Posts Tagged ‘humor’

Moving Pictures by Terry Pratchett

What happens when a wild, magical idea escapes into Discworld? Well, if you are Terry Pratchett, you write a funny send up of Hollywood known as Moving Pictures (Penguin Books, 1990).

For years, Holy Wood remained deserted. Now that that wild idea has escaped, people are headed toward Holy Wood for various known and unknown reasons. The alchemists came to escape the watchful eye of the wizards–and to put demons to work drawing pictures on octocellulose (highly explosive and highly captivating when shown as moving pictures). Ginger, the beautiful milkmaid, is determined to be the biggest and best she can be, whatever that means. She’s sure it doesn’t involve milking cows. Victor finally puts aside his status as an eternal student (who always fails by just a little, but probably knows more than the rest of the wizards at Unseen University. He’s not too sure about this whole moving pictures business, but finds himself a reluctant leading man.

Gaspode, the talking dog, shows up. Even though he is outshone by Laddie (a beautiful, loyal, dumb, golden dog) at every turn, Gaspode knows how to make a deal and take his 10 percent. Dibbler, the sausage seller, learns to sell movie magic as he turns into a movie mogul. Even the trolls show up to play their part–and maybe find a little romance if the rules would just stay the same.

Wherever they are coming from–and wherever they might be leading–the ideas keep flowing until the best movie of all time is made. The only question that remains is will anyone survive long enough to figure out what is really going on?

Once again, Pratchett skewers modern society, this time focused on its fascination with all things celebrity and movie. I’m not a huge movie buff, but even I enjoyed the movie references that I caught. I’m sure someone who watches more movies would laugh even more.

Disclosure: I participate in the Amazon Associates Program. If you decide to make a purchase by clicking on the affiliate links, including in the linked picture above. Amazon will pay me a commission. This commission doesn’t cost you any extra. All opinions are my own.

It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel by Firoozeh Dumas

I’m still trying to wrap my brain around the fact that books set in the 1970’s–my childhood–are considered historical fiction. Am I really that old? Even though I did grow up during the 70’s, I still learned about history from reading It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel (Clarion Books 2016) by Firoozeh Dumas. I don’t remember the gas lines from the shortages. I vaguely remember seeing the count of days the hostages had been held in Iran and remember the joy at their release. I certainly didn’t know any of the history of Iran that led to the revolution and overthrow of the Shah. Even though this novel is set amidst serious history that raises serious issues still today, Dumas has written a story filled with warmth and humor.

There are so many things I love about this book. Here are just a few:

  • Zomorod–known as Cindy in her new school–is a narrator with a strong and distinctive voice. She loves and worries about her family even as she is embarrassed by them, especially their struggles with the English language and American customs. She wants desperately to fit in at her new school in Newport, California, and cringes at the ever worsening news from Iran which puts her even more in the spotlight. Her teachers want her to give special reports on Iran since she must be an expert, but she wants nothing to do with it. She does, though, want to protect her parents from the hatred that some in the neighborhood direct towards them.
  • Carolyn, Howie, Chris – Zomorod/Cindy’s friends are the best. These girls are smart, funny and determined. They are all part of the same Girl Scout troop and work together to earn badges and go camping. (Yes, I was a Girl Scout, too.) Even when Zomorod pushes them away, they remain steadfast friends. They even take on the role of detectives to see who has been leaving threatening messages and dead rodents on Zomorod’s door.
  • The bullies are more than just a one-dimensional character. There are two people who torment Zomorod, but both are revealed to have more going on. The original Cindy is Zomorod’s first friend, but as soon as they start middle school, Cindy turns on Zomorod in order to enhance her own social standing. Brock appears to be your typical dumb jock who throws food at her in the cafeteria, but Zomorod learns that he is much smarter than he lets own. In fact, Brock comes to play an important role in stopping the hatred that some in the condo association show.
  • Strong families are the norm. this is not one of those books where the parents are absent or horrible. Not all the families are perfect, but they hang together through it all. Zomorod’s mother has never gotten over her homesickness for Iran (and the family she left behind), but wants what is best for Zomorod. Cindy’s parents welcome Zomorod and reach out to her family to make them feel a part of their new country. Even Brock’s dad shows that untypical families can be strong, too.

Even though this story takes place in the 1970’s, it relates to today. We are still dealing with some of the same issues. Our history with Iran certainly plays out today. So does the mistrust some feel about immigrants who might look and speak differently. This is one of my favorite books from 2016. I hope it has a wide audience and wins many fans.

Disclosure: I participate in the Amazon Associates Program. If you decide to make a purchase by clicking on the affiliate links, including in the linked picture above. Amazon will pay me a commission. This commission doesn’t cost you any extra. All opinions are my own.

