Fiction: “The Invisible Library” by Genevieve Cogman

invisible libraryI picked this up from the library because … because I don’t know why. Look, I was doing that thing where I walked through the aisles with my head tilted and the spine of this book caught my eye. It had the word “library” in the title, I like books, and the description on the back of it sounded interesting – kind of a mix of Doctor Who and The Eyre Affair with some mystery thrown in. Whatever, I’m not always deep about shit.

So in the universe of The Invisible Library, there is a Library. And it is invisible. I mean, kind of. The people who work at the Library – y’know, Librarians – they can see the Library. It’s invisible to you and I, because we aren’t Librarians.

The Library is always written with a capital L. It exists outside of time or space, and acts as a hub between worlds – or as the Librarians call them, “alternates.” Librarians travel throughout the alternates to bring copies of books native to those alternates to be stored in the Library.

“Then what is the purpose of the Library?” Vale asked.

“To save books,” Irene said firmly. The words were so automatic that she didn’t even need to think about them. She’d spent all her life with the idea. But the words had never sounded hollow to her before. She made herself focus on the familiar justification. “To save created works. In time, if their original alternate loses them, we can give them back copies, so that they aren’t lost. And in the meantime, the Library exists and endures.” [p. 184]

Irene is our protagonist. She is a Junior-level Librarian; a field agent, if you will, who travels to alternates to retrieve books. In between her assignments, she is able to devote her time to research … things. Write dissertations? I don’t know, I didn’t write that part down in my notes. But Irene longs for the day when she doesn’t have to travel and can just stay in her office and study.

Today – er, the start of the book – is not that day.

Almost immediately upon her return from an alternate, she is assigned another job – and this time, she has a new recruit to take with her. Mentoring is an essential responsibility for Librarians, and Irene has been dragging her feet on taking a recruit on. Irene’s intern (I don’t care or recall if that’s the actual term used, but that’s the one I’m going with) is Kai.

Kai is very pretty.

He had the sort of beauty that instantly shifted him from a possible romance object to an absolute impossibility. Nobody got to spend time with people who looked like that outside the front pages of newspapers and glossy magazines. His skin was so pale that she could see blue veins at his wrists and throat. And his hair was a shade of black that looked almost steely blue in the dim lights, braided down the back of his neck. His eyebrows were the same shade, like lines of ink on his face, and his cheekbones could have been used to cut diamonds, let alone cheese. [p. 23]

Sure. Okay.

At first, Kai seems sullen and surly. But as he works with Irene, we see that he uses his intensity to mask a desire to learn. He’s also very respectful to Irene, which I thought was a nice character trait. I mean, you read a few young adult-ish novels where the Sullen Teen Boy is just a bit of a bitca to everyone, and when one of them isn’t, it’s noticeable.

Anyway. Their assignment takes them to a steampunk-esque alternate for Victorian London, where they meet up with Peregrine Vale, an analogue for Sherlock Holmes. A rare edition of Grimm’s Fairy Tales has gone missing, and they need to get it back.

The owner of the Grimm, Lord Wyndham, has died. He was also a vampire. I don’t recall if it’s important that Wyndham was a vampire; I only wrote down that he was a vampire. So I’m mentioning it. His rival (?), Lord Silver, is a suspect – oh, maybe it’s because vampires and the Fae are mortal enemies? Oh, shit, right – so, Lord Silver is a Fae. He’s also the ambassador to Lichtenstein.

jon hamm nod

Irene runs into Lord Silver while investigating the crime scene. “But Alaina,” you cry, “Irene’s a Librarian! Why is she working the crime scene?”

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Irene is almost seduced by Lord Silver – in that he Fae’s her into being attracted to him – but she keeps her cool. She uses his seduction to score an invitation to the Ambassador’s Ball where she’ll be able to do more investigating. (I cannot remember the reason why they needed to get to the Ball, but it doesn’t really matter.) While there, the Iron Brotherhood – a cult or something who worship mechanical stuff and the sworn enemy of the Fae and also Lichtenstein – attack the Ball with robot crocodiles.

