Mostly Fiction BOOK REVIEWS



Fiction that make us laugh out loud

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Out of My Skin

by John Haskell

In Paperback
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by Jack Pendarvis
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The Max

by Ken Bruen & Jason Starr
In Paperback

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by Christopher Moore
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The Bible Salesman

by Clyde Edgerton
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Rumpole Misbehaves

by John Mortimer
In Paperback

Recently Published Books in Hardcover:

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Humpty Dumpty Was Pushed by Marc Blatte - On a manic ride from the mixing boards of hip-hop recording studios to mansions in the Hamptons and the projects of the urban ghetto, Detective Black Sallie Blue Eyes ventures behind-the-scenes of the record business in search of a street-side assassin. Casting a widely satirical net on all spectra and species of the Manhattan social scene—from tweaking downtown hipsters, wrestling fetishists, and rapper wannabes to real estate moguls and hip-hop impresarios—this satirical urban noir novel offers intrigue, insight, and an innovative brand of humor. (March 2009) author page

Loser's Town by Daniel Depp - In this darkly comic thriller set in modern-day Hollywood, an aging private eye is hired by a rising young actor at the center of a scheme gone wrong. (March 2009)

Flipping Out by Marshall Karp - Nora Bannister is a bestselling mystery novelist who buys run-down houses in LA. While her business partners turn the house into a showpiece, Nora makes it the scene of a grisly murder in her House To Die For series. As soon as the new book goes on sale, so does the house — and the bidding frenzy begins. Just before Nora’s latest book hits the market, one of her house-flipping partners is murdered. LAPD Detectives Mike Lomax and Terry Biggs are assigned the case, but this one is a hot potato – the dead woman is also the wife of one of their fellow cops. (March 2009) author page

Buffalo Lockjaw by Greg Ames - James Fitzroy isn't doing so well. Though his old friends in Buffalo believe his life in New York City is a success, in fact he writes ridiculous taglines for a greeting card company. Now he's coming home on Thanksgiving to visit his aging father and dying mother, and unlike other holidays, he's not sure how this one is going to end. Buffalo Lockjaw introduces a fresh new voice in American fiction. (March 2009)

Nutcase by Charlotte Hughes - Psychologist Kate Holly is about to get evicted from her office, and her best option may be to share space with her jacuzzi-loving ex-boyfriend, Dr. Thad Glazer. That’s not going to help her patch things up with her firefighter ex-husband. With her oddball patients, meddling mother, and eccentric secretary thrown into the mix—not to mention a spree of suspicious fires—will Kate put her life back together or wind up in a padded cell? (February 2009)

Stern Men by Elizabeth Gilbert - In 2000, Elizabeth Gilbert’s Stern Men debuted to phenomenal critical attention. Now, Penguin is publishing a new edition of Gilbert’s wise and charming novel for the millions of readers who devoured Eat, Pray, Love and remain hungry for more. (February 2009) author page

Callisto by Torsten Krol - Odell Deefus may be a little dumb, but when he discovers a freshly dug grave at the back of Dean Lowry's house, he understands that it's intended for him. When he finds an old lady's corpse in the freezer, he knows that she has been murdered. And when the bomb in his car explodes, levelling every building in the vicinity, and Odell must suddenly hide the body of a terrorist, even he recognises that things are getting seriously weird. This blackly funny novel of our times follows what happens when Odell Deefus takes one wrong turn on the journey of his life and crashes into a world of oddballs, misfits, drug-dealers, religious fanatics and crooked cops, hypocrisy, torture and bloody murder.(February 2009)

Side Effects by Harvey Jacobs - Recounts the medical misadventures of Simon Apple, whose life has been one long battle with Miracle Cures, each of which requires yet another Miracle Cure to curb an increasingly bizarre series of unintended consequences. Now, Simon awaits the lethal stroke of midnight on Death Row when he will make the supreme sacrifice—giving his life for the sake of the pharmaceutical industry. (February 2009)

Fool by Christoper Moore - "This is a bawdy tale. Herein you will find gratuitous shagging, murder, spanking, maiming, treason, and heretofore unexplored heights of vulgarity and profanity, as well as nontraditional grammar, split infinitives, and the odd wank . . . If that's the sort of thing you think you might enjoy, then you have happened upon the perfect story!" An edgy 21st-century perspective on King Lear. (February 2009) author page

