Fiction: “The Laughing Corpse” by Laurell K. Hamilton

I’m not sure if I’m suffering from Book ADD or just overall ennui, but after finishing Guilty Pleasures, it seemed ‘good enough’ to continue with The Laughing Corpse.

One of the reasons I’ve read Guilty Pleasures so often is because I keep trying to get back into the series, but I’ll get about fifty or sixty pages or so into The Laughing Corpse and give up. [In fact, you’ll notice that I was attempting to reread this particular title back in 2009.] Why? A number of reasons. Boredom, for one. Mainly because this entry in the series is particularly gory, and gruesome in ways that it probably didn’t need to be. After completing it again today, I would like to add a third option: her writing skills don’t improve.

But let’s talk about the plot first. Anita Blake is still an animator for Animator’s Inc., and this book begins with her and her boss, Bert, meeting with a potential client. The client, Harold Gaynor, is an old man in a wheelchair that wants her to raise a 300-year-old corpse, and he agrees to pay her and her company one meeeeellion dollars [/Dr. Evil]. Except that in order to raise such an old zombie, Anita would have to sacrifice ‘the white goat’ – human sacrifice. And to quote one of the great philosophers of my generation, Homey don’t play that.

She continues on her merry way until there is a massacre of a family in town. She is called in for her expertise on the Spook Squad (a division of the St. Louis police department that investigates supernatural crimes), and … it’s brutal. How Ms. Hamilton was able to give that level of description without horking all over the place is beyond me. Turns out the culprit is a flesh-eating zombie, and when I say ‘flesh-eating,’ I mean ‘there’s not too much body left to discern that it was human before-eating.’ It’s kind of gross.

Anita proposes that the only animator strong enough to raise such a zombie would be Dominga Salvador, a voodoo priestess so scary that even Anita is afraid of her (but more on that tangent later). Dominga wants Anita to join her in her zombie making factory: Dominga has figured out how to raise zombies and put their souls back in the bodies so the corpses won’t decay. Anita (rightly) sees it as a desecration and refuses to have anything to do with it. She offends Dominga Salvador with her bravado and refusal to bow to threats, and now she has the threat of a very pissed off voodoo priestess coming after her, in the guise of two zombies attacking her in her home.

As the book continues, she ends up with another problem: Jean-Claude, the vampire from Guilty Pleasures, wants her to capitulate and become his human servant (she already bears two of the marks, whatever that means – he bit her or imprinted on her in the first book to bring her under his power, but it’s never very clearly defined). Of course, she wants nothing to do with him and refuses, but that shakes his new power in front of the rest of the vampires, and also, he lurves her.

In the end, everything comes together (as it always tends to do). Anita is able to figure out why the zombie killed the families without provocation, she is able to dispatch both Dominga Salvador and Harold Gaynor, and she’s even able to continue to keep Jean-Claude at a distance. What I experienced in this novel was a continuation from Guilty Pleasures around Anita not wanting to do something, really not wanting to do something, but then being forced to do it anyway — and she knew she was going to be forced! If you know you’re going to be forced to do something, why do you continue to bitch about it?

Speaking of continuing to bitch: here’s something that will continue as I continue through the Anita Blake series. {“But Alaina! Why are you continuing to read this tripe if you are complaining about it so much?” [turns to a non-existant audience, a la Craig Ferguson] “Irony is not my strong suit!”} Remember how I said that Anita does things she doesn’t want to do? And she bitches about it constantly? I almost think it’s a direct result of being paid by the word. Because there is no reason for some of this repetition.

Here’s a classic scene. I apologize for the length of the quote, but I feel it’s necessary to make my point:

“You slew the white goat for me, more than once.”

I turned towards Manny. It was like that moment in a movie where the main character has a revelation about someone. There should be music and camera angles when you learn one of your best friends participated in human sacrifice. More than once she had said. More than once.

“Manny?” My voice was a hoarse whisper. This, for me, was worse than the zombies. The hell with strangers. This was Manny, and it couldn’t be true.

“Manny?” I said it again. He wouldn’t look at me. Bad sign.

“You didn’t know, chica? Didn’t your Manny tell you of his past?”

