Book Review: Differently Morphous by Yahtzee Croshaw

Differently Morphous by Yahtzee Croshaw

For centuries, the Ministry of Occultism has worked in the shadows, keeping the world safe from otherworldly elder gods, “tainted” magic users, and monsters of all kinds. All this gets upended when a group of gelatinous refugees from another dimension garner a storm of media attention. Suddenly the Ministry of Occultism is thrown into the worst sort of attention. As awareness of shoggoths, er, fluidics suffuses the world consciousness, the Ministry finds itself on the wrong side of the political correctness debate. When a serial killer starts targeting fluidics, the agency’s top (read:only) field agents mget act quickly to save lives and prevent a PR Armageddon.

Croshaw is an author known for his irreverent, biting humor. His wit is on display here as he tackles the subject of political correctness in a bizarre, yet strangely relatable context. Before I get further, I am going to come down firmly on the side of political correctness. It takes little effort to take other people’s feelings and cultural history into consideration, and adjust your behavior accordingly. There’s nothing noble in adhering to the old days or old eays if that is just an excuse to be an uncaring asshat.

Now, as with any progressive movement, there is always pushback from people who feel uncomfortable with change, and who would rather not have to accept things they find disagreeable. Now, the line between acceptable and unacceptable in society is based on a lot of factors… not to long ago, being gay was officially considered a mental illness and criminal. The question recidivists often ask is where will acceptance end? When does it stop being acceptance of cultural or sexual differences and start becoming enabling of harmful behavior? The primary example pulled out for this is female genital mutilation, many cultures consider it a vital part of a girl’s development into a woman, but it has been recognized by many as harmful and cruel. What view takes precedence?

Croshaw heads into this thorny problem head on, and with his typical humorous twist. He, like South Park writers Trey Parker and Matt Stone, chooses to highlight he ridiculousness of both positions, leaving the reader bouncing against different levels of right and wrong: how can anyone hate the fluidics? They seem so polite and helpful? Do demons really require equal rights? Etc. Some people deride this as riding the median, but I think that exposing the flaws in both viewpoints forces people to examine their own thoughts and feelings.

Wow. That review got a lot more serious than I intended. Let me sum up by saying that this is an intelligent and entertaining story of monsters, bureaucracy, and modern life. It will make you laugh out loud and think deep(ish) thoughts. In a world were (justifiably) the subject of political correctness is an unchanging wall of seriousness and resentment, it is refreshing to look at the lighter side.

The book is currently available as an Audible original, meaning it is an audio book read by Croshaw himself. This is a role he is well suited for, after his years fronting the animated videogame review blog, Zero Punctuation. Fans of Yahtzee Crowshaw’s previous books, or fans of Christopher Moore and/or A. Lee Martinez are sure to enjoy this book.

Book Review: The Life of Death by Ralph R. Rossell

The Life of Death: The Bare Bones of Undertaking by Ralph R. Rossell

Ralph Rossell grew up in his family’s Funeral home, helping his father and uncle in the day-to-day of the business. After most of a lifetime in the business, Rossell inadvertently started on the path to this book by joining a facebook group where residents of Flushing, Michigan could share reminisces of their town. Unsurprisingly, Rossell’s stories found a ready audience and The Life of Death was born.

Rossell makes this clear from the beginning that these stories are his recollections and not to be taken as a scholarly endeavor. But many academic books have been written on the subject, and the more personal touch lends a bit of fun to the subject. The stories do have a mid-20th century gloss over them , with the positive and negative connotations of that viewpoint. The stories are by turns poignant, humorous, educational, sad, and joyous. Rossell gives us a good, solid, inside look at at profession many don’t (or don’t want to) know much about. The stories are separated more-or-less by type, and each takes the form of a self-contained vignette. As a result, the book is highly readable and quite entertaining.

Anyone looking for a book about the business of death, told in the reader-friendly format of a personal blog, should check out this book.

