to find someone to play it with me.

If you'd like to see the marvelous goodies in other people's mailboxes, make sure to visit Mailbox Monday and have fun seeing how we are all doing our part to keep the USPS and delivery services viable.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Review: Wash by Margaret Wrinkle

You probably think you know about all the atrocities committed under slavery, right? You've heard about the appalling physical abuse, even murder, of a people kept subjugated as property. But what about the breeding of slaves, using a man, a fellow human being, as a stud for hire, charging for the use of his fertility and for the potential attributes he will pass along to offspring? Margaret Wrinkle's novel, Wash, details just such a practice from the perspective of both slaveholder and slave.

Richardson is a veteran of both the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. After his first war, he was hoping that slavery would be abolished but when that didn't come to pass and economic necessity pushed him, he reluctantly abandoned his principles and joined the ranks of slaveholders. He justifies owning slaves as necessary to fulfill his deep seated desire to make his father proud by building the Western Tennessee town of Memphis into a successful empire. Richardson buys Wash's mother, Mena, a so-called "saltwater" slave because she sees something in him that makes her capture his interest and this same spark of something draws Richardson to her son Wash.

Wash, having been badly beaten and scarred by another owner leasing him while Richardson was at war, is never temperamentally suited to working in the fields but he does have an affinity with horses, landing him in Richardson's stable. Perhaps it was his proximity to the stallions used for stud that first put the idea in Richardson's mind or perhaps it was an acknowledgement of Wash's bad boy appeal to so many of the slave women and girls but when Richardson needed a financial infusion to continue to fund his dreams for Memphis, he turned this prized slave of his into a stud no different from his horses, maintaining a stud book and carefully watching the offspring that result from Wash's forced couplings. But Wash is of value to Richardson for more than his stud fees, being Richardson's chosen listener as he talks through the experiences of his life and his beliefs many nights when he cannot sleep.

For his part, Wash holds tight to the teachings of his mother and his early mentor the blacksmith Rufus, as he endures the indignity of what he must do. He perfects the ability to escape inside his own soul to a place where he cannot be touched and to tap into his ancestors' strength in the ways so important to his own sense of self. Inside himself, in this place, he is free and unenslaved. In the only relationship he is allowed to choose for himself, his connection to and comfort with the healer, Pallas, another damaged soul, he finds a balm and offers her the same in return.

Wrinkle doesn't shy away from the brutality and inhumanity, physical and emotional, inherent in owning human beings and denying their personhoods. She details the philosophy and justification for slavery unflinchingly here, making them as multi-faceted as they must have been but without glorifying or accepting them as right or true. As Richardson talks to Wash, his views come across loud and clear but so does Wash's deeply hidden desire to destroy this man even as he is forced to listen without action, his complete negation as a human being. Flipping from point of view to point of view offers Wrinkle the chance to tell her tale from each character's perspective, sometimes blind to the other characters' deepest held feelings and sometimes in full recognition of them. As careful and beautifully well written as the novel is, though, it is a ponderous and slow read. The plot is simply Wash's life, and as such there's not much driving the story along. There is a muted feel to the events it details, slightly lessening the impact of even those so horrific they should inspire range and an outcry. While beautiful, this novel carried more promise than it delivered.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Review: Encounters with Animals by Gerald Durrell

I first stumbled across Gerald Durrell's My Family and Other Animals several years ago and loved it. And while I didn't track down the Masterpiece Theater piece of that book as threatened, I did track down another of his books, serendipitously found in the "free" box at a used bookstore. Encounters with Animals is a collection of essays culled from Durrell's BBC broadcasts about animals and animal behaviour over the years.

Each of the essays is fairly short and describes Durrell's collecting of animals for zoos, how certain exotic animals behave in wild, and the always entertaining bits about the animals the Durrell family has lived with in their home. Because these essays are pulled from radio broadcasts, they are very descriptive in drawing the animal in question in the reader's (and originally, the listener's) mind's eye. Durrell is an entertaining writer, personifying the animals about whom he writes but also being mindful of their natural lives. The essays are homely and sweetly humorous and provide a gentle introduction to exotic animals, their habits, and their habitats. Durrell is, as always, an accessible, lovely writer but this collection seems as if it would be more satisfying if it was listened to, as originally conceived, rather than read. Still a nice collection for naturalists to dip into, it just doesn't quite shine the way that My family and Other Animals does.

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