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The Relic Master by Christopher Buckley

The Relic Master by Christopher BuckleySummary: A relic hunter is forced into a quest for the ‘true shroud’.

Christopher Buckley has a history of writing smart comic novels, usually about political subjects. But his last couple novels have fallen a bit flat. However, I still picked up The Relic Master when I saw it on sale at a BOGO sale at Audible, especially since it was out of Buckley’s normal subject area.

The Relic Master is set 500 years ago as Martin Luther was writing his 95 Thesis and the reformation was beginning to dawn. This is historical fiction that is pretty historically accurate for the known characters. There were relic fairs and prominent people did buy and sell relics, which created markets for forgers.

The main character, Dismas has attempted to be an honest relic hunter, although he is real enough to know that many of the relics being sold are fakes and real enough to know that many of the miraculous proofs are frauds and cynical enough to want out of the business. After being robbed of his savings, he decides to attempt a grand fraud to give him enough to retire to the country and become a happy, stable farmer and family man.

The fraud is caught because of the pride of the artist (Durer). Dismas and Durer’s are then forced into a quest to steal the Shroud of Chambery.

No Way to Treat a First Lady by Christopher Buckley

I am reposting this 2010 review because the Kindle Edition is on sale for $1.99.
When you read as much as I do every once in a while you need some palate cleansing. I am a huge fan of pickled ginger, which is always served with sushi and wasabi. Pickled ginger has great taste, but when you finish you do not have an aftertaste, you just have a mildly pleasant feeling in your mouth. The two Christopher Buckley novels I have read, No Way to Tread a First Lady and Supreme Court, are the pickled ginger for my mind.

I enjoy politics. I like watching the weekend political talk shows, although I rarely have time. I often listen to Shields and Brooks podcast from PBS news and the Slate Political Gabfest podcast. My favorite NPR show is Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me, a radio equivalent of Christopher Buckley’s political satire. So when I had it up to here with memoirs and other books telling me how wonderful the authors were doing at processing what God has been telling them, I picked up some emergency Christopher Buckley. I am saving the rest of his novels for future need.

No Way to Treat A First Lady is a satirical novel about trying the first lady for killing her husband (the President).  She found him, yet again having an affair. This time the the dalliance was in the Lincoln Bedroom, while she was asleep down the hall. The next morning he is discovered dead in bed and the First Lady is suspected and tried for Presidential Assassination. Buckley does a fabulous job making a trial both boringly realistic and exciting to read about.

They Eat Puppies, Don’t They? by Christopher Buckley

They Eat Puppies, Don't They?: A NovelSummary: A novel about a defense contractor lobbyist and a political commentator who get together to whip up furor over China in order to justify more weapons programs. 

Christopher Buckley is one of my favorite authors.  But this is not one of my favorite of his books.

Buckley’s books follow a similar path.  Washington insiders, in a cynical, but somewhat believable way push a line that seems absurd, but much of the time you could actually see things working out in real life like they do in his books.  It is satire.  What makes Buckley one of my favorite authors is that he ridicules all sides of the political spectrum, he keeps his books funny and in the end his heroes usually see the error in their ways.

But this book is not as funny as most of his other books.  It is satire, and you can see him poking fun at lobbyists, at the defense industry, at the media.  But it is not sharp, it is not very funny and it feels phoned in.

God Is My Broker: A Monk-Tycoon Reveals the 7 1/2 Laws of Spiritual and Financial Growth by Christopher Buckley and John Tierney

God Is My Broker: A Monk-Tycoon Reveals the 7 1/2 Laws of Spiritual and Financial GrowthTakeaway: If you don’t know what good satire is all about, you have not read anything by Christopher Buckley.

Purchase Links: Hardcover, Paperback, Audible.com Audiobook

I hate abridged audiobooks.  You never know what you really are missing, you just know something is missing.  Is it a good part, a lousy part.  Is it five minutes or three-quarters of the book?

But I also love Christopher Buckley.  And I am running out of his books.  I reserve them for reading emergencies, but that comes along about every 3 to 4 months.  I am not sure what I will do when I run out.  I have listened to all of the unabridged Christopher Buckley books.  Now I am going to have to work through the abridged.  I picked God is My Broker, both because it looked hilarious, and because it looks like it is out of print, so it is unlikely to ever get an unabridged audiobook.  And it is not available on kindle.

The set up is that Brother Ty is a monk.  He was an alcoholic Wall Street trader, but he got fired and ended up in a monastery.  Now sober for a couple years, his monastery is facing financial problems when God starts giving him stock tips.  His abbot is convinced it is the power of positive thinking from Deepak Chopra that is providing the money.  But Brother Ty knows it is actually God.

As with all of Buckley’s humor, nothing is safe.  This book targets self help books, Wall Street, the Catholic Church and a host of other likely targets.

In the end, what I like about Buckley, is that he know that ideas are nothing without a story.  Buckley knows how to write a story with people that you care about, even those that are not the heroes.

