Bite Me: Win The New Christopher Moore Novel

Bite Me by Christopher MooreThe good folks at HarperCollins and Wiredset have provided me with a copy of Bite Me, Christopher Moore’s newest novel. I’m a big Christopher Moore fan so I jumped at the chance to snag an early copy.

I’ve read nearly everything Moore’s written and reviewed a few of his latest right here on the Used Books Blog. You can check out reviews for A Dirty Job and You Suck to wet your appetite for more Moore.

Now, here’s where it gets good for you. I also get to give away two other copies of Bite Me to Used Books Blog readers.

Win a Free Copy of Bite Me

Here’s how you can get one. Simply comment on this blog post with:

  • The title of your favorite Christopher Moore novel
  • Why it’s your favorite Christopher Moore novel
  • Your current toothpaste brand and flavor

C’mon folks, this is Christopher Moore it has to be a little off beat.

Comments (aka entries) must be made by April 23, 2010. At that time I’ll review and qualify the comments (toothpaste flavors better be the real deal!) and then randomly select the two winners.

Don’t like the rules? Bite Me! (Too easy, I know.)

Enter today for your chance at a free copy of Bite Me by Christopher Moore. I’m reading mine right now.

The Big Over Easy by Jasper Fforde

The Big Over Easy by Jasper FfordeThe Big Over Easy by Jasper Fforde is an entertaining, inventive read but doesn’t quite measure up to the Thursday Next series.

Reduced down to a simple scale, The Big Over Easy is very good, while most of the Thursday Next series (including The Well of Lost Plots) are great. Fforde is a victim of his own creativity.

The Big Over Easy is a mystery novel that follows detective Jack Spratt of the Nursery Crimes Division (NCD). Yes, he’s that Jack Spratt and in this alternate world nursery characters are real and live among us.

The NCD is under the microscope after Spratt fails to secure a conviction against the three pigs for death by scalding of Mr. Wolff. And now Humpty Dumpty has been murdered!

That’s the set-up and Fforde delivers with great nursery references (many of which I’m guessing I missed) and his usual absurd humor.

There’s nothing wrong with The Big Over Easy and yet, it’s not quite as inventive as The Eyre Affair, the first in the Thursday Next series. As much as I tried to simply enjoy The Big Over Easy for what it was, I couldn’t help but compare.

It didn’t help that Fforde draws at least one of his characters (Lola Vavoom) from the Thursday Next series into The Big Over Easy.

Comparisons aside, it’s a fun novel and yet again showcases Fforde’s ability to create a world populated with literary characters. This time it’s even more absurd because Fford draws on everything from a gigantic egg to a Greek Titan. Yes, Prometheus winds up living at the Spratt residence as he seeks asylum, escaping his daily liver pecking imprisonment.

The plot line of The Big Over Easy is satisfactory but nothing surprising. It’s a bit like a nursery version of CSI. That’s not why you read Fforde. Instead you get the clever newspaper excerpts at the beginning of each chapter and literary humor on nearly every page.

Read The Big Over Easy and become a fan of Fforde. Then read everything else he’s written.

A Dirty Job by Christopher Moore

A Dirty Job by Christopher MooreA Dirty Job by Christopher Moore is a quick, engrossing, macabre and hilarious novel. It is everything that Moore’s next novel, You Suck, is not. A Dirty Job remains original while still drawing on many characters from previous Moore novels. Where You Suck felt like a recycled paint-by-numbers affair, A Dirty Job feels fresh and is brimming with ideas and unique insight.

Moore is a master satirist and combines his satire with blazing creativity and a healthy dose of the absurd. Be forewarned, Moore is not for the easily offended. Nothing is out of bounds and he’ll regularly write the things you might be thinking but would never say.

A Dirty Job follows Charlie Asher, a recent widower with a young baby and a second-hand store to run. If this wasn’t enough, it seems that his wife’s death has changed him – and his daughter Sophie – into agents of … Death. Yes, Charlie is in charge of transferring the souls of the dead to new owners. The ‘soul vessels’ can be anything, from a cane to converse sneakers to breast implants.

Did I mention that The Morrigan – a trio of supernatural ‘sisters’ who take the form of large birds – are after these souls as well?

