Travis_J_Smith’s #CBR5 Review #156: The Serpent of Venice by Christopher Moore

[UNSET]I’ve twice been a runner-up, for the Cannonball (fourth place) and the Double Cannonball (second place) both, and I vowed I would not let myself come up short once again. No one was going to beat me to that illusive Triple Cannonball, least of all without a fight.

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So I put my nose to the page and read like a fiend. Naturally, I don’t mean that literally. I’m not legally blind. Nor am I a fiend. I’m only partially wicked. But I’m sure I didn’t need to tell you that. At least not the part about me not being legally blind; some of you might think I am a proper demon, or at least a troll, from having read my reviews thus far. If that is in fact true, it comes as no surprise to me, as it’s happened quite a few times in the past.

I’ve gotten maybe a dozen messages total in response to my various reviews on this blog, and all but a couple were of the negative variety, with the positive ones coming mainly from one user who mentioned enjoying my more scathing reviews. Though, with the wealth of reviews I’ve posted, my critics seem to have quieted down some, likely moved to silence by the endless stream of wrongness.

However, I didn’t do this for fans, I did it because, prior to 2013, it’d been years since I’d read with the same voracity as when I was a kid. These 156 books are more than I read in the 4+ years between graduating high school in the summer of 2008 and the start of this year. Heck, it’s only 29 fewer books than I’ve read the rest of my life, according to Goodreads.

I did it because it’s not often I get the chance to contribute to a good cause, since I rarely have any money to give. A Triple Cannonball likely won’t mean three separate donations to Lil A’s college fund, but in the event that that is how it works, I thought I might as well go all out. Maybe I would even inspire others to read more; I believe popcultureboy mentioned being pushed a little when he and I had an informal race to be the fourth to reach the full Cannonball.

Lastly, I did it because, despite my reading habits in the preceding years speaking to the contrary, I love reading, and wanted to share that love for reading with others as best I could. Oh, and I also won’t deny a small part of me just wanted to win, and now I have! Continue reading

Travis_J_Smith’s #CBR5 Review #95-96: You Suck and Bite Me by Christopher Moore

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When searching for the cover of You Suck, the search term I used was also the recurring thought I had during the reading of both it and Bite Me: “you suck christopher moore.” To be fair, these two mark Moore’s first foray into the realm of literary drivel. I have nothing against him on principle. He is wildly inconsistent, as I talked about at length in my last review, but what artist isn’t? I can name a couple, but they’ve not been around long enough to fuck up, is all that is. Arrested Development once was one of a few shows to never have what I considered a bad episode. Then season four rolled around, stripping it of that distinction right away. So far, Moore’s hit on 8 out of 12, which means he’s hitting a respectable 0.666.

It’s just that, while I was reading these two out of nothing besides an inherent need for completion, I lost sight of that, much like Moore lost sight of essentially everything. In the past, I’ve mentioned wishing a character here and there dead, but this was the first time I prayed for the end of the world. Continue reading

Travis_J_Smith’s #CBR5 Review #94: The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove by Christopher Moore

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Christopher Moore, I’ve learned, is an enigma. One book, he can have me loathing a particular set of characters, whereas in the next he can make them have the opposite effect on me. For example, Practical Demonkeeping did nothing to endear me to the residents of Pine Cove, yet this and The Stupidest Angel caused me to wonder if I was, in fact, reading about the same characters I’d been so bored with in that first entry in the series.

I’ve also observed this phenomenon with his subject matter; Bloodsucking Fiends was no more depraved than The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove, except I found one occasionally off-putting while the other won my affections without reservations. I get that authors have their ups and downs, but Moore is more (excuse the repetition) than that. I’d venture to call him clinically bipolar. Continue reading

Travis_J_Smith’s #CBR5 Review #91: Bloodsucking Fiends by Christopher Moore

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Another series, another dubious, unrefined beginning. Christopher Moore’s career trajectory isn’t exactly linear, but the trend is obvious. From Lambonwards, Moore seems far more settled in and consistent, Sacre Bleu the one glaring exception. Whether or not that upward progression continues to be borne out by the four I have left (Island of the Sequined Love NunThe Lust Lizard of Melancholy CoveYou Suck, and Bite Me) remains to be seen, but I feel I’ve familiarized myself enough with his work at this point to guess it will. What little I’ve read of The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove so far does seem to bridge the gap in quality between his first three novels and Lamb.

