Fiction: “Publish and Perish” by James Hynes

Publish PerishI first read this book years ago – like, I was still living with my parents, “years ago”. I found it at the library, and I think the only reason I picked it up was because I had heard good reviews of Mr. Hynes’s next book, Kings of Infinite Space (which I still have yet to read – that’s been on my bookshelf for decades now). The subtitle of this book is “Three Tales of Tenure and Terror”, and y’all should know by now that I have a … different relationship with the horror genre.

Look, I like vampires. Buffy, The Vampire Diaries, Dracula – hell,

OKAY, SO, as I was writing that paragraph, a FUCKING HUGE SPIDER just FUCKING DROPPED from the ceiling. Like, “hey, y’all, I see you’re writing about horror, GET A LOAD OF ME” and I may have flipped out a wee little bit. BECAUSE I DON’T REALLY LIKE SCARY THINGS.

Here are the aspects of horror I enjoy: Vampire-related, to a point. Buffy and Dracula will always remain top spots in my heart, even if upon a second read I found Dracula to be boring. I … no longer know how I feel about the Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter series. I remember enjoying them at some point, but I haven’t enjoyed one since … ever, according to my blog history. I liked the Sookie Stackhouse series – until I stopped reading it. Although I am in the middle of getting caught up with True Blood right now. (What? Seasons 1-6 are included with Amazon Prime, so why the hell not? If Lifetime’s UnReal isn’t coming back until 2018, what other options for summer cheese do I have? TNT’s Will? Oh dudes – that’s a story for another time.)

Are vampires even considered “horror” anymore? If someone said, “Hey, there’s a new horror movie playing,” my first thought is, “how many people get slashed by things hiding under beds and shit?” Because that’s the thing I hate. I don’t like the idea of people walking into rooms and having blood dripping down the walls. I don’t like slasher films. You will never, ever, get me to watch Saw or Paranormal Activity.

Now, psychological horror – like Hannibal / Silence of the Lambs, or Psycho – those I’ll watch. And if people go back to making goofy horror movies (like The Grudge, or Final Destination II), I may watch one. On Redbox.

I’m also a terrible Mainer, in that I’ve only read one Stephen King novel. It was The Dead Zone, and the only reason I even read it way back when was because Sean Patrick Flanery was playing the bad guy in the USA series way back when, and Sean Patrick Flanery played my favorite Boondock Saint. (I’m going to try The Dark Tower – soon. Maybe.)

So it’s really against my nature to pick up a book in the horror genre. It’s also against my nature – at least, I think – to enjoy it. And it’s really against my nature to enjoy it so much to want to read it again. I think it helps that the three stories in this book aren’t gory or slasher-ey, but more along the lines of WTF.

First up is “Queen of the Jungle”, which stars Paul and Elizabeth, two professors attempting to get tenure, and their cat, Charlotte. Paul and Elizabeth live in Bluff City, Iowa, and Elizabeth lives during the week in Chicago where she’s on a tenure track. When Elizabeth’s away, Paul definitely plays with his mistress, Kym, one of his students. Paul’s a stereotypical adulterous douche: he’s careful enough to make sure Elizabeth doesn’t find out, but he doesn’t care about her feelings enough to stop. He’s also fairly jealous of Elizabeth’s tenure track, as he’s been struggling to get his first thesis published. When Elizabeth tells him that her boss is interested in reading Paul’s research, which could lead to his own tenure-track position at the University of Chicago, Paul is ecstatic, and spends the week frantically fucking Kym and writing down whatever he could.

Meanwhile, Charlotte may or may not be attempting to sabotage Paul. She starts by peeing in Kym’s shoes every time she visits. Or taking Kym’s panties and hiding them, then dragging them out just before Elizabeth gets home. Paul even accuses Charlotte – a cat, remember – of unplugging his computer while he and Kym were out of the room, causing all of his day’s work to be erased.

I should warn cat lovers: Paul is progressively meaner and abusive to Charlotte. And there’s a moment before the climax of the story where it looks as if he kills the cat. (Note, I said looks – the horrific element comes in and allows you, the reader, to determine that for yourself.) And if reading my blurb about it causes you to not pick up the book, well, I can’t say as I blame you. But I’d also like to point out that the next two stories (which I’ll also briefly recap) do not have any harm come to any other animals, so you may want to consider giving the other two stories a chance.

“99” is the middle story, which has as its focus Gregory, a disgraced American anthropology professor vacationing-slash-forced-sabbatical-ing in southern England. The title of the story is taken from the following joke Gregory’s friend Martin tells him:

“A man is jumping up and down on a manhole cover. As he jumps, he’s shouting, ‘Ninety-eight, ninety-eight, ninety-eight…’ Now, another chap comes along and says, ‘What on earth are you doing?’ The first man keeps jumping up and down on the manhole cover, and he says, ‘Ninety-eight … it’s wonderful fun … ninety-eight … you really should try it … ninety-eight…’

“So the second man says, ‘Really? What’s fun about it?’

“And the first man says, ‘Ninety-eight … try it and see … ninety-eight …’

“’All right then,’ says the second man, ‘step aside.’

“So the first man jumps aside, and the second chap steps onto the manhole cover and starts jumping up and down, shouting out, ‘Ninety-eight, ninety-eight, ninety-eight …’”

“I get the picture,” Gregory said. Martin had little sense of pacing, an unfortunate lack in a documentary producer.

“Of course you do.” Martin smiled. “So the first man says, ‘Jump higher.’

“’Like this?’ says the second man, crying, ‘Ninety-eight, ninety-eight, ninety-eight,’ and jumping as high as he can. And as he jumps higher, the first man reaches under him, pulls away the manhole cover, and down falls the second chap into the hole. Then the first fellow puts the manhole cover back over the hole, and starts jumping up and down saying, ‘Ninety-nine, ninety-nine …’” [p. 101-102]

Gregory extends his sabbatical to a small town near Stonehenge named Silbury, which is known for crop circles and other strange phenomena. When he visits the local pub, there’s a wall of photographs of painted people surrounded by local villagers, dating back to the late 1800s. It’s attributed to a local festival, the Seven Sisters – a tradition. Without divulging spoilers, the joke and the festival are connected.

