Fiction: “Straight” by Dick Francis

straightI know I took this book with me to Fort Myers, along with Burnt Offerings. I am pretty sure I began reading Straight on my flight home, and finished it very shortly upon landing – maybe the next day. However, because I read it in one fell swoop and I’ve already read this at least once before in my life, I didn’t dogear any pages. So … this review will be fairly short.

Over the course of my life, I have read every Dick Francis mystery at least once. Any Dick Francis titles you see come across That’s What She Read are at least the second time reading it. The good thing about the Dick Francis ouevre is that the mysteries are all fairly similar in vein: the narrator is a man, trying to do his best, in whatever career that may be; the plot is somewhat tied, in part, to British horseracing; and the mystery gets wrapped up in a neat little bow at the end of the novel.

Straight‘s narrator is Derek Franklin, a steeplechase jockey, who has recently broken his leg or twisted his ankle or something – he’s injured, and he’s hobbling around, trying to recuperate so he can get back on the horse. But then his brother, Greville, dies in an accident. Derek is notified that he is the executor of Greville’s estate, which consists of a gemstone importing and trading business. Derek knows nothing about gemstones, but he also doesn’t feel that passing the business off to someone else would be the best way to honor his brother’s wishes. So, he starts learning the gemstone business.

Then Derek learns that, before the accident, Greville had borrowed a large sum of money in order to purchase some diamonds. Those diamonds are now missing, and the insurance company (or bank, or whatever) wants the payments to begin.

Additionally, the offices get broken into – everything’s rummaged through and tossed over, but there doesn’t appear to be anything missing. This leads Derek to believe that someone else is looking for the diamonds, too.

Also-also, it turns out that Greville had purchased a steeplechaser, by name of Dozen Roses. And Derek has to decide whether he’s going to sell Dozen Roses or keep him for himself. But there might be case of mistaken identity – there’s a chance that the Dozen Roses that won the Gold Cup last year might not be the same Dozen Roses running today …

Derek is a lot like the rest of Dick Francis’s narrators – good, earnest, a little tired, a little beaten up, but overall, optimistic. He doesn’t want to learn about Greville’s business – in fact, he refers to the office as “quicksand” and in the beginning of the book, regrets how quickly it’s sucking him in. But his need to “do right” by Greville overrules his desire to heal to get back to steeplechasing, so quietly optimistic he remains.

A Dick Francis mystery is a bit stronger than a cozy mystery, but it’s not as hardboiled as some of the other mystery series out there right now. There is going to be a little bit of violence (sometimes a good deal of violence – there’s one novel where the narrator/protagonist gets arrowed), there might even be some romance – but it’s not going to be over the top, and there (probably) won’t be a femme fatale. The narrator is a good person, usually in a situation reluctantly, and he tries to make the best of it.

As always, a Dick Francis novel is a good read – maybe not particularly memorable, and definitely not requiring an in-depth review; but worth the few hours it should take you to read it.

Grade for Straight: 3 stars

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Fiction: “Burnt Offerings” by Laurell K. Hamilton

burnt offerings.jpgFor my birthday this past year (in March), I treated myself to a weekend trip to Fort Myers, Florida, so I could watch my two favorite baseball teams play each other on my birthday (that’s the Cubs and the Red Sox for those keeping score). And as I tend to do when I’m faced with air travel, I picked a couple of paperbacks that I could read quickly, one of which I was sure I’d hate. I usually grab a Patricia Cornwell novel, but I couldn’t bring myself to read the next Kay Scarpetta tale for whatever reason. So this year, I brought the next Laurell K. Hamilton novel, Burnt Offerings.

Reader, it didn’t suck.

I mean, it wasn’t great; and now I’m faced with the fact that I read this almost eight months ago, and while I dogeared some quotes I don’t recall all the context about why I dogeared it (aside from a couple), and I can’t even remember the full plot. So –

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– this will be fun! or else.

This is the seventh novel in the Anita Blake series, and I know I’m getting very close to the book where the series veers from private detective, vampire hunter stuff to paranormal erotica, and I am not sure how much further I’ll keep reading. I don’t have a problem with erotica, and I don’t have a problem with paranormal stuff; but a lot of these people in this series transform into animals (wereleopards, for example), and if sexytimes happen while animal stuff is happening … that is a thing that Homey absolutely does not play.

But in this one, Anita is only banging Jean-Claude, the prissy vampire who still calls her ma petite even though she has told him a hundred times that she hates that name. She has broken up with Richard, because Jean-Claude won’t let her date both of them and also, if I remember correctly, the werewolf part of Richard was too much for Anita? Maybe?

Jesus, how do things happen and yet also not happen so much in these books?

The book starts with a fire chief showing up to tell Anita that someone is burning down vampire haunts with the vampires in them. Anita and the chief think it’s a pyrokinetic – y’know, a firestarter. Unfortunately, the firestarter does not turn out to be Drew Barrymore.

At the same time, there is a power vacuum in the werewolf pack. Or whatever – I can’t even remember what the hell Richard is supposed to be, but Richard is out of town getting his master’s degree, so the pack or whatever is leaderless. When trouble shows up in the form of someone wanting to take over Richard’s pack, it falls to Anita to protect them.

Meanwhile, because Anita also killed the wereleopard’s pack leader in the last book, she is now the interim leader of that pack.

There is so much going on – I seem to remember that the majority of the first part of the book takes place on one of Anita and Jean-Claude’s dates, where she’s wearing some slinky, barely-there dress – so much so that she has to hide at least one of her guns in a belly band which she can reach through the dress’s thigh slit – and high heels, and she keeps bitching about the outfit instead of, I don’t know, wearing something comfortable on a date?

