Thursday, June 21, 2007

The lull before the storm...of books

It’s book review time and I may as well get the bad news out of the way first. Thanks to a lengthy break between decent books being published and the eternal optimism that a character I once loved will somehow be redeemed, I succumbed to the temptation to buy “Danse Macabre,” I know, I know. I swore never again, but it was in paperback. And I was jonesin’ for a fix. And, like I said, hope springs eternal…only to be bitterly disappointed yet again. Ms. Hamilton has apparently decided that it is her mission in life to take porn out of the visual media (video, internet, mags, etc.) and shove it into the literary media (er…doesn’t she know that “Penthouse Forum” kinda already filled that niche?) Why she couldn’t come up with a new character to do this with and leave poor Anita alone, I’ll never know (oh wait, that’s what the Merry Gentry series was supposed to be for except I guess Ms. Hamilton’s porneriffic imagination overfloweth). Again, it’s not so much the sex that bugs me (although it IS getting kinkier and kinkier and I fear what taboo it will go after next), it’s the INCESSANT sex and lack of plot. Oh, and the talking. Good heavens, the talking. I’m actually starting to sympathize with guys who want their women to just shut up and do it already. I suppose the talking is supposed to be the respite from the sex, but since the talking is all ABOUT sex, it’s not much of a respite. Also, except for the sex, nothing happens in this book. LITERALLY NOTHING. Anita goes to the doctor and to a ballet and the other several hundred pages are sex and talking. And for those who complain that Anita is growing too powerful, I beg to differ. She has grown weak. She is a complete prisoner to the ardeur, the munin, the multiple strains of lycanthropy and heaven only knows what else is running around inside her. She’s quite the biomagicalSTD petrie dish. Don’t believe me about her weakness? The woman could not go to the doctor’s office without taking about 7 boyfriends AND a crew of bodyguards. She’s no longer Anita Blake, bad-ass vampire hunter. She’s really Paris Hilton minus the dye job and plus the magical entourage. As for the secondary characters, Richard has become such a complete asshole that he’s nothing more than a caricature. And what has happened to poor Ronnie is just unbelievable. It’s like she’s morphed into a different person…a person who’s meant to represent all the negative fan comments Ms. Hamilton is receiving. There are volumes on and other sites dedicated to basically saying “what the eff happened to our beloved Anita and why don’t you pull your head out of your ass and fix it?” Although, to be fair, given where her head is, all she probably hears is “mmmpff mmmphhphf mmmmphphphmmm.”

After I hosed off the “ick” factor of Ms. Hamilton’s book, the lull between decent reads was over and I found myself with a nightstand full of new books to read and review. These next two both provide a refreshing take on how to handle a mix of action/romance/sex without losing little unimportant things like plot…or taste.

“Magic Bites” by Kate Daniels hearkens back to the good old days of the real, original Anita Blake. The heroine is a tough, kick-ass, don’t mess with me mercenary in a world where the laws of magic and the laws of physics take turns wreaking merry hell on modern society. Hot guys and elements of romance abound, but never so much so that they overwhelm the rest of the story. Rather, they add depth and interesting nuances as well as possibilities for future storylines. Also, on bookshelves overcrowded with vamp/necromancer/lycanthrope stories, Daniels offers a more original take on the nature of the monsters. I hope to see more from this author!

Kelley Armstrong’s “No Humans Involved” continues her “Women of the Otherworld” series. Jaime Vegas, a secondary character in some of the other books, takes center stage here as she advances her TV career as a medium and pursues her “he likes me, he likes me not” potential relationship with the Alpha of the North American pack. While there is a graphic sex scene (get that? Scene. As in one. As in singular), it features writing of a much higher caliber than Hamilton’s scenes and therefore is more seamlessly integrated into the rest of the story. Also, there are important romantic development interludes in the earlier part of the book that lead up to the scene which makes it more believable AND enjoyable. Hmm, foreplay. Who would’ve thought? Not Ms. Hamilton, apparently. Also, this book has a plot! Mystery to be solved. Ghosts to help. Bad guys to be caught. Y’know…stuff actually HAPPENS.