The last story, “Casting the Runes,” stars Virginia, an adjunct professor at a Texas university one paper away from being granted tenure. Unfortunately, her advisor, Victor Karswell, has other ideas – he wants to take her paper and publish it under his own name. And it’s not the first time he’s done this with other students. Virginia refuses and grabs her paper from his hands. When she gets home, she finds small runes written on the side of the last page. And then weird stuff happens.

What I like about this genre of horror is that the horrific aspects could be explained by coincidence or human nature; or, there actually could be a supernatural element behind them. We the reader are allowed to make that decision for ourselves, based on what we believe. If you don’t believe in any supernatural stuff at all, then these tales would fall squarely in the center of psychological terror. If you think maybe there’s something to pagan beliefs, you’ll probably come to a different conclusion.

I like these stories. They’re well-written, and allow the reader to come to their own conclusions. I’ve read a few books lately (to-be-reviewed) where the author tells you exactly what happens and there’s no doubt allowed, and I don’t enjoy those as much. If this type of genre intrigues you, I’d say go ahead and pick up the book. And feel free to skip the first story.

Grade for Publish and Perish: 4 stars

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Fiction: “The Killing Dance” by Laurell K. Hamilton

Killing DanceI have had this draft saved in my draft folder for approximately ten days. That is how little I want to review it. But my backlog is starting to push double digits, and that’s a thing that cannot stand. So – into the fray I must go.

Because seriously – I am starting to wonder why I continue to read this series. I can officially say: With The Killing Dance, Ms. Hamilton is starting to turn her corner into supernatural erotica, and I am not looking forward to the journey down that road.

So — *pfft.*  Okay. Anita returned from Branson, Missouri (at the conclusion of Bloody Bones), and she is continuing to date both Richard the Shapeshifter and Jean-Claude the Master Vampire. Why is she dating both of them? Because Jean-Claude is making her.

No, really.

See, Anita thought she was falling in love with Richard a couple of books ago — even after she found out he was a shapeshifter. (I keep wanting to call him a werewolf, but I’m 90% sure the term Ms. Hamilton uses is “shapeshifter.” I say “90% sure” because I’m not really sure, but I also can’t be arsed to look it up, even though the book is literally three inches away from my knee right now.) And Jean-Claude has always lurrved Anita, even though she’s a vampire hunter and he’s — well, a vampire. Anita finally admitted recently – maybe as recent as this book, I’m not sure if she mentioned it in previous books, and again: not looking it up – that she is attracted to Jean-Claude sexually. At the beginning of the series, Anita was able to recognize Jean-Claude’s physical beauty, much like I am able to recognize the beauty of, say, Channing Tatum, and not have a single iota of sexual attraction related to seeing his face.

Congratulations, ladies – he does absolutely nothing for me. He’s very pretty, but he’s all yours.

Also, and the real reason why she’s dating both Richard and Jean-Claude: Jean-Claude told her he would kill Richard if she didn’t. Because Jean-Claude sees Anita’s willingness to date “one of the monsters” (i.e., Richard) as a slim chance that she could look past Jean-Claude’s own monster-dom and find her way to dating him. So he has ultimatum’d her into dating both of them, until she can make up her mind as to which one she prefers.

Because there is absolutely no way in heaven or hell that that could end badly.

So in The Killing Dance, Anita is enjoying her time spent with both Richard and Jean-Claude, and she is finding it harder and harder to resist either one of them. But before we dig even deeper into this stupid triangle, the plot must be dealt with.

Anita starts the book by having a meeting with Jean-Claude, another old-as-fuck vampire, and the old-as-fuck vampire’s human servant. The old-as-fuck vampire gave up drinking human blood as a way to try and keep his lady love from leaving him, but all it left him with is a disgusting, decaying body. Because apparently, switching from human to animal blood gives vampires leprosy? And to be clear, it’s not really leprosy – it makes entire limbs rot off and slime away. When Anita meets the old-as-fuck vampire, he’s levitating because he doesn’t have any legs. Because of the Slime Leprosy. It’s really gross.

And I don’t know about this whole “animal blood turns vampires into Slime Lepers” thing; this information has never been brought up before. And also, that’s not how it happens on The Vampire Diaries. Or Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Although if it were true, it would really turn Twilight into something a bit more interesting.

I mean, what happens to Edward’s sparkles when he’s overcome with Slime Leprosy?

Speaking of Edward, this is a not-so-great segueway into talking about Anita’s only friend, Edward the Bounty Hunter. Edward the Bounty Hunter calls Anita when she’s going out with Richard to let her know that someone has put a $500,000 price on her head, and she’s got to survive the next 24 hours without being assassinated. But she has no idea who would want to kill her, besides the usual suspects, and the usual suspects don’t have the Disposable Boat kind of money. So, she’s at a loss. And what does she do? Not leave town, that’s for fucking sure!

Because Richard is having a crisis with his pack! There are these two members, Marcus and Raina, and they like filming shapeshifter porn, which is just as out there as you can probably imagine it to be. It is not pretty, it is extremely violent, it is not sponsored by Pornhub. (Oh god, I hope my mentioning Pornhub won’t bring people seeking supernatural porn to my blog … because they are going to be horrifically disappointed.)

So on their date, Richard gets called out to the porn shoot to rescue one of his pack members who had been shanghaied into appearing in this film against his will, and Anita has to tag along because she’s the first-person narrator and she doesn’t think it’s a big deal if she shows her face in public with a bounty on her head. While rescuing the meek shapeshifter, Anita displays dominance by vowing to protect … Whatshisname (never looking it up), and now Richard has a power problem in addition to the porn problem.

And Anita still has to go on her date with Jean-Claude the next night, because that’s how everything fucking works. So they go to the opening of Jean-Claude’s new club, SomewheresVille, and Anita lets her guard down for a minute and almost gets iced in the ladies’ room.