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Will Save the Galaxy for Food by Yahtzee Croshaw

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Will Save the Galaxy for Food by Yahtzee Croshaw

Like a lot of people, I discovered Yahtzee Croshaw via his incredibly funny animated video game review, Zero Punctuation. Croshaw has a biting wit, incisive comments, and ridiculous visuals to accompany his reviews, which are delivered snarkily with barely pause for breath. When I later learned that he had written actual books, I quickly picked up Jam (a silly and fun take on the apocalypse) and Mogworld (a frankly brilliant look at everything that’s wrong with MMOs). Will Save the Galaxy for Food is Croshaw’s latest, and keeps up with his snarky cultural commentary.

The story finds our protagonist living a down-and-out existence on the moon. Ever since Quantum Tunneling made interstellar travel safe and instantaneous, demand for space pilots, even ones that have saved entire planets, has simply vanished. Living day to day scrounging for space tourists is demeaning, but what else can you do? When a fat paycheck falls into his lap, he figures that nearly anything is worth the money. Unfortunately, the job involves flying around the spoiled son of an Earth mobster, while having to pretend to be Jacques McKeown, a greasy bastard who turned the true stories of space pilots into pulp novels of derring-do, and who is universally despised by pilots across the black. Naturally every goes wrong, and our hero is thrown against space pirates, casual violence, upstart societies, political intrigue, man-eating aliens, and deadly hitmen.

The book was fantastically funny and delightful fun. Zaniness abounds as the pilot and his cohorts scramble from one adventure to another. The background given for the story is rich with references to problems we face in our own time. In fact, you need look no further than the brutish and devious Mr. Henderson, the Terran mobster (for lack of a better term) who hires the protagonist. Mr. Henderson is an insanely rich, casually violent, orange-skinned shady businessman prone to over indulging his spoiled, not-the-brightest-bulb son (now why does this sound a bit familiar?)

But no need to get too caught up in politics, or my projecting American problems onto a British-Australian writer’s story. Will Save the Galaxy for Food is simply fun. If you’re a fan of A. Lee Martinez, Douglas Adams, or Christopher Moore, you will find this book to be the perfect read for bringing yourself out of a reality-induced funk.

Bok Review: The Creeps by Fran Krause

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The Creeps by Fran Krause

So somehow I missed Deep Dark Fears, the first book in this collection. But you had better believe that it is now on my TBR. Originally based in the Tumblr-verse, Krause collected people’s secret fears and illustrated them in innocent looking cartoon format. Deep Dark Fears was understandably popular and led to a second book featuring even more creeps, as well as a few original, longer stories, also fully realized in cartoon form.

The fears on display (some relayed anonymously, some not) run the gamut from more-or-less logical (swallowing spiders while you sleep, blerg), to anatomically unlikely (eyeballs popping out while sneezing), to the humorous (your cat ratting you out to the police). Some are funny, others are thought-provoking, others are downright creepy. All in all, this is a fun little collection that illustrates the uniqueness and the similarities in each of us.

Anyone looking for a quick afternoon’s read will likely by delighted by this fun little book. As I said earlier, I cannot wait to get my hands on the first book, and I dearly hope a third is in the works.

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher via Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Waiting for the Punch by Marc Maron


Waiting for the Punch: Words to Live by from the WTF Podcast by Marc Maron

Marc Maron started the WTF Podcast 8 years ago, interviewing celebrities in his garage. The former stand up comedian went from the brink of failure to producing a wildly popular show. Maron has hosted people like Robin Williams, Norm McDonald, President Obama, Dan Harmon, Louis CK, Al Gore, and more. His laid-back, informal method of “interviewing” his guests has led to his being able to have something more akin to a conversation, rather than a pat question and answer session. This style has allowed his guests (and Maron himself) to open up and approach topics honestly. Sometimes painfully so.

Waiting for the Punch is a compilation of excerpts from various interviews, broken up by chapter into subjects such as success, failure, addiction, relationships, sexuality, and more. The folks featured in the book run the gamut from comedians to politicians, drag queens to musicians. While some of the excerpts are laugh-out-loud funny, many are truly moving, as the guests talk about trauma or troubles from their past.

In the end, the book has something for everyone. I especially love the way so many guests seem willing to talk openly about struggling with addiction, mental illness, or childhood trauma. The excerpts from Robin Williams always struck an especially poignant note with me. If you’re looking for a comedic-leaning book about dealing with life, this is a great, inspiring read.

