Fiction: “Dirty Love” by Andre Dubus III

dirty loveMerry Christmas! And if you don’t celebrate, Happy Monday or whatever!

Dirty Love was another book during one of my many library binges this year. For reals, I know I bitch about the Yarmouth library (a lot, and I only feel slightly bad about it), but I’ve never left the library empty-handed. In fact, I usually take out six books at a time, and then only finish two during the first three week period. Then I renew the other four, and at the end of the renewal period at least one book is going back unread and the other two are going back late.

I’m pretty sure that the only reason I picked this off the shelf is because of the title, so, four for you, Andre Dubus III, you go Andre Dubus III!

Andre Dubus III also wrote The House of Sand and Fog, which was turned into an Oscar-nominated film that I have not watched, starring Sir Ben Kingsley and Shoreh Agdashloo, whose name I love to pronounce. Also, she’s fantastic. However, I have not read The House of Sand and Fog, so I have no idea what it’s about.

Fun Fact!: I went into my office a few weeks ago to get a book for my mother to read, and I found a copy of The House of Sand and Fog on my bookcase. I have no idea where that came from, or when I purchased it. Although now that I think about it, I may have taken it from the remnants of the huge yard sale we did this summer … but regardless, while it wasn’t as weird as that time my Dad found six Silence of the Lambs posters that he claims I purchased and I have no memory of doing so, it is still a tad weird.

SO ANYWAY. Dirty Love is a series of short stories-slash-novellas, and each deals with a romantic relationship and the downsides of all of them. It’s so heartwarming! Merry Christmas, everyone!

The first story, “Listen Carefully As Our Options Have Changed,” tells the story of Mark Welch’s divorce. Mark is a project manager, and he’s been married to Laura for a long time. They divorce because Laura has fallen in love with Frank Harrison, Jr., but Mark is still living in the apartment over the garage.

From what I recall (because remember, I read this in April, it’s been a while, I said I was going to get better at this, clearly I lied), the meat of this story comes from the character deep dive we do on Mark. The story is told from Mark’s perspective, which means the salient points flow through Mark’s head, kind of like a stream of consciousness. So it starts off with the current problem Mark’s dealing with, but then he’ll remember something from years before, like this gem of advice from his former mentor:

“Your problem is you’ve subscribed to the wrong motivational theory. That’s what big sisters do. They believe everyone has their heart in the right place at the right time and all you have to do is point them in the right direction. Wrong. People are naturally fucking lazy. They’d rather lie around all day eating, fucking, and scratching their balls. That’s why pricks are needed, my friend. It’s called micromanagement and it works.” [p. 22]

And Mark took that work advice to heart, and let it bleed into his personal life. HOO BOY, did HE make good choices!

Here’s what I’ve learned from micromanagers: they are GREAT at getting involved with everyone else’s shit, but they are COMPLETELY INCAPABLE of managing their own. And Mark Welch is an excellent example of that in literary form.

And he used that micromanage-ey trait when he first met Laura, as his realtor:

But there was something so accepting about this woman [Laura] who had sold him his condo that he was soon inviting her into it, the sun low over the water. Mark distracted by the gold in her hair, her deep green eyes, her high cheekbones and straight clavicle, and he liked how she wanted to hear about him, his job and his boyhood, but not like she was interrogating him or sizing him up. There was a calm to her, a passivity he could only do one thing with – to take it in his two hands and begin to shape, then manage her as he saw fit. [p. 79-80]

Let me be clear: Mark is an asshole. But – like with many assholes – sometimes, what they say has a ring of truth to them. For instance:

[…] the sounds of a television in an open window somewhere, baseball again, the Red Sox, and he was a good athlete in high school, fast enough to play in college though he did not for he knew he was not good enough to play behind that so what was the point? It wasn’t practical. It wasn’t the logical thing to do, and he is so tired of logic, so tired of managing every last detail of each and every day, and how sweet to let go of the wheel and let someone else drive […] [p. 49]

As someone who, for the longest time, kept her focus on the practical choices and rarely deviated down a spontaneous, frivolous path, that paragraph stung, a bit. However, my Type A control won’t even let me think of passing the wheel to someone else. (When Beyoncé asked all the women who’re independent to throw our hands up at her, you bet your ass I threw mine the highest and hardest. Not that she could see, but still)

And then, going back to Mark’s assholery (which Word recognizes as a real word, go me!), there’s this moment where his lover, Lisa, pisses him off about something and he grabs her wrist:

“Fuck you.” A flame flares up behind his left eye, the back of her knuckles sliding away like a snake’s head, and he is on his feet, the plastic chair sailing out away from them, the clatter of it on the neighbor’s roof before falling though Mark’s eyes are not on it but on Lisa Schena’s, her wrist locked between his squeezing fingers.

“What gives you the right to do that, huh? What?