(This is why I’m still single – the idea of dressing up to please someone’s eye is so stupid to me. Why wear something slinky and sexy when, if you manage to “catch” them into a long-term relationship, they’re going to see you wearing nothing but sweats and your favorite tee shirts? Set them up for disappointment early! Wear that Save Ferris tee to your first date and see if he cares! Plus, if you’re the type that needs to carry weapons (Anita), jeans usually have pockets!)

So there are all these things going on – packs of werewolves and wereleopards are killing each other, Anita is still considered the second-in-command of Richard’s pack and first in command of the leopards, and she’s dealing with a power grab by the vampire council and someone is setting vampire lairs on fire.

I went to the wikipedia page for this book, seeing if it would jog my memory about some of the plot points – and it was fairly helpful. But I also scrolled through the Plot section and was like, I don’t remember most of this.

(Probably because while I was on vacation in Fort Myers, I came down with a flu on my thirty-fifth birthday. I don’t remember much of what happened that weekend, but I do distinctly remember kneeling on the floor of my Quality Inn bathroom, pushing my own hair back as I vomited up my birthday dinner (Fenway frank and frozen lemonade), and muttering to myself, “Happy birthday, baby,” and wondering if this is what happens when one turns 35 – does your body automatically just, fuck off and give out? I have thrown up more times this year than I have in the past ten. What the fuuuuuck.)

Anyways.

So, the more things change, the more things stay the same. Like Anita trying her darndest to sound like she’s straight out of a Raymond Chandler novel, but failing miserably:

“What happened to your arm?” McKinnon asked finally.

“I’m a legal vampire executioner. Sometimes they get pesky.” [p. 2]

Pesky? Pesky vampires? Okay, sure, Anita, whatever.

And Ms. Hamilton sure knows how to describe a character trait and then immediately contradict it:

[Jean-Claude] smoothed his hands down the ruffles of his shirt, adjusting the cuffs on his jacket so the ruffles at his wrists showed to the best advantage. He often fussed with his clothes when he was nervous. Of course, he fussed with his clothes when he wasn’t nervous, too. [p. 95]

So … Jean-Claude fusses with his clothes. Period. Sometimes when he’s nervous, sometimes when he’s not nervous. If you’re going to make the action indicative of an underlying emotion, commit to it, don’t just contradict it in the immediate next sentence!

And now, the All About Alaina section of this review.

I had to re-read this paragraph twice today to remember why I dog-eared the page:

I was half-trusting Thomas and Gideon to keep the rat-boy from searching too hard. I don’t usually trust people that easily, but Gideon had called him the petite bâtard. The little bastard. [p. 215]

“The Little Bastard” is what I have called Patrick Dempsey since … 2005?

Patrick Dempsey is from Maine, originally, and one of my former co-workers grew up with him – they played in the same Little League! And one week, my Dear Friend Emily was visiting and hanging out while I worked, and the three of us – me, Emily, and the co-worker – started talking about famous people who have come in the store, and the co-worker brought up Dempsey, and in part of the conversation, he said that Dempsey is the guy you want playing on your team, and not against, because –

And here Emily cut him off and piped up, “Oh, because he’s a little bastard?”

And the co-worker tapped his nose to indicate that she was exactly correct, and Patrick Dempsey has been named The Little Bastard ever since.

Then there’s this, where after reading the paragraph, I said, “Goddammit, I actually have to agree with Anita Blake about something”:

I’d have rather rappelled down on ropes with Special Forces into a free-fire zone than shuffle along in the mummy suit trying not to lose it. It was just a phobia, dammit. Nothing was wrong. Nothing was hurting me. My body didn’t believe the logic. Phobias are like that. Reason doesn’t move them. [p. 325]

She is correct! Phobias do not listen to reason! People laugh at me and my VERY REAL snake phobia (ophidiophobia), but goddammit, it’s a real goddamn thing! And when you have a phobia, you can try and curtail that phobia with logic as much as possible, but that phobia will not listen to you! It will laugh in the face of your logic, and then you’ll find yourself brought into a reptile house of a zoo, because your sister has absolutely NO FEAR WHATSOEVER and wants to see the alligators, which live with the snakes, and no matter how many times you tell yourself that you are not Harry Potter and the glass in the tanks will not disappear simply because you’re present, you will still find yourself walking in the exact center of the hallway, because that way you’re equidistant from any snakes should the glass in the tanks spontaneously become porous.

Or, when you’re walking through a wetlands on your 35th birthday, and your insides are all seized up the entire time, because you’re walking along a path that looks like this –

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– and you’re pretty sure snakes can crawl up over wooden planks, because you’ve heard of them being in trees, so not only are you looking frantically at the path ahead but you’re also cringing every time you hear a branch creak, and then you finally get to the end of the path (which was fairly long, tbh), and you read this sign –

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– and then you do a double-take to make sure you read the last two sentences correctly –

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terrified

AND THEN YOU FREEZE

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BECAUSE YOU HAVE TO CROSS THIS RATTLESNAKE-INFESTED PATH TO GET BACK TO YOUR CAR

OR YOU HAVE TO WALK BACK THE WAY YOU CAME

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And that’s when you realize you’re going to die on your 35th birthday. (and this was before the flu set in.)

And so, you do the bravest thing you’ve ever had to do – you take quite a few deep breaths (to stave off the panic attack that’s growing in your chest), and you march onward. Very quickly but also carefully. Humming the theme song to Raiders of the Lost Ark the entire time.

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And when you finally reach your car, you nearly break down in tears that you didn’t die, and didn’t see any snakes, rattle or otherwise.

CUT TO: a week later, when you’re showing your dad the pictures you took, and come across this little guy that YOU DIDN’T EVEN KNOW WAS THERE at the botanical garden:

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IT IS A GODDAMNED MIRACLE I AM ALIVE

So anyway. Yes. Phobias are real. And yes, I did just give myself the complete willies in finishing this post.