So now she’s forced to stay in Jean-Claude’s apartments under the Circus of the Damned until she can accompany Richard to the Killing Dance, where he is finally going to attempt to kill Marcus, the leader of the pack, after many, many, many discussions with Anita and how relatively easy it is for Anita to kill people, versus Richard’s fight for life. But Richard, Jean-Claude and Anita all join forces and are able to share their respective powers between each other, but in the end Anita can’t really face Richard as he shapeshifts, and she goes back to Jean-Claude’s apartment to clean up, and she and Jean-Claude have sex, and so she breaks up with Richard. But then she gets kidnapped by Raina and the rogue members of Marcus’s pack, and it turns out that her assassination attempt was orchestrated by the female human servant of the Old-As-Fuck Vampire (remember him? of the Slime Leprosy?), and it was just an attempt to conquer Jean-Claude’s hold on the City.

So that’s it. That’s the plot. Just as jumbled as they’ve been since at least Circus of the Damned, and it’s starting to wear on me. Not enough to make me stop reading them, mind you; look, at some point, I bought the majority of the novels, so since I own ’em, I’m going to read ’em.

And if I know me like I think I know me, I’ll pull out the next title in the series next January. I’m not sure why I always end up returning to this series in January; maybe it’s because January is already so fucking miserable, I might as well just add an acid-dipped cherry to the shit sundae that is January in Maine by reading the next Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter novel.

So, that’s a thing that’ll be happening next year.

Grade for The Killing Dance: 1 star

 

Fiction: “Bloody Bones” by Laurell K. Hamilton

Bloody BonesHappy New Year! … One month late, because that’s how I roll. But let’s all forget about my tardiness, roll up our sleeves, and gargle with some warm carbonated water, because it’s time for … THE RANT SONG

*deep breath*

Anita Blake’s fifth outing in her own series takes her out of St. Louis and into the ‘burbs of Branson (which I will always believe is like “If Ned Flanders ran Las Vegas”) for a client who wants her to raise a cemetery’s worth of three-hundred-year-old zombies. As Anita has reluctantly acknowledged her necromancy powers (because Anita does everything reluctantly), she agrees to look at the site and see if she can do it, but she doesn’t agree to take the job. So she and her apprentice Larry take a helicopter ride out to the Branson Burbs and the guy who wants her to raise the zombies wants to raze the cemetery and turn it into a condo complex (or something; look, I read it a month ago and I never really pay too much attention to these books as it is) and the ownership of the land is being contested. Developer Guy says he bought it outright, but this old family (the Bouviers? I think it was the Bouviers, but I’m not going to look it up even though the book is literally three inches from my knee) says it’s their family plot and wasn’t for sale.

Look, I don’t read these books for their interpretation of zombie-related property law; I read these books to see how infuriated Anita’s attitude is going to make me. If she could go for one page without complaining about something, look, I will bake a batch of cookies and air-mail them to Ms. Hamilton at my own expense. But enough about empty threats. Anita has her magical way of getting involved in, like, three different big events in this book and while they all end up being connected, Anita’s “oh no I have to get involved again and it’s only my responsibility to save everyone but no one listens to me so you can’t expect me to have feelings about any of this shit so when can I go home and get some sleep” shtick is really starting to wear thin.

Also, no lie, she started to sound like Sandy from Daria in my head a bit there.

While Anita’s scoping out the cemetery, she gets called to a murder scene as part of the St. Louis Preternatural Squad. She tells her client that she’ll be back at full dark to raise a couple of zombies for him. Then she goes to the murder scene and gets into a spitting match with the detective working the scene. Then she and Larry go to Bloody Bones, a restaurant run by fairies (not joking) to have dinner. While they’re eating, Anita gets called to another murder scene. At this house, the daughter of the family has been killed by a vampire and possibly turned**, and so Anita waits for the sheriff and some other people to go on a search. They search the woods and don’t find the vampire, but the vampire finds them and kills like, two of them. Then, she decides to call Jean-Claude to come up and visit because she needs his master vampireness to get her in with the master vampire in Branson, and because he lurves Anita, he of course agrees to fly up on his private jet, whateverTHEN, Anita and Larry head back to the cemetery to try and raise a couple of zombies and end up raising like, forty, which doesn’t usually happen, but apparently Anita’s necromancy has super juice powers or something, and then the fairy from Bloody Bones shows up and Anita’s client tries to straight-up murder the dude, but Anita and Larry stop them and the fairy gets away, and then Anita and Larry head back to Branson to pick up Jean-Claude and his werewolf pet Jason from the airport but someone stole Jean-Claude’s coffin as a prank, and finally – FINALLY – Anita gets like, maybe, four hours of sleep.

THIS WHOLE THING TAKES PLACE DURING ONE NIGHT. ONE. NIGHT. ONE HUNDRED AND EIGHTY-SEVEN PAGES WERE ONE NIGHT. WHAT THE EVERLOVING FUCK.

Okay so anyway. Anita orders Jean-Claude to come out and help her out, and she hates every fucking second of having to do it. Because while she’s still dating Richard, in order to maintain peace between the werewolves and the vampires, she also has to date Jean-Claude. Which, holy shit, you guys, that is one heaping piece of whatever bullshit pie. And Jean-Claude keeps trying to seduce Anita, but Anita’s too much of a bitch (a smart bitch, because what kind of self-respecting vampire hunter would let herself get seduced by the very thing she’s hunting, Buffy) to let herself fall for him, but the lady doth protest too much, methinks. Then the whole “raising a cemetery for clients” thing goes by the wayside as Team Jean-Claude gets into a war with some ultra vamps from Branson (there’s a sentence I never thought I’d type) and the fairy is involved somehow, and in order to save everyone, Anita turns herself into a human servant of Seraphina, the master vampire of Branson, but she’s able to use her necromancy or whatever and turn a vampire into a zombie for a brief moment in time and that allows her to escape, and the whole thing ends abruptly with almost everyone dying except Team Jean-Claude, who go back to St. Louis and their tale of apathetic relationships.

Also there’s a brief subplot about how Seraphina was able to hack into Anita’s wants and desires through Anita’s Dead Mommy Issues, but I’m not going to get into it because you guys, I’m really kind of depressed right now. 2015 IS THE DARKEST TIMELINE.

