Odd Thomas

Book Jacket  3W, 3H

Koontz, Dean., (c. 2003).  Odd Thomas.  Bantam Books. 512 pages , $23.95.

ISBN: 9780553802498

Reviews:

The Guardian, The Examiner

Annotation:

Odd Thomas has a secret.  He can see ghosts. This is interesting but would be more so if he knew why.  Until the borachs arrive bringing evil to town.

Summary:  

Odd Thomas is a 20 year old cook who likes staying under the radar in the sleepy California town.  Only the Sheriff is aware of his sixth sense and he wants to keep it that way.  Well, his girlfriend Stormy knows the truth but she’s special so that’s OK.  Odd, which is his real name, can see ghosts, at least those that have unfinished business that needs to get cleared up before they can move to the final destination.  Odd has gotten used to having these surprise visitors but since they can’t talk, he has to figure out what they need and what they expect him to do about it.  Along with this “gift” is the other kind of ghost with which he has to deal, the borachs.  These apparitions swarm around people who are evil.  Of course, they don’t communicate either and Odd knows better than to try but since he’s the only one who even knows they are around, it’s up to him to not just figure out their purpose but to stop the evil before it destroys the town he loves.

Evaluation:

Odd is well, odd.  And that’s just part of his charm.  He is that low-key crime fighter who stumbles into mayhem and must beat the bad guy before the bad guy succeeds in causing mass destruction.  Koontz has created a wonderfully normal character who’s talent puts him in a unique position to thwart the bad guy while needing to remain low-key.  In a world where we are bombarded by people seeking the spotlight for every little accomplishment, this is a refreshing look at one young man’s commitment to keep his town and loved ones as safe as he possible can.  Although a slow start, the story is one that sucks you in and compels you to keep going.  I was a little skeptical at first glance but when finished, I immediately sought out the second in series.

Author’s Website:

Dean Koontz

Genre/Subgenre:

Horror

Readalikes:

Ash by James Herbert.

Deadtown by Nancy Holzer

Book Discussion Questions:

1. Talk about the name “Odd”.  Is it fitting?  Does it define the character?

2. Why did Odd write the book and what were his intentions of doing so?

3.  Why did Odd worry about people finding out about him but was able to share his “talent” with the town sheriff?

4. Why is Stormy’s character a good match for Odd?

Reasons for selection:

I had not picked up a Koontz novel for quite some time and was eager to happily fall into one of his weirdly realistic worlds.  One of my co-workers suggested the Odd Thomas series (I always perk up at the mention of a series) so I thought I’d try it.  Odd Thomas is truly odd but in true Koontz-style, believable in that weird other-worldly way.  I would recommend this book to anyone able to set aside reality and jump into a world that is so like ours but so not.  Similar to Stephen King, it will keep you looking over your shoulder for that elusive borach.

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Lamb

https://i1.wp.com/contentcafe2.btol.com/ContentCafe/jacket.aspx 4W, 4H

Moore, Christopher (c. 2002).  Lamb.  William Morrow. 417 pages , $24.95.

ISBN:  9780380978403

Reviews
Examiner.com,  Christianity Today – an interview

Annotation:

How did Jesus become the Messiah?  Biff, Jesus’ childhood pal, has been resurrected to retell the story of the Messiah’s teenage years, farts and all.

Summary:  

There is no history of Jesus’s life outside of his much celebrated birth and the years leading up to his much celebrated death (and re-birth).  Thankfully, satirist Christopher Moore decided to pen his version for the history books.  Biff, Jesus’ (Joshua’s) childhood friend is resurrected to come back and write the story in order to clear up any confusion.  He tells the story of young Joshua’s journey, much like any Jewish boy during the first century, who struggles to find his way in the world, learn his trade and figure out the opposite sex.  But as a burgeoning Messiah, Joshua has a few things working against him; namely that in a world of sin and lies, he is vulnerable in his honesty and generosity.  That’s where Biff comes in.  Biff is not susceptible to such personality traits and helps Joshua navigate his way through the mores of the culture.  However, when the beautiful Mary the Magdalene (Maggie) marries Jaken the jerk, Joshua and Biff leave on a journey to find the three magi present at Joshua’s birth.

Evaluation:

Moore’s blend of wit and historical content make this the over-the-top read that will thrill those that question the legitimacy of the Bible stories as well as those that live by the New Testament.   Taking such a revered subject as Jesus Christ and creating a life story for him is nothing short of crazy.  Even Moore states that he was ready to move in with Solomon Rushdie when the book hit the stands.  But the opposite happened and Moore was instead asked to speak on the topic at various seminary schools.  Biff is the perfect id to Josh’s ego with Maggie playing the unwitting role of the femme-fatale.  And if you don’t laugh at Josh’s attempt at honing his trade as the Messiah, then you may not be prepared to enjoy the rest of the book.

Genre/Subgenre:

Sattire

Awards:

YALSA Best Books for Young Adults – 2003

Readalikes:

Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett.

Unholy Night  by Seth Grahame-Smith.

Book Discussion Questions:

1.  Did you learn something from this book that surprised you?

2. Would Joshua have made it to maturity without Biff?  Do you think Jesus had any human – not divine – help in becoming who he was?

3.  As an “equal opportunity offender” what do you think Moore’s purpose was in writing this book?  Were you offended?

4. Biff asks, “Are all women better and stronger than me?” to which Joshua answers “Yes”.  Do you think Moore believes this? Do you think Christianity teaches this?  How are women viewed in various world religions?