Going Postal and Making Money by Terry Pratchett

I am late in discovering the great Terry Pratchett, but at least I have gotten here at last. (Many, many thanks to my former student Anthony who first recommended the Discworld novels many, many years ago. They are as good as you promised me!)

Normally tyrants and con men are not among my favorite characters, but within the city of Ankh-Morpork, I have come to adore con man Moist Von Lipwig and even admire the tyrant Lord Vetinari who knows everything that happens–and controls most of it. Going Postal and Making Money give a hilarious account of the sometimes reluctant partnership.

Going Postal opens with Moist von Lipwig being led to his death. He falls through the trap door into a new chance at life–if he will accept Lord Vetinari’s offer to run the Post Office. It is no easy task. The Post Office has been falling apart–literally and figuratively–for years. Mail is no longer being delivered, so it piles up and fills every nook and cranny in the building. The only staff left are a bit strange. And there are powerful business forces that would like to see the whole thing put out of its misery.

Even though von Lipwig is not used to making an honest living, he finds that his skills as a con man can be put to good use as he gets the Post Office up and running. All it takes is a glittering gold suit, the introduction of stamps (even more fascinating to collect than pins), and a willingness to take on the clacks conglomerate. In his spare time, von Lipwig even discovers romance with a fierce defender of golems nicknamed killer and listens to the secrets whispered by the undelivered letters.

When Making Money opens, Moist von Lipwig has the Post Office running smoothly, but he is getting a bit bored. Lord Vetinari steps him to offer him a new challenge–making money by taking over the Mint and shaking up the entire banking industry. Von Lipwig is not sure he wants it (taking it on will ensure that powerful people such as the Lavish family will want to kill him), but fate intervenes when Topsy Lavish leaves her majority shares of the bank to her dog–and names von Lipwig as his caretaker.

Life may get even shorter for von Lipwig if he can’t pull the biggest con of his life on the people of Ankh-Morpork. All he as to do is break the world’s best counterfeiter out of jail, break into his own bank vault to rescue the chief clerk (who is hiding a desperate secret of his own) and discover what happened to all the gold that used to be in the vault. Oh yeah, he also has to talk to the dead to learn–and share–the secret to controlling the golems who now surround the city and threaten the balance of power throughout Discworld.

Life is never dull in Ankh-Morpork. I love the surreal world where things that shouldn’t make sense almost do. Even though the bizarre is commonplace, it has an eerie resemblance to our own world. I laughed out loud through much of these books and can’t wait to read more. I do hope the saga continues with the hinted promise of taking on taxes.

Disclosure: I participate in the Amazon Associates Program. If you decide to make a purchase by clicking on the affiliate links, including in the linked picture above. Amazon will pay me a commission. This commission doesn’t cost you any extra. All opinions are my own.

In a Glass Grimmly by Adam Gidwitz

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The fairy tales (and nursery rhymes and Biblical allusions) are back with the absolutely true (and sometimes bloody) account of Jack and Jill. Yes, they fell down and hill and Jack indeed split his head open, but they were not sent up to fetch a pail of water. Oh no, they climbed a beanstalk, killed the giants, and then fell off the clouds. Why did they do this? Well, it has to do with finding a magic mirror or else they die. Of course, death and gore and horror lurk around every corner where Jack and Jill go in search of this magic mirror. If the giants don’t succeed in squashing them, then they might succomb to evil mermaids or devious goblins. Don’t forget the fire-breathing salamandar and the murderous Others.

At least the narrator is once again a reliable guide. He generously points out the places where it might be best to close your eyes or walk away from the book altogether. Except when he forgets. At least he apologizes after the blood and gore finishes dripping down the page. Just as I did in the first book, A Tale Dark and Grimm, I love the humor the narrator adds as he (or maybe she) interrupts the story to warn and taunt the reader.

Adam Gidwitz has created another hilarious (if somewhat bloody) romp through another collection of fairy tales and nursery rhymes with In a Glass Grimmly (Puffin Books 2012). Rather than connecting retold stories as he did in A Tale Dark and Grimm, he uses the fairy tales as inspiration and and jumping off point for original stories involving characters we thought we knew–llike the Frog Prince. He’s really just a frog, but a funny frog.

Even though this is a fun story to read, it explores big ideas that will resonate with readers young and old. For much of the story, Jack and Jill are con-fused. They can’t separate how they want others to see them from how they see themselves. It is only once they learn to see themselves clearly, that they find what they have been searching for all along.