I had so many problems with this book. The fact that so much action occurs in such a short span of time threw me. I think, when all was said and done, the book only covered about three days. The book is almost four hundred pages long! And Anita’s life doesn’t have many spots where the action slows down so we can catch our breath; in fact, that’s almost a detriment. Because there are tons of things I still don’t understand about this world that Ms. Hamilton has created, and I’m afraid that she hasn’t explained them fully in order to keep the plots of her books moving right along.

**FOR INSTANCE, how the fuck does a vampire turn a human in this fucking series? I miss the days of Buffy where they suck your blood, you suck their blood (it’s all one big sucking thing), then the vampire snaps your neck, you die, and then you rise in three days only to see Buffy’s amazing late-90s footwear and The Slayer herself twirling a stake amidst her Ring Pop-covered fingers, waiting for you patiently with a smile and a pun. Apparently, in the Anita-verse, the older a vampire is, the more powerful he is. Unless you’re a master of a city, in which case there’s a shitload of protocol to follow, and even when they follow the protocol, the masters never play nice with Jean-Claude, for some fucking reason (REASON: the author is a drama queen). That almost makes me wish for the well-thought-out democracy the Vampire Nation had in True Blood, but while I type that I must disclaim that I’ve only watched up through season three and I have no idea what happens after that, please don’t spoil me, I only want to know when I’m right.

And I know that at some point, this series of books is going to take a hard right from horror/mystery and skid right into the supernatural erotica sphere, and I’m afraid that I’m not going to get the answers I seek before that happens.  ALL I WANT IS A FLOW CHART FOR VAMPIRE TURNING AND ALSO ONE FOR THE VAMPIRICAL HIERARCHY, IS THAT SO MUCH TO ASK

Here are a couple of things I actually found funny:

Why take the legs? A trophy? Maybe. Serial killers took trophies, clothing, personal items, a body part. Maybe a trophy? [p. 43]

Oh, at one of the murders (I can’t remember which one and I can’t be arsed to look it up), the Feds get called in. One of them is named Agent Bradford, but since it was a last name I wasn’t going to say anything. But then, on the sixth page from the end of the fucking book, this happened:

As agent on site, Bradford was in charge. Special Agent Bradley Bradford, yes Bradley Bradford, seemed to think I knew what I was doing. [p. 364]

WHAT. WHAT THE FUCK. ARE YOU KIDDING ME. That is the LAZIEST SHIT I have EVER SEEN, and I just want you to know that I could make a joke about a faulty toilet right here (and I really really want to), but I have my parents coming over on Sunday and I don’t want them to get any ideas about my housekeeping skills or lack thereof. WHO THE FUCK NAMES A CHARACTER BRADLEY BRADFORD. That’s like … I don’t even know what it’s like, Mulder! Except that it is the worst. It’s stupid; it’s lazy, and I hate it.

Because look, as someone who imagines herself to be a writer, I take care with the names of all of my characters, no matter the word count attributed to their dialogue. I like to make sure the names sound well, and appropriate, and all I can think of in this instance is that Ms. Hamilton decided to make Bradley Bradford’s parents horrible people. What kind of mother (because I don’t know about y’all, but in the event I actually end up having kids, the rule in the house will be “Whoever pushes the largest object out of the smallest orifice gets to name the baby”) whose last name is Bradford would look at her husband/partner/whatever and say, “Honey, let’s name him after my father, Bradley,” and her husband/partner/whatever would look at her and go, “Honey, that’s a great name, I love it” and they wouldn’t realize it until they get the birth certificate that reads BRADLEY RUTHERFORD BRADFORD and instead of immediately grabbing the nearest bottle of Wite-Out and yelling DO-OVER, the parents just shrug and say, “Meh. He’ll be fine. He won’t grow up to be maladjusted whatsoever.”

It’s STUPID. IT’S STUPID, AND IT’S LAZY, AND I HAAAAAAAAAAAAATE IT.

And then there’s Anita. Surly, bitchy, “can’t be bothered to care but then cares too much and whines about it” Anita. I mean, what other reason is there besides convenience to make Anita have to date both Richard and Jean-Claude? Sure, it’s apparently to maintain peace in the city, but if Anita doesn’t like Jean-Claude as much as she proclaims, then it shouldn’t be too difficult for her to say “nah bro, fuck off.” (Although this book is the first time in my recollection where Anita actually admits that she found herself attracted to Jean-Claude. She’d never denied his overall attractiveness, but she did deny how it affected her. No denial allowed in Branson, apparently.)

Overall, Anita’s still a bitch – always quick with a deflecting quip and armed almost literally to the teeth, projecting swagger like a badass to make up for the fact that she feels like a weak little girl, except … except she’s not a weak little girl. Anita is strong, and she can take care of herself; yes, Bradley Bradford is right, she does know what she’s doing. And I think what I would love to see happen in this series is for Anita to own up to that, and not constantly deprecate herself and her abilities. I think, if Anita liked herself a bit more, I might be able to like her more.

Nah, bro; that’s never gonna happen.

Grade for Bloody Bones: 1 star

Fiction: “Dracula” by Bram Stoker

draculaSo hey; I’ve been busy.  But now that I can see the light at the end of the Oh Shit It’s Christmas And I Have No Money So I Have to Crochet Presents For Everyone So Some People Might Get Christmas Presents From Alaina In March tunnel, I can take a moment and type up the review of Dracula that’s been fizzing around in my head for the past ten days.

See, I love Dracula.  Or, I did.  Or, rather, I am still sentimental towards it — y’know what?  Let me start at the beginning.

I first read Dracula as a freshman in college.  Actually, my friend Sarah (of My Friend Sarah Recommends fame over on Movies Alaina’s Never Seen) lent me my first copy of Dracula — and by ‘lent,’ I mean she said, “Here, I’m done reading it, you keep it and get it away from me.”

The reason I read it was because my high school Drama teacher had tasked me with writing an adaptation of Dracula for the stage.  So I took Sarah’s copy and attempted to write a true-to-the-book, sexy adaptation of Dracula that high school kids could perform.

I  … I failed.  Because I was nineteen, did no additional research, and I’m pretty sure I only got through to where Intermission was supposed to be.  But I was determined to learn more about Dracula so I could use it in that adaptation I was going to write.

So, over the years, I’ve accumulated a lot of Dracula paraphernalia.  Including six copies of Dracula:

It's only a problem if you think it's a problem.