Reasons for selection:

A friend of mine, with similar tastes, suggested this book to me.  I do enjoy satire and found Moore’s interpretations laugh-out-loud funny.  I thought that this might be offensive to the truly religious but in further research, it seems that many seminary schools use this book in their classrooms.  I mean, why not?  No one else has documented the history of Jesus’ teenage years so why not leave it someone who is known for holding nothing sacred :).

Quesadillas

  3W, 3H

Villalobos, Juan Pablo, (c. 2012). Quesadillas.  Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 168 pages, $14.99 (pbk)

ISBN  978-0-374-53395-3

Reviews:

New York Times, The Guardian

Annotation:

Orestes, one of seven children in 1980’s Mexico, tells of his adventures as he escapes the boredom and upheaval of a fraudulent society.

Summary:  

In the Jalisco region of Mexico in the 1980’s, thirteen year old Orestes, or Oreo, grew up in a large family surrounded by political fraud, political upheaval, out of control inflation and rich Polish neighbors.  His father, a high school teacher, was a “professional insulter” who shouted at the television whenever any politicians were attempting to make a point and his mother dutifully fed the seven children, constantly grilling quesadillas for the family meals.  Oreo is an opportunist that knows that life is not dished out with equal fairness.  He was “well aware of the roller coaster that was the national economy due to the fluctuating thickness of the quesadillas (his) mother served at home.” (p. 9)

Oreo steals from his rich neighbor to embark on a journey where with the help of a “red-buttoned clicker”, he is able to support himself and relish the independence of not being the second oldest or part of a large family.  But he decides to go back where he must own up to his wrong-doings and suffer the consequences for stealing by working for the neighbor.  Oreo’s adventures are punctuated with sadness, sarcasm and a bit of awe for the audacity of existence that was seen as normal life in Mexico.

Evaluation:

This story takes off with a bang and never stops.  Thoroughly enjoyable if you like satire with a punch.  Villalobos does not hold back when it comes to recalling life in Mexico where the distinction between the poor, poorer and very poor were not that different from the middle class.  Oreo is a typical thirteen year old who enjoys poetry (thanks to his father the teacher), is not a push over (thanks to his oldest brother) and sees his surroundings as nothing more than a never-ending bad joke and landscape of survival where you can not ignore the opportunities.  If you enjoy Christopher Moore you will definitely enjoy Villalobos.

Genre/Subgenre:

Satire

Readalikes:

Modelo Antiguo by Luis Enduardo Reyes.  Wizard of the Crow by Ngugi wa Thiong’o.

Book Discussion Questions:

Villalobos uses quesadillas both literally and figuratively.  How does he work both into Oreo’s story?

Which is your favorite sub-character and why?

Why do you think Villalobos chose cow semination as the Pole’s profession that Oreo has to learn?

Reasons for selection:

I found this selection on the Shelf Awareness newsletter and thought I’d give it a try.  I enjoy humor, especially satire, and have not read many stories based in Mexico.  Villalobos is a great find and I look forward to reading his other works.

Favorite line:

“After paying the bill, my father showed me the total on the receipt;  it had seven figures.  He told me I was going to pay him back this amount, that I would have to find myself a job….Since he didn’t mention indexing the balance for inflation, it was a steal.  All I had to do was wait a couple of weeks for the currency to be devalued 8,000 per cent and I’d pay him back.” (p.99)

The Sisters Brothers

  4W, 4H

deWitt, Patrick,  (c.2011). The Sisters Brothers. Ecco/Harper Collins. 328 pages. $34.99.

ISBN #:  978-00620412865

Reviews:     The BookScore; compiled reviews and scores

Annotation:  

It’s the 1850’s in California. The notorious Sisters’ brothers are on a job to kill Hermann Warm.  But does he really deserve to die?

Summary:  

Eli and Charlie Sisters work for the Commodore, a powerful man in the Oregon territory who has given them the job of killing Hermann Kermit Warm.  But Hermann isn’t so easy to kill and the brothers find themselves traveling to California in the midst of the Gold Rush.  Eli, not as enamored with killing and whiskey as his brother, questions his profession and the reasons they are doing it.  Full of quirky characters, violent exchanges and heartwarming realizations, this western transports the reader onto the trails of the old west and the choices made in a world without many laws.

Evaluation:

This book is wonderfully written in a spare and gritty style from the point of view of the younger brother, Eli Sister who is questioning his purpose in life as he follows his brother Charlie to complete a job.  At times immensely humorous, the narrative captures the thoughts and observations of a young man caught up in a violent world.  This is a fast-paced, action-packed adventure that might leave you a little saddle sore from not being able to put it down.  And hats off to the designer, Suet Yee Chong, who’s unique style adds to overall appeal of this western.

Genre/Subgenre:

Western

Readalikes:

The Outcasts by Kathleen Kent.  True Grit by Charles Portis

Book Discussion Questions:

1. Out of all the offbeat characters that the brothers meet on their travels do you have a favorite, is one more memorable than another?

2. The novel is full of gems of wisdom as “little victories” from Eli’s mother and from Eli.  What is your favorite observation or bit of wisdom in the novel?

3.  Several odd characters have an impact on the story, including the weeping man, the witch, and the poisonous little girl. What is their function in the story?

Reasons for selection:

The novel was chosen as one of our Book Discussion selections.  I’m so glad it was.  A truly great read and I’m looking forward to the discussion.

Favorite line:

“I (Eli) thought of this twitching prospector and the chicken-holding prospector and the dead, headless prospector and said, ‘It would seem to me that the solitude of working in the wilds is not healthy for a man.'” (p. 230)