Maybe that’s why fairy tales have such enduring power. Through tales of princesses and giants and enchantments, we learn to see more clearly through the fog that con-fuses us our “real” lives. Which fairy tales–fractured or not–help you to see life more clearly?

Disclosure: I participate in the Amazon Associates Program. If you decide to make a purchase by clicking on the affiliate links, Amazon will pay me a commission. This commission doesn’t cost you any extra. All opinions are my own.

Song of the Quarkbeast by Jasper Fforde

song of the quarkbeastA gift came in the mail this week, a gift of the best kind, a brown envelop containing a book I have been waiting for most of this year.  You see, last Christmas I had gift cards to spend on books.  Since I had been given Jasper Fforde’s The Last Dragonslayer in paperback, I chose to preorder the second book in the Chronicles of Kazam in paperback, too.  The Song of the Quarkbeast (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2013, Hodder and Stroughton 2011) finally released in the US in paperback this month.

That’s a long time to wait to see what the rise of magic might mean to Jennifer Strange and the motley collection of magicians at Kazam Mystical Arts Management.  It was worth the wait.  Even though magic is surging through the Ununited Kingdoms, all is not well.  King Snodd and his Useless Brother are up to their usual tricks.  This time they are joined by an evil magician who goes by the name of Conrad Blix, and the fate of magic–and the world–hangs in the balance. Who is the only one who can stop them?  Jennifer Strange, of course.

The highly capable foundling might have her hands full.  Kazam Mystical Arts Management forced into accepting a challenge from Blix.  Kazam should have no trouble taking on Blix and his few magicians, but the contest just might be rigged.  Two of Kazam’s most powerful wizards get turned into stone.  They others are being rounded up by the police.

Just like the first book in the series, The Song of the Quarkbeast is packed with quirky humor and unforgettable characters.  Blix is a villain that you will love to hate.  I loved the introduction of the Mysterious Boo. What’s not to love about someone who rescues quarkbeasts and has a deep, dark secret?  We even learn more about the transient moose and finally meet–however briefly–the Great Zambini.

If you’re totally confused right now, don’t worry.  Jasper Fforde excels at the kind of humor that introduces random things that somehow make sense in the end.  Just hang on tight and enjoy the ride.  The only down side is now I have to wait for the release of The Eye of Zoltar.  The sneak peek in the back is just enough to leave me wanting more.

The Mighty Miss Malone by Christopher Paul Curtis

imageI first met Deza Malone when I read Bud, Not Buddy.  When I learned that Christopher Paul Curtis had written her story, too, I couldn’t wait to read The Mighty Miss Malone (Scholastic 2012).  Not only is it a fun story with memorable characters, but it also opens eyes to the challenges of the Great Depression and echoes the challenges that many children and their families face today.

Deza is smart and determined–the perfect narrator to introduce her family and share their story.  At first it is a story filled with laughter.  Mr. Malone constantly speaks with over-the-top alliteration.  Big Brother Jimmie is always up to something–usually something that leads to trouble.  Mrs. Malone is the heart of the family and the hope that draws them together no matter how far apart they are.

I laughed through much of this book as Curtis brought to life the entertainment of the Great Depression, from the Joe Louis-Max Schmelling boxing bouts to the Negro Leauge baseball games and singing at speak easies.  But It only takes one bit of bad news to throw a family off track–or in this case on the tracks to a hobo camp.  No matter how bad their circumstances, Deza never forgets that she is something special.  Even as she clings to her promise, she learns to let go.

I enjoyed sharing bits and pieces of this story with my students throughout the day last Friday.  I hope I have convinced some of them to give historical fiction a chance.

Flat Broke by Gary Paulsen

imageAfter getting busted for all his lies in Liar, Liar, Kevin is back with even grander schemes to solve his newest problem:  he is Flat Broke.  Now that everyone he lied to is mad at him, his income stream has dried up.  His parents have suspended his allowance for a month.  His Aunt Buzz isn’t speaking to him, which means no work for for her design business.  He still babysits Markie, but because of his parents’ divorce, they can no longer afford to pay Kevin.

Of course, Kevin doesn’t let this stop him.  After browsing through is dad’s business books, Kevin decides to go into business and become a gazillionaire before he reaches high school.  He is full of money-making plans:  organizing poker games for money, managing his sister’s new makeover business and Katie’s new tutoring business (Can you believe they provided these services for free?), cleaning out garages in the neighborhood, and selling snacks through the college dorms.  He even has hired staff–his best friend John Paul and his new girlfriend Sam.  Oh yea, there’s also Tina, the girl of his dreams that he wants to impress with his new tycoon status.  What could possible go wrong?

