Thursday, October 27, 2011

Audio CD Review: Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman

This is a review of the audio CD, Neil Gaiman’s, Anansi Boys narrated by Lenny Henry. I laughed all the way through the first CD and the laughs kept coming. The recording runs about 10 hours, and it was published in 2005. Henry does a fantastic job of narrating the story.

Anansi Boys fits best in the fantasy genre, and tells the story of Fat Charlie Nancy. His father was a God, Anansi (Spider). In Caribbean and West African lore, Spider is the trickster similar to Coyote in Native American cultures. He annoys and bests the other Gods by making them look stupid. His powers come from his wit, music and humor. This story contains lots of humor.

Gaiman created outstanding colorful characters such as Fat Charlie’s father. Mr. Nancy is a flamboyant gentleman from the Islands. He wears a green fedora and yellow gloves. He particularly likes to sing and dance, but not work. Henry’s narration brings the characters to life.

Fat Charlie has gone through life with the foregone conclusion that if anything bad can happen, it will. Because of this, he carries a conservative outlook on life, and hates to draw attention to himself. The slightest disturbance brings on a bout of embarrassment, and his father proved superior at causing embarrassment. Given all that, he is fairly happy with a good job and planning his wedding. Then his father dies.

Even in death, Mr. Nancy embarrassed Fat Charlie. He died while singing Karaoke. He fell off the stage face first into the large bosom of a blond from the Midwest on vacation in South Florida. While my description sounds mild, Gaiman’s rendition will have you crying tears of laughter.

Gaiman’s humor is not the humorous fantasy puns of Robert Asprin’s Myth adventure series or Piers Anthony’s Xanth books. Gaiman pokes fun at society, greed and people’s foibles. I’m sure my fellow commuters thought I was deranged as I set in traffic laughing.

At his father’s funeral Fat Charlie learns about his brother, Spider, a demigod. Fat Charlie doesn’t really believe in this God stuff nor does he believe he has a brother. A short while later Spider, trickster, enters Charlie’s life, and the troubles begin. Spider skates through life, and doesn’t think or care about others. Spider’s only concern is being happy. He doesn’t even care about his brother.

Anansi Boys contains romance, ghosts, murder, mayhem and West African folklore. Neil Gaiman packs his story with lots of humorous situations, and enjoyable characters. Don’t miss this one.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Book Review and Analysis: Agatha Christie, Hallowe’en Party

Most people prefer to read current books and best sellers. I tend to look for new authors and old authors. When reading an old author, it is important to realize the time context in which the author existed.

Agatha Christie (1890-1976) writes English mystery novels. Towards the end of her career, she dealt with the social changes of the 1960s. In Hallowe’en Party (1969), she writes about a world undergoing challenges to the social norms especially towards children. She dislikes the suggestion that children commit crimes mostly out of boredom, and their lack of respect towards other people. At the same time, an increase in sexual crimes against children horrifies her. She also touches on the sexual revolution engulfing society with a brief discussion on lesbianism.

Hallowe’en Party tells the story of a young adolescent, Joyce, murdered at a Halloween Party in a small English town. At this party, they still did things like bobbing for apples, and playing parlor games. Somebody drowned poor Joyce in a pail of water used for the apples.

Everyone in the town assumes it was a random act of violence, perhaps a sexual deviant. After all, they lurk behind every bush since the law doesn’t adequately punish them.

By this point in Christie’s career, she has a stable of characters to choose from. In this book, she calls on Hercule Poirot and Ariadne Oliver. Both her characters are aging, but still at the top of their game. Poirot is Belgian, and a bit of a dandy with patent leather shoes, derby, cane and waxed mustache. Ariadne is a famous mystery author with a Finnish detective. You may think Agatha has written herself into the story.

The duo team up to bring justice for poor Joyce, but not before her younger brother joins her on the River Styx. The story has many twists and turns to lead our sleuths astray. Is a random act of meanness? Has a pedophile run amok? Could it be money or love?

Like all Christie’s books, Hallowe’en Party is entertaining. Consider it forty-year-old cozy mystery book. It’s light and fun with a bit of social commentary.  It is not a spooky book with ghosts and goblins, but it does have several murders, and a couple of villains.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Haunted Halloween

Fall celebrations meet us on every corner. The sun’s shifted on the horizon, and the days grow shorter. Temperatures grow cooler.  Many baseball teams have closed the clubhouse until next year. Halloween looms around the corner. For the next couple of weeks the blog will cover scary books and fall festivals.

Let’s start with a book review of Haunted Halloween Stories: 13 Chilling Read-aloud Tales by Jo-Anne Christensen.  She wrote it for the YA audience. Haunted Halloween provides entertaining haunted stories good for telling orally at parties and sleepovers with the lights turned low. Turn off the electronics, and enjoy some face-to-face social activity.

Camp Wannapoopoo will appeal to young boys. Marty, now thirty-seven, entertains us with a story about a ghost he encountered at camp as a youth. This story also deals with the trending topic of bullying, and holds a few good lessons.

Molly Goodacre haunts the general store. Molly has been murdered, and she’s trying to apologize to her friend. She desires to explain events leading up to her death. Christensen wrote this story for an older audience than Camp Wannapoopoo.

Ever had a run of bad luck, wish you could get rid of it. Even tempted to pass it along to someone else, just so long as it didn’t affect you any more. In The Tip bad luck flows from one person to another via an artifact. Christensen weaves a story of vagaries of life, and how much success or failure depends on luck.

People are willing to pay lots of money to attend addiction spas to stop smoking.  Sharon caught help with her smoking addiction by vacationing at Bertie’s B &B. She got the smoke scared out of her in One Sure Way to Quit.

Even ghosts like to take a vacation at the beach. Read this humorous tale about a ghostly realtor that caters to the dead in the Presence. You’ll enjoy this ghost story told from a different viewpoint.

Haunted Halloween Stories contains a collection of stories good for sharing at a gathering of 10 to 15 year-olds. Published in 2003, and about 200 pages, this book is fun and enjoyable.

Photos and text by Bruce G. Smith