Reviewers appear less enthusiastic about You Suck and Bite Me thanBloodsucking Fiends, which could succeed at turning my assumption on its head if it turns out I agree with them. I’m not particularly worried, though, since those same reviews are what have me cautiously optimistic about the two follow-ups to Bloodsucking Fiends. I’m thoroughly accustomed to finding myself at odds with the mass majority, and I’m predicting that’s where I’ll end up once again. While I can’t pinpoint the reason(s) why, the two later entries sound more in keeping with my tastes than this confused, unsettling introduction.

At least, I don’t anticipate them being so, for lack of a better word, squicky. When one combines vampires and love, hints of necrophilia are more or less a given, I realize, yet with Bloodsucking Fiends it grows into a recurring and explicit theme that’s explored in multiple different ways, culminating with some no-frills necrophilia which takes place inside of a morgue. Had anyone else been able to hear what I was listening to, I fear I wouldn’t have had the stomach to forge ahead and finish the audiobook, despite having already poured hours into it by that point. I would sooner stick my own “lust lizard” into a “love nun” while my roommate sleeps in the bunk below.

I would also hope for less time devoted to the two detectives, whose parts could’ve been written by a separate author, as they were the only characters to not make me laugh even once. Tommy’s coworkers were mood killers in their own right, too sex-obsessed and immature, but they’re alright in small doses; detectives Rivera and Cavuto, I would’ve excised altogether. Rivera, I remember liking when he appeared in later books; here, Moore seems to be in the process of figuring out the character as well as his voice.

Like with his career as a whole, I expect this series will only improve as it goes forward, and I’ll see if I’m right to think that soon enough, as You Suck and Bite Me are next up after The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove.

Travis Smith’s blog, containing this review, as well as others, photography, and more, can be found here.

Travis_J_Smith’s #CBR5 Review #90: Practical Demonkeeping by Christopher Moore

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Eh, remember how I said I don’t read Christopher Moore for the story? Here’s the best example thus far of why. Practical Demonkeeping, Moore’s debut novel, doesn’t have the same absurdist bent as his later works. That’s something Moore, apparently, developed over time. That’s not to say it’s nonexistent here. While I wasn’t amused myself, I’ll admit he at least tried for humor in many instances throughout the book.

The thing is, for every failed joke, there was ten times that in plot. Moore, on multiple occasions, takes a break to delve into some backstory through exposition that he doesn’t even attempt to incorporate naturally. Still, I could barely keep it all straight, and honestly wasn’t too interested in trying.

I wanted it to be over with, and that took three times as long due to having to settle on the audiobook. The local library has the sequel in book form, while the other two are only available as audiobooks. So a 243 page book that would’ve taken me two hours, maybe three, ended up being dragged out to over seven.

You can see, then, why I checked out of the story the way I did. But I guess everyone has to start somewhere, and I sort of gained a greater appreciation for Moore knowing this is how he started out.

 

Travis Smith’s blog, containing this review, as well as others, photography, and more, can be found here.

Travis_J_Smith’s #CBR5 Review #88: Fool by Christopher Moore

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Since I tend to avoid inciting arguments if possible, I never informed my last girlfriend that, besides Hamlet, her beloved Bard never struck any sort of chord with me, despite, or perhaps because of, my being an English major – fiction writing, to be exact – and, thus, supposedly indebted to him and his work, as are all writers. I played my part rather well, I think, mentioning my affinity for adaptations of his work – Akira Kurosawa’s Ran, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) – but never that they are, by and large, my preference. With Hamlet, even, I’d rather treat myself to the Kenneth Branagh directed adaptation, or this one, set inside a Piggly Wiggly supermarket and full of puns, than read it or attend a performance.