Sarah’s copy is the one on the bottom right.  And you’re probably worried about my ability to count, because I just said six copies of Dracula, and that is clearly only five.  I actually lent my copy of the Norton Critical Edition to my friend Kerri, who then moved to Alabama.  So yeah – lots of Draculas.

Aaaaaand then there are these:

2013-12-24 15.41.54

Yup – books about Dracula.  And vampires.  IT’S NOT A PROBLEM IF YOU DON’T THINK IT’S A PROBLEM.

Look, Dracula was kind of the gateway drug to a lot of things that I love: Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  The Vampire Diaries (although that’s more influenced by Ian Somerhalder than anything else).  The Anita Blake, Vampire Hunters series — but ten years later, I hate-read those to get enjoyment, but hate-reading is still a form of enjoyment.  So no matter what happens, Dracula will always hold a special place in my heart.

Which is good, because I did not enjoy Dracula as much as I thought I would.

Cuz here’s the thing (and I didn’t realize it until Sarah said something about it on Twitter, and, much like Professor Farnsworth’s future-seeing machine, once I’ve seen it, I can’t unsee it) — not much happens in this book.

Jonathan Harker goes to Transylvania to do some real estate law for Count Dracula.  The locals are superstitious about the Count, but the language barrier doesn’t really let Harker know what they’re saying.  There’s a lot of hinky stuff that happens in the castle, including Dracula’s brides getting a combination of horny and hungry that Harker almost succumbed to, and Dracula lizard-crawling down the side of his castle.  It freaks Harker right the fuck out (AS IT SHOULD – I mean, imagine you’re visiting this old freaking guy in his castle.  He never eats in your presence, and then one night, you see him crawling down the side of the castle face-first like a lizard with suction cup feet and incredible balance. HOW WOULD YOU REACT), and the only way Harker is able to escape is to jump out of a window.

Then Dracula goes to England and starts drinking from Lucy Westenra, who happens to be the best friend of Mina Murray, fiancee of Jonathan.  When Jonathan is discovered alive back in Bulgaria, Mina leaves and then Lucy gets sick and then she gets anemic and no one can figure out the reason.  Then one of Lucy’s paramours, Dr. Seward, calls his mentor, Dr. Van Helsing, to come up and check Lucy out, and then Van Helsing diagnoses Lucy as having vampire sickness, except he does it too late, because she turned into a vampire and now they have to kill her.

Harker and Mina come back from Bulgaria, and then they search for Dracula so they can kill him, but not before Dracula starts drinking from Mina.  Eventually, Dracula makes Mina drink from him, which means that if Mina dies before they kill Dracula, Mina will turn into a vampire when she dies.

(That whole thing confused me a little bit, but that’s because I’m used to seeing vampires kill their victims to turn them into vampires immediately, rather than have them wait until they die of old age.  Because let’s say no one is able to kill Dracula, but doesn’t kill Mina, so she dies of old age.  Because she ate the vampire blood fifty years ago, she’s going to turn into a vampire.  So, does she turn into an old vampire?  I don’t get the biology of this!)

ANYWAY.  (Drink!)  The whole thing takes forever, and Van Helsing is written with a thick accent that sometimes sounds really stupid, and he tends to ramble.  And the research just took forever, and the times in-between the actual events took FOREVER, and it was very boring and forever-taking, and it broke my little heart, because I did not love Dracula as much this time around.

Let’s see, what else can I say in the next forty minutes — HOLY SHIT I BROUGHT MY HEADPHONES HOLD ON BRB — (I’m at my parents’ house, and apparently WBLM turns into all Christmas music, all the time on Christmas Eve, and I’ve made it this far without hearing “Wonderful Christmastime” by that rat bastard Paul McCartney, I’m not ruining my Christmas now – to Pandora!) — anyway, in now 36 minutes, I’ll be sitting down in front of the television for the annual watching of A Christmas Story, and this will be posted before then.

I guess, the other thing I wanted to talk about with regards to Dracula is how much of an idiot I was ten years ago.  Why would I have thought writing an accurate stage adaptation of Dracula would be a piece of cake?  You know what it would be?  BORING AS FUCK.  There’d be some atmospheric, horror-type stuff with sexy women and biting and blood in the first act, but then it’s all Lucy being flighty about marrying three different people, then her slowly becoming bedridden and even paler than most late-Victorian women, then Seward sitting around talking to Renfield about Renfield’s weird bug-eating habit, and then eventually Lucy would die and they’d have to kill her, so that’d wake the audience up, but by the time Harker and Mina come back from Bulgaria or wherever, nothing fucking happens until they all go to Transylvania to kill Dracula, and even the killing of Dracula is anticlimactic!  The whole third and fourth acts (I clearly imagine me writing it in the style of a Shakespearean tragedy) would take place in Seward’s drawing room while everyone talks about what everyone already knows, and if I were watching it (having had someone else write it), I would be whispering very vociferously from the balcony, wondering when Buffy was going to show up to put everyone out of their misery — but I’d only do that if it was a movie, because while you shouldn’t talk at a movie anyway, you definitely do NOT talk during a live theatre production.

In order to make an interesting adaptation of Draculaone must introduce some level of craziness.  I’ve heard rumors that Francis Ford Coppola insinuated that Mina was the reincarnated version of Count Dracula’s first wife, and somehow, that has weirdly become canon.  But Dracula’s motivations are never revealed within Bram Stoker’s novel.  He’s just this … thing that swoops into London to eat off of the only two women in the book, which makes it sound like Dracula had some sort of reason for attacking them, but he doesn’t.  He’s just hungry, and apparently they were close.

The reason Dracula’s motivations are never revealed is because Dracula is an epistolary novel – written as if compiled from journal entries, letters, and other forms of first-person narratives.  We hear directly from Harker, Mina, and Seward, with some cameos from newspaper articles and other letters.  We do not hear from Renfield or Van Helsing at all, except through the words of others.  The only time we hear Dracula is when Harker is talking about him.  Dracula is a cipher – a symbol on which we can put anything.  Fear of death, fear of sex, fear of the foreign; fear of whatever the fuck you want.