“Let go of me.” Laura’s words, not this woman’s, but they come from her mouth like some memorized lines from a script written before any of them were born. [p. 68-69]


The second story in the book is “Marla.” It’s about Marla. Marla’s a curvy, overweight woman who is slightly obsessive about her body image (as all curvy women can be). She’s never dated before, and she works at a bank. She meets Dennis, who’s got a bit of a dad bod, I guess? My notes from when I finished the book note that Dennis is also “curvy”, so I’m going to go with it. Dennis is a fictional character, what’s he gonna do, yell at me for using a feminine descriptor? Go fuck yourself, Dennis.

Anyway, Dennis flirts with Marla at the bank and she agrees to go out on a date with him. And they keep dating, to the point where she moves into his apartment. The problem in this story is that Marla can feel herself slipping away from herself slowly as she goes through the relationship. First, Dennis always showers immediately after sex, which gives Marla a bit of a complex. She moves into his apartment, and finds herself always watching the movies that Dennis wants to watch. Dennis gets up from the table after dinner and immediately washes the dishes, like, he can’t wait five minutes to talk before those dishes need to be cleaned. Marla talks to her friends about the relationship, and she’s confused; after all, this is her first one. At first it’s nice that he dotes on her and she feels that they’re in love, but at the same time, she recognizes that he is subsuming her sense of self, and she’s letting it happen, because they’re in a relationship.

Remember when I said I was independent? While I may be curvy and neurotic like Marla, and yes, I haven’t really dated, but as nice as the dude is? This story will never happen to Alaina. And yes, this story did hit a bit close to home at times.

MOVING ON. Third story, “The Bartender.” I didn’t take many notes on this one. The titular bartender is Robert Doucette. He’s married to Althea, who is expecting their first child. Robert bartends at an oceanfront hotel (I’m gonna call it the Seafarer, but I’m 83% sure I’m wrong). He flirts with the waitresses, but he does so as a front; he considers himself a failed poet. He went to college for an English degree, and hoped to write poetry. He considers his bartending a failure, and he keeps searching for people to appreciate him.

He remembers advice a former teacher had given him about a poem Robert had written, in which the poem deals directly with Robert’s adolescence and his hopes of escaping his hometown:

That poet-in-residence had told Robert he should start looking at other people instead of expecting everyone to look at him. [p. 155]

So obviously, Robert totally learned his lesson.

Over the summer, Robert has an affair with Jackie, a waitress at the bar. Althea discovers the affair and gets so upset (I think she may also fall?) that she suffers a placental abruption. Robert races to the hospital to learn that the baby is born early.

The final story is also the titular story, “Dirty Love.” “Dirty Love” concerns itself with Devon, an 18-year-old high school dropout who lives with her Uncle Francis. She dropped out of high school when a video of her blowing her boyfriend was posted on the internet and her father found out.

Uncle Francis is in his 80s and a widower. He’s a former teacher, and also a former drunk. His wife, Beth, loved him dearly but also nagged and complained at him and his drinking in an attempt to force him to be better. He tries to tutor Devon in-between her shifts as a maid at the Seafarer in the hopes of getting her to college, but Devon doesn’t have any ambition to that.

At night, Devon wades through the misery found on ChatRoulette (though it may have been named something different in the book), and meets Hollis. They chat and have conversations, and she tries to hide her late-night conversations from Francis because she doesn’t think he’ll understand.

At one point, Charlie, Devon’s father, visits Francis and wants to have Devon come home. But Francis doesn’t want that to happen, because Devon’s being there has given Francis something to do in his retirement, and he feels useful for the first time in a long while.

“Dirty Love” ends with hope. I couldn’t spoil it if I wanted to, because I can’t recall the exact ending, but I know Devon leaves Francis with the intent of escaping her roots. Whether that will end up like Robert’s attempt or not is left up to the reader. But speaking of independence, this quote from Francis stuck with me:

[…] for if he’s learned nothing in all his years he’s learned that, that from our first gasps for air till our last, we simply want to be left alone to do what we want to do when we want to do it, and because this is rarely the case we crave oblivion in any way it presents its dark, sweet self to us. [p. 287]

You, me, and Greta Garbo, Francis.

Overall, I liked the four stories; I thought they were very well-written, and offered four different perspectives on romantic love and the pitfalls therein. I’m a little proud of myself for finding this after Valentine’s Day, because this feels like something I’d try to read around that time and really depress myself; but I didn’t, so, inadvertent progress, or something.

Merry Christmas!

Grade for Dirty Love: 2.5 stars


Fiction: “Her Royal Spyness” by Rhys Bowen

Royal SpynessI follow Go Fug Yourself / @fuggirls on Twitter, and occasionally they’ll have a post called “Afternoon Book Chat” where people post comments about the books they’re currently reading. It’s great! And one afternoon, a whole bunch of people were raving about the “Her Royal Spyness” mysteries. Everyone was saying it’s so cute, and a fast read, and etc. etc.