Taking one step further, I’m certain I never went off on a rant about how Romeo & Juliet is no more of a love story than Twilight, though I might have brought up that West Side Story (also a favorite of hers) made it a wee bit more palatable, thanks in large part to nixing the original ending in favor of one less ridiculous. Translation, there’s no poison or dagger to be found, and fewer warning signs of mental illness as a direct result. When I know more about a stranger I talked to for a couple minutes, culminating with him massaging my hands inside of a Dunkin Donuts, than Romeo and Juliet knew about one another, it’s no longer love we’re talking about. Unless you add the word “teenage” before it, thus invalidating it. Let me say this again; that creeper, who put me too on edge to nimbly extrication myself from the situation or realize he was overtly hitting on me, constitute a healthier couple than Romeo and Juliet. He didn’t thrust himself upon a dagger when I failed to contact him at the number he forcibly made me enter into my phone within seconds of our being introduced to one another. That would’ve made as little sense as Colin, from An Abundance of Katherines, stabbing himself with a pair of safety scissors when the very first Katherine dumped him moments after they became boyfriend and girlfriend.

I kept all this to myself, not wanting a repeat of that time I told a Star Warsfanatic, among other things, that my personal favorite was Attack of the Clones, sending him off on an ill-mannered rant. Sometimes, it’s best not to show your hand until someone else goes out of the way to make you do it. Why, then, am I telling you about it in excruciating detail, opening myself up to your collective scrutiny? I intend to use it to help background my stance onFool. Christopher Moore has experience with winning over skeptics – Lambinspired little public outcry from the Christian community, with more than a few able to get past their reservations and enjoy it – yet Fool is somehow his most polarizing work. English majors tend to keep to themselves… until someone dares fiddle around with Shakespeare. Moore anticipated this, which is why he appended Fool with a lengthy and sincere apology. That didn’t stop anyone from brandishing his inaccuracies like weapons against him, not understanding that he never meant for Fool to measure up to Shakespeare or, worse yet, to build upon his work. Having no loyalty to the Bard myself, Moore’s roasting of the man in Fool made me laugh like, well, a fool. He, Shakespeare that is, is not beyond reproach, and I’ll defend that opinion to anyone who says otherwise. For proof, I can hand over a copy of Fool and tell them that the answers lie within, seeing as Moore is a more accomplished, and cleverer, roaster than I could ever dream of becoming myself.

Like with Lamb, it’s mostly a matter of whether or not you’re willing to take a joke for what it is: a joke. Moore targets Frenchmen in Fool as well, but not out of any underlying resentment for the French people; he’s poking fun, and some people fail at separating one from the other. Moore is a lot of things; mean-spirited, though, is definitely not one of them. In a sense, he is Pocket, the fool referenced in the title. No one’s out of danger’s way when he starts slinging around barbs, a fact I think a person has to respect, much the same way as I respect Penn & Teller for having the gall to give the Vatican the Penn & Teller: Bullshit! treatment. The episode would never be re-aired or re-released in any form. They knew this going in, but it didn’t stop them in their pursuit towards enlightening their viewers, just as Moore isn’t about to let critics prevent him from writing whatever it is he wants to write. You can say he’s not funny, or that he’s more comedian than writer. Just, please, try to refrain from going beyond that and saying he’s a hack because you’re holding him to standards that he never hoped to reach himself.

 

Travis Smith’s blog, containing this review, as well as others, photography, and more, can be found here.

Travis_J_Smith’s #CBR5 Review #85: The Stupidest Angel: A Heartwarming Tale of Christmas Terror by Christopher Moore

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I’m at a loss for how to put into words why I adored this book so. You know, besides the obvious, that it elicited a nearly constant stream of giggling from my mouth. In place of a proper explanation, I’ll sum up the plot, which should do as fine a job as anything.

In The Stupidest Angel, Raziel, the dimwitted angel Moore fans will recognize from Lamb, comes down to Earth in order to perform a Christmas miracle, after having already screwed one up (Christ’s birth) by arriving with the news far too late. This being Raziel, he gets it wrong once again; though, in my eyes, he actually gets it oh so right.