And that makes Dracula different from some modern-day villains: because we know so little about him, we’re not looking for the brief glimpse of humanity beneath the villainy; we’re taking his evilness at face value, because that’s all we have.  We can’t identify with him, so we rally behind the good guys.

But when the good guys are boring, it’s hard to buy in to the fight.

Anyway.  (Drink!)  That was Dracula.  Someday, I might not write that stage adaptation, but I know there’s more I can talk about the novel.  But tonight is Christmas Eve, and I have sixteen minutes to get some pie and sit in front of the TV and begin annoying my relatives with the fact that I know 75% of the words to A Christmas Story.

And I’m sure y’all have traditions that I think are weird, but that’s how we roll in the Patterson Family.

So to all my readers, far and near: thank you for reading, and may you and yours have a safe and merry Christmas, Kwanzaa, Solstice, Festivus, or whatever the hell y’all celebrate.  I’ll be back following the upcoming Tweetversation between me and Erica on William Shakespeare’s Star Wars, and I’ve got a couple other books up my sleeve before the 31st.

Happy Holidays, everyone!

Fiction: “The Lunatic Cafe” by Laurell K. Hamilton

lunatic cafeToday’s been a weird day. It was our first official Snow Day at the store, which is awesome for me on a personal level — not so awesome at the fact that Winter Storm Nemo may have just screwed us out of having a good week for once. But on that mythical, personal level, it was my first Snow Day because the place that I worked closed, and I honestly didn’t know what to do with myself aside from dancing in my pajamas for about ten minutes.

So I set myself up for a couple of goals: I wanted to finish reading this book today; I needed to shovel off my deck, as it’s the way to get in and out of my apartment; and I wanted to watch Die Hard II: Die Harder, because DIE HARD FIVE COMES OUT THIS WEEK AND I WANT IT SO BAD I MEAN CAN I GO SEE IT NOW

Good news – I accomplished one and a half of my goals!

I’m not sure why I picked up The Lunatic Cafe, aside from I remember saying it as an option for a future book while I was reading Special Topics in Calamity Physics. I guess I was just looking for something that was the complete opposite of that book? I succeeded!

So. When we left off, Anita was starting to date Richard, who is a legit werewolf. This is pissing Jean-Claude off, because he lurves Anita and wants her for himself. The good news is that Jean-Claude isn’t in the book much, so I don’t have to bitch about how frequently Jean-Claude calls Anita ma petite, italics included. Because I really fucking hate that.

Richard is a member of Marcus’s pack, and there’s a power struggle that Richard doesn’t want Anita to get dragged into, but Anita doesn’t want Richard to make decisions for her. Also, there are some shapeshifters and/or lycanthropes missing. And Anita is also looking into a murder that may have involved a werewolf in another county, and the investigation is being run by a couple of Teutonic twats. (Yeah, I said that. I am using that word to describe men. Also, it’s a quote. Name that movie.) Uh, what else. Oh, one of Jean-Claude’s minion vampires is insanely jealous of Anita, so much so that halfway through the book she attacks Anita, takes away her guns, and forces Anita to tell Jean-Claude that she’s engaged to Richard, which becomes a whole big thing, and basically, this book suffers from Too Many Plots, Not Enough Depth.I have to say that the writing and grammar seems to have improved in this title versus the other three I’ve read over the past couple of years. So there – I said something good about it!

Now back to the bad stuff – because much like approximately one million people and Smash, some people just like to hate-watch. I hate-read: picking apart a series is what gives me pleasure about reading the series. Yeah, it means I’m bitchy, but you gotta admit, sometimes my rants are hilarious.

Oh, PS: even though I’m not going on an airplane any time soon, I may find myself dragging out the next Patricia Cornwell.

Anita keeps up her little trend of always needing to be right, or the most dominant, or in control, or whatever you want to call it, but it is so annoying, and in some cases, actually life-threatening for her:

“Let her acknowledge your dominance over her. Acknowledge that she needs your help.”

Marcus stared at me. “Acknowledge my dominance, and I will call Jason off.”

“If he starts to shapeshift, I’ll kill him. You know I’ll do it, Marcus. Call him off.”

“If I am to give you my protection, you must acknowledge me.”

“Fuck you, Marcus. I’m not asking you to save me. I’m asking you to save him. Or don’t you care about your pack members?” [103]

I mean … if I was being attacked by a werewolf and the only way to save my hide is to either assert that the pack leader is dominant or shoot an innocent person with a shapeshifting disease in the face, I’m gonna go with lifting my hands in supplication and saying “Hey, man, you’re the boss, call Taylor Lautner off and I’m your boo.”

Apparently, when I’m in werewolf danger, I become strangely urban. (I may have to stop rewatching Dark Angel?)

Here’s what happens when Anita leaves a voicemail for Edward, a coworker:

A long, low beep sounded. “This is Anita. What the hell are you doing in town? Call me soon.”

[…]

The phone rang before I’d gotten warm. I waited for the machine to pick up; after the eighth ring I gave up. I’d forgotten to turn on the machine. Great.

“This better be important,” I said.

“You said to call soon.” It was Edward.

I pulled the receiver under the blankets with me. “Hi, Edward.”

“Hi.”

“Why are you in town? And why were you at the Lunatic Cafe?”

“Why were you?”

“It is nearly six in the freaking morning, I haven’t been to sleep yet. I don’t have time for games.” [111]

*deep breath*

YOU CALLED *HIM*, ANITA, AND ASKED HIM TO CALL YOU BACK *IMMEDIATELY*. JESUS.

Her need to be Whatever (I have no name for it besides that) also affects her relationship with Richard:

“I don’t need your protection, Richard. I don’t even want it.”

He leaned his head against the headrest and closed his eyes. “If I play the white knight, you’ll leave me.”

“If you think you need to play the white knight, then you don’t know me at all.”

He opened his eyes and turned his head to look at me. “Maybe I want to be your white knight.” [197]

Actually, let me back up for a second, because while in this scene Anita is being incredibly stubborn and borderline bitchy, I must admit that I am not sure I wouldn’t react any differently. I pride myself on being very independent, and while every once in a while I would like to have a man about the house, I must also admit that I haven’t needed one to be a white knight for anything. I mean, I could have used one a few months ago when I couldn’t get a window unstuck on ‘open,’ but then one night I realized that if you put a flathead screwdriver in between the frame and the jamb to unstick the swollen paint, that gets the window unstuck. So, suck it, dudes, I guess I’m all set for now.