[…]

“Shut up!” I screamed … She stopped, her face thinning with anger. Enzo took two steps into the altar area. “Don’t.” I wasn’t even sure who I was saying it to. “I need to hear from him, not from you.”

The anger was still in her face. Enzo loomed like an avalanche about to be unleashed. Dominga gave one sharp nod. “Ask him then, chica.”

“Manny, is she telling the truth? Did you perform human sacrifices?” My voice sounded so normal. It shouldn’t have. My stomach was so tight, it hurt. I wasn’t afraid anymore, or at least not of Dominga. The truth; I was afraid of the truth.

He looked up. His hair fell across his face framing his eyes. A lot of pain in those eyes. Almost flinching.

“It’s the truth, isn’t it?” My skin felt cold. “Answer me, dammit.” My voice still sounded ordinary, calm.

“Yes,” he said.

“Yes, you committed human sacrifice?”

He glared at me now, anger helping him meet my eyes. “Yes, yes!”

It was my turn to look away. “God, Manny, how could you?” [58-59]

Having typed this all out, all I can see in my head is an atrocious “Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter” sketch on SNL where Anita Blake is played by Kristen Wiig, and all she does is keep asking Manny if he committed human sacrifice, in increasingly annoying voices, and not believing it even when he proves it in front of her by slitting Andy Samberg’s throat.

I do like how Anita creates her world. For instance:

“I hope you appreciate how many dragons I had to slay to save that seat for you,” [Irving] said. […]

“Dragons are easy, try vampires sometimes,” I said.

His eyes widened. Before his mouth could form the question, I said, “I’m kidding, Irving.” Sheesh, some people just don’t have a sense of humor. “Besides, dragons were never native to North America,” I said. [97]

Dragons! In North America!

Here we see her like me: making rules for everyday things:

Rule number three hundred sixty-nine when dealing with unfamiliar magic: when in doubt, leave it alone.

I left it alone. [52]

And right on cue, here’s my problem with this: Why would “leaving something alone when in doubt” NOT be RULE NUMBER ONE?

She also gives advice to the readers regarding how to deal with supernatural beasties, but I seem to feel that she may not be the expert that she claims to be…

Important safety tip with most of the spiritual world: if you ignore it, it has less power. This does not work with demons or other demi-beings. Other exceptions to the rule are vampires, zombies, ghouls, lycanthropes, witches … Oh, hell, ignoring only works for ghosts. But it does work. [120]

Is it me, or does it sound like Ms. Hamilton had a good solid thought, but then her own logic and worldview fucked it up? Or, rather, it’s like when I try to name my favorite movie. “Die Hard. And Back to the Future. But my favorite Bond movie is Goldfinger. And Raiders of the Lost Ark, which is never Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, by the way. And also Empire Records. Wait, only one favorite movie?”

Her problems with grammar continue, as well.

The night sky was a curving bowl of liquid black. Stars like pinprick diamonds gave a cold, hard light. The moon was a glowing patchwork of greys and goldish-silver. The city makes you forget how dark the night, how bright the moon, how very many stars. [114]

This one needs an adverb in the last sentence, or something. No — it needs the main part of a helping verb.

There are more instances of this, but this was apparently the only one I dogeared. Ms. Hamilton definitely has a problem with question marks:

I really didn’t know what you did to repair bullet holes? [147]

In context, she’s not disbeliving of herself – she’s actually stating that she really doesn’t know what one does to repair bullet holes. Ms. Hamilton just thinks a question mark belongs there.

And this one wins the Stephenie Meyer Dust Moat Award. I refuse to dignify it with a response; I’m just going to let this sit here in the ether:

I use to come to the morgue fairly regularly. [222]

Finally, the whole zombie thing. In this universe, the only way to create a zombie is to raise another from the grave:

The paramedics warned me to get a tetanus booster. Zombies don’t make more zombies by biting, but the dead have nasty mouths. [140]

So, good to know that there won’t be a mad zombie apocalypse brewin’ in this iteration of St. Louis. But, it brings up the thought that was this year’s topic of supernatural discussion at New Year’s: Resolved: The threat of a zombie apocalypse would create an uneasy alliance between humans and vampires. And I’m no longer talking about Anita Blake’s universe: I’m talking about ours. I believe that to be true. In the event that zombies rise up and begin chasing after us, looking for brains, I have to believe that an uneasy alliance will be formed between humans and vampires. Humans will have to rely on vampires for their preternatural strength, and vampires will rely on us for food. Once the zombie threat is eliminated, humans and vampires will most likely go their separate ways (unless romantic relationships have formed, in which case, sign me up for the Mystic Falls chapter). There’s a lot more I could get into, but I’m crossing my fingers that eventually, a zombie uprising will occur in these books so I can dig into it at that point.