I was intrigued! I went to Goodreads, and found out the first title in the series. (Shoulda known it was Her Royal Spyness, but that seemed almost too easy?) Then I went to the Yarmouth library’s website and … learned that they have almost every other title in the series, but not the first one.

What. Why. What.

So I look for a link to request an inter-library loan on the website. No dice. Nowhere within the website is there a link to the inter-library loan program. There is a link for “purchase request,” which makes me sad. But then I remember that Yarmouth is one of the richest towns in southern Maine and I also pay taxes, so fuck it, I request that the library purchases the book.

Like, three days later I get an email: Your request has been fulfilled. And I’m all impressed that they sent someone out to Barnes & Noble to buy a book just for me!

donald hearts.gif

When I go to pick up the book – it was an inter-library loan from the Portland Public Library.

What. Why. What.



Her Royal Spyness is the first in a series of quasi-“cozy” mysteries starring Lady Victoria Georgiana Charlotte Eugenie (known as Georgie), thirty-fourth in line to the British throne. She lives in a drafty Scottish castle with her brother, Rannoch (known as Binkie), and Binkie’s wife, Fig. Fig is trying to set Georgie up with a suitor so as to a) get her settled and b) out of the castle, and being fiercely independent, Georgie instead pretends to go visit friends in London and stay in the residence there.

The book takes place in the early 1920s…? (*checks the wiki*) Yes, the late 1920s – this is before King Edward VIII abdicates to be with Wallis Simpson and well before WWII. It’s still considered inappropriate for a young lady to be living in London unescorted; hence, the lying. Plus, Georgie’s cousin – the Queen – would most likely order her to be a lady-in-waiting, which is really just ‘waiting’ to be married off to some other obscure royal relative, and Georgie wants no part of that.

Georgie moves into her brother’s London residence, but because she ran away, there are no servants to make sure there’s food in the house or fires lit. She manages to fend for herself, including through the assistance of her good friend Belinda, an up-and-coming fashion designer. Georgie and Belinda go to quite a few parties, and Belinda hopes to see Georgie set herself up with a lover or three before the season’s out.

Georgie does have a few bantery exchanges with Darcy O’Mara, a titled (but penniless) peer who happens to be Irish Catholic – apparently making him inappropriate for someone of Georgie’s stature to ‘pal’ around with. (I think. I’m recapping this by the seat of my pants, to be honest – I read it back in March and, as evidenced by the first few paragraphs, was a library book, so it’s not like I can go back to the bookshelf and skim to make sure I’m remembering it correctly.) And every time Georgie thinks she likes him, something happens to make her suspect him for something.

Like, a dead body in her house.

Gaston de Mauxville visits her and Binkie in their house (once Binkie return to Town on business) and claims he has a letter from Georgie and Binkie’s father, giving de Mauxville Rannoch Castle to settle a gambling debt. And one day when Georgie comes home, the dead body of de Mauxville is lying in Binkie’s bathroom. And of course, Binkie is made to appear the chief suspect.

Meanwhile, Georgie needs to make money. When Fig tells her Binkie’s coming down to London and asks Georgie to make sure the servants get everything ready … there are no servants, because Georgie lied. So she goes about and gets everything ready and realizes that she could advertise to wealthy nobles as a maid whose only job is to open houses for the season – removing dustcloths, washing windows, turning the heat on, etc. So she starts a maid service and makes a few pounds without Binkie noticing.

There’s also Tristram Hautbois, a third-rate noble (again, I think, I’m going off my scant notes here) who Georgie used to know as a form of stepbrother or something? But they hang out a lot together and Georgie enjoys his company. Darcy O’Mara is part of Tristram’s group, and each gentleman warns Georgie about the other.

Look, I know I’m doing a bad job of reviewing this book. After reading it so long ago, I didn’t take a lot of notes regarding the details and intricacies of the plot. I didn’t jot down any quotes from the book, either. But what I can tell you is that Georgie is delightful, her courtship with Darcy is delightful, Binkie and Fig are stereotypes but no less delightful, and when Georgie finally gets her visit with the Queen, the Queen asks Georgie to attend a house party where the Prince of Wales will also be in attendance, and would Georgie be so kind as to keep an eye on His Royal Highness’s paramour, Mrs. Simpson?

I’m definitely looking forward to reading the next book. (To keep myself out of trouble with the Yarmouth Library, I’ve ordered it off of Amazon as an early Christmas present to me, from me.) And I promise I’ll do better with its review.

