Fabulous Fiction Firsts #400 -The Bumbling Ornithologist

No doubt some of you read the NPR review of debut novelist Brian Kimberling's Snapper * - hilarious, poignant, all-too-human recollections of an affable bird researcher in the Indiana backwater as he goes through a disastrous yet heartening love affair with the place and its people.

New grad Nathan Lochmueller (IU, Philosophy) stumbles onto an unlikely job tracking songbirds within one square mile of south central Indiana near Bloomington. "Told with precise and memorable prose in beautifully rendered, time-shifted vignettes, Snapper richly evokes the emotions of coming to adulthood". The poor pay is compensated by the woods that provide solace and the colorful, if occasionally scarifying, array of characters: He meets diner patrons who reply to kids' letters to Santa Claus, would-be mushroom-hunters, ersatz Klansmen and dimwitted bureaucrats who legislate on the environment without knowing the first thing about it".

Southern Indiana native, "Kimberling (a former birdwatcher himself) writes gracefully about absurdity, showing a rich feeling for the whole range of human tragicomedy. A delightful debut."

Will appeal to fans who enjoyed the quirky characters and colorful setting in Karen Russell's Swamplandia!.

* = starred review

Scaredy Squirrel and Chester (two flawed but hilarious characters)

Have you ever planned for a vacation or a birthday party only to have nothing go as you expected? Well Scaredy Squirrel knows just how you feel.

Scaredy Squirrel has many fears. Just to name a few, he is afraid of germs, walruses, bunnies, beavers, Godzilla, pirates, sea monsters, falling coconuts, and biters (anything that may bite him). In order to do what he wants Scaredy Squirrel develops elaborate plans that will help him avoid all of his fears. But when things don't go according to his plans, Scaredy Squirrel is forced to face his fears and realize that there was not anything to be scared of in the first place.

If you enjoy Scaredy Squirrel, you might also want to check out Mélanie Watt’s other books, like Chester.

Chester is a cat who loves to be the center of attention and the best way he can do this is to insert himself into stories that Mélanie writes. With his trusty red marker, he quickly hijacks the stories and becomes the main character in Chester, Chester’s Back, and Chester’s Masterpiece. The plots turn increasingly frantic and comical as both Mélanie and Chester fight for the power to write the story.

Pioneer Theatre Guild Presents Shrek: The Musical

Pioneer High School Theatre Guild will present Shrek: The Musical April 27 through May 5. The show is based on William Steig's 1990 book Shrek! and the 2001 DreamWorks film Shrek. Should be a fun show for both kids and adults. More information about the production and tickets is here.

Audiobooks for Kids: Wildlife Adventures

Author Carl Hiaasen, born and raised in Southern Florida, spent his childhood amongst the mangrove swamps and freshwater lagoons that surrounded his home. In his books for kids, Florida’s wild places and wild animals take center stage. If you’re in the mood for a wildlife adventure, check out his audiobooks:

Chomp – Wahoo Crane and his classmate Tuna Gordon set out to find the difficult star of the reality television show “Expedition Survival” who went missing while filming an episode in the Florida Everglades. Read by James Van der Beek.

Scat – Nick and his friend Marta decide to investigate when a mysterious fire starts near a Florida wildlife preserve and an unpopular teacher goes missing. Read by Edward Asner.

Flush – With their father jailed for sinking a river boat, Noah Underwood and his younger sister, Abbey, must gather evidence that the owner of this floating casino is emptying his bilge tanks into the protected waters around their Florida Keys home. Read by Michael Welch.

Hoot – Roy, who is new to his small Florida community, becomes involved in another boy's attempt to save a colony of burrowing owls from a proposed construction site. Read by Chad Lowe.

Frank Bank, aka Lumpy on Leave It to Beaver, has died

Frank Bank, who played Lumpy Rutherford in the popular 1950s sitcom, Leave It to Beaver, died yesterday.

In a role that today probably would not be played for laughs, Lumpy was a large overweight friend of Wally Cleaver (played by Tony Dow), Beaver's aka The Beav's (Jerry Mathers) older brother. Even then television made the connection between being bullied at home (Lumpy's father often berated him -- ("big oaf " and "big boob" were two favorite insults of Mr. R.'s)) and passing it on to the outside world (Lumpy often targeted The Beav).

In real life, Bank was a very successful California municipal bonds broker who was known for his generosity. He and another Beaver actor, Ken Osmond who forever immortalized the slimy suck-up to grown-ups, Eddie Haskell, raised lots of money for veterans' charities.

Mr. Banks died just one day after his 71st birthday.

Jonathan Winters, genius improv comedian, has died

Jonathan Winters, he of the malleable face and rapid fire ad lib wit, died Thursday, April 11, in Montecito, California.