As for the book — it didn’t suck as hard as some of the other Anita Blake novels I’ve read in the past; but I’m afraid this is the last title before the hard skid into paranormal erotica, so … I dunno. 2 stars? Maybe? Let’s say it should be closer to 1.5, and I threw in another half-star because I ended up agreeing with Anita about something, and that’s pretty hard to do.

Grade for Burnt Offerings: 2 stars

Fiction: “The Art Forger” by B.A. Shapiro

art forgerThis was a book I’ve had on my bookshelf for at least a couple of years. A spur-of-the-moment purchase, it has languished on my “historical fiction” shelf next to that last book in Philippa Gregory’s Wideacre saga for quite a while. But it turns out, it isn’t historical fiction at all.

The Art Forger takes place in Boston, and it has its roots in the famous Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum art heist. The narrator, Claire Roth, is an artist hoping to make it in the big leagues. She’s living in a studio apartment in Southie and has a former colleague and gallery owner coming over to see her latest series of oils. But what Aiden Markel actually brings is better and also worse than the shot at a solo show at his gallery.

Claire supplements her income (such as it is) by painting legitimate forgeries for online sales.

I glance across the room at the two paintings sitting on easels. Woman Leaving Her Bath, a nude climbing out of a tub and attended to by a clothed maid, was painted by Edgar Degas in the late nineteenth century; this version was painted by Claire Roth in the early twenty-first. The other painting is only half-finished; Camille Pissaro’s The Vegetable Garden with Trees in Blossom, Spring, Pontoise à la Roth. Reproductions.com pays me to paint them, then sells the paintings online as “perfect replicas” whose “provenance only an art historian could discern” for ten times my price. These are my latest work. [p. 4]

Aiden gives Claire what the back of the paperback calls “a Faustian bargain” – paint a forgery, much in the same way she does for Reproductions.com, tell no one, and when the job is done, he’ll give her a solo show at his gallery.

After giving it a bit of thought, Claire agrees. And she’s both surprised but also not when she learns that the painting she needs to forge is one by Degas, last seen in 1990 the night of the Isabella Stewart Gardner heist. And it doesn’t appear to be a forgery.

So look. This book was great. I can’t wait to forget about it and read it again in like, five years (like I’m probably going to do with Jitterbug Perfume or Gilligan’s Wake again in the next few months). The characters were great, including those of Boston and also Southie. And I really liked the way the relationship between Claire and Markel develops over the course of the book. This book was so great, I’m not even going to tell you more about the plot and stuff, and I’ll just wait for y’all to discover its greatness on your own.

But what I am going to talk about, because I feel it made the book even greater, for me, was its connection to one of my top five favorite movies of all time that, let’s be real, I totally and completely made up. The connection between the movie and the book, I mean. I didn’t make up the movie. Or the book. Or – y’know what? you get it.

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How To Steal a Million is a fantastic movie. I almost waxed poetic about it a couple of book reviews ago, but I refrained. BECAUSE I CAN DESCRIBE IT IN DETAIL HERE!

When people name Audrey Hepburn movies they love, usually My Fair Lady, Roman HolidaySabrina, or Breakfast at Tiffany’s comes first. But for me, it’s this one, about an art heist gone wrong.

Audrey plays Nicole Bonnet, the daughter of an art forger. Papa’s specialty is Van Gogh, but as it turns out, forgery is a trait passed down from his father. Grandpapa carved a forgery of the Cellini Venus. And in the beginning of the movie, Papa has just allowed a prestigious Parisian museum to display the Cellini Venus – their Cellini Venus – in a short exhibition.

(Fun fact!: Benvenuto Cellini was a real sculptor, too!)

The fun begins in the movie when Audrey stays home from the museum gala, reading a magazine full of Hitchcock stories –

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– when she hears a squeak coming from downstairs. She sneaks down in her nightie, grabs one of her dad’s antique pistols from the hallway, and surprises Peter O’Toole, who appears to be stealing a painting!

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She decides to not call the police when she realizes that the Van Gogh painting Peter O’Toole was going to steal is a forgery because she doesn’t want an investigation to reveal her father’s … hobby. But then the antique pistol accidentally goes off and she has to take care of Peter O’Toole’s flesh wound (“Happens to be my flesh,” he grouses) and drive him back to his hotel (I can’t drive a stolen car!” “Same principle – four gears forward, one reverse.”) and if anyone wants to know where I learned to love banter between romantic leads, IT IS THIS MOVIE

(There are no good video clips online, otherwise I’d link you to all of them. And unfortunately, it’s no longer available to stream on Netflix or Hulu. You can rent the movie on Amazon for $3.99. OR, you could come to my house and I’ll make you watch it with me.)

So Audrey takes Peter back to his hotel, drops him off, and then goes home. WHAT AUDREY DOESN’T KNOW is that Peter is not an art thief, but an ART DETECTIVE (no, I’m not sure that’s a real thing, but we’re gonna go with it anyway), looking for evidence that her father is a forger! That’s why he chose that particular painting!

CUT TO:

About a week later, when the museum insurance guy visits Audrey and Papa and asks Papa to sign the insurance papers, which he does, but THEN, Insurance Guy wants to know if Papa is going to be present at the technical examination.

Y’know. When they test the statue to make sure it’s not … a fake?

So now Audrey and Papa are in BIG TROUBLE. When the insurance guys test the Cellini, they’re going to find out that it’s a forgery. So Audrey does the only thing she can think of –

She calls her art burglar pal Peter O’Toole and arranges to meet him in his hotel bar, while wearing the perfect subtle outfit that one should wear when arranging a heist.