Next, we have C.E. Murphy’s “Coyote Dreams” – the latest installment in the “Walker Papers” series. I have mixed feelings about this book. Murphy is definitely improving as a writer in a lot of ways. The storyline flows more smoothly and the plot is tighter. However, while the “villain” in this story is a very interesting and unique concept, I don’t think the author takes full advantage of her creation. The climax and resolution of the plot left me saying “Really? That’s it?” Not the reaction that Murphy intended, I’m sure. I also missed the interaction between Joanne and Coyote, her shaman guide. He’s missing for most of the novel, which is odd because, given the title, I thought we would get more of him. Still, as a fan of the series overall, I look forward to seeing where the next installment takes us.

Kate Forsyth’s “Heart of Stars” brings her “Rhiannon’s Ride” trilogy to a conclusion. Unfortunately, since she had enough storylines and action going for about 8 books (which I think is how long her first series took to resolve), everything had to come to a head rather quickly. Again, I found the climactic scene a bit contrived and less-than-satisfying. Also, Olwynne’s punishment seemed abrupt and far too harsh for her crime. Haven’t we all done something impulsive and stupid when driven by love and youth? Still, Forsyth does know how to plot enough action to keep the reader rocketing along at breakneck speed. Despite the heavy-handed, faux-Scottish dialogue which has been a staple of all her books and which I find quite tiresome after a while, the amazing creatures and magic with which she has endowed the land of Eileanan are reasons enough to get involved with this series.

In Simon Green's “The Man with the Golden Torc” John Taylor is back and better than ever in the latest “Nightside” novel…oh, wait, wrong Simon Green series. Not that there’s much difference. Eddie Drood/John Taylor. Mr. Stab/Razor Eddie. Weird and kooky archetypal villains and magical beings/ Weird and kooky archetypal villains and magical beings. If I’d never read the “Nightside” books, I’d have nothing bad to say about this new series as it’s well-plotted, action-packed, funny and filled with Green’s forte – the aforementioned weird-and-kooky. But, since I HAVE read the other series, I kinda wonder why Green didn’t just write another “Nightside” book instead of going to the trouble of putting a little window dressing on one and calling it a new series. Of course, he did get a hardback deal out of it so maybe that had something to do with it. On the upside, this new world is a bit lighter in tone and I like the love interest much better than Suzie Shooter, but otherwise, same ol’, same ol’. Oh, and I don’t really get the whole Dickens tie-in, but then I never really was a Dickens fan (except for “A Christmas Carol”) so “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” is not something I’m overly familiar with. Still, if the family’s name was “Smith” instead of “Drood”, it wouldn’t take anything away from the story so it’s not apparent to me why this connection was made.

Lisa Shearin’s “Magic Lost, Trouble Found” is a book that I almost gave up on after the first few pages. It just seemed very “been there, read that.” The whole wisecracking elven thief bit has been way overdone and even the cover art left me cold. It looks like someone took a picture of a very human Ren Faire attendee with a pair of fake Elvish ears on and then sort of painted in what’s supposed to be a fantasy background around her. I also had a hard time getting past the main character’s similarity to the Anne Logston’s elvish thief character “Shadow” in the series by the same name. Still, I pressed doggedly forward and what I found was that there is a kernel of a good read here. I liked the contrast of the elves and goblins – sort of a new take on the whole “light elf” vs. “dark elf” thing and I think the real issue is that Shearin appears to be a new author. I’d like to see where she goes from here – especially as she does seem to have mastered one thing: the lustful glance/powerful attraction without excruciatingly detailed sex scene. My brain was happy for the break!

From the newest of the new, I segue to the oldest of the old. It seems like I’ve been reading Katherine Kerr’s “Deverry” novels forever. Except that it turns out it’s not been forever – just 20 years or so. I suppose it’s fitting that a series that deals with multiple reincarnations of souls over a thousand years should’ve lasted this long. In fact, it’s been around so long that I may’ve even missed a volume or two because the latest installment, “The Gold Falcon”, picks up with Rhodry having been transformed into a dragon and I don’t remember that. Of course, that could just be my memory – I did turn 42 this week after all! Practically ancient. But back to the book. Some of the original characters are still around (Dallandra, Salamander) and others have finally been reincarnated (Jill and Nevyn). The Horsekin are up to their old tricks and their goddess, Alshandra, seems to be continuing to stir up mischief despite having been killed off in an earlier installment. This is definitely not a series you can pick up in the middle. I’ve read it from the beginning and even I have to occasionally refer to the chart in the back of the book to remember who’s been reincarnated as who and how many times. Oh, and Kerr does suffer from the same overuse of accented dialogue as Kate Forsyth, although it’s not quite as egregious. Still, I do grit my teeth every time someone says “my thanks” or “ye gods” as they do on just about every other page. Overall, the series is definitely worth reading, but my personal preference is with the earlier books revolving around the Nevyn/Jill cycle rather than the later books centering on Rhodry and the elves.