Gary Paulsen nails Kevin’ voice with wit and humor.  Kevin is endearingly confident rather than obnoxiously cocky.  His heart is so obviously in the right place, it’s hard to get too mad at him when everything blows up in his face.  Of course, I’m not on the receiving end of any of his schemes, just a bystander enjoying the laughs.  I can’t wait to see what Kevin is up to next in the third installment.

The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde

imageWhat do you get when you combine fading magic, a dying dragon and a most unlikely heroine?  If you sprinkle it all with a dose of wacky humor (and a few very odd magicians), you get Jasper Fforde’s The Last Dragonslayer (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2010).

Jennifer Strange has everything I want in a heroine:  She’s a foundling (yes, that’s your classic orphan raised by the sisters in the Blessed Ladies of the Lobster).  She’s very capable at running Kazam Mystical Arts Management (an employment agency/retirement home for magicians) ever since its owner disappeared months ago.  She is caught up in a greater destiny than she knows, and she doesn’t know it, but she will play a major role in the coming Big Magic.  Most of all, she has heart and wit.

The Ununited Kingdoms are quirky, to say the least, most of all the House of Kazam.  You never know when you will walk through the Transient Moose (one of the magical residents of Kazam).  Magic may be dying, but plenty of unexplained things abound.  The quarkbeast may look ferocious with its mouthful of razor-sharp teeth, but it is loyal to Jennifer until the very end.  Even the last dragon is not at all what I expected.

I love this book–the magic, they mystery, the humor.  The best news of all is that it is just Book One.  I have more adventures in the Chronicles of Kazam to look forward to, and hopefully will read much more of Jennifer Strange.

The Surprise Attack of Jabba the Puppet by Tom Angleberger

The Origami Yoda series by Tom Angleberger is an ever-popular reading selection for my middle school students, and I love them as much as they do.  The Surprise Attack of Jabba the Puppet may be my favorite yet.

Dwight has returned to McQuarrie Middle School, but trouble looms on the horizon with the introduction of Fun Time.  If this evil is to be eliminated, Tommy, Sara, Dwight, Harvey and the rest of the gang must form a Rebel Alliance.  Will it be enough?

All the things I love about the first books are back:  Kellen’s drawings, Harvey’s comments, multiple voices, and much middle school drama.  This time the stakes are higher:  Angleberger takes a direct hit on the push for ever-higher test scores and the resulting loss for education.  I hope that students will take notice and fight back for the education they deserve like the students at McQuarrie do.

The Mysterious Howling by Maryrose Wood

imageI have always loved Jane Eyre.  It’s one of those books that I return to again and again, so I was thrilled when I saw that Sync YA offered this classic governness tale in its free downloads this summer.  I had not heard of The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place by Maryrose Wood, but as soon as I heard Katherine Kellgren begin to read The Mysterious Howling, the first book in the series, I was hooked.

First of all, the narrator is witty and a bit condescending (but only in a very funny way) as she relates the story of Penelope Lumley, a new graduate of the Swanbrne Academy for Poor Bright Females.  She is only the least bit daunted when she meets her  three charges in her new post as governness at Ashton Place.  You see, the three children–named Alexander, Beowulf, and Cassiopeia Incorrigible by their finder Lord Ashton–were found in the woods, having been raised by wolves.  In no time at all, Miss Lumley has the children  reciting poetry and quoting Latin, but can she have them ready to attend the Christmas party in time?

Penelope Lumley has been well-prepared for the challenge before her.  She can quote the wisdom of the legendary Agathy Swanburne. (The founder of the Swanburne school was quiite pithy.)  She is inspired by her favorite stories about the pony Rainbow and the tales of governnesses. (Lord Ashton is not dark and brooding, but there may be something mysterious and possibly mad hiding in the attic.)  She carries a volume of poetry in her pocket to give her courage. (I knew poetry was good for something.)  In addition to teaching children who bark and howl at the moon, Penelope must cope with the other residents of the household:  kindly housekeeper Mrs.  Clock, spoiled Lady Constance, the mysterious coachman, and imposing Lord Ashton.  Someone seems to have a sinister plan in mind for the children, but just what the plan is and who is behind it remains a mystery.

I thoroughly enjoyed the audio book, but I suspect I missed out on the delightful illustrations by Jon Klassen found in the book itself.  I also wish I had a print version to copy down some of my favorite quotes.  As a graduate of a women’s college, I can relate to Penelope’s oft asked question, “What would a Swanburne girl do?”  I also love the literary references.  My favorite is on the use of hyperbole:  It should be used sparingly and only by someone with the proper literary training.

Three of the six books in this series are already out, and the fourth is coming at the end of this year.  While we wait for the rest of the series, check out the possibilities at The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place.

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