But it would be really nice to have a guy want to be my white knight. Just sayin’.

Okay, maudlin moment over. Let’s get back to the mocking, shall we?

Something that I kind of laughed at is how Anita suddenly had family …

“Maybe I’ll find Josh something there.”

“How old is he now, thirteen?” Ronnie asked.

“Fifteen,” I said. “My baby brother was my height last year. He’ll be gigantic this year. Judith says he’s outgrowing his jeans faster than she can buy them.” [116]

What … I mean, where did that tidbit come from? I remember learning in The Laughing Corpse that Anita had a stepmother, but I don’t remember any mention of siblings.

And in the Too Lazy To Go Look It Up category, I’m pretty sure this story has changed its tune since Guilty Pleasures:

“I was always a good girl. I didn’t sleep around. In college I met someone, we got engaged, we set a date, we made love. He dumped me.”

“He’d done all that just to get you in bed?”

[…] “His mother didn’t like my mother being Mexican.” [142]

Okay, first off, I’m pretty sure that in the first book, Anita hadn’t slept with anyone. And secondly, I think she may have mentioned that her mother was Mexican, but … wow. Racism is apparently in effect in St. Louis, the home of vampires and werewolves. The fuck?

And this is a beautiful segueway into this quote:

I also wouldn’t have chosen my boyfriend’s old lover for backup. What had Richard been thinking? Or maybe Raina hadn’t given him a choice. Her coming today, not the sex. I still wasn’t sure how I felt about that. All right. I knew how I felt. I was pissed. But I’d slept with someone else. Glass houses and all. [294]

YOU SLEPT WITH ONE OTHER PERSON. HE SLEPT WITH ANOTHER WOMAN WHEN HE WAS YOUNGER. YOU’RE JUST PISSED BECAUSE SHE’S A BITCHY WEREWOLF WHO DOESN’T LIKE YOU. SHUT UP, ANITA.

Believe it or not, there’s a little more, but I don’t want to keep talking about this book. I’m currently reading two historical romances, but my Lunch Break book is going to turn into The Runaway Jury very quickly, because … I have jury duty coming up this week. Be sure to follow me on Twitter [@WillBeFunOrElse] to stay up-to-date with my inevitable disappointment that my jury duty does not descend into Franklin & Bash-style antics.

Grade for The Lunatic Cafe: 1.5 stars

Fiction: “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” by Seth Grahame-Smith

I think it’s been pretty well established at this point that I am not a historian. As much as I’d love to have a business card that proclaims me to be a “Master of the Occult and Obtainer of Rare Antiquities,” what I don’t know about history — both American and non — would fill about a frillion books. So while it was — oh wow, coincidence — this time last year that I spent the entire month of April reading about the first third of Theodore Roosevelt’s life, apparently April became American History Month over here at That’s What She Read, because this month I read Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.Now, as you can tell by the title, it’s not exactly actual history. After all, while it would be freaking amazing for our sixteenth president to have been a vampire hunter — and Mr. Grahame-Smith does make a convincing argument for it — it probably didn’t actually happen. Probably.

So anyway. I was proud of myself — I didn’t look up anything about Lincoln on Wikipedia until after I finished reading the book. And I was pleasantly surprised at how many events in Lincoln’s real life could be explained (and, in some cases, better explained) by events in Vampire Hunter. For instance, Lincoln’s mother died when he was nine of something called “milk sickness.” In the book, however, “milk sickness” is merely a synonym for “drained by a vampire.” Lincoln learns from his father everything about vampires and the chaos that vampires have brought to his family. Lincoln’s grandfather was killed by vampires and his father observed the death; Lincoln’s father borrowed money from someone that turned out to be a vampire, and when he couldn’t pay the guy back, the vampire killed Lincoln’s mother as repayment. At that moment, Lincoln vows to devote his life to killing vampires.

He meets Henry Sturges, who is a very old vampire. But Henry is … well, he’s like … Angel, I guess? If Angel was fully devoted to ridding the world of evil vampires and less devoted to a perky blonde vampire slayer who’s too young to realize when she’s in love with the wrong person. Anyway, Henry sends Lincoln names of vampires that he wants exterminated, and Abe does his bidding.

What I found both interesting, appropriate, and trite was that the Civil War (and therefore, slavery) was fought over vampirism. According to this worldview, slave owners were typically vampires, and they would buy up poor, unhealthy slaves along with stronger slaves and use the latter in the fields and feast on the former. As time marches further along towards 1861, Lincoln learns that the vampires of the South want to enslave the human race, much like the human race enslaved … well, slaves. He and Henry get a Union together to fight the South, and thus, the Civil War is born.

Much like Titanic, you know what’s going to happen at the end of the story. And you can probably guess what Mr. Grahame-Smith does with John Wilkes Booth, so I’m not going to go into that here. I will say that while the climax is expected, the denoument was not, and pleasantly surprising at that.

Now, I loved Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, but I think the main reason why I loved PPZ was because I had read Pride and Prejudice a couple of times and always put it back on the shelf in a wistful manner; I always felt something was missing. And PPZ made me realize what was missing: zombies. Pride and Prejudice always needed zombies, and Seth Grahame-Smith gave me Pride and Prejudice and Zombies! It was perfect! And while I really enjoyed Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, I guess I didn’t have a need for Abraham Lincoln to be a vampire hunter, and that’s why I didn’t love it as much as PPZ.

Don’t get me wrong: I love the idea that Abraham Lincoln could have been a vampire hunter. But I didn’t open the book — or finish it, for that matter — thinking Yes; this is what Abraham Lincoln needed.

Grade for Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter: 3 stars

Fiction: “Circus of the Damned” by Laurell K. Hamilton

Well, add this title to the growing list of Bad Books Alaina’s Read So You Don’t Have To. And before I figuratively rip this book to shreds, allow me to point out to everyone that, while it’s currently not a vacation, I have flown to Annapolis for training for my new job, and I think everyone knows what it is mandatory for me to read when I’m in an airport. Oh yes, that’s right. Coming up shortly: the next Patricia Cornwell.