Grade for Her Royal Spyness: 3 stars

Non-Fiction: “All The President’s Men” by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward

all the president's menThis was the title that originally brought me to the library for the first time in 2017. I mean, gee, I wonder why I’d want to learn more about Watergate? That time when the United States had a President that was actively encouraging crime and misdemeanors? The second-to-last time a President was impeached? (Some would argue, the last time a President was impeached for good reason?) The last time in history when elections were so blatantly manipulated? GEE, I WONDER WHY

I mean, there are other reasons. But the primary reason I decided to read All The President’s Men was because the DVD wasn’t available, and I couldn’t stream it on any of my platforms. The secondary reason is, much like Jake Tapper said recently on Late Night With Stephen Colbert, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it [often] rhymes.” (This quote, according to Google, has been attributed to Mark Twain.) So while Russiagate certainly may look like Watergate, it isn’t exactly the same thing.

(One could argue that Russiagate is inherently worse, and I would be one of those doing the arguing on that side, but again, I try very hard, you guys to keep politics out of this blog as much as possible. Having said that, this entry is going to be one of those times I try not so hard.)

Here’s another reason I was drawn to All The President’s Men: it is, at its heart, a story about reporting. And before I get into some key quotes, let me tell y’all about Spotlight.

Spotlight won Best Picture at the Oscars back in 2016, which, thank God, y’all, because its main contender that year was The fucking Revenant, and it has been almost three years but I am still fucking mad at that movie’s existence. Thankfully, I watched Spotlight first, and I loved it. But not for reasons you may think.

For those who may be unfamiliar with Spotlight, a brief overview: the movie talks about the Spotlight team of reporters, working for the Boston Globe. A team of four to five reporters with an editor in charge, they dig deep into investigative reporting: chase down leads, interview people, do research, the whole thing. It takes this team months to develop a story, and they do not publish anything until the information has been verified by multiple sources and the editor knows it is worthy of print. The story the team is working on in the movie is the bombshell that dropped in Boston back in 2001, about the massive coverup employed by the Catholic clergy in protecting priests who had molested children in their parish.

Boston is hugely Catholic. It shook the entire city. But additionally, victims came pouring out of the woodwork and the impact reverberated all the way back to the Vatican. It was a huge discovery. And it was accomplished by the sheer doggedness of the reporting team.

When I originally went to college, I wanted to go into communications: I wanted to be a journalist. I imagined myself reading the news (by the way, this is before Anchorman came out, so I can’t even say I was inspired by Veronica Corningstone). But I started college in September of 2001. Eleven days in, the entire face of news reporting changed overnight. News became 24-hour driven, and everything was breaking news. And I’m not talking about just the September 11 attacks and the aftermath. Even today, everything becomes breaking news. And the praise for long-form reporting is practically gone: if you don’t have a story right now goddammit, you don’t have a story. The news can’t wait for facts to be confirmed, and the news can’t wait for an entire story to be revealed before go time. Look at the unfortunate reporting circumstances around the death of Tom Petty; I saw on Twitter that he was dead, but when I checked the Washington Post, they stated he was in critical condition. But people can’t wait to fact-check anymore.

People also have a much shorter attention span nowadays, but that’s a different story altogether.

So I loved Spotlight because I really tuned into the love of the reporting that went into that story. I admit, I was one of the very lucky individuals who was far enough removed from the Church that I don’t have a personal story about a priest. But many of my friends did. Maybe not to them, but they heard about a thing happening and then a priest moving away and no one ever talking about the thing ever again. It was a hard film to watch for someone with those circumstances, and my heart goes out to each and every one of them. So when I say “oh my god, I loved Spotlight,” please know I’m coming at it from a much different angle than you may originally think.

Taking that into consideration, I was intrigued on what All The President’s Men would look like. Was it just reprints of the articles? Or was it the story behind the stories? (It was the latter.)

Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward were junior Metro reporters who happened to get assigned the story of a “third-rate burglary” that occurred on June 17, 1972. Woodward got the call at 9 a.m. that morning and was asked to cover it, and his first thought was that he was being returned to piddly-assed stories he used to cover. Little did he know what would unravel.

I’m not going to get into a lot of the plot (mainly because I copied some quotes almost seven months ago, and I can’t really recall a lot of the context); the book actually ends before Nixon’s resignation. Eventually, I’ll rent the DVD and do a tie-in to Movies Alaina’s Never Seen (I’d check to see if it’s on my List, but I’m writing this in a Word doc because I’m still without power following the massive wind storm from earlier this week) (Note From the Future: I just checked; it’s not on the list). But here are some quotes that really stuck with me, for one reason or another.

Early in the investigation, Woodward contacted Ken W. Clawson, deputy director of White House communications (Sam Seaborn on The West Wing) to discuss the address book in police inventory following the arrest of the Watergate burglars, which contained the name of Howard Hunt.

An hour later, Clawson called back to say that [Howard] Hunt had worked as a White House consultant on declassification of the Pentagon Papers and, more recently, on a narcotics intelligence project. Hunt had last been paid as a consultant on March 29, he said, and had not done any work for the White House since.