Speaking of a blast from the past, Deborah J. Ross has published her latest posthumous Darkover collaboration novel with Marion Zimmer Bradley. At least, it’s posthumous for Ms. Bradley. Ms. Ross is still alive as far as I know. With the exception of Tolkien’s Middle Earth, Bradley’s Darkover is hands-down my favorite “universe” to visit. With her death a number of years ago, I was sure that I’d never again be able to visit Thendara or Nevarsin or Arilinn Tower. Thankfully, Ms. Ross has been around to keep the dream alive. While I felt that her “Clingfire Trilogy” was a bit weak in spots, I was just happy to have more Darkover books so I was willing to overlook just about anything. Thankfully, “The Alton Gift” is a vast improvement. I found one minor plot device to be painfully obvious, but other than that, it was a great read. It is nice to see Lew Alton finally attempting to resolve some of his issues – the poor man has suffered for such a long time. Also, this book provides a lot of continuity from some of Bradley’s earlier works (“The World Wreckers”, “The Planet Savers”, and Exile’s Song in particular). Still, there are many questions about Darkover remaining to be answered. For example, I’ve always wanted to know if the woman held in stasis in the rhu fead is really Dorilys from “Stormqueen.” If so, what would happen if someone woke her up? I can only hope Ms. Bradley left enough material behind so that Ms. Ross can keep publishing Darkover books until my eyesight begins to fail and I can’t read them any more.

Whew! That’s it for the books. It doesn’t seem like it’s been that long since I did an update that I would have so many to review, but maybe I’ve just been ripping through them faster than usual.

In other news, I turned 42 this week (boo! hiss!) and while the past year hasn’t exactly been fun, it was better by far than the year before. So, at least I’m making some progress. And I do have a lot to be extremely grateful for: my terrific family, my health (despite last week’s cold which seems to be hanging on far longer that I would’ve liked), the divorce being final, getting to keep the house so I don’t have to live in a box under a bridge somewhere, and of course Ryan who is the world’s most fantabulous kid.

In fact, his quote of the week (decade?) is: “I’m so cute, you can’t stand it!” To which I could only reply, “you are absolutely right, kiddo.”

Have a great weekend, everyone!


Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Yes, Virginia, good people still exist in this world

There are still a few nice, honest people left in the world. Case in point: the guy who saved my ass this weekend. After church, I stopped at the grocery store on the way home to pick up a few necessities. I had the kid in tow and we were both still dressed in our good church clothes so I was carrying a clutch purse instead of my normal, ginormous, running-around-doing-errands purse (this fact becomes important later – just trust me on this). I’m never a fan of grocery shopping even at the best of times and doing it in 3” heels, with a 4-year-old who is ready for his nap and yet still not too tired to notice and ask about every toy, piece of candy, box of cookies or sugary cereal that we come across is even more difficult. So, I was on a mission to get in, get the stuff we needed, and get outta there as fast as possible. I managed to accomplish this task fairly well except I had to give up on the lunch meat as there was a line 6-people-deep at the deli counter so that was a no-go. Still, got the milk, the diet coke and the peanut butter and everything else on my list and got out of the store without any tantrums occurring on either my part or on Ryan’s part. Navigated the demolition derby that is the parking lot without breaking my neck or having Ryan get run over by some crazed psycho in a Hummer who thinks the parking lot is the best place to try to break the land speed record. Got the kid and the groceries in the car, was a good citizen and put the grocery cart back in the cart return area and headed for home. No problems, right? I pull into the garage and start to unload things when I suddenly realized that I don’t see my purse. Anywhere. I start frantically looking for it at which point this small voice pipes up from the back seat: “Uh, Mom, are you looking for your purse?” “Yes, honey, do you see it back there?” “No, you left it in the cart at the grocery store.”