That was the other reason I picked up the book – I’m pretty sure the back of the book mentioned mechanical crocodiles or something.

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ANYWAY. So Irene, Kai, and their new friend Peregrine Vale escape the crocodile ball in a carriage. BUT! Their carriage gets taken over by Alberich, a rogue Librarian who is ALSO searching for the missing Grimm volume! AND! Alberich drives the carriage right into the icy cold river and uses MAGIC (which I’ll explain in a minute) to make the carriage inescapable, ensuring Team Library will drown!

But apparently Kai is actually a dragon and is able to tell the water not to drown them so they survive.

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Now she was sure what Kai really was. A river spirit might have changed himself to water to save them, and a nature spirit of some other type might have cajoled or persuaded the river to help them, but only one sort of being would give orders to a river.

Kai was a dragon. What the hell was she supposed to do about that? [p. 176-177]

Um, could you explain what that meant?

Here’s my biggest complaint about this book: nothing is ever really explained. We begin the book as Irene is returning from her assignment. Before we can take a breath to learn about this strange new world, we’re moved right into the next assignment with Kai. But Kai already has a basis of knowledge about this world, so no explanations are necessary from Irene. BUT WE THE READERS ARE NOT KAI! Us readers are asked to take A LOT on faith.

Like, the magic stuff. Librarians can speak the Language – commands uttered with a Capital Letter which controls the alternate world. So for instance, if a Librarian is in an alternate and there’s a locked door but they don’t have the key, a Librarian can use the Language to order That Specific Door to Open. There aren’t any spells or magic words – it’s just capital letters.

But apparently Kai didn’t use the Language to save them in the river – he just dropped his human form (?) to become a dragon (??) to tell the river (?!?) to not drown them, and then turned back into human (?*!?), BUT WE NEVER SEE THE DRAGON THING AGAIN OR LEARN WHY IT’S APPARENTLY A BIG DEAL.

Another example is the whole Bradamant thing. Bradamant is another Librarian, and she was Irene’s mentor when Irene was an intern or trainee or whatever. Bradamant is the type of mentor to praise you when no one else is looking, and then when you do a great job out in the field, Bradamant will take credit for everything you do and then highlight every mistake you made. So in short, she’s a middle manager.

But there’s so much tension between Bradamant and Irene! And apparently there was an Incident, but the only description you get of the Incident (and that’s my capitalization, not the book’s) comes from Bradamant, who we’ve already determined to be unreliable.

“We were trying to locate a book which had been stolen by a notorious thief. Everyone knew who she was. The best police officers in the city were watching her every move and still they couldn’t catch her. And when Irene and I were trying to investigate, well …” [Bradamant] smiled again, tolerantly. “The lady in question was very charming. And it isn’t as if I was in any significant danger while Irene was so, shall we say, “preoccupied” with her. And I managed to find the book, so all’s well that ends well.”

Irene looked down at her knees and bit her tongue. It hadn’t been like that at all, but that was all the story that anyone would know now. [p. 223-224]

BUT WHAT WAS IT LIKE, IRENE?! It sounds like Irene merely tried to talk to the lady!thief and convince her to not steal anymore, but that is not clear! Why can’t you say the thing?

If you want to read a much more in-depth review, please check out the comments on the book over on Goodreads, Tinka’s especially.

When I was done with the book, it almost felt like the characters were sharks – if they stopped moving through the action, they would die. They almost had an aversion to sitting down and explaining what was going on. And with such a fantastical story as this, the story really needed to be able to take those moments and get everyone on the same page.

I mean they had mechanical crocodiles in this book and they were completely wasted.

Grade for The Invisible Library: 1 star

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Fiction: “The Bookseller” by Mark Pryor

booksellerAnother library book, but hey – I took pretty good notes for this one!