“I’ve looked into the matter very thoroughly, and I am convinced that neither Mr. Colson nor anyone else at the White House had any knowledge of, or participation in, this deplorable incident at the Democratic National Committee,” Clawson said.

The comment was unsolicited. [p. 24-25]

Seems innocuous, right? But when you’re a reporter and the person you’re asking information for just volunteers information like that (“Mr. Colson nor anyone else at the White House had any knowledge of, or participation in, this deplorable incident at the [DNC]”), chances are there’s a shade of someone protesting too much, methinks.

(“Also, there is NO COLLUSION!”)

Woodward and Bernstein investigated the burglars, and learned that one of them had a neat sum of $89,000 deposited into one of his bank accounts. They found other checks, one written out to Kenneth H. Dahlberg. Bernstein went to Miami to view the cashier’s check, and asked about the check.

The president knew Dahlberg only slightly as the owner of a winter home in Boca Raton, and as a director of a bank in Fort Lauderdale. That bank’s president was James Collins.

Yes, Collins said, Dahlberg was a director of the bank. As he was describing Dahlberg’s business interests, Collins paused and said, “I don’t know his exact title, but he headed the Midwestern campaign for President Nixon in 1968, that was my understanding.”

Bernstein asked him to please repeat the last statement. [p. 42]

Now, Bernstein’s on the phone at that point; but can’t you just see him sit up in his chair at the mention of the Nixon campaign, and ask disbelievingly, “Say that again”?

This is one of my favorite passages, because it gets to the heart of one of my favorite things: editing:

At about 11:00 p.m., he got another call from [Powell] Moore [Deputy press director of the Committee to Re-elect the President {CRP}, former White House aide], who had talked to John Mitchell [campaign director CRP, former Attorney General] and had a new statement:

There is absolutely no truth to the charges in the Post story. Neither Mr. Mitchell nor Mr. [Maurice H.] Stans [Finance Chairman, CRP; former Secretary of Commerce] has any knowledge of any disbursement from an alleged fund as described by the Post and neither of them controlled any committee expenditures while serving as government officials.

Bernstein studied the statement and underlined the soft spots. The charges in the Post story. What charges? Disbursement from an alleged fund as described by the Post. There was no denial of the fund’s existence, or that money had been disbursed, only of the way it was described. Neither of them controlled any committee expenditures. Technically correct. [Hugh W.] Sloan [Treasurer, CRP; former aide to H.R. Haldeman, White House Chief of Staff] had controlled the expenditures, Mitchell and Stans had only approved them.

It was the cleverest denial yet, Bernstein told Moore and tried to go over it with him. Moore wouldn’t play. [p. 104]

I know, there’s a lot of names in that paragraph. But look at the way Bernstein parses the White House’s denial of the story, and how much more the White House gives away in its denial! I would say that a certain White House could learn from such a response, but I don’t want them to learn how to be professional; it would almost make things that much worse.

(“If you want to get into a debate with a four-star Marine general, I think that that’s something highly inappropriate.”)

Oh, gee, I wonder why I decided to copy the entirety of this next quote, back in March, months before the Nazi uprising in Charlottesville, and also, the first proclamation of fake news, no, Donny, you didn’t make up the term, that was Clark McGregor, you asshole:

[[The following is all taken from a speech Clark MacGregor, John Mitchell’s successor as director of the Nixon campaign, makes at a press conference, trying to steer the tide from George McGovern, Democratic nominee for the President:]]

Lashing out wildly, George McGovern has compared the President of the United States to Adolf Hitler, the Republican Party to the Ku Klux Klan, and the United States Government to the Third Reich of Nazi Germany . . . .

Using innuendo, third-person hearsay, unsubstantiated charges, anonymous sources and huge scare headlines, the Post has maliciously sought to give the appearance of a direct connection between the White House and the Watergate – a charge which the Post knows and half a dozen investigations have found to be false.

The hallmark of the Post’s campaign is hypocrisy – and its celebrated “double standard” is today visible for all to see.

Unproven charges by McGovern aides, or Senator Muskie [he was from Maine!], about alleged campaign disruptions that occurred more than six months ago are invariably given treatment normally accorded to declarations of war – while proven facts of opposition-incited disruptions of the President’s campaign are buried deep inside the paper. [p. 164]

Guys – history doesn’t repeat itself, but it sure as hell rhymes.

Oh, hey, speaking of fake news – this is from one of the conversations Woodward had with Deep Throat, and this is Deep Throat talking about Nixon:

“Nixon was wild, shouting and hollering that ‘we can’t have it and we’re going to stop it, I don’t care how much it costs.’ His theory is that the news media have gone way too far and the trend has to be stopped – almost like he was talking about federal spending. He’s fixed on the subject and doesn’t care how much time it takes; he wants it done. To him, the question is no less than the very integrity of government and basic loyalty. He thinks the press is out to get him and therefore is disloyal; people who talk to the press are even worse – the enemies within, or something like that.” [p. 269]

Man … like, I don’t really have a pithy remark right here. I’m just going to play The Propellerhead’s “History Repeating” over and over again and cry into my bottle of water (it’s after 10 p.m. and I’m taking a short sabbatical from booze for no reason other than I want to).