Audrey in the bar

HER EYESHADOW IS DIAMONDS

HER ENTIRE OUTFIT IS BLACK LACE

NICOLE BONNET, MY ORIGINAL QUEEN

So anyway, she asks Peter to help her steal her own statue from the museum, and of course he agrees, because diamond eyeshadow and black lace cat burglar mask. And hijinks ensue. And it’s an adorable movie.

And as a bonus look into Alaina’s Messed-Up Psyche, the movie is also probably the first instance of Alaina’s Sexual Kryptonite – a.k.a., a man wearing a white Oxford button-down shirt, with the collar and top couple of buttons undone, and no tie. I always blamed that on the Professor from Gilligan’s Island, but now that I think about it, my first viewing of How to Steal a Million probably predates me watching Gilligan.

Okay, but seriously, look at this –

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Goddammit. Such a beautiful man.

ANYWAY. Here’s why I ranted so much about a relatively obscure romantic comedy from the 1960s – I found references to the movie (or made up references to please my crazy little head) within The Art Forger.

When Claire is narrating about different forgers, she mentions Han van Meegeren –

Probably the most brilliant […] was Han van Meegeren, a frustrated Dutch painter who spent six years in the 1930s formulating the chemical and technical processes needed to create a forgery that would hoodwink the dealers and critics who refused to recognize his genius. He used toaster parts to create an oven to bake his canvases and was a stunning success. He made a fortune until one of his “Vermeers” was found among postwar Nazi loot, and he had to prove he’d forged it to avoid charges of treason for selling a Dutch national treasure to the enemy. [p. 30-31]

Papa, during one of his speeches about his calling, name-drops van Meegeren! And I had no idea he wasn’t a fake person until I read this book!

Then there’s this, where Claire and Markel are discussing the buyer of the forged Degas she’s painting:

“But if he can’t sell it or show it to anyone, if it’s not a status symbol, and if he’s not going to use it on the black market, what’s in it for him?”

Markel leans back into the couch and sips his champagne. “It’s the rush of knowing you have it, that it’s yours and no one else but you can ever see it.” […] “It’s like an addiction. No, it is an addiction, one serious collectors can’t and probably don’t want to control.” [p. 166]

Another character in the movie is Davis Leland, an American tycoon who happens to be a rabid art collector. He gets close to Audrey/Nicole in hopes of purchasing one of her father’s collection. In the end, he gets a piece of art, but he understands that he can never display it.

So there you have it. More of a review for How to Steal a Million, and I’m only partly sorry about it, but if I discuss more of the book I think I’ll give too much away. I really liked it, and read it very quickly. I liked the details of the art forgery and, as I said above, I really liked the relationship between Claire and Markel. Give it a shot, I think you’ll like it too.

Grade for The Art Forger: 4 stars

Fiction: “The Other Side of Midnight” by Sidney Sheldon

Other Side of MidnightAfter Up Close And Dangerous left such a ragey flavor in my mouth, I didn’t read anything for like, a week. But when I was ready to read something again, I was still in the mood for schmaltz. But I also wanted a known quantity – I really didn’t feel like taking a chance on an author I’d never read before. Fool me once, shame on you, and all that.

So instead of the library, I went to my mom’s house and borrowed a couple of her Sidney Sheldon books.

Mom has pretty much the entire Sidney Sheldon… collection, for lack of a better phrase? He didn’t really write series – his books are like, stand-alone soap opera-esque epics that cover a woman’s life and the crazy antics she and her lovers get into, and also sometimes murder. By the time I was in high school, I had pretty much read all of the John Grisham novels published thus far, as well as the Kinsey Millhone series and most of Dick Francis’s stuff. And I was looking to add … more sex to my violence, as I’m fond of saying.

And since Mom was the one who introduced me to Dick Francis and Sue Grafton and John Grisham, she really couldn’t tell me I wasn’t allowed to read Sidney Sheldon’s stuff. Besides, Nick at Nite was a thing and I was really into I Dream of Jeannie (created by Sidney Sheldon!).

By the time I was a sophomore in college, and I had read every book by Sidney Sheldon my mother owned. And here’s the thing – I could read one of those books in like, two days. It was amazing! And it wasn’t just because I didn’t have a full time job and plenty of free time, either – the plots of the books just grabbed me and wouldn’t let me put them down.

The Other Side of Midnight was Sidney Sheldon’s second novel ever published. And when I went to my parents’ house that day with a Sheldon novel in mind, that was the one I grabbed.

(And then I kept it at my apartment, and then I moved it to my new home in Auburn. A couple of weeks ago my dad was helping me with a basement window thing and when we were eating lunch, he saw that I still had The Other Side of Midnight – it was out while I was writing this review. And poor Dad – he looks at me and asks, “Are you really reading that?” And I had to say, “No, Dad, I already read it.” YOU TOLD ME TO BROADEN MY HORIZONS DAD THIS IS ALL YOUR FAULT)

So what is The Other Side of Midnight about?

It is the story of two women, both born just after World War I. For much of the book, each chapter moves between what is going on with Catherine Alexander, a young woman in Chicago, and Noelle Page, a young woman in France.

At 18, Noelle enters Paris a young, naive girl and immediately runs into Larry Douglas, on break from flying planes for the RAF. They have a wonderful weekend in Larry’s hotel room, at the end of which, he proposes. He says he’ll be back the following weekend to marry her. But – I’m sure you can guess what happens – he doesn’t return. In spite of her heartache, Noelle manages to become a model in Paris – very lucrative – and escapes much of the horrors of the Nazi occupation. However, she does manage to use her feminine wiles for good, and is able to smuggle her Jewish doctor out of Paris to save his life.