The Bookseller is the first of a series staring Hugo Marston, a former FBI agent who now operates as the head of security for the U.S. Embassy in Paris. I had never heard of this series, but when the Yarmouth Library had the first book in a series, I felt obligated to check it out, because it was such a rare occurrence.

The novel starts with Hugo on a mandatory vacation. Not because he’s in trouble – but because he’s worked so much that he hasn’t taken a vacation in like, years, and the Ambassador feels like he should take a week off.

So Hugo takes a walk and goes to see his friend, Max Koch, an elderly bouquiniste – a book seller. The bouquinistes line one of the streets by the Seine, selling books and other touristy things. Hugo and Max have become friendly over the years. On this day, Max sells Hugo two books – one is a 1st edition Agatha Christie, and the second is another 1st edition, this one of “On War” by I Can’t Remember And Didn’t Write It Down.

When Hugo returns with the money to pay Max for his books, Max gets kidnapped right in front of him – kind of. I mean, the dudes don’t throw Max into a burlap sack and toss him over their shoulder and walk away, but they clearly coerce Max into leaving with them, thanks to the gun pointed at Max’s back. Hugo calls the police, but the responding officer, Capitaine Garcia, tries to make Hugo think that maybe Max and the other dudes were just old friends and decided to walk away like normal people. Garcia definitely doesn’t care what happened.

Which makes Hugo investigate on his own.

He starts by talking with some of the other bouquinistes. He learns that a lot of bouquinistes have retired or disappeared in recent months. That leads him to Gravois, the Head of the Union of Bouqinistes. He is … less than helpful, and it actually makes Hugo wonder if there’s something fishy about him.

Hugo even calls his former Quanitco buddy Tom, who has recently retired from the CIA (but still has access to a lot of CIA toys). Tom even comes out to Paris to help Hugo with the “case”, just for funsies.

One night, Hugo is approached at a bar by a pretty investigative journalist and police reporter, Claudia Roux. She thinks he might have some insight to the drug trade that’s been picking up, but he reassures her that he’s not involved in that. They begin using each other – he for her access to the police department, she for his access to high officials, and each other for sex.

Meanwhile, Hugo has sold the second book he purchased from Max at auction, and it sold for an extraordinary sum. Right after that, Hugo is invited to a fancy dinner party put on by Gérard Roussillon. Hugo assumes it’s because Gérard was the buyer of the book. But when he arrives at the house, Claudia (!) answers the door, and he learns that Gérard is Claudia’s father, and he wants to meet Hugo to see what kind of man he is.

All of these plot points eventually converge, with additional things I haven’t even mentioned. For instance, Max was a Nazi hunter! And during the war, Nazis would use books to send messages and orders to and from themselves and their collaborators. Gérard’s father was a Nazi collaborator, and he was using the Union of Bouqinistes to try and find some books that his father used to receive messages from his superiors. The Head of the Union of Bouquinistes is actually a drug lord, which gets Claudia closer to the answers for her story.

I think I’m going to cut my synopsis off there, leaving a few points unsaid (go me!), because while the plot was occasionally a bit slow, I felt it was a lot better paced than … whatever book it was I read last year where I said that Moe did it. GOD, I can’t even remember the title of that book, it was so boring!

A couple of quotes/scenes I really liked:

Hugo’s apartment gets broken into, and Tom shows up but gets his gun stolen by one of the assailants.

[Hugo] watched as the man’s finger crept tighter around the trigger.

“Tom. No!”

Tom ignored him. He took another step toward the thug, the barrel of his own gun two feet away from his chest. Hugo watched in slow motion as Tom took the final steps toward the intruder, who hesitated barely a second before he squeezed the trigger, once, twice.

No sound.

Tom reached out and wrapped his hand around the gun, twisting it up and out, wrenching it from the man’s grasp. In less than a second, Tom had the barrel pressed to the stubble of the man’s chin.