The battle between The Morrigan and Charlie is what moves the plot along. It’s the action/adventure portion of the novel. Moore does a fantastic job of bringing these creatures (and the Squirrel People) to life in gruesome detail. There’s a clear enthusiasm to these descriptions that makes it easier to read.

Charlie’s self-discovery of what he has become and his trips to retrieve the soul vessels give Moore ample opportunity for his uncensored social commentary. He aims at the natural inclinations of the Beta Male, goth girls, Internet relationships and other Bizarro Seinfeld observations.

Yet, A Dirty Job is more then just a smart action comedy. The main subject matter of death surrounds the novel. Death … is the topic of the novel. So, while you’re chuckling Moore is also telling you about how people come to terms with death. He provides a portrait of what it is like for a family to wait for the impending death of a loved one. There is a hard-edge of pain in the middle of A Dirty Job that Moore seems almost panicked to hide, which is in itself interesting.

Don’t get me wrong, A Dirty Job is not a downer. It’s Christopher Moore for Pete’s sake! So, grab a copy of A Dirty Job and hang on for a roller coaster ride of ‘eww’ inducing action and laugh out loud comedy with a chaser of thoughtful reflection on mortality.

Book Stumpers

Loganberry BooksBook stumpers! Those books that you recall but just can’t quite remember. Maybe it’s a childhood book you read, or something you picked up while on vacation a decade ago on a white sandy beach. You know the characters and the plot. You know when you read it and might even know the color of the book, but for the life of you … you can’t remember the author or title.

It’s right there on the tip of your tongue!

Try as you might you can’t remember it and Google has failed to turn up anything except odds and ends, many of which you may have preferred not to have discovered.

That’s a book stumper.

From time to time I get email from readers who have run into a book stumper. Just the other day I got one.

It was written in the 70s about a painter who lost his family in a car crash, met a new woman, then found he had a terminal disease. I think he was named Paul. Last line is “Black,” said the painter “is the purest of all colors.” It is in a dream of him looking into his grave. I thought it was “The Place He Made” But after looking at the author’s site I wasn’t so sure. I don’t know if I can read a book in 1979 that was printed in 1995! Please help, thank you.

I’ll do some poking around on my own to see if I can help, but most of the time I hand them off to the book stumper experts at Loganberry Books. Since 2003 they’ve been accepting book stumpers for the paltry sum of $2. The book stumper is then posted and literary crowdsourcing begins. Over 5,000 book stumpers have been submitted, with nearly 51% of them being solved.

Trust me, it’s more difficult than it seems. Sometimes the clues provided are scant at best.

I’m a fan of book stumpers for a number of reasons.

It is confirmation that what we read sticks with us for longer than we imagine. I find that both comforting and frightening. Comforting that some of my favorite books have influenced me and become part of who I am. Vonnegut’s Player Piano and Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land still surface as reference points today. It’s frightening in that some may not read at all or may read absolute drivel. The latter still being far superior to the former.

Book stumpers are also a testament to the inability of the almighty search engine to solve all our problems and answer all our questions. I make my living on the Internet (and I’m grateful for that), but at the same time I like that technology is still unable to interpret the clues locked in our heads and pinpoint the correct author and title. Where’s the fun in that?

There is still mystery in the world … and isn’t that what a good book can reveal.

Got a book stumper? Submit one to Loganberry today.

The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy by Douglas Adams

Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy by Douglas AdamsThe Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams is like that old Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups advertising campaign. You know, the one where the peanut butter and chocolate lovers clumsily bump into each other.

“You’ve got peanut butter on my chocolate! You’ve got chocolate in my peanut butter!” they exclaim before finding out just how delicious the combination turns out to be.

Replace peanut butter and chocolate with science fiction and humor and you get Douglas Adams’ brilliant The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Follow the rollicking exploits of Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect as they pinball around the universe, getting into tight scrapes and meeting up with a zany assortment of outlandish characters. You won’t find hard science here or a complex tale mirroring a modern day social issue. In fact, Adams lampoons these staples of science fiction and instead creates a wild parody without equal.

Here’s a secret. You’ll even learn the puzzling answer to the meaning of life, provided by Deep Thought, the second greatest computer in the universe.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy begins when a nasty bunch of officious aliens called the Vogons destroy Earth to make way for a ‘hyperspatial express route.’ Arthur and Ford survive by thumbing a ride on the Vogon spaceship. They’re able to do this only because Ford happens to be an alien and, more importantly, is a researcher for The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a type of electronic tome which is a cross between a Lonely Planet guide, a George Carlin cassette (remember this was published in the late 70s) and the Encyclopedia Britannica.