Out of My Skin by John Haskell - Los Angeles. A would-be movie reviewer, looking for romance, takes an assignment to write a magazine article about celebrity look-alikes. After getting to know a Steve Martin impersonator, the writer decides to undertake his own process of transformation and becomes not Steve Martin but a version of him—graceful, charming, at home in the world. Safe in the guise of “Steve,” he begins to fall in love. And that’s when “Steve” takes over. Set in the capital of illusion, this is a story of one man’s journey into paradise—and his attempt to come out the other side. (February 2009) author page

Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn -- Illustrated edition of one of my favorite books! (February 2009) author page

Beat the Reaper by Josh Bazell - Dr. Peter Brown is an intern at Manhattan's worst hospital, with a talent for medicine, a shift from hell, and a past he'd prefer to keep hidden. Whether it's a blocked circumflex artery or a plan to land a massive malpractice suit, he knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men. Pietro "Bearclaw" Brnwna is a hitman for the mob, with a genius for violence and an overly close relationship with the Federal Witness Relocation Program. More likely to leave a trail of dead gangsters than a molecule of evidence, he's the last person you want to see in your hospital room. Nicholas LoBrutto, aka Eddy Squillante, is Dr. Brown's new patient, with three months to live and a very strange idea: that Peter Brown and Pietro Brnwa might-just might-be the same person ... (January 2009) author page

Brothers by Yu Hua - A bestseller in China, recently short-listed for the Man Asian Literary Prize, and a winner of France’s Prix Courrier International, Brothers is an epic and wildly unhinged black comedy of modern Chinese society running amok. (January 2009)

Supreme Courtship by Christopher Buckley - The President of the United States, ticked off at the Senate for rejecting his nominees, decides to get even by nominating America's most popular TV judge to the Supreme Court. (September 2008) author page

More Information Than You Require by John Hodgeman - (October 2008)

The Development by John Barth - A touching, comic, deeply humane collection of linked stories about surprising developments in a gated community. (October 2008)

The English Major by Jim Harrison - It used to be Cliff and Vivian and now it isn't." With these words, Jim Harrison sends his sixty-something protagonist, divorced and robbed of his farm by a late-blooming real estate shark of an ex-wife, on a road trip across America, armed with a childhood puzzle of the United States and a mission to rename all the states and state birds to overcome the banal names men have given them. (October 2008)

Downtown Owl by Chuck Klosterman - Somewhere in North Dakota, there is a town called Owl that isn't there. Disco is over, but punk never happened. They don't have cable. They don't really have pop culture, unless you count grain prices and alcoholism. People work hard and then they die. They hate the government and impregnate teenage girls. But that's not nearly as awful as it sounds; in fact, sometimes it's perfect. (September 2008)

The American Savior: A Novel of Divine Politics by Roland Merullo - When Jesus Christ turns up in West Zenith, Mass., Catholics, Jews and atheists unite to help him realize his plan of becoming America's next president. (September 2008)

The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway - A wildly entertaining debut novel, introducing a bold new voice that combines antic humor with a stunning futuristic vision to give us an electrifyingly original tale of love, friendship and the apocalypse. (September 2008)

The Bible Salesman by Clyde Edgerton - Hilarious, laugh-out-loud funny. (August 2008) author page

Something to Tell You by Hanif Kureishi - (August 2008)

Awesome by Jack Pendarvis - A new American tall tale in which whales, caves and robots abound. (June 2008) author page

Art in America by Ron McLarty - “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest meets A Confederacy of Dunces. McLarty’s storytelling skills shine in this ribald, riotously funny but also poignant novel. You’ll never look at the theater or the state of Colorado in quite the same way after reading it.” (July 2008) author page

Commonwealth by Joey Goebel - Joey Goebel s biggest and funniest novel yet, about red state politics, family traditions, and what happens when the common man fights back. (June 2008) author page

Awesome by Jack Pendarvis - A new American tall tale in which whales, caves and robots abound. (June 2008) author page

More Than It Hurts You by Darin Strauss - Nearly satiric page-turner that tracks a Long Island family crisis from the author of Chang and Eng and The Read McCoy. (June 2008)

Starbucks Nation by Chris Ver Weil - (May 2008)

The Treatment & The Cure by Peter Kocan (May 2008) author page

Wrack and Ruin by Don Lee - Hilarious and philosophical, this many-hued novel about the landscape of contemporary "multicultural" America. (April 2008) author page

Swine Not? by Jimmy Buffett (March 2008) (illustrated by Helen Bransford) author page


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Related to this Bookshelf:

The Rabbit Factory by Marshall Karp

The Hacker and the Ants by Rudy Rucker


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About this Bookshelf:

"Humor is emotional chaos remembered in tranquility."
James Thurber

The best laughs are ones that reflect back on us!