This next quote is a good reminder that common sense should —

Okay, you want to know something sad? I was going to say “common sense should trump all else,” but I didn’t want to write the word ‘trump’. It’s a perfectly cromulent word*, but it fills me with such distaste to use it as it should.

Fuck you, Donny, for forcing a perfectly good word out of my vocabulary.

*Before I get back into the introduction for this next quote, I should remind you that I’m writing this in Word because I have no internet, but guys – Word recognizes ‘cromulent’ as a word! It’s not misspelled! HOLY SHIT, you guys, ‘cromulent’ has become cromulent!!

ANYWAY. This next quote is a good reminder that common sense should always come first:

[Woodward] recalled a lesson he had learned in his freshman year at Yale. The instructor had assigned the students to read some medieval documents that gave somewhat conflicting accounts of Henry IV’s famous visit to Canossa in 1077 to seek Pope Gregory’s forgiveness. According to all of them, the King had waited barefoot in the snow outside the Vatican for days. Woodward had pored over the documents, made notes and based his paper on the facts on which most accounts agreed. All the witnesses had Henry IV out there in the snow for days with his feet bare. The instructor had failed Woodward because he had not used common sense. No human being could stand for days barefoot in the snow and not have his feet freeze off, the instructor said. “The divine right of kings did not extend to overturning the laws of nature and common sense.” [p. 230-231]

The divine right of kings – or given rights of elected officials – should not extend to overturning laws of nature or common sense.

(“This is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!”)

In conversation with an associate of John W. Dean III (Counsel to the President, and if you haven’t seen him recently on Full Frontal, you should), Bernstein learned that John D. Ehrlichman (Assistant to the President for Domestic Affairs) wanted to have some files “deep sixed”.

Bernstein was more shaken by all of this than by anything since June 17. It was the language and the context of Ehrlichman’s remark to Dean that troubled him. Just as if they were a couple of Mafiosi talking to each other in a restaurant, the President’s number-two assistant had said to the President’s consigliere: Hey, Joe, we gotta dump this stuff in the river before the boss gets hurt.

Howard Simons [managing editor of the Post] slouched in a chair, drawing deeply on a cigarette, the color gone from his face. “A director of the FBI destroying evidence? I never thought it could happen,” he said quietly. [p. 306-307]

HEY HOWARD – would you believe that an FBI director could be fired without notice and then that same FBI director would leak his unclassified memos to a friend so as to install a Special Counsel? Is that believable?!

This quote is how the book ends (and remember, this book was originally published on June 15, 1974; Nixon wouldn’t resign until August 9 of that year):

To those who will decide if he [Nixon] should be tried for “high crimes and misdemeanors” – the House of Representatives –
And to those who would sit in judgment at such a trial if the House impeaches – the Senate –
And to the man who would preside at such an impeachment trial – the Chief Justice of the United States, Warren Burger –
And to the nation …
The President said, “I want you to know that I have no intention whatever of ever walking away from the job that the American people elected me to do for the people of the United States.” [p. 336]

I meant to point out something before I talked about this last quote … OH. So, the version of the book I read back in March was probably originally published in 1974 – it was one of those library books with the generic cover, all one color, and the spine had the title printed on it but there was no imagery or dust jacket. It reminded me of every book I ever took out of the USM library, because the USM library probably hadn’t had any new purchases for it after the year I was born. But between then and now (probably some time in May, because I felt I’d need it again after the Fucktard’s first version of his own Saturday Night Massacre), I ordered a paperback copy off of Amazon. The version that came to me is the 40th Anniversary Edition, and it includes a short afterward written by Bernstein and Woodward. I’m not going to get into it fully, but the Afterward brings up the question posed by Senator Sam Ervin, chair of the Senate Watergate committee: “What was Watergate?”

Bernstein and Woodward attempt to answer that question here, albeit briefly. It wasn’t merely the burglary that occurred on June 17, 1972. And it wasn’t merely the cover-up and obstruction of justice the White House engaged in following the burglary. Bernstein and Woodward posit that Watergate consisted of the five wars Nixon waged while in office:

The war against the anti-war movement;
The war on the news media;
The war against the Democrats;
The war on the justice system;
and the war on history.

And without getting too deep into discussing the Afterward (which is well-written, and definitely worth your time), I leave you with this last quote from a well-placed CRP official, talking to Woodward:

The man seemed disaffected, disgusted with the White House and the tactics that had been used to re-elect the President. “If there was an honest and a dishonest way to do something,” he said, “and if both ways would get the same results, we picked the dishonest way … Now, tell me why anyone would do that.” [p. 265]

History doesn’t repeat itself, but by god, does it fucking rhyme.

