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Sunday, February 27, 2011

Atomic Lobster (with bonus content)

I'm a sucker for a cheap book. That's part of the reason I bought the Kindle and the Nook. The Nook works with every e-pub or PDF you can find online and the Kindle has free books galore available for download. Sometime free is a great deal, sometimes you get what you pay for. Atomic Lobster by Tim Dorsey is just slightly worth more than free.

Apparently there is a whole series of books dedicated to the  adventures of Serge, a serial spree killer, and Coleman, a petty criminal who is none too bright. Coleman commits various petty crimes and takes drugs, people end up trying to kill Coleman because of his stupidity and self-centered attitude, so for some reason Serge lights them up in outrageous ways. I assume Atomic Lobster was an attempt to turn on a new audience to this genre, if Atomic Lobster is a good example of Tim Dorsey's writing, I'm not a fan.

I'm not squeamish by any means. Vulgarity, grotesque horror and the breaching of social norms is the kind of stuff I really get off on reading. Lazy plotting is something that makes my stomach turn though, and lackadaisical attempts at humor make me cry. This book had loads of both. Yes, it had it's bright moments when I wanted to laugh but then it had pages of dreariness that made me dread going back to my Kindle.

Why did I finish this? Sometimes just muddling through something painful reminds you of how wonderful the good stuff is. Sometimes you eat that burnt steak you made for dinner because you'll be damned if you're going to pay for a decent hamburger once you've spent all that time cooking.

So thanks for the experience Amazon and Tim Dorsey. Next time I read a terrible book I'll be thinking at least this isn't Atomic Lobster.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Madame Tussaud

Madame Tussaud is my first delve into the historical fiction genre. I actually got this book for free as a giveaway on goodreads. If you don't already putter around goodreads.com you should join me there because I'd love to see what you're reading. Goodreads is everything you wish reading was when you were a lonely high school kid with nothing better to do on a Friday night than read some Stephen King or Piers Anthony and wish you had a job and a car. It turns reading into a social experience which is exactly what reading was always missing. Instead of having to read a bunch of signs at the local library looking for a cool book club or skulking around a downtown coffee shop with a book you think is cool you can actually immediately meet up with people that like the same books as you do.

Madame Tussaud officially is released today so I can officially comment on it. Just as I wrote before, I've never read any historical fiction. I've read fictional history, history, economic history and some alternate history book that was about some South African skinheads who go back in time to the civil war and give the south machine guns to try to extend apartheid. I seem to remember the alternate history book promising some kind of sequel where everything is set right but I never bothered to look for it. I'll have to add it to my goodreads shelf one of these days and see what other people thought of it.

So Madame Tussaud was a women who lived through revolutionary France.  I knew she would live because the book is written in a first person viewpoint, that's usually a dead giveaway that the main character survives. After reading the modern European history book and the French economic history books over the last couple of years it was refreshing to get a lighter take on the events of the revolution and its aftermath. By lighter I mean lighter in tone and less didactic. It was nice to read something about the time period that doesn't have or need a footnote on every page.

The story is grand. Marie the main character works with her uncle in a wax museum and has to straddle the worlds of royalty and patriots. Because of her work modeling the famous people of France she knows members of the royal family as well as important revolutionaries. The story is a good tru-ish narrative about the events of the revolution and tells the story of how this upper middle class family did their best to survive the starvation, the violence and tried to stay away from the guillotine.

Madame Tussaud does survive and lived to be an old woman of 90 something which is an accomplishment even today. In addition to her eponymous wax museums all over the world she left behind memoirs of her life and one of the first ever prenuptial agreements. Michelle Moran did a fantastic job of writing a story that kept me reading, I was actually up until a quarter to three last night finishing up the epilogue. The book is designed to be a girlie book and had a light touch of romance but it wasn't a major feature of the book and was just a bit of back story so it never got to an intolerable, roll of my eyes level as I feared it would.

The plot was plausible, the characters were likable and the ending was satisfying. I can truly say that I enjoyed it much more than a lot of the high literature I've been trying to read lately, I actually wanted to keep turning the pages instead of having to force myself to.  I've developed a habit of rifling the pages that I haven't read and wondering how many hours away I am from just being done with the book. I didn't do that much with this one, I was very entranced.

So thank you Crown books for the opportunity to check this out. I completely enjoyed it and would certainly love to read Ms. Moran's other books.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Slut Lullabies

This was probably the most bizarre purchase decision I've ever made. I was buying Loose Girl, a diary of some kind of tawdry behavior, and this book was one of Amazon's "frequently purchased with" selections. I must have had some extra money or been feeling some kind of a sense of entitlement that day because I hit the "buy them both" button and two days later they arrived at my garage door in a small flat Amazon box.

Both of them sat on my bookshelf for a long while.  Have you seen my backlog?  Here's a representative photo:

[caption id="attachment_481" align="aligncenter" width="225" caption="I hope I read these all someday."][/caption]

You can see that they're double layered, except for the bottom shelf which is trade paperbacks on their sides.  I also have two boxes full of books by my bed.  At the pace of one per week I have a lifetime of reading on the shelves alone.  Having a Kindle and Nook adds to my "what should I read" decision debacle whenever I finish something and can't decide what I'm in the mood for next.

So I chose to read Slut Lullabies because I wanted to read some short stories and because I wanted something a little thinner than 300 pages.  The book has 10 stories in it, all of them are 15-30 pages long and all of them feature women as the main characters. Almost all of the stories include some straightforward descriptions of sex.  I didn't find them to be tawdry or shocking though, they read more like diary entries.  The characters are from different walks of life, some single, some married, some teenagers and some in their 30s.

The stories were all pretty entertaining, Gina Frangello even used some cool literary techniques like playing around with a stream of consciousness type point of view on one story about two couples who went on a cruise together. Another of the stories was about a teen aged girl who's mother keeps bringing home different men and takes flack from her friends for it. All of the characters were interesting and the stories all had a decent narrative so I don't remember having a moment of not wanting to pick it back up.

Would I recommend it? That's a complex question for this book, it's not like Annie Proulx's  Wyoming Stories which had some strong content but had such a sense of place and character that it becomes a cultural commentary. These stories were more entertainments, like good episodes of Laverne and Shirley. Honestly this book sits in a narrow niche, stories about women that are not romances where the stories revolve around relationships but it's not quite high literature. If something like that sounds appealing it will be at a used book bin near you, right next to the Sheteyngart novels.