Adams uses entries in the Guide with great effect, providing quick tongue-in-cheek explanations or background information without it feeling forced. The cast of characters are entertaining and undeniably memorable: the wisecracking Ford Prefect; straight man to the farce, Arthur Dent; the swashbuckling Zaphod Beeblebrox, President of the Galaxy, who happens to have two heads and three arms; Marvin, the Paranoid Android, a severely depressed robot; and a beautiful woman by the name of Trillian.

This motley band of characters jet about the universe on The Heart of Gold, a stolen ship powered by an Improbability Drive and equipped with an annoyingly cheery computer named Eddie.

Forget about highly defined plot lines and let yourself bounce from one screwball situation to another. Give in to the lunacy and snappy dialog that drive the novel. Douglas Adams is without a doubt the funniest science fiction author in the universe. Sadly, we lost Adams well before his time.

Don’t panic! The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is just the first in a classic and oddly titled five book trilogy. So there’s plenty more to read if you enjoy this introduction to the series.

Think twice about reading this in public, since a bark of laughter in your local cafe may earn you some odd looks. Though this could work to your advantage if you want some space during your commute to or from work.

How To Draw Uglydoll by David Horvath and Sun-Min Kim

How To Draw Uglydoll by David Horvath and Sun-Min KimHow To Draw Uglydoll by David Horvath and Sun-Min Kim is a very funny book with great inspiration for young artists. Uglydolls are visually appealing for kids (and the kids inside all of us) and the text is appropriate for both kids and adults. Like a less commercial Simpson’s or updated Bugs Bunny, the comedy works on two levels.

This isn’t the usual type of book I review but I’m passionate about kids and art. I bought my daughter two Uglydolls when she was a baby and I look forward to giving this book to her in a few years.

What I really enjoy about How to Draw Uglydoll is that it’s not really a how-to-draw book. Sure, there are step-by-step instructions to drawing your favorite Uglydoll, but it’s made clear that you can (and should) draw any dang way you please!

…IMAGINATION! Don’t just follow the rules in this book! (You may not even find any.) If you feel like drawing the characters in a certain way, go for it! If the book tells you to make three eyes and you want to make 100 eyes, PERFECT! That’s what UGLY is all about!

I get pretty irate when I hear parents or teachers “correct” a child’s artwork. Talk about a quick way to squash a kid’s personal expression and self-confidence! That’s why How To Draw Uglydoll is as much about teaching the parent as it is the child.

What does UGLY mean? Ugly means unique! Ugly means special! Anyone can be beautiful, but it takes originality and a lot of bravery to be yourself.

Maybe it sounds preachy and sappy to you but I think this is an important life lesson – for kids and adults.

I get the sense that Horvath and Kim were somewhat hesitant to put out a how-to-draw book. The title is actually not How To Draw an Uglydoll or How To Draw Uglydolls. Instead it’s How to Draw Uglydoll: Ugly Drawings In a Few Easy Steps. It’s a artistic philosophy. So for every step-by-step instruction there is text that tells you to ignore the guide because there’s no such thing as a bad drawing.

It’s not subtle. In cartoon terms, they’re dropping an anvil on your head again and again and again.

If you haven’t stumbled on Uglydolls yet I encourage you to pick up a copy of How To Draw Uglydoll, check out Ugly Town and, for those of you on the cutting edge, follow Uglydolls on Twitter.

After The Beep by Kathleen Heck

After The Beep by Kathleen HeckAfter The Beep by Kathleen Heck is an amusing look at corporate communications run amok and delivers bite-size stories using modern technology as the framework. No, it’s not Hemingway’s “For sale: baby shoes, never used” but the vignettes poke fun at many of the stereotypes that nearly all of us have encountered at some point in our life.

There’s the persnickety accountant who (among other things) demands that all receipts be scotch taped on white 8.5×11 paper; the demanding micro-manager who is never satisfied; the Pollyanna corporate communications types who try to put a smile on any situation; and the high-maintenance spouses who need multiple calls a day to comfort them about trivial problems.