Grade for All The President’s Men: 3.5 stars

Fiction: “A Countess Below Stairs” by Eva Ibbotson

countess below stairsAfter I finished The Lies of Locke Lamora, I went to the library. And folks, I went to the library a lot this year. A LOT A LOT. I realize I finished reading this book in March and I’m writing this post (in a Word document, because of the no power) on Halloween night, so I can’t talk about 2017 as a whole yet, but so far, out of the 22 books I’ve read to date, 12 have been from the library. That’s actually pretty good for me!

So this is a title I picked up on a whim. I thought it would be cute! It claimed to be about Russia! Why I would be curious about the Russian Revolution I’ll never know, said the girl who got All The President’s Men from the library on the same trip, but WHATEVER. The short answer is: I was wrong on many counts.

A Countess Below Stairs tells the story of Anna, a Russian countess who emigrates to England following the Bolshevik revolution. She and her family are forced out of their home (being of the ruling class), and when she comes to England, she decides to be a maid in an English country house to earn money for the family. Her mother and cousin (or brother? I’m not sure) don’t want her to degrade herself, but Anna refuses to relent.

Anna is also the happiest displaced Russian countess I’ve ever come across, and I watched Anastasia maybe a hundred frillion times when I was a kid. I mean, nothing got her down at all. She is excited to learn how to scrub floors! She entrances everyone who she comes in contact with! The gardener names a new type of rose after her! It’s all very twee.

So she’s been working at Mersham (the English manse) when the owner, Rupert, comes home after being in the hospital following the end of World War I. He is engaged to Muriel, and while he (thinks he) is in love with her, Muriel has also offered to help pay for repairs to Mersham, so that’s cool.

Ooo, want to play When Did Alaina Get Really Concerned About Muriel And This Book Overall? The answer is Page 54, where Robert described Muriel to some of his friends or maybe the butler:

“It wasn’t just that I knew she was an heiress – you know how people gossip in a hospital – but she’s also extremely beautiful. And an intellectual! She has this passionate interest in eugenics.” [p. 54]

Eugenics! Oh – that’s great. Just – peachy.

Let me very clear on this point: Muriel is a Nazi!

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You guys, I am serious. This was another book I’d bring to the gym to read on the recumbent bike, and multiple times I had to stop pedaling so I could gape and the outright horror I was reading.

Muriel subscribes to the beliefs of Dr. Lightbody, another “believer in eugenics.” Let’s see what he sounds like!:

Briefly, the doctor believed that it was possible, by diet, exercise, and various kinds of purification about which he was perfectly willing to be specific when asked, to create an Ideal Human Body. But this was not all. When his disciples had made of their bodies a fitting Temple of the Spirit, it was also their obligation to mate with like bodies. [p. 91]

Their obligation to mate with like bodies. Hoooly fuck.

Apparently, most of the followers of Dr. Lightbody were female, as evidenced by this snippet of a speech he gives:

“All of us, ladies and gentlemen,” declaimed the doctor, looking round to see if, among the sea of swelling bosoms, there were, in fact, any gentlemen, “have it in our power to acquire – by Right Diet, Right Living and the avoidance of lechery and vice – a body that is flawless and an unsullied chalice, a hallowed temple for the human spirit. Can we doubt that, having acquired it, it is our duty to pass it on to our unborn children and make of this island race a nation of gods? Valhalla is in our grasp, ladies and gentlemen. Let us march toward it with confidence, unity, and joy!” [p. 92-93]

Seriously. This whole aspect of the novel is so gross. I actually looked up when it was written – y’know, maybe, like with the Ian Fleming novels, I can handwave the racist/Nazi overtones by claiming “it was a product of its time”?

NOPE. According to, this book was published in 2007. TWO THOUSAND SEVEN.

So instead, this character choice was made to emphasize how awful these people (Muriel and Dr. Lightbody) are. I can only assume Ms. Ibbotson wanted NO ONE to even THINK of sympathizing with the villains in her novel. Which, fine, great, whatever, but you didn’t need to make them Nazis, Eva.

(This is where some of those “fine folks” chime in and tell me that Muriel and Dr. Lightbody aren’t Nazis because they didn’t belong to the Nazi party as the Nazi party wasn’t fully established until 1918, and also, they just have a fond belief in eugenics, that doesn’t mean Nazis, but actually YES IT FUCKING DOES YOU TWAT NOW GET THE FUCK OUT OF MY LIBRARY)

I mean, Muriel is a horrible person even without her Nazi tendencies. Rupert’s best friend, Tom Byrne, has a younger sister, Olivia. Everyone loves Olivia – she’s a sweet, precocious kid who happens to have a slight limp. Rupert has asked Muriel to make Olivia (“Ollie”) her flower girl in the wedding ceremony, and Muriel agrees. And then, Muriel meets her at the dress fitting:

Muriel seemed not to have heard. Ever since Ollie had appeared in the doorway she had been staring in silent fascination at the child. Now she drew in her breath and as Anna, guided by some instinct, stepped forward and Tom Byrne entered to fetch the bridesmaids, she hissed, in a whisper which carried right across the room:

“Why did no one tell me that the child was crippled!” [p. 155]

Oh, and lest you start to agree with the “fine folks” that you can’t be a Nazi unless you hate Jews, guess what; Muriel does.