The best piece of advice I can give a reader of this blog who might be looking at this series is: it is not for the faint of heart nor for the weak of stomach. Some of these murder scenes are particularly gruesome, and I had to fast-read a few paragraphs to move along. I can’t recall what any of the other books are like, but this title always stood out as one of the goriest. So: caveat lector.

Grade for The Laughing Corpse: 1 star

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Random Post!: Sherlock, Zombies, and Antiquarian Romance

Two weeks ago, I indulged in a biannual desire to buy books off of Amazon. I know I shouldn’t, mainly because I have too many books as it is, but also, it’s expensive and it adds up and ADMITTING IT IS THE FIRST STEP, right?

Anyway: I was originally looking for the DVD of the BBC series of Sherlock. I had watched the first episode on Masterpiece Mystery and fell in love with it, and hey, it was cheaper on Amazon than at Borders! Plus free shipping!

And then I started looking at other things, and this is what I ended up with:


You may ask, what the hell is all that crap? Well, the thing on the left is my copy of Sherlock, which I highly recommend for any fans of Sherlock Holmes. This is a reimagining of the classic detective: Sherlock is in his, I’d guess late-twenties-early-thirties, and John Watson is still an army surgeon, but this time the escapades take place in modern London. Holmes texts Lestrade and uses nicotine patches to help him think (the first escapade, “A Study in Pink,” is apparently a “three-patch problem”).

The letter is something that came in the mail to me. Its return address was somewhere in Philadelphia, but it didn’t have the appearance of a mass mailing. Curious, I opened it, and found a wonderful handwritten note inside:

Dearest Neighborly Acquaintance,

Please excuse the impropriety of dropping you this note unannounced. However, I thought it my duty to warn you of the danger that is overrunning dear England. A horde of reanimated corpses — known as unmentionables, dreadfuls, or zombies, depending on your dialect — is spreading a terrible plague against which you must defend yourself.

As you may already know, I, Elizabeth Bennet, lived a life of peace and propriety in the English countryside until a pustulent plague of unmentionables rose from the earth and began to wreak havoc on dear Hertfordshire. Thankfully, my sisters and I were trained in the most vicious defense techniques: swordplay, hand-to-hand combat, musketry, and sharp wit. “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” is a tale inspired by my family’s struggle to defeat the unmentionables, and includes descriptions of our various tactical techniques — and occasional social foibles.

I hope we can remain in contact as the number of zombies rises. I have purchased a Macintosh computer and am attempting to spread the word of my quest through the internet. You may find my digital correspondence, as well as those of my friends and family, at quirkclassics.com/zombies. Please help my cause by spreading the word — and above all else, take care.

Sincerely yours,

Elizabeth Bennet
Longbourn Estate
Hertfordshire, England

HOW AWESOME IS THAT?!

The final thing — and the item you’re probably scratching your head over the most — is the book on the right. The Tiger Lily, by Shirley Busbee. That, my friends, was the first historical romance I ever “read.” And I definitely want to use those sarcastic quotation marks, because I didn’t read it so much as look for the naughty bits.

See, I was probably about 11 or 12. I had just learned what “fuck” meant on the playground and, though nowhere near as advanced as today’s youths are, I was learning about sexual relations as well. I don’t remember much from this book aside from some twenty-page-long sex scenes (including one in a gazebo!), but I remembered it fondly as my introduction to smut.

And then my mother sold it in a book sale or whatever and it disappeared. And I’ve been searching for it ever since.

And now (or, over the next year, when I finally get my to-read pile down again), I’ll read it from start to finish, and I’m sure I will giggle away many a night at the atrocity of its writing.

By God — it’ll be beautiful.