I like to escape into a book that makes me laugh. Occasionally a book will catch me so off guard, that I want to read every word out loud.  Edgerton's Raney was like this for me.

The thing about humor in fiction (or even nonfiction) is that it is really quite personal. What one person thinks is funny, another will not. For example, there are many who would not get the kick I get out of slapstick in word play (Silent Extras by Arnon Grunberg). For this reason, I think that many publishers don't like to take a chance on humorous fiction and thus, some of our favorite books on this bookshelf are self-published (C. Mike Reid, Brian Rouff, Randall Beth Platt, Sharleen Jonasson). Or if the author is picked up by a big house, they only have one, maybe two books ever published. It probably also explains all the "chic lit" books (Deanna Kizis, Jennifer Coburn, etc) since publishers must have some confidence that these books will sell, especially since they are really an off-shoot to the lucrative romance genre.

There are few writers, though, who are dependably funny. I never hesitate when it comes to Christopher Moore, David Sedaris (not fiction, but entertaining enough), or Donald Westlake. And humor can be written in most any genre.  For example, Douglas Adam's Hitchhiker's series is really considered Sci-Fi.  The Kinky Friedman series are hard-boiled detective novels, and A Confederacy of Dunces is award winning literature. These books are so quotable that you can barely get by a page without heralding whomever is around you with yet another one-liner.

Some of these books probably should be shelved elsewhere on the site. But, I chose to put them here because they bring a smile to the face while reading them and the humor is used as a tool to convey a larger message. (Vernon God Little, Zadoorian's Second Hand, Chieh Chieng's A Long Stay in a Distant Land, Hari Kunzru's Transmission)

And some handle matters so serious (a terrorist delivering a bomb) but are wrapped in such a ridiculous way (make that "a food obsessed terrorist delivering a bomb by bicyle") that the novel is either going to work wonderfully or not at all. But when it does work (as does this one), it is so rewarding.

Which brings me to politics in fiction. There is no one better for this than someone who has spent time in Washington, like Christopher Buckley. While, others write about popular culture, like Michael Kun and others become pop culture icons because of what they write (Douglas Coupland, Cintra Wilson).

Many of these books center around odd characters in some fairly normal situations.  Crazy in Alabama takes place in 1965, the height of the racial tension. Told from the point of view of a childhood memory, Aunt Lucille makes for some fairly hysterical antics. Or take Mack Green, in The Bookmakers, who owns some very unconscious decisions, but the plot turns hilarious as we watch some exceptionally ruthless people at work. Then there is J. Robert Lennon's, Mailman.

Oprah's books, not!  When the books are this funny, you don't see people feeling sorry for themselves in that redeeming way Oprah likes. OK, they may feel sorry for themselves -  Samuel Karnish, Ignatius Reilly, Pamela Trowell, certainly do, but their logic is so honestly deceptive, we can't help but laugh.

And then it's the way some writers retell history, such as Noah's son in Surviving the Flood or the history of Middle Eastern religions in Skinny Legs and All;  or the way some writers invent a new mythology such as the tale told in Coyote Blue. And at last we have the not so very tall tales (or are they?) of Farley Mowatt.

Sometimes location brings forth the humor.  Some of our best contemporary writers, set their plots in Florida, especially Southern Florida where the characters get crazier and the plots do a loop-de-loop, until it all makes sense.  Carl Hiaasen, Elmore Leonard, Laurence Shames and Jimmy Buffett excel at taking us into the extreme sunshine with a large smile on our face.

And finally, there is that class of fiction in which it is so very, very clever that we almost can't take it seriously until we step back and really think about it. Ella Minnow Pea is like this. But for all its playfulness there is a real message here, one that shouldn't be overlooked.

So this bookshelf is where to look for books if you are in need of a good, hearty laugh, sliced through with a twist of truth.

Judi Clark, Editor
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