“You just met the latest in CIA smart technology, fuckhead,” Tom said. He kneed the man between the legs. “Don’t you just love having your own set of fingerprints?” [p. 167]

WHAT ABOUT A PALM PRINT

goddamn I love Skyfall I haven’t watched it in so long I SHOULD REMEDY THAT

And then there’s THIS, which makes me wonder if a certain friend of mine who abandoned his car in a parking garage for approximately 16 months should read this book:

“Start with the assumption that no one lies unless they have to. Or, put another way, if you lie, you have a reason to do so.”

“Liars have something to hide. You’re a genius.”

“Bear with me,” Hugo said. “My experience has always been that the lies about small stuff, why you wear a watch or got a parking ticket, those are the ones that trip you up. Trouble is, people don’t spot them because no one expects you to lie about those things.” [p. 247-248]

Grade for The Bookseller: 2 stars

Non-Fiction: “The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt” by Edmund Morris

rise of teddyEnjoy this review, kids – it’s gonna be short!

(Or don’t enjoy this review because I show a lot about my political leanings in here. Feel free to click the next link below, read the real review of this book I did back in 2011, and then come back when I’ve read my next silly little romance novel. Whatever. I don’t really care.)

I’ve read this book before. This book kicked off my attempt to read something about American History every April. KEY WORD: “attempt.” I think we all know how great I’ve been about keeping to deadlines and routines and such.

I decided to re-read the book this past spring because … because! HAVE YOU BEEN ALIVE THIS YEAR?! If so, good for you! And while I am aware that Teddy Roosevelt can be very problematic(*), I would give ANYTHING to have someone(**) like Teddy Roosevelt leading the government again.

(*) One thing I did learn in this re-read was that Teddy was very much a nationalist – one of the first times I can recall seeing someone in politics wrap patriotism up in a nationalist tone. That I do not like about Teddy Roosevelt.

(**) As long as that someone is a Democrat and under the age of 50, and preferably, not a straight white man. I WILL NOT VOTE FOR ANY WHITE MAN OVER THE AGE OF 50 IN THE PRIMARY, I DON’T GIVE A FUCK.

OKAY, SO ANYWAY. I re-read this book back in April. And I know I had dogeared all sorts of quotes that were different from what I picked out the last time, and I was looking forward to sharing new aspects of this president that I actually admired (for the most part).

BUT THEN – *sigh*

At one point, I was reading this at work and dropped the book and when I went to pick it up it had apparently got caught under the leg of the chair I was sitting in? And this happened:

(PS that Twitter thread is very awful and interesting, in that, while putting my broken copy of The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt away in my bookcase, I discovered that I had accidentally purchased a book written by a Fox and Friends host who was trying to pretend that he was a historical scholar and I FELT UNCLEAN)

So because I’m a terrible person (and hadn’t bought a house yet and could spend money a little more willy-nilly-ey), I ordered another copy of The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt.

Then, I moved in September. And I moved both editions of this book.

(I also learned I had two copies of Colonel Roosevelt, the third book in Edmund Morris’s series.)

In late October or early November, my office had a book sale to support our United Way campaign. And by that point, I had found a few other books I wanted to get rid of (WHY did I have a copy of the first Vampire Diaries book? I mean, I *know* why, Vampire Diaries was my first Dynasty) (also YES I got rid of that Fox and Friends book SO QUICK), so one day, I grabbed them – including one of the copies of The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt and donated them to the book sale.

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Yeah. You know where this is headed.

I got rid of the copy that had my dogears and quotes noted.

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So thank you for indulging me for 600 words, but I truly have nothing further to add to my review of The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt.

Have a nice day.

Fiction: “Dancing for Degas” by Kathryn Wagner

dancing for degasI was actually reading this book in the middle of March, but left it behind when I went to Florida. I once left a library book at a friend’s house in Massachusetts, and since then, I’ve never dared to bring a library book with me anywhere but my house and maybe the gym. But I was able to finish it when I returned, and I think I didn’t even have any overdue fees? Yay me possibly?