See, he grants a child’s Christmas wish, for Santa to live again, since he’d seen Mr. Claus himself (actually Dale in Santa dress) accidentally impaled upon the blade of a shovel. Naturally, Raziel raises the dead, and a zombie Santa-led undead army comes to crash the annual Christmas party, with a red-shirt being the first to go (again, naturally).

Now the zombies don’t come into play until late in the story, and the ending is admittedly a bit of a cop-out, but what all comes before them is no less entertaining. Think of it as a Christmasy ParaNorman. Both use the zombies sparingly, and do so uniquely, and both are stories that happen to contain zombies, as opposed to zombie stories.

It actually might be better if you read it not knowing it’s leading up to a zombie attack, since I barely remembered about it myself and it added to my squeal of joy when zombie Santa joined the fray, but it’s much too late for that now. Besides, it’s zombie Santa; how can anything I say ruin that?

Anyway, if you’re still reading this review, as opposed to rushing out to nab yourself a copy of The Stupidest Angel from the nearest library or book store, there’s nothing else I could say that’ll make you do it. So this is me, signing off, and wishing you a merry (and undead) Christmas.

 

Travis Smith’s blog, containing this review, as well as others, photography, and more, can be found here.

Travis_J_Smith’s #CBR5 Review #84: Coyote Blue by Christopher Moore

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Coyote Blue, similar to Fluke, has all the usual elements of a Christopher Moore story, sticking pretty much to the script, so to speak. That is to say, if you’ve read any of his work, Coyote Blue will feel mighty familiar, and you’ll undoubtedly be able to predict what’s going to happen. Again, that’s not entirely a bad thing. Even Moore at his basest is amusing enough to compensate.

But, like Fluke, other factors prevented me from fully latching on to this particular story, namely the way in which Moore jumps around in time. I wouldn’t have minded if the flashbacks weren’t usually letdowns by comparison to the present, largely due to Coyote, the novel’s big draw, being relatively absent. Pull me away for a moment to tell a story or two about Coyote, Native American trickster-god, if you so desire. I’d read a whole book of those.

In fact, Moore needs to get on that. I want a Coyote Blue sequel that’s nothing but stories about Coyote himself. Maybe he could hire on whoever did the cover to illustrate it. I suggest this because, as I said, Coyote is what made the book for me, and I felt he was criminally underutilized, despite the entire story being kind of centered around him. In other words, Coyote Blue left me craving the continuing adventures of Coyote, instead of content with the book itself.

 

Travis Smith’s blog, containing this review, as well as others, photography, and more, can be found here.

Travis_J_Smith’s #CBR5 Review #80: Fluke: Or, I Know Why the Winged Whale Sings by Christopher Moore

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Starting out, Fluke seemed more grounded in reality than what I’d read from Moore prior to it (A Dirty Job and Lamb). For all his absurdity, it’s apparent that Moore doesn’t skimp on the research. Lamb took certain liberties, but that’s to be expected of a novel whose main character was invented, out of whole cloth, by Moore. Likewise, though Fluke fudges some things, and makes up even more, it’s still probably nearer the truth than James Frey’s memoir, A Million Little Pieces.

Just don’t let that distract you from Moore’s real intent, which is to crack wise, preferably in absurd fashion. Of the five books of his I’ve read in their entirety (the aforementioned, plus The Stupidest Angel), Fluke is the silliest thus far. Perchance that has a bit to do with the  relatively unassuming opening chapters; the straight does have the tendency to make the zany appear even zanier (see Lethal Weapon).

As sure as I am that it plays a part, Fluke is mighty strange even without that. Gather up the most out-there moments from Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (ex. the Vogons, the improbability drive, etc.) and Moore’s usual affectations (ex. the stoner, the everyman, etc.), toss in a dash of actual facts to give it some body, then blend, making sure to leave the top off. The resulting mess is Fluke.