Seriously, I was so excited to see that these packages had come in the mail, I jumped up and down A LOT. I haven’t been this happy since I figured out how to turn a bag of alcohol into a Capri-Sun.

Look, Ma -- no hands!

How Alaina spent her Saturday night

Fiction: “Dawn of the Dreadfuls” by Steve Hockensmith

Over a month ago, I responded to Quirk Publishing’s call – they were “offering bloggers a first look” at the prequel to PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES, Dawn of the Dreadfuls. When I saw the post on Facebook, I was riding pretty high on the comment left me by Charles Ardai, the creator of the Hard Case Crime imprint. I felt that things were finally looking up for ol’ Liz Lemon Alaina. I said to myself (and out loud, because that’s how I roll), “Holy crap, that’s awesome, I want one!”, immediately emailed the lovely people at Quirk, and two weeks, later, I got a copy.

link to Dawn of the Dreadfuls on Quirk Classics

What a lovely sight to see in the mail. I immediately tore into it.

The story takes place approximately four years before PPZ (Mary is 14, and she is approximately 18 in the original). We open at a funeral for a local man, which quickly gets interrupted as the local (dead) man starts to sit up in his coffin. Mr. Bennet takes the reins of the situation and asks for Jane and Elizabeth’s assistance in killing the dreadful.

This leads to Mr. Bennet training his girls in the ancient art of zombie warfare:

“I built this dojo — this temple of the deadly arts — not just for myself … I built it for you. My children. So that you, too, would be schooled in the Shaolin way. Now, far too belatedly, we begin your training.” [29]

There are new characters in this entry: the Baron Lumpley, Jane’s first suitor. He does not compare to Mr. Bingley in the slightest. Lumpley is fat, pompous, arrogant, selfish, conceited, and kind of hilarious. There is also Capt. Cannon, commander of the troops newly arrived to Meryton (but not Lydia and Kitty’s precious soldiers of the future). Sadly for Capt. Cannon, he had all of his limbs torn off in the Troubles, so now he has two soldiers act as his Limbs. (He actually calls them “Limbs.”) We also meet Dr. Keckilpenny, a doctor who attempts to rehabilitate dreadfuls back into proper English society; and Geoffrey Hawksmith, the Master sent by Mr. Bennet to tutor the girls.

What I enjoyed about DOD is the way the author showed Mr. Bennet’s doubt. He is wrestling with many things: needing to train his daughters as he had pledged to during the Troubles, but then reneged (along with almost all other Englishmen) when it appeared the Troubles weren’t going to resurface (heh); needing to see his daughters married to respectable families (well, maybe that’s more Mrs. Bennet, but the point will stand in four years); and sending his daughters off to a very bloody war night after night. I think Mr. Hockensmith was able to touch on this emotional self-war without being too preachy. I mean, I come from a Buffy background, and this reminded me of the relationship between Buffy & Giles – Giles knows that Buffy is going to die: he sends her out night after night to kill vampires, but he absolutely hates doing it, and if he could, he would trade places with her to save her life (until Buffy finds out and punches him unconscious. But theirs is a complicated [platonic] love).

To me, there weren’t as many scenes of ‘ultra-violent zombie mayhem’ in this iteration as there were in PPZ. That’s not necessarily a bad thing – in PPZ, the girls were full-fledged warriors, and part of the awesomeness was derived from the fact that these prim and proper girls were able to gut a zombie in less than a minute. Here, they are still learning (I am reminded of my sister proclaiming the same thing when I was teaching her to drive: “I’m learning!”), so while there are scenes of violence, it’s not as violent as we may be led to expect.

But overall, I felt that Dawn of the Dreadfuls didn’t quite match up to the awesomeness of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES. And I’ve taken two weeks, trying to figure it out.  And look, that doesn’t mean I didn’t love it – I did.  It just wasn’t as awesome, in my head, as PPZ was.  But why?  Is it because my love for PPZ was so high that anything else would pale in comparison? Was it that DOD read as really good, very polished fanfiction? I mean, the same could be said for PPZ – taking the characters of a very popular novel and having them interact with other characters in interesting ways with a bit of wish-fulfillment thrown in (in this case, zombies).