I found this in the library after reading The Art Forger, and I liked the idea of reading a book about Degas after reading another book about Degas. Sadly for me, this book was more about ballerinas and less about Degas than advertised.

The narrator of the book is Alexandrie, a daughter of a poor farming family in France. Her mother pushes her to work towards her dream of being a ballerina, but not out of some desire for the art; no, ballerinas were a stepping stone to being a rich man’s mistress, and if Alexandrie can achieve that goal, then she could send all the riches back to her poor farming family. In addition to the ballet lessons, Alexandrie’s mother sends her to study with M. Anton, a librarian or retired schoolteacher or something, so she can be an educated ballerina.

“I’m training to be a ballerina, not a society woman,” I protested. “Why can’t I concentrate on dancing and learn to read and write just a little? I doubt anyone expects me to be a scholar when I arrive. And if a gentleman was interested in marrying me, he would know I don’t come from a wealthy family and would be drawn to me because he had seen me dance. That’s where my passion is, and that’s what is going to attract my husband!”

“Once you arrive in Paris, you’ll find that you’ll need more than dancing if you are to get ahead,” my mother said firmly. She spoke again about how everything depended on me finding security for my family. “I need you to be a more logical thinker and to make wiser choices than I did, Alexandrie. At the very least it will scare off men who think they can get by on charm alone.” [p. 39]

Alexandrie does indeed pass her audition and joins the company of the Paris Opera Ballet. But it’s not just dancing.

So … here’s the thing. It’s not just Alexandrie’s mother who sees ballerina-ing as a stepping stone to getting married or becoming a rich dude’s mistress. It’s the entire ballerina system. Apparently, if a ballerina is still in the company at the age of 25, she must “work the Green Room”, which is code for “forced prostitution”. If a ballerina meets someone before she turns 25, and she gets married or becomes a mistress, she stops being a ballerina.

The young ballerinas are introduced to patrons in hopes of their being snatched up as mistresses. While there, she meets Edgar Degas, a patron of the Ballet who attends rehearsals and sketches the ballerinas in their poses. She is intrigued by him, and befriends him. Her roommate, Nicole, hears – well, not wedding bells, but mistress bells? Are mistress bells a thing?

I love the idea of our performances being captured on Monsieur Degas’ canvases for eternity – but inclinations, I do not have for him. I don’t want to explain to her that you can be interested in someone without wanting to become involved with them. [p. 114]

Alexandrie is drawn to Edgar, and as the story continues, she becomes his primary model for his sketches that eventually lead to his series of ballet dancer paintings. But meanwhile she’s pursuing a relationship with one of the younger rich dudes, and when he offers to set her up in a mistress-ship, she rejects it.

And then in the middle of the book France goes to war (don’t ask me which war – whatever war France fought in the 1880s or whenever) so the narrative of the book drops into letters and diary entries.

There’s a lot of drama in the book between the different ballerinas: who’s sleeping with who, who’s not being selected for which part, and the different ways women are just generally awful to each other (we try to rise above it, but we all know that women can be the worst).

And here’s the thing – if this book were about ballerinas, I might be into that type of drama. If I had picked up the book thinking, “Okay, this is going to be like that book I read about the opera star, and it’s going to be about how to make it in the ballet opera or whatever it’s called,” then I may have been okay with how the plot turned out. But if I pick up a book thinking, “This is going to be about Edward Degas and how he painted ballerinas and maybe there’s some other stuff going on” only to find out “Edward Degas is not the star of this book, a whiny teenaged ballerina mean girl is”, I’m gonna have a bad time.

I don’t know if I’m going to recommend this book. I’m giving it 1.5 stars – it didn’t suck; I didn’t want to throw it across the room or rant about it. It wasn’t the worst thing I’ve read in a while. It gets 1.5 stars because I wasn’t really angry at it; I was just disappointed.

I'm not madjust disappointed gifthat's worse

You’re right, Michael – it is worse.

Grade for Dancing for Degas: 1.5 stars

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

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 –

20180326_130620 wtf

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