Those of you that are women and carry purses are screaming along with me, I am sure. See, my normal purse is a shoulder bag, which stays on my shoulder and therefore is never at risk of being left behind somewhere. Not so with a clutch purse – it’s easy to set it down and forget about it. In fact, if you want to free up your hands to do anything, you almost have to set it down (although mine has a wrist strap so you can hang it from your wrist and note to self that I need to freakin’ use the strap next time!) I remember jumping back into the car and starting the engine and then everything is a blur until I pull back into the grocery store parking lot. Well, I do remember Ryan saying from the back seat that I should slow down or the “pleaseman” will give me a ticket and me muttering some response about an emergency (Ryan has since told at least two perfect strangers that it is okay to break the law if it is an emergency – way to go, me). As I squeal into the handicapped spot (emergency, remember?) which is the closest place I can park to the cart return, I can see my grocery cart sitting there by itself, but it’s obvious that there’s no black clutch purse in it. My heart is sinking, but I decide to go into the store and check to see if anyone has been honest enough (yeah, right) to maybe have turned in the purse. As I get up to the door of the store, I see a man standing off to the side with a cart and something black in it. Just as I’m about to try for a closer look, he looks at me and says “I think I have your purse – I recognize you from your driver’s license. Don’t worry, everything is still in it.” After he picked me up off the ground where I had fallen into a puddle of relief, I thanked him a bunch of times and headed back for the car because Ryan was still strapped into it and I didn’t want to leave him alone (or the car in the handicapped spot) any longer. It wasn’t until I got home that I realized I should’ve given the guy something as a reward. That purse had all the cash I’d just taken out when I bought groceries, all my credit and ATM cards, my (brand new) driver’s license, my phone, and a new pair of Brighton sunglasses that I just bought in Vegas. Losing it could have so been a complete disaster.

So, thank you again, Good Samaritan, whoever you are!

In other news...

I am completely addicted to the Choco-Nut trail mix from Mother’s Market and it is ruining my diet. And yet, can’t stop eating it. So good.

Went to Vegas over Memorial Day Weekend and had a fabulous time. Bought the aforementioned Brighton sunglasses, saw two shows, shopped, hung out by the pool, ate at a couple of fabulous restaurants and just generally had a terrific time. Oh, here’s the pair of sunglasses I almost bought instead. I actually like them a little bit better, but they are very similar to a prescription pair that I already have so I decided to go for something with a little different look. The prescription glasses are at the eye doctor’s shop for repair so I needed something to wear in the meantime.

The shows I went to were “Le Reve” at the Wynn hotel and “Love” at the Mirage. The former was good, but very bizarre with no real story line. The latter is a Cirque-du-Soleil show set to Beatles’ music and it was excellent!

While in Vegas, I noticed a disturbing trend. I wasn’t going to mention it figuring that hey, it’s Vegas, you never know what you’ll see there (for example, there were so many women wearing hooker gear and having several inches of thong showing out the back of their pants that my retinas nearly burned out, but whatever), but since my return, I’ve noticed it occurring here as well. What is it, you ask? Women wearing shoes that are either way too big or way too small for their feet. Did I miss a memo? When did it become okay to have 3” of shoe base sticking out behind your heel or 3” of your toes hanging off the front edge of your shoe? Shoes – especially heels – are uncomfortable (and expensive) enough that I cannot fathom why anyone would buy and wear shoes that don’t fit. And I don’t mean that they’re just a tad bit tight and you know the leather will stretch out. I’m talking don’t fit by at least a couple of sizes. Why? I don’t get it. Oh, and besides the comfort and expense issue, it’s incredibly unattractive. Someone please explain this to me.

Oh, and speaking of shoes…the highlight of my trip was when I went into the Stuart Weitzman (ritzy, high-end, designer shoes) store in the Forum Shops at Caesar’s Palace and both of the sales clerks kept commenting on the shoes I was wearing and how cute they were. Now, I’ll admit, they are a really cute pair of metallic silver strappy sandals with some jeweled embellishment on the front (hey, it was Vegas – if you can’t wear your bling there, then you might as well not own any). But, it was all I could to make it out of the store without bursting into gales of laughter.

Why? Because those so cute sandals?

They’re from last summer.

And they’re from Payless.

They cost me about $9.00 during a BOGO sale.

Not only can I rock the cheap shoes…I can rock ‘em in Stuart Weitzman’s store.

Life is good.