The novel is composed entirely of corporate memos, voicemail messages, automated phone systems, and a few text message exchanges. It’s an interesting look at how communication has evolved with the advance of technology. Are we better at communicating with these new forms of communication? Or has it simply made it more complex and frustrating? I am reminded of a recent AT&T rant on the reign of error blog.

The speed of communication certainly plays a big part in many of the stories. There are many instances of a rush to judgment before having all the facts. Indeed, it’s easy in today’s society to get an email and fire off a reply before you’ve had time to take that proverbial breath.

However, I found myself wanting more cutting edge material since my days are filled with blog posts, comments, IMs and updates via Facebook, Plaxo, Twitter, Friendfeed and others. It made me realize that I’ve worked at start-ups for most of the last 8 years!

After The Beep brought me back to my corporate past; interning at an insurance company and de-bugging BASIC code on rates in my spare time; temping at PBS headquarters; working on a government account at my first advertising agency; and spending 5 years at a public university. I found humor in After The Beep because I had these experiences and now, frankly, do my best to avoid them.

In the spirit of full disclosure, the author contacted me, sent me a copy (for free!) and asked me to read and review After The Beep. Ms. Heck was also kind enough to share her thoughts and experiences in self-publishing After The Beep via iUniverse. This is a topic I hope to explore in the near future.

After The Beep by Kathleen Heck is a light, easy book (good bathroom reading) that will bring a smile to anyone who has worked in a corporate setting.

Foop! by Chris Genoa

Foop! by Chris GenoaFoop! by Chris Genoa is an appealing science-fiction farce with healthy doses of amusing social commentary. I liked Foop! but wanted to like it more. All the ingredients were there, and it did taste good, but I couldn’t help but think that a dash more of this and a little less of that would have really made it a great read.

The story follows a rather overwhelmed and juvenile Joe, a time travel tour guide. We join Joe in crisis, having to step in for John Wilkes Booth and assassinate Abraham Lincoln. (I can’t help but think of Sarah Vowell right out of the gate and have to believe she’s read Foop!) It’s in these first few chapters that we’re introduced to how time travel works in Foop! and the ‘shaved cat’ principle that ensures that any changes made in the past do not effect the future. Or do they?

The story pinballs, nay, ricochets from character to character and wacky, odd-ball scene to the next. There’s Joe’s macho yet tender boss Burk; Martini, an Eeyore-like needy co-worker; Ba Hubba Tree Bob, a new age religious leader; and Boogedy and Nibbles, a mute alien Laurel and Hardy team that stalk Joe throughout time. Genoa stitches these scenes together artfully, particularly since the plot isn’t exactly the cohesive force it could be in the novel.

The vaudeville like tone to Foop! is enjoyable and you can feel a Christopher Moore vibe going on. And perhaps it’s because Moore is so accomplished, or that Tim Scott was successful in doing something similar, that makes me want more from Foop! It’s like early Neal Stephenson, he knew how to start, but had problems really closing the deal. Because there are some deeper messages buried in Foop!, about how we live, about being connected to those around us, and about the general conduct of humans.

But there was too much of the crude Judd Apatow (Superbad, 40 Year Old Virgin) humor steeped in genitalia and bodily orifice jokes. Once in a while and it can be humorous. Frequent use makes me feel like I’m listening to a 14 year-old trying (and failing) to have adult conversation. In addition, the main character seemed a bit uneven, oscillating from spineless stunted geek to acerbic dominant bully.

So, at the end of the day I liked Foop! but hope that, like many first time authors, Chris Genoa turns out an even better sophomore effort.

A passion for books but not proofreading

Yesterday I received an email from AbeBooks which stated that I could save 48% on Stephan King’s Duma Key.

Duma Key by Stephan King

Stephan King? It seems that Abe’s ‘Passion for Books’ doesn’t extend to proofreading. Maybe I’m being overly critical but this is a company in the business of words, books and literature! You’d think that they’d go to greater lengths to ensure these types of errors didn’t occur. What would happen if TechCrunch had a headline that read ‘Steve Jubs predicts iPod success’?

I’d give AbeBooks a mulligan but they used that up a few years ago when they sent a message to their booksellers and accidentally referred to them as boobsellers. A very different business for sure.

Perhaps the AbeBooks tagline should be ‘Passion for ARCs‘ which notoriously have these types of errors. Or is my criticism too harsh?