Licking it up off the counter isn’t entirely unpleasant. You just wish you’d used the top, since Moore is an author who, in this case, needs something to reign him back and hold it all together. Someone to kindly request he tone down the stoner’s speech to where it’s readable, to help him make the beginning gel (not jar) with the rest, to say the love-angle is insufficiently developed and/or earned.

New as I am to Moore, I know he’s more Adams than Vonnegut, generally emphasizing humor over story, but Fluke is the book where his bad habits and the formulaic nature of his writing (he’s sort of the Dan Brown of humor) are most on display. Moreover, there are fewer laughs to be had, which draws further attention to this.

Fluke is, then, an alternatingly serious and absurd work that’s quintessential Moore at the same time as it’s inconsequential.

 

Travis Smith’s blog, containing this review, as well as others, photography, and more, can be found here.

Travis_J_Smith’s #CBR5 Review #77: A Dirty Job by Christopher Moore

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Despite my mini-rant about making lazy comparisons in my last review, I can hardly help but think of A Dirty Job in terms of its similarities to things I’ve either read or seen. Reading it brought to mind everything from the short-lived television series Reaper to Kevin Smith’s Dogma. Part of me wants to write this review in the form of a list, rattling off every comparison that occurred to me in the process of reading it. I’ll resist the urge, though.

Instead, I’ll tell you a couple things which should make clear how thoroughly engrossed this book made me. First of all, I put myself at greater risk of walking into traffic than usual just so I wouldn’t have to wait the 45 minutes it takes me to walk to Dairy Queen and back to continue reading it. This was the first time I’d attempted making that particular trek whilst reading, and I don’t know if I trust myself to make it again, what with all of the obstacles, and the whole walking-on-the-side-of-the-road bit.

Second of all, even though I’d walked all the way there in 80+ degree heat for the sole reason that I wanted to try the Blizzard of the Month, lemon meringue pie, I barely paid any attention to the thing once I’d bought it. I absent-mindedly stuffed all of my large Blizzard down my gullet, yes, but it didn’t leave much of an impression compared to the book I was reading as I did, plus it took me an unusually long amount of time to finish it off. I even stuck around inside Dairy Queen for a while, not wanting to tear my eyes from the page long enough to get up, or to go back outside where I could no longer devote my full attention to the book.

Third of all, as picky as I am where humorists are concerned, Moore would appear to be the first one (besides Douglas Adams) that I’ve felt lives up to his billing. Pratchett is wildly hit or miss, with many more misses than hits. Sedaris has been all miss, minus that one hit (When You Are Engulfed in Flames). Palahniuk is formulaic and tends to rely too much on the shocking and the obscene. But Moore, in the span of two books, has amused me more than those three combined.

I’m reading another one of his books at the moment (Fluke), and while the laughs are fewer, they’re most certainly not weaker. Unlike the authors I listed, I never have trouble reconciling one book with another, wondering how his humor can be so effortless in one and so completely absent in another. With every lull, I know there’re more laughs upcoming, that I need only be patient.

Now I know this is all highly subjective, centered mostly around what I do and do not find funny, and so it won’t tell you too great a deal about whether or not you will like it. Except, isn’t humor the most subjective of all art forms (and it is an art form)? Who am I to tell you whether or not you’ll get your jollies from this?

A friend of mine relies upon reviews from trusted critics to ascertain whether or not a particular comedy is worth seeing in theaters, and the habit confounds me. Trailers routinely shove all the film’s best jokes into the span of a couple minutes, which is why they can never be fully trusted. But I’d sooner base my decision upon whether or not I find them funny than whether or not someone else, whose sense of humor could be as inconsistent as mine own, thought it funny.

Honestly, I could describe, in-depth, Moore’s style of humor, and it might tick all your boxes, yet leave you cold when it comes time to actually read it. In short, ignore me. Either do what I did, which is check out some quotes from it over on Goodreads to get a feel for the humor, or simply give it a go. Those really are your two most reliable options.

 

Travis Smith’s blog, containing this review, as well as others, photography, and more, can be found here.