Winters, a veteran of World War II (Marine Corps), first developed his unique comedic style as a teenager, talking to himself. Later, as a morning DJ for WING (Dayton, OH), Winters had trouble rounding up guests so he just invented his own, and became an instant hit. Winters honed a wide, and wild, range of characters. Among his more memorable creations was Maude Frickert, a sweet-natured, sharp-tongued granny with a healthy libido. Johnny Carson, who invited Winters back over and over again as a guest on the Tonight Show, ended up stealing Maude and morphing her into his Aunt Blabby.

Robin Williams, whose explosively funny style is often compared to Winters' spontaneously combustive hilarity, credits Winters with inspiring his own funny riffs -- "Jonathan taught me that the world is open for play, that everything and everybody is mockable, in a wonderful way." (interview with the late Ed Bradley on CBS's 60 Minutes). In fact, in Season 4 of Mork and Mindy (Williams plays an alien from outer space with a human roommate, Pam Dawber, whom he later marries ), Winters plays their son, Mearth.

Winters also gave particularly memorable performances in two of the movies in which he had roles -- It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963) and The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming (1966). He also found time to pen Winters' Tales, Stories, and Observations for the Unusual in 1987.

Winters, who was quite candid about his struggles with, and hospitalization for manic depression, died of natural causes at age 87.

Voyage to Kazohinia


Finally seeing a wider publication, Voyage to Kazohinia by Sandor Szathmari, should be a highly revered classic but has never received its well-deserved due (at least in the English language) until now. It was originally published in Hungary in 1941, then in Esperanto in 1958, and had a very small, limited release in an English translation in the 1970s. But New Europe Books has given it a 4th life and a wider distribution, which I hope brings it more readers. Often compared to Gulliver’s Travels meets Brave New World with a touch of 1984 to boot, Voyage is the story of one, Gulliver, stranded on an island populated by two very different societies. The one he initially finds himself amongst are the Hins who, on the outset, seem to live in a utopia: no politics, no war, no starvation, and no disease. They enjoy a high standard of living for all, and no need for money since production is based on need. But there is a flip side: no art, no casual conversations (they only talk about rational needs), no sense of history (everything is about the here and now), no love, and no individuality (everyone wears the same style of dress for instance). It becomes unbearable as lack of conversation and loneliness take hold, so Gulliver decides to live with the Behins, who he has heard have feelings, in their walled off community. The Hins refer to them as “madmen” and he will soon discover why. This is satirical writing at its best. It will make you think about all the odd societal conventions as well as the political institutions that civilization hath wrought.

Wade's World

Readers of David Sedaris, Chelsea Handler, and Augusten Burroughs (a.k.a. fans of ridiculously funny memoirs) should check out Wade Rouse. Rouse grew up “different” in Missouri, and now lives in Michigan with his partner Gary. He has written several snarky books recounting the dramas of his daily life. From being caught as a kid wearing his grandmother’s high heels, to clearing patches of poison ivy off his property, Rouse’s stories are always a riot. Rouse is a regular contributor on Michigan Radio, and his books consistently appear on a host of “Best Of” lists. Check him out!

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #387

When Kirkus Reviews called a novel "an outstanding debut", you take notice.

Truth in Advertising* * * by John Kenney is "wickedly funny, honest, at times sardonic, and ultimately moving story about the absurdity of corporate life, the complications of love, and the meaning of family".

Christmas is just around the corner. Madison Avenue ad-man Finbar Dolan is forced to cancel a much anticipated vacation in order to write/produce a commercial for his diaper account in time for the Super Bowl. Closing in on 40 and having recently called off a wedding, he is a bit of a mess and doesn't quite know it.

Unfortunately (or fortunately as it turns out...) things get worse. His long-estranged and once-abusive father is dying and reluctantly, Fin returns to his Boston root and comes face to face with a traumatized childhood he tries hard to forget.

"With wry wit, excellent pacing, and pitch-perfect, often hilarious dialog, New Yorker humorist and former advertising copywrite Kenney (website) has created something remarkable: a surprisingly funny novel about an adult American male finally becoming a man.

"(A) comic tour de force; for fans of Nick Hornby and Jonathan Tropper" and those who enjoyed the Mad Men series.

* * *= starred reviews

Amazon Bestseller: Once Upon a Marigold

Here's another intriguing Amazon best-selling teen book: Once Upon a Marigold, by Jean Ferris. Published in 2002, the book is "part comedy, part love story, and part everything-but-the-kitchen-sink," according to the cover. Currently the Kindle edition is #13 on Amazon's list. Written for readers in about grades 5-9, the book stars a young commoner named Christian, an admirer of Princess Marigold. Interestingly, Christian lives in a cave with a troll. As Queen Olympia plans to take over the kingdom, it becomes clear that she will stop at nothing to get this done and that Marigold may be in danger.

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