Meanwhile, Catherine has been going to college and then gets hired as a secretary for a PR firm. She makes an impression, and is practically running the place while her boss gets promoted to work with … I don’t know, Department of War or something? I’m not looking it up, I still know where the book is but it’s on the other side of the house and I’m still lazy, you guys. Anyway, she and Bill Fraser (her boss) get along very well together, and start sleeping together.

One day, Bill sends Catherine out to Hollywood to be assistant director on a film promoting the war effort. At the studio, she runs into Larry Douglas (!), and he’s such an ass to her that she assumes he’s just an actor and not actually a pilot. But when he apologizes and sets her straight, they … get married almost immediately!

Back in France, Noelle has turned her modeling career into an acting career, thanks to her manipulation of one of the premiere directors of Paris. The theater-going crowd worships her, and her best performance is the one she gives off-stage. Because she has hired a private detective and paid him handsomely – and his only job is to keep tabs on Larry Douglas. She receives reports monthly, telling her that he has been stationed back in London, or that his wife has returned to Washington for her job. And Noelle files the information away, just waiting for the best time to strike.

Because you see, all Noelle really wants – not fame, not money – is to enact vengeance on Larry Douglas.

Sidney Sheldon slowly strings the two ladies closer and closer together – after the war, Larry becomes a pilot, first for Pan Am, and then privately for a Greek tycoon named Constantin Demeris. Demeris also happens to be Noelle’s latest partner. And how do you think Larry managed to be plucked out of obscurity to be Demeris’s personal pilot?

I’m not going to ruin the ending or the rest of the plot for y’all. Unlike a soap opera, this book does have an ending. And even better, it’s a satisfying ending. But the getting to that ending – there’s plenty of drama to keep you reading.

Now, I was unable to read this in two days – unlike when I was in high school, I couldn’t spend an entire afternoon reading the book. But it was definitely a quick read. If you’re a fan of romantic suspense and haven’t tried Sidney Sheldon yet, I think now is as good a time as any.

Grade for The Other Side of Midnight: 4 stars

Fiction: “Up Close And Dangerous” by Linda Howard

up close and dangerousHoo boy.  HOO BOY. Hoooooly shit. I –

Note From The Past: Dear Alaina. You are writing this at 11:16 p.m. on Wednesday, February 21, 2018. You are writing this out of order because you have a lot of

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and you don’t want to be scratching your head in seven or eight months when you finally get around to this book in the pecking order, and wonder what the fuck it was about.

IT WAS ABOUT SOME BULLSHIT, I HOPE TO GOD I’LL REMEMBER THAT MUCH

*deep breath* Okay. Here it goes. (Don’t edit this, Future!Alaina – I mean, if there’s some grammatical shit or something, that’s fine, but – I feel like this entry needs to be pure. Pure like Dynasty.)

(Maaaaaan, I hope I still love Dynasty in seven or eight months.)

(Note From The Future: YOU ABSOLUTELY DO STILL LOVE DYNASTY IN SEVEN OR EIGHT MONTHS. Celia Machado DIED and Alexis lived in a HOSPITAL FOR TWO WEEKS and she came back to Dynasty Manor in a red crazy pantsuit AND AN OLD PERSON SCOOTER and she accidentally knocked Celia’s urn off the table AND KILLED HER AGAIN and Alaina? THAT HAPPENED IN THE FIRST TEN MINUTES OF THE SEASON PREMIERE ❤ ❤ ❤ )

So ….. hi. How are ya. Did y’all watch the Town Hall on CNN with the kids from Stoneman Douglas? I did. And it actually put me in a better mood and calmed me down from my RAGEFIRE that this fucking book put me in.

I haven’t been reading much lately, but what I have been reading has been absolute trash. (Just scroll down in the blog; you’ll see.) And the last time I was at the library, I picked up three romance novels from authors that I’ve either read before and thought I enjoyed or have heard of and wanted to try. (That’s going to be a sentence you’ll want to edit in seven or eight months.) (Hey, did I mention I took two melatonin before attempting to write this? This will be fun! or else.)

I may have read something by Linda Howard a while ago, but I can’t recall if I did, which title it was, or when I read it. So while at the library, I was in the mood for some good ol’ romantic suspense – something along the same lines as Sandra Brown’s Charade, or Catherine Coulter-ery-yet-much-better-written. I wanted some sex in my violence, and no, I’m not ashamed to admit that.

The book jacket synopsis of Up Close and Dangerous sounded intriguing, so I took it home.

A mysterious plane crash … a dangerous trek through the Idaho wilderness … a smoldering attraction … and a deadly game of cat and mouse. […]

Bailey Wingate’s scheming adult stepchildren are surprised when their father’s will leaves Bailey in control of their fortune, and war ensues. A year later, while flying from Seattle to Denver in a small plane, Bailey nearly dies herself when the engine sputters – and then falls.

Cam Justice –

Yeah, his name is Cameron Justice. Cam for short. He’s a pilot. I just – sorry. I’ll go on.

Cam Justice, her sexy Texan pilot –

[RECORD SCRATCH]

I mean, really? He has to be from Texas? Do all pilots come from Texas? I have never read a contemporary romance starring a male pilot that does not come from Texas. Just once I’d like to read something where the pilot is from, I dunno, how about Duluth?

So I thought the premise sounded interesting. Someone sabotaged their plane and wanted to kill Bailey! This will be different and in no way terrible!

Reader, I was wrong.

First off – there is entirely too much about survival tactics in this book. And yeah, I get it, plane crashed, they survived, but there are injuries, how do rich people survive in the wilderness after a plane crash? I mean, it’s not like there are literally dozens of these types of stories in media [Lost, The Mountain Between Us, Soap Operas, Air Force One (because why not?), I’m sure there are more, there’s probably been a brand new one in the seven or eight months that have passed since writing this cover of The Rant Song]!