If you care, this is one of the cleaner stories by Buckley, no sex, barely any language.  A rated PG book.

Florence of Arabia: A Novel by Christopher Buckley

Every once in a while I need something to clense the pallet.  Wait, that is how I started my review of No Way to Treat a First Lady.  Well I am a big fan of Christopher Buckley’s humor.  Darn it.  That is how I started the review of Boomsday.  At least I read Supreme Courtship before I started this blog.

On Friday, I saw a forum post on Kindleboards asking for some comedy book recommendations.  I recommended Christopher Buckley’s book, which are not exactly comedy, but more satire.  That recommendation made me want to listen to another Christopher Buckley book.  I picked up Florence of Arabia from audible.com and by Sunday afternoon I had finished listening to the just over 8 hour book.  There are very few books that I listen to start to finish.

I enjoyed this one, but not as much as the other three.  I am not sure why.  This book was cleaner, a lot less swearing (although there still was some).  The sex was mostly just hinted at, although there were discussions of harems, so it isn’t a child’s book.

It may be that I am less close to the target of the satire in this book.  The basic story line is about Florence, a State Department employee that is tasked with starting a women’s focused Arabic TV station in order to prompt women to rebel against the strictures of their society.  It spends a lot of time showing how western governments are wrapped up in oil and the problems of the middle east.  But most of the time is really spent talking about issues of the middle east and Arab culture.  Christopher Buckley may be a conservative, but he has no problems showing the weaknesses of all sides of the political spectrum.

I still obviously enjoyed the story.  And the last 2 minutes was a welcome addendum.  But if you are starting from scratch, I would pick one of the other three that I have read so far.

Boomsday by Christopher Buckley

I am a big fan of Christopher Buckley’s fiction (I have not read any of his non-fiction yet.)  No one writes better political satire than Buckley.  So far I have read Supreme Courtship (about the nomination of a TV judge to the Supreme Court) and No Way To Treat a First Lady (about a former first lady on trial for killer her philanderer husband – my review).

Boomsday is about a 29 year old Washington DC blogger and K-Street PR person that starts advocating for Baby Boomers to legally take their own lives at 70 in order to take the strain off of Social Security and US government deficit.   The book pretty accurately shows how a blog can get picked up and an idea take on a life of its own.  But also shows how closely political campaigns and the PR world can manipulate public opinion.

This is satire and it is funny.  Buckley knows how to write something that is funny but has some really serious content.  The book eventually moves into political campaigning, the corruption in the political, business and even religious world, and how very hard it is to get people to do the right thing.

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Content note: I will say that if you are easily offended at language, you might want skip this book, especially the audio version.  I am a nanny for a 2 year old and I often have audiobooks running in the background as I am playing with my niece.  I do not listen to Christopher Buckley novels when little people are awake.  The language is pretty strong.

Programing note:  I picked this up on sale from Audible.com.   Janeane Garofalo is the narrator and she does a great job with the voices and just enough sarcasm to really get into the book.

Price note: The unabridged version at audible is $9.99.  The abridged version is four hours shorter and $10.49.  I don’t understand pricing.  I actually heard someone defending higher prices for abridged books because it takes so much effort to abridge them.

The Kindle version is $9.99 and the paperback version is only $5.60.  Clearly it is more expensive to create and deliver a digital version that does not involve printing and shipping it half way around the world.  So it is totally worth it to buy the digital version at almost twice the price.  If you like Dead Tree Books, maybe you would be more interested in the hardcover that you can buy brand new for $2.40 (plus $3.99 shipping).  I know that it is cheaper to make a hardcover than a paperback, and way cheaper to have a hardcover than a digital file version. (Large amounts of sarcasm here-again, I do not understand book pricing.)

Arts and Entertainments: A Novel by Christopher Beha

Takeaway: What we think we want may not be what we need.

Christopher Beha is an editor at Harper’s Weekly and co-editor of Ecco Anthology of Contemporary American Short Fiction. But it is because of John Wilson at Books and Culture that I picked up this book.

Wilson mentioned Beha was one of the best modern Catholic novelists and I picked up Arts and Entertainments nearly a year ago when it was briefly on sale.

Like many fiction books, I tend to pick them up on recommendation without even reading the description. Honestly I am not sure I would have picked it up if I had read the full description or the reviews. Eddie Hartley is a washed up actor. He has returned to his Catholic High School as drama teacher in order to support himself and his wife.

After a long period of infertility and a lot of debt (both from bad spending and the infertility treatments) Handsome Eddie (as he was nicknamed in high school) decided to sell a sex tape of him and a former girlfriend, who is now a top rung actress. He mostly did it to pay for more infertility treatments and pay off old debt, but he did not really think through the whole thing and soon is out of a job and kicked out of the house by his newly pregnant wife.