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Rejected Princesses by Jason Porath

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Rejected Princesses: Tales of History’s Boldest Heroines, Hellions, and Heretics by Jason Porath

Dear husband brought this book to my attention after hearing a segment about it on NPR (what a very good husband!). After hearing only a few anecdotes about it, I needed to read it, NOW. Thank goodness for Amazon Prime.

Rejected Princesses grew out of a lunchtime chat among Dreamworks animators: Who was least likely to be turned into an animated princess? Out of this seed grew a blog (http://www.rejectedprincesses.com) and the blog sprouted a book (with a second on the way!). The first volume is a massively heavy compendium of 100 women who defied norms, expectations, invading armies, assailants, and politicians. Each entry is roughly 2-3 pages long, and each features a Disney-style illustration of the featured “princess.”

The entries are neatly cataloged with maturity ratings and applicable trigger warnings. This means you can read the more family-friendly entries to the kids, and save the stories of rape, murder, and revenge for later (or never, as it suits you). In this way, Porath has created a book that has something for all ages, while at the same time not glossing over the violence experience by quite a few defiant women. The stories also skip across time, space, and legend. You’ll find biblical queens next to Bolivian revolutionaries next to British suffragettes next to African warriors next to Japanese samurais. You’ll find straight women and women who represent every color of the LGBTQA rainbow. Porath show us that there is a princess out there for everyone.

This book was amazing. Some women, like Hatshepsut (the only female pharaoh in Egypt), Harriet Tubman (“Moses” of escaping slaves), and Joan of Arc (the gold standard of defiant woman) I had heard of already, but others like Saint Olga of Kiev (who set a town on fire using pigeons), Calafia (mythical Muslim queen and namesake for the state of California), and Trung Trac and Trung Nhi (Vietnamese sisters who led armies to defeat the Chinese in the 1st century) I had never even guessed existed. The book is jam-packed with these kinds of stories, and the encyclopedia-entry-style of each story means it’s easy to pick up and put down as needed, and come back to your favorite parts. Once you read through the book, there are even more entries on the Rejected Princesses website, so you can head over there to keep getting your fix.

This is a great book for anyone looking for inspiration from some truly badass ladies. Porath’s rating system means that you can share these stories with the little girls in your life, and let them know they can grow up to command their own tank regiment (Mariya Oktyabrskaya), overcome handicaps (Wilma Rudolph), be great at math (Hypatia), and/or decide exactly what they want out life and strive for it.

Book Review: Horrorstör by Grady Henrix

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Horrorstör by Grady Hendrix

This is one of those books I decided to try because of an intriguing cover and a gorgeous Instagram photo (you should check out@sadie_reads_them_all, her stuff is brilliant!). I am a total sucker for a great looking book. The intriguing blurb and the fact that another of Grady Hendrix’s books, My Best Friend’s Exorcism, has been on my TBR for a bit cemented the impulse buy.

Welcome to Orsk, Cleveland. This superstore offers pressboard furniture with clean lines and wallet-friendly prices. The massive showroom winds through setups of perfect living rooms, dining rooms, and bedrooms, all decked out exclusively in Orsk dressers, mattresses, tables, and couches. But something is wrong in this store; escalators run backwards, furniture is broken and vandalized in the night, and mysterious graffiti continues to show up in the bathrooms. In order to find out the cause of the vandalism, three employees stay overnight to monitor the store. What they encounter defies their worst nightmares, and it will be a miracle if they survive the night . . .

This book was a great take on the haunted house genre. Anyone who has been in a big box store in the dead of night knows just how creepy the place can be. There’s something about a location, normally bustling and loud with activity, echoing with the steps of a few 2am shoppers that works on the nerves. And anyone who has had to work an overnight shift (especially if by yourself) knows how much you seek out the well-lit and normal looking portions of the building to spend the night.

The horror is more psychological than flat-out gory (though there is gore, never fear). The store shifts and moves, entrapping the unfortunate employees in an increasingly sinister maze. The book reminds me a lot of House of Leaves, but without the dead spaces where nothing happens. Events ramp up quickly in Horrorstör and continue at a breakneck pace throughout the book.