SERIOUSLY. AT ONE POINT THIS HAPPENS –

Faced with the brutal cold of a night at high altitude, they could either live together or die separately. [p. 122]

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Fuckin’ Lost.

So here’s the other thing about this book that I think I need to get off my chest before I continue –

I did not finish reading this.

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I KNOW.

Look, I know what I said four years ago, wherein, thanks to a dear friend –

hahahaha I know the melatonin’s starting to kick in cuz I just realized two things:

  • I was going to say “thanks to a dear friend whose vehicle is still abandoned in a parking garage over a year later[*]”, but then I remembered that I actually named that friend in the review that I’m linking to up there, and maybe I shouldn’t make that link so fucking explicit? but then —
  • I did the thing anyway

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[*Note From The Future: The car was FINALLY towed in April of 2018. By my estimate, it was abandoned in the parking garage for sixteen months.]

ANYWAY. I have tried very very hard to finish reading every book I start. But I couldn’t do it with this one. The writing is scores better than anything Catherine Coulter or Laurell K. Hamilton have ever put out – and yeah, I get it, that’s not saying much, but still – but I couldn’t power through it.

Because Cam Justice is a fucking dick.

There’s this whole shit in the beginning of the book about how Bailey keeps her walls up to keep from getting emotionally messy with people. HI THAT’S A PERSONAL SHOUT OUT TO ME AND I TAKE OFFENSE TO THAT. And Cam gets concussed during the crash landing and Bailey takes care of him and it’s weird to him, because he thought she was a stuck-up bitch.

If he’d ever wondered what it would be like to be marooned with her, which he hadn’t, he’d have been certain she would be either a whiny, useless, royal pain in the ass, or a bitchy, demanding, royal pain in the ass. Either way, she’d have been a PITA. [p. 89]

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But THIRTY PAGES LATER, he decides he’s going to “make her his”. They were lying together – laying together? Y’know, fuck it, I am taking a moment and saying I don’t give a shit which verb it should be there. They were laying side by side in the shelter Bailey managed to cobble together, and they were embracing pretty much to conserve body heat so they didn’t freeze, when Cam gets a bit of an erection.

So this happens:

Bailey, though, had all the signs of being difficult. She hadn’t been embarrassed by his hard-on, but neither had she shown the least bit of interest. Because she’d been married he had to assume she wasn’t a lesbian, so she was either totally, completely uninterested in him, or it was those damn walls she’d built around herself. [p. 126]

I’mma stop you right there for a second. I’m not actually done with that paragraph, but I gotta —

WHY CAN’T IT BE BOTH? WHY CAN’T SHE BE COMPLETELY UNINTERESTED IN HIM, AND HAVE WALLS SHE’S BUILT AROUND HERSELF? WHY ARE THOSE TWO THOUGHTS MUTUALLY EXCLUSIVE, CAM?!

And, what, a woman doesn’t take an interest in small talk, and that makes her …. a lesbian?

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Fuck off, Cam Justice. Like that’s even your real name.

 So the paragraph ends like this:

Either way, he was anticipating a challenge. He almost smiled in predatory satisfaction. [p. 126]

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“Maybe it’s the concussion,” I said. “Maybe I’m inflating what was going on. Maybe this will all make sense and NOT SEEM SO RAPEY in a hundred pages.”

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Nope – kept getting worse.

This is after he realizes the plane was sabotaged – and not in the fun, Beastie Boys way.

She was completely unprepared for the way his expression changed, morphing from the cold, set anger of the past several minutes to something that was almost more alarming. His gaze grew heated, the curve of his mouth that of a predator closing in on his prey. [p. 190-191]

Let me unpack this for you. Cam Justice is able to walk around under his own power – it’s been a couple of days since the crash – and he’s just learned that a) his plane was tampered with to crash and b) Bailey Wingate or whatever her name is was the target, he was just supposed to be collateral damage. But he puts a silver lining on the crash – now that they’re stranded together, he’s found out that Bailey’s not actually a bitch, and also, she’s attractive and not wearing a bra.

From Bailey’s perspective – which is what that quoted-above paragraph is supposed to be showing us – his predatory look is almost more alarming than his “shit someone tried to kill us” look.

AND THIS IS SUPPOSED TO BE HOT, APPARENTLY.

“Alaina,” you must be thinking, “let’s be real. You’ve read some shit. You read The Maze, willingly. You’re sitting there, right now, thinking about actually reading the next book in the Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter series, and that shit is terrible. Are you seriously telling us, your three readers, that this misogyny that is actually typical for this type of novel so offended you that you stopped reading?”

Yes. Yes, I am.

Picture it – Sicily. (Wait, no.) I’m on the elliptical, and I’m reading this while I’m working out. Cam Justice has just figured out that they can use the dead battery (or whatever) to start a fire, and they’re all excited that they figured out thermodynamics. They’ve got a fire going, and then this happens:

“I’m being honorable here,” he said, slanting a glittering look at her, “and giving you fair warning. But this is probably the only time, so don’t get used to it.”

She started to ask, Fair warning about what? but was afraid she knew the answer. Maybe “afraid” was the wrong word. Alarmed, yes. Annoyed. Terrified. And most of all, excited.

“When I thought we would be rescued, I tried my damnedest not to do anything to scare you off,” he said as casually as if they were discussing the stock market. “I knew you’d be back on your own territory, able to call the shots and avoid me if I made my move too soon. But now, I know rescue isn’t coming, and I have you to myself for days, maybe as long as a couple of weeks. It’s only fair to tell you I plan to have you naked in a day or so, once we’re at a warmer altitude and we’re stronger, feeling better.” [p. 206]

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distaste
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LIKE, FOR FUCKS SAKE

REALLY

“I wanted to let you know that I’m going to have sex with you, whether you want to or not, because the plane crashed and we’re alone in the wilderness.”