Bring it on.

But first, let’s discuss these vampires of St. Louis once more. When we last left Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter, she had just cleaned up the mess left behind by a rampaging, man-eating zombie. Now it’s shortly before Halloween, she’s up to her ears in zombie raisings, and a couple of dudes come to her workplace, asking for the daytime resting spot of the Vampire Master of the City so they can go kill him. Except that the Master of the City (yeah, that’s the actual title — and can I say, I would have loved to have seen Spike attempt to be the Vampire Master of Sunnydale. That would have been fun!) is Jean-Claude, the vampire that has given Anita two of the four marks necessary to turn someone into a human servant, and also, Anita kind of has friendly feelings towards Jean-Claude, even if he is a vampire, so she doesn’t want to give up the resting place.

And then there’s some more murders, this time by a gang of rogue vampires following a second Master. And what I’d really like to know is: How does one become a Master Vampire? I mean, what are the qualifications? Do you actually have to have control of a city to be considered a Master Vampire? Is it determined by the number of human servants you have? Or the quality of the animal you can control? For instance, I would bet that being able to control and ‘call’ wolves to do your bidding would put you up higher on the Master path than, say, Labradoodles. Is it simply a matter of how old you are? Is it, like, “Oh, congratulations, Vlad! Not only are you five hundred years dead, but you have also acheived the rank of Master Vampire!” Is it a matter of levelling up? The number of victims you’ve accumulated over the years? Do you need a Master’s degree in Vampirism? What night school offers that type of curriculum? Can humans attend, or must you be the living dead and a bloodsucker to enroll? THESE ARE THE QUESTIONS AND I DEMAND ANSWERS.

Oh god, what else. So everyone wants the resting location of Jean-Claude so everyone can kill him, but Anita holds tight to the information. Meanwhile, her boss, Bert, has hired a new animator: his name is Larry, and he’s twenty. Anita becomes extremely protective of little Larry, because apparently, he’s an innocent and she is not and if she can keep someone innocent from learning of the horrors associated with raising the dead, by gum, she’s gonna protect them. Except Larry doesn’t want to be protected, because he wants to be a Vampire Executioner too.

But then one night, Anita and Larry get ambushed by the Rogue Master Vampire (and now, all I can hear is Cordelia asking Wesley, “What’s a rogue demon?” when he described himself as a rogue demon hunter. What’s a rogue master, and why does he need a vampire?) named Alejandro, and no, I am not making that up. And every time I read the name, two things went through my head: the Lady Gaga song “Alejandro” which I didn’t even like that much, but also my pronunciation of Alejandro, which consists of dropping my voice down into my lower register and trilling the ‘r’ in ‘–andro,’ because I am a ditz. So ANYWAY, Alejandro wants the location of the Master of the City too, because it’s like crack for those people, but when she doesn’t give it up, he gives her the first mark to be his human servant.

And THEN, as if that WEREN’T ENOUGH, ANOTHER vampire that happens to be a million years old — and again, I swear I am not exaggerating for the sake of the story — the novel claims that Oliver (yes, that’s the name) is indeed a million years old. But anyway, Oliver ALSO wants the resting place of the yada yada, and for some reason Anita likes Oliver, so she says she’ll think about it.

But she gets lured into a cave (don’t ask) by Alejandro and Melanie, a lamia, which is not a llama but a half-woman, half-snake and it’s just as gross as it sounds (two things: unlike Fry’s romance with Ambrielle in that underwater episode of Futurama, the snake half is the bottom half and the woman half is on top. And secondly, how cool would it have been if they have a dangerous half-woman, half-llama running around? I MUST WRITE THIS NOW), and on the way out of the cave she gets bit by another lamia, and an hour later she starts bleeding all over the place — including through her eyeballs, if the dialogue is to be believed. And Richard, the guy Anita is thinking she might want to date, takes her to Jean-Claude to save her life, but the only way to save her life is to give her the third mark of a human servant, and apparently that’s what does it, and she gives up the resting place to Oliver, who it turns out was in cahoots with Alejandro all along, and he wants to become Master of the City so that he can have vampires hunt humans again instead of fight for equality legislation, and OH MY GOD REALLY THAT’S WHAT THIS BOOK WAS ABOUT

In the end, Jean-Claude takes the marks away from Anita, which doesn’t make any sense. Also, I know that the third mark is that the vampire has to drink the human’s blood. But nowhere does it say explicitly what the first two marks are or what they’re supposed to do or how one is supposed to get them. Again, are tests administered? What are the requirements? And my biggest question around these types of supernatural canon: does the author even know?

Because, look: I bitched a lot about the Twilight novels. A LOT. But while I may have bitched that the sparkly vampires weren’t real vampires, and that werewolves can’t shapeshift at will, and that their canon doesn’t resemble Earth canon, I can guarantee with almost 90% success that I never bitched that Stephenie Meyer’s canon didn’t hold up to itself. Meaning, yes, Edward sparkles where Angel and Damon do not, but there was never a moment where Edward was in the sun and he didn’t sparkle. Or, that she didn’t completely explain how things worked in her world. The world Ms. Meyer created, love it or hate it, at least had some good continuity. (I refuse to look at the last twenty pages of Breaking Dawn where it’s revealed that Jacob and his clan are actually shapeshifters and not official werewolves, because that just seems tacky and also, I don’t care that much. Look, Ms. Meyer, for once your shoddy craftsmanship is helping me prove a point!) I’m not entirely convinced, after reading three books in this series, that Ms. Hamilton is as sure of what causes what in her world. I’m a bit scared, actually, that she creates things to create drama in the moment, but then can’t go back and explain how those things happen or what the importance of having them happen is.

So there’s that. I’m not sure I have anything to add to that, aside from the fact that Ms. Hamilton still plays fairly fast and loose with grammar. But I could almost — almost — overlook the grammar if the rest of it was making sense. And I’m not sure I can say that it does.

But, y’all know me — you know you’re going to see me read the next one within a year. Because I’m — say it with me now — a masochist.

Grade for Circus of the Damned: 1 star