I also enjoyed the portrayal of a more subtle horror: working in retail. The inanity, the amplification of petty annoyances, and the claustrophobic feeling of being trapped on a hamster wheel of fake smiles and interior screaming should be very familiar to any who has ever worked the other side of the cash register.

Horror fans will enjoy this book immensely. I’ve always enjoyed haunted house stories, and having one set in a thoroughly modern situation is refreshing. I will say, however, that reading the book gave me a paradoxical desire to go hang around the local Ikea . . .

Book Review: Unmentionable: The Victorian Lady’s Guide to Sex, Marriage, and Manners by Therese Oneill


Unmentionable: The Victorian Lady’s Guide to Sex, Marriage, and Manners by Therese Oneill

 

You’ve read Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice, Emma and the like, yes? You’ve read any number of the countless mysteries, romances, and adventure stories that are set in the Victorian Era, yes? Well, Therese Oneill is here to answer the questions you didn’t even know you had. The questions you probably wouldn’t even admit to wondering about.

For example, how are you going to get dressed? What does your underwear look like? How do you answer nature’s call? How should you act on your wedding night? How do you keep you husband from bringing back syphilis when he’s out on the town? If you’ve ever wanted to know what Victorians used for toilet paper (LOTS of different things), what you would do when you got your period (try not to panic), what causes consumption (everything) and/or what causes hysteria (everything else, but especially your uterus), then this book is meant for you. Therese Oneill provides a deeply researched, richly detailed look at how women lived in the 19th century. Oh, and she’s hilarious to boot.

Oneill reminds me a great deal of Mary Roach. Her approach is thorough and scientific, but her focus is on those aspects of life generally (and purposefully) left out of the narrative. Oneill’s funny, irreverent tone is sometimes at odds with the subject matter (how easy it is to get committed to an insane asylum, just how limited your life will be, just how common marital infidelity is), but she tackles each subject with gusto, and in these more serious moments, we learn to appreciate just how far we’ve come.

This book is perfect for history buffs, for anyone in love with the era, or for the merely curious. I found myself laughing out loud on more than one occasion. You will thoroughly enjoy this book, and you will learn a hell of a lot in the course of reading it.

An advance ebook was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Unmentionable will be available for purchase on October 25th, 2016.

 

 

Book Review: Secondhand Souls by Christopher Moore

Secondhand Souls by Christopher Moore

Fair Warning: From here on out, there will be MAJOR SPOILERS for the first book in this series, A Dirty Job. If you haven’t read A Dirty Job yet, you should really be reading that instead of this review.

So it’s been a year since the events of A Dirty Job; the apocalypse was averted, the underworld defeated, and Charlie Asher’s soul has been bound into a 14-inch high body made from animal parts and lunchmeat (and a 10-inch penis, naturally). This particular form being unsuited for parenting, his 7 year old daughter Sophie (Death with a big ‘D’) is being raised by his sister and her wife.

Then the keening (and insistent, especially where a taser is involved) wailing of a banshee warns that maybe the apocalypse wasn’t as averted as originally thought. It seems that thousands of spirits are being trapped by the Golden Gate Bridge, that the Morrigan are clawing their way back into the world, and that a new, smooth, death wannabe is wreaking havoc on the established order of things. Oh, and it seems that Sophie’s hellhounds have gone missing and her mojo might be on the wane.

I’ve been a huge fan of Christopher Moore ever since Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal. Moore’s books are one of my go-tos when I need a comfort read. Secondhand Souls certainly follows in the Moore tradition, with the irreverent and (I mean this in the best possible way) juvenile humor that makes him so much fun. Now, I will say that this is not his strongest work, but maybe that is because A Dirty Job was easily one of his best. Without the pathos of single-dad Charlie Asher trying to figure out how to raise his death-incarnate daughter to be a well-rounded human being, the story is a bit flat. Nonetheless, I found myself laughing out loud and enjoying myself, so I feel the book was a success. Fans of Moore, Dave Barry, or A. Lee Martinez should absolutely pick up this book.

I won a copy of this book in a giveaway by William Morrow Pubishing.