It is here that the book, which has been good up until this point, starts revolving around the idea of celebrity culture in a much more focused way using a reality tv ‘story’. The guided stories, the mixing of real and fake lives, the point where you are in too far to get out, and bad actions for good intentions are all discussed in an way that is appropriate to the story.

This is not quite satire, but it is leaning in that direction. It reminds me most of Beauty Queens by Libba Bray, but also of Christopher Buckley’s books. The character’s Catholic faith is mentioned, but it is not a significant role. This is not what I would consider ‘Christian Fiction’. There is language, a sex tape, drinking and drugs, etc. But there is a real critique of our modern notions of celebrity and a look at the directionality of culture and media that I think many Christians should hear.

I am not sure I would rate it as highly as John Wilson did, but I certainly am glad I read it and it is a book I read quickly and enjoyed. I put the rest of Beha’s books on my watch list and will pick them up eventually.

Arts and Entertainments: A Novel by Christopher Beha Purchase Links: Paperback, Kindle Edition

Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

Summary: A fantasy multi-verse where four worlds are connected via the city of London, and a dark magic wants to destroy them all.

I have not enjoy a good fantasy book in a while. I picked up the audiobook of A Darker Shade of Magic up when it initially came out in early 2015. (It was free as a promotion.) And six months ago or so I picked up the kindle edition when it was on sale. And I finally got around to reading it last week.

The premise of A Darker Shade of Magic is that there are four Londons. All called London and with several places that are the same regardless of their world. The worlds are nicknamed Black London, White London, Red London and Grey London. Black London was destroyed by dark magic, White London uses magic as a powerful weapon against one another and is a cruel world. Red London uses magic as a tool and is a prosperous place (but is shielded from Black London by White London). And Gray London is a 19th century non-magical London that we would recognize historically.

It used to be that it was easy to move between Londons through doors. But the doors were closed to protect the three remaining worlds from the dark magic of Black London. Now only two magicians have the power to moved between world through their blood magic. One is from White London and one is the main character, Kell, from Red London.

Agent to the Stars by John Scalzi

Reposting this 2012 review because the audiobook is Audible’s Deal of the day today and on sale for $2.95.

Agent to the StarsSummary: Comedy about an alien race that contacts a Hollywood agent about introducing them to the planet earth.

This was a book I picked up on a whim. I was a bit burned out on my non-fiction books. And I needed to buy four audiobooks at once to get a $10 coupon from Audible. So Agent to the Stars ended up as one of the picks.

Reading the description (The space-faring Yherajk have come to Earth to meet us and to begin humanity’s first interstellar friendship. There’s just one problem: They’re hideously ugly and they smell like rotting fish) reminded me of a Christopher Buckley novel. I love Christopher Buckley’s novels. They are funny, sharply political (against all sides) and almost always pull me out of reading funks. So I picked this up.

John Scalzi is just as funny as Buckley, but instead of the political subtext, this books uses a science fiction/entertainment subtext. You do not need to love science fiction to love this book, but it might help.

Will Wheaton (Wesley Crusher of Star Trek fame and recently regular cameo on Big Bang Theory), does an excellent job narrating. After listening to Wheaton narrate Ready Player One, he is becoming one of my favorite audiobook narrators.

Bad Monkey by Carl Hiaasen

Bad Monkey is Carl Hiaasen’s latest novel that came out at the beginning of the summer of 2013. Similarly to many of Hiaasen’s novels, the book is about a rough around the edges detective who desperately wants his job back. He sets out to solve a murder that he really has no business solving. While tracking down the murderer, he observes and is a part of a number of humorous hijinks, and his life and the lives of those around him are put in danger.

Carl Hiaasen grew up in Fort Lauderdale, Florida and has lived in Miami for most of his adult life. For this reason, his books generally take place in the state of Florida and the character of the state plays a big role in his novels. He has been a reporter for the Miami Herald since 1976, which explains why his novels also revolve around crime and the police detectives whom he has solve those crimes. Another theme that runs commonly through his novels are that the environment, specifically the wildlife and the swamps and oceans of Florida, are often exploited, destroyed and need to be protected. I would say that if Christopher Buckley is the master of the dry political comedies then Hiaasen has a corner in the dry detective comedy genre. I definitely enjoy both of these types of novels as they do an excellent job of combining two types of genres and making an intriguing new genre.

This is the second novel that I have read by Carl Hiaasen, the first being Skinny Dip. Another aspect to his novels that I thoroughly enjoy is that they are filled with unique characters and that there is no perfect protagonist. Everyone has their hang-ups and everyone has their ulterior motives. This book, Bad Monkey, is entitled so because there is a very naughty monkey (and, not naughty in the Curious George sense) that is supposedly the monkey from the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie but was essentially fired because he was so difficult to work with. Through some coincidence, the monkey plays a somewhat integral part of the story and in a way helps to get the crime solved. The uniqueness of the characters in Hiaasen’s books definitely helps to keep the reader engaged.