FUCK RIGHT OFF WITH THIS BULLSHIT

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OH MY GOD I AM SO ANGRY ALL OVER AGAIN

“Wait, wait, Alaina – maybe she turned him down? You stopped reading, you don’t know that for sure!”

Hi, have you met me? I’m Harry Burns. I read the end of the book, motherfuckers!

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They sleep together. It’s inevitable. There’s the usual, “I don’t know if I should sleep with him” equivocation, but it comes from a place of “I’ve put up all these walls and I don’t want to be emotionally vulnerable,” and not from the “HE IS TAKING ADVANTAGE OF YOUR TRAUMA TO USE YOU SEXUALLY HOW DO YOU NOT FUCKING SEE THAT” place.

I was so angry –

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But also, I ended up leveling up my elliptical level by about 50 – I started pedaling so hard because I was SO FUCKING ANGRY, I think I burned about seventy billion calories.

I can’t remember the last time a book made me angry. I am so mad that that type of arrogance on the part of the male character was common and expected and not fucking challenged at any point in the editing process.

So. I stopped reading it. I’m taking it back to the library tomorrow, and good riddance to it. But now it’s 1 a.m., and I really should be asleep. Maybe Future!Alaina has some other thoughts, but for now, Present!Alaina is going to try and erase this book from her poor, traumatized tired brain.

Note From The Future: Future!Alaina has no other thoughts; Past!Alaina did a pretty good job, all in all.

Grade for Up Close and Dangerous: Twilight Stars

Fiction: “Shameless” by Karen Robards

ShamelessOh good, another book from the library where I didn’t take notes!

This was the second of three hardcover romance novels I picked up back in January by authors I’d heard of or at least read before. I’m pretty sure I’ve read something by Karen Robards before – it just happens to predate this blog. If I have read something by Ms. Robards, it was one of her contemporary romances – I didn’t realize she wrote historicals until I picked this one up.

I also didn’t realize until I entered the book into my Goodreads account that this is the third book in a trilogy. Luckily for me and my weird OCD-ishness about this type of thing, it didn’t really matter and I did not need to have read the other two to know what was going on.

(And let’s be real for a second here – even with other historical romance series, there’s no actual need for me to read them in order. I wholly admit I’m very, very weird about that sort of thing.)

So. This book starts with a dude sneaking into a mansion’s library while a ball is going on. The dude, Neil Severin, happens to be an assassin. And as he’s lying in wait for his target to appear, the Lady Elizabeth storms in, her latest fiance in tow, in the middle of a fight. Neil hides behind the curtain and watches Beth’s fiance try to save his reputation by assaulting Beth.

See, Beth is apparently a “shameless” flirt, in that she’s had two engagements and has broken off each. This fiance refuses to be the third castoff, so he rips her bodice and attempts to get her in a compromising position. Unfortunately for you, my readers, I can’t remember how the situation was resolved – I want to think Beth hit him over the head with a poker? But it may have been Neil or someone else, but whatever – the engagement is over, and Neil had spent a good few minutes staring at Beth’s tits.

And look – what I do remember, without having written it down, was how much of a big deal was made of Beth’s bosom. I vaguely recall that it was described as “spectacular”, I want to say, multiple times? I mean, it was very hyperbolic. At moments, it felt like the novel was written through the male gaze, and guys – that’s fine and all, tits are great, yay tits, but they aren’t the reason I read historical romance novels.

Anyway. So Neil helps Beth out of her scrape and then Beth helps Neil get out of the library, and I think Neil convinces Beth he was a thief, and I think I remember being excited that maybe, this book was a Regency-version of How To Steal a Million, one of my favorite movies of ALL. FREAKING. TIME, but goddammit, it wasn’t.

In How To Steal a Million, Audrey Hepburn’s character is the daughter of an art forger, and Peter O’Toole is the guy who’s trying to catch him, and one night he breaks into their house and lies and says he’s a burglar, and then when Audrey Hepburn needs to steal a forged statue from a museum where her father had put it on display (because it would definitely fail the authentication tests the museum puts it through), she calls Peter O’Toole and asks him to help her rob a museum, and shenanigans ensue and it’s DELIGHTFUL.

This book was not delightful.

Beth helps Neil leave the building and agrees to meet up with him in a park or something later to pay him, maybe? But when she gets to the park she gets KIDNAPPED and I think it turns out the kidnapping was orchestrated by Beth’s jilted fiance? But Neil is in the park and manages to track her down, but she had not only been kidnapped, but kidnapped to be auctioned off as a sex slave in some weird sex slave cult or something.

It’s weird, you guys.

But Neil manages to — I don’t think Neil bids for her, but he manages to find her and they try to make their escape, but Beth refuses to leave the other women she’s bonded with as prisoners, so reluctantly, Neil allows six other women to accompany him on his rescue mission, and shenanigans ensue.

On the way back to London, Neil sticks very close to Beth, because (according to Goodreads, I definitely didn’t remember this part), Neil wants to “kidnap” Beth to draw her brother-in-law out so he can kill him, because remember, Neil is an assassin! Neil is a spy and Beth’s brother-in-law pretty much burn noticed Neil, and now Neil wants to kill the brother-in-law to save his own hide.

Except he falls in love with Beth and Beth decides the best way to save everyone – her reputation, her brother-in-law, and Neil – is to marry Neil, that way no one will kill each other and also she won’t be “ruined” anymore.

The plot was kind of ludicrous, to be honest. Crazy sex cults? Like, I know they probably existed back then, but man, this plot resembled the insanest parts of Dynasty at times. And you know I love me some Dynasty, but this was even more over-the-top than that.