And I finally figured it out: Dawn of the Dreadfuls is Ocean’s Twelve. Now that may seem as harsh words to some people, but hear me out. I love Ocean’s Eleven. My friend Kerri and I can recite parts of it, and do so, regularly. Ocean’s Eleven, in itself, is a reincarnation of the Rat Pack movie of the same name, but it made it better, and slicker, with more electromagnetic pulses. Here’s how much I love Ocean’s Eleven: when it came out in 2001, I was a freshman in college. Franklin Pierce University College got a copy of the film for Spring Fling. My friends all went to this raging party thrown at one of the towers, and I was going to go with them, but I watched Ocean’s Eleven instead. Now that’s love.

So when Ocean’s Twelve came out, I was excited again. Woo hoo! Danny and Rusty, together again! Now in Europe! And I saw it, and I bought the DVD, and it was good. It wasn’t great, but it’s something that I will still pop into the DVD player when I feel like it.

My analogy:
Ocean’s Eleven (1961) = Pride and Prejudice
Ocean’s Eleven (2001) = PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES (where the electromagnetic pulse = zombies)
Ocean’s Twelve = Dawn of the Dreadfuls (where Tess masquerading as Julia Roberts is Mr. Smith. Once you read the book, you’ll find out why that’s funny.)

I enjoyed Dawn of the Dreadfuls very much. I give it 3.5 stars, which is high praise for me – my readers know that if one of my favorite books of all time rates 2.5 stars, 3.5 is awesome. The fact that the Bennet girls have governesses in this book (only for a couple of chapters, but still) isn’t going to keep me from reading it again further on up the road (in Pride and Prejudice, the girls never had a governess. In PPZ, the girls never had ninjas. I’m not sure if in the PPZ-verse that means that while the girls never had ninjas, they can have governesses. Not sure how that works.) I always had a smile on my face while I was reading this book, and recommend that everyone who read PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES give this a shot.

However: now I’m waiting for Ocean’s Thirteen, where the Bennet girls travel to China to continue their studies. How long until that comes out?

Thank you, Quirk, for this marvelous opportunity. And now, I am pleased to offer my fabulous readers a chance to receive fabulous prizes, and I am not being sarcastic or making false promises for the first time ever! (disclaimer: I offer these by proxy, and in offering I in no way guarantee actual winning of said prizes.)  ANYWAY. The following link will send you to a public message board over on Quirk Classics, and if you so desire to comment where you read the review, you will be automatically entered to win one of 50 Quirk Classics Prize Packs that I will now describe:

  • An advance copy of Pride and Prejducie and Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls
  • Audio Books of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters
  • A password redeemable online for sample audio chapters of Dawn of the Dreadfuls
  • An awesome Dawn of the Dreadfuls poster [I can attest to this: the poster is quite awesome]
  • A Pride and Prejudice and Zombies journal
  • A box set of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies postcards

When you comment, please use the following link: https://thtswhatsheread.wordpress.com/.

ETA: Hi.  I’m an idiot.  Here’s the link to enter for the prize pack.

Good luck, and — I don’t say this enough — thank you for reading.

Fiction: “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies”

Now with zombiesI finished reading PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES tonight, about four hours ago. In celebration, Sydney the Laptop has decided to play “Thriller.” Syd, I heartily approve and applaud your choice. Because there is, I swear to God, a “Thriller” reference in this book:

“What a charming amusement for young people this is, Mr. Darcy!”

“Certainly, sir; and it has the advantage also of being in vogue amongst the less polished societies of the world. Every savage can dance. Why, I imagine even zombies could do it with some degree of success.” [22]

Anyway. Seth Grahame-Smith is totally my second pretend boyfriend (after Daniel Craig, of course). He did indeed keep about 90% of Jane Austen’s original novel, and simply added some scenes of supreme zombie violence. The plot, even, is exactly the same: Mr. and Mrs. Bennet of Longbourn have five daughters, and Mrs. Bennet’s only goal in life is to see them married off, and hopefully well. Mr. Bingley and his sisters and friend Mr. Darcy arrive at Netherfield, a neighboring manse, and Mrs. Bennet pushes her eldest, Jane, into the arms of Bingley. Elizabeth is headstrong and independent, and is less than impressed with Darcy’s impertinence and pride.

The difference? Zombies.

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