And I don’t know why, in being more over-the-top than Dynasty, I did not like the book. Maybe because there was no humor involved? Dynasty winks at everything – “look at how stupid this is, Fallon’s trying to sell Carrington Atlantic to the Van Kirks, except that the Van Kirks think she’s married their son, Liam [who I thought his name was Jack? Why is everyone still calling him Liam?!] so she has to pretend to be married to Liam so the sale will go through, except her “father-in-law” propositioned her and won’t sell unless she visits him in his penthouse, so to get out of that Fallon hires an escort that looks a lot like her, leaves Papa Van Kirk blindfolded in the penthouse and tags the escort in so that Fallon can fly to Atlanta to be at her best friend’s club’s opening, and then she gets a call that Papa Van Kirk died after sex with the escort.”

I don’t know why I find “Neil has to rescue Beth from being kidnapped when he was supposed to be the one to kidnap her and when he gets to where she’s been taken she’s about to be auctioned off as part of this weird sex cult, but he rescues her in time but she won’t go without like, six other girls, so he reluctantly agrees to help them escape the castle, and it involves a lot of running around in basements and catacombs and trudging through forests but they finally get away so he brings Beth to an inn where they can stay the night and he needs to figure out how to re-use her as bait to lure her brother-in-law to rescue Beth from Neil so Neil can kill her brother-in-law” less interesting than the fake Fallon sex heart attack plot I described up there. Maybe it’s a visual thing. I just …

Maybe Neil didn’t seem believable as a hard-ass assassin? And Fallon seems absolutely believable as the type of person to hire an escort to have sex with her fake father-in-law so she can seal a business deal. Maybe that’s the reason.

I don’t know. It didn’t suck? I mean, I think I read it fairly quickly, overall. The plot and characters were more memorable than the ones in Otherwise Engaged, by a long shot, but this is still not a book I think I’d read again.

Grade for Shameless: 1 star

Fiction: “Otherwise Engaged” by Amanda Quick

otherwise engagedIn January, I went to the Library and left with about six books – three of which were hardcover romance novels by authors I’ve either read before, or seen my mother read, so I figured they were pretty good. Also, since they were hardcover, their covers weren’t as racy as what I usually get from the Wal-Mart Book Aisle, and therefore, appropriate to read at work on my lunch break.

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I mean, look at that cover – it’s so demure, compared to other things I could be reading. I mean, could you imagine Janice From Accounting’s face when she sees me reading, oh, I don’t know – how about Getting Off, a pulp novel by Lawrence Block? Something tells me that that cover will actually make her give a fuuuck.

So this was my first Amanda Quick novel. Amanda Quick is one of the pen names of Jayne Ann Krentz, and so this was also my first Jayne Ann Krentz novel. And I … I was sorely disappointed. And I’m not sure how that’s possible, considering my only expectation for the book was that the plotline and characters would keep me interested in reading towards its conclusion.

Eight-ish months later, and I know that I didn’t really like it. Sadly, I never took down any notes (and I could swear that I had at least taken some pictures of quotes, but apparently not), so I’m gonna crib from GoodReads a lot.

The star of this novel is Miss Amity Doncaster, a single lady who writes about travel for a London newspaper. At the beginning of the novel, she is somewhere in the West Indies, and comes across Benedict Stanbridge in a darkened alley. But don’t worry, he’d just been shot, so he’s not a threat. She manages to get him back on board their cruise ship (I guess they had those in the 1890s?) and nurses him back to health. Except a good portion of that nursing occurs in Benedict’s stateroom, and though no hanky-panky occurs, Amity’s reputation does suffer slightly on her return to London.

Benedict disembarks in New York and then travels to California, where he’s researching … something. I think this MacGuffin may be an automatic rifle of some sort? I remember it’s some form of advanced weaponry. But whatever – he doesn’t write to her, so she starts pouting and then moves on with her life.

… Right into a carriage that is then hijacked by a serial killer known as The Bridegroom! Look, I can’t remember the motivation behind why he attacked Amity – I think it was something about how it looked like she rejected Benedict and he was avenging the rights of Man or whatever – it doesn’t matter. All you need to know is a) she defended herself adequately, because the fan that she always carries around is actually a tessen, which is a Japanese war fan, and b) Benedict ends up hearing about her abduction and races to her aid.

And his aid is: let’s pretend to be engaged! That will save your reputation and I’ll be able to protect you from any other strangers who may want to attack you!

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But her sister, Penny, convinces her that it’s a necessary step, so she goes along with it.

And of course, all the parties involved want to figure out who the Bridegroom is, and also, Benedict is a spy for the War Office or something and he’s trying to figure out who may have stolen a notebook or whatever, and so he and Amity and this police detective whose name escapes me and Amity’s sister Penny all become detectives and it’s all whatever and also boring and repetitive.

Because when someone comes up with a great idea, everyone else has to comment on its brilliance. “Oh, brilliant Penny!” “Yes indeed, Miss Doncaster, very brilliant indeed!” and so you have to listen to each character go in a Round Robin until the compliments are over, and then they begin again with the next brilliant idea another character has.

I’m not sure what else I can say about this book at this point. I mean, the characters were all fairly bland? When an author gives every character the same verbal tic, no character sounds distinct enough to stand out. It’s a romance novel – of course the “fake engaged” trope is going to work out in the hero/heroine’s favor! (And in this instance, you end up with a double happy ending, because Penny and the detective also fall in love and get together before the end of the novel.)

It was very … blah. Nondescript. There was never any urgency to the plot, or any weight given to the characters and their wants. Overall, I am very glad I did not pay for this book, as I would definitely be asking for a refund.

The one star grade is for the use of a Japanese war fan as a weapon – that was a new thing for me.

Grade for Otherwise Engaged: 1 star