Tom Byrne is in love with Susie Rabinovitch. This is Muriel speaking about the Byrnes (probably to Dr. Lightbody):

“And even socially … they entertain Israelites of a kind that would not have been permitted over my father’s doorsteps.” [p. 178]

Susie’s mother, Hannah, sends a wedding present to Muriel, and while we don’t get to read Muriel’s thank-you note in full, we do get to see Hannah’s reaction to it:

Hannah was standing by the window, the letter in her hand. She looked, suddenly, immensely, unutterably weary and as old as one of the mourning, black-clad women in the Cossack-haunted village of her youth. And indeed the hideous thing that had crept out from beneath Muriel’s honeyed, conventional phrases was as old, as inescapable, as time itself. [p. 223]

At the end of the day, Muriel and Dr. Lightbody are just disgusting characters. Here, we see Dr. Lightbody trying to find a costume for the costume ball, and contemplates going as the Egyptian Sun King:

 It was closer, much closer – but there was something a little bit effeminate about the whole ensemble. Not surprising, really – when all was said and done there was a touch of the tarbrush about the Egyptians. [p. 243]

Now, the good news, is that Rupert catches wise to the fact that Muriel is truly awful. He also falls in love with Anna, not knowing she’s a former countess. They have great conversations, and Anna’s optimistic joy infects Rupert.

He also has a bit of a fetish when it comes to Anna’s hair. She wants to cut it in the flapper style, but Rupert doesn’t want her to touch the length of it. One day, he’s in town visiting his solicitor (or whatever) and happens to see Anna go into a hair salon. He immediately runs across the street and confronts Anna:

“I wish to be attractive for your wedding,” she went on pleadingly, lifting her face to his. “Is that a crime?”

“Ah, yes; my wedding.” The word reared up to meet him, banishing the last traces of lunacy. He became aware of René staring at him salaciously, of Elsie, with her mouth open, clutching a towel … “You will be very attractive for my wedding,” he said lightly. “For my funeral also, je vous assure.” He lifted a hand, laid it for a moment on the rich, dark tresses where they mantled her shoulders, then turned it, letting the backs of his fingers run upward against the shining waves. For an instant he felt his touch on her cheek; then he stepped back. “There, that was my ration for all eternity. People have died for less, I dare say.” [p. 263]

I mean, slightly creepy, yet compared to the Nazi of it all, strangely sweet.

In the end, Rupert leaves Muriel – or, rather, forces her out of the relationship by pretending to have mentally deformed cousins, which is also just terrible – and he declares his love for Anna, just as she discovers the family jewelry that was nearly lost in their escape from Russia, so she doesn’t have to be a maid anymore and everyone lives as happily ever after as they can, considering there were Nazis involved.

I still can’t believe that this is marketed as a Young Adult novel. Well, okay, maybe I can. But I can’t believe there wasn’t a single editor along the way who thought to point out that maybe, making the villains Nazis was just on the side of “too much”.

Aaanyway. At least it’s over.

Grade for A Countess Below Stairs: no stars

Fiction: “The Lies of Locke Lamora” by Scott Lynch

locke lamoraBefore I get into the meat of this, AN UPDATE on: THE FRIEND’S CAR

You may not be aware, what with the terror incidents, the indictments, and all the other shit circulating in the news right now, but Sunday night, Maine was hit by a particularly hard windstorm. Gusts over 60 mph, driving rain, and from the southeast direction. Generally speaking, when Maine gets hit with storms, they come from the northeast. (A “nor’easter,” if you will.) But with this one coming from the southeast, it hit trees at particularly weak spots, and … yeah. It was gross.

My house lost power early Monday morning. I’m writing this paragraph just before 8 p.m. on Tuesday night, and I’ve been told I shouldn’t expect power before Thursday. (Thank goodness for generators.) We’ve got an actual state of emergency up in here, so … things are rough.

[NOTE FROM THE FUTURE: I’m posting this entry after 10 p.m. on Friday, November 3. We just got power back a little after 7 p.m. We were without power for nearly five full days. I have done so much reading this week – I also have two reviews stored up to post, so, silver lining, I guess.]

So anyway, on Tuesday, I returned my friend’s call tonight to see how he’s doing, and …. he tells me, that on Sunday night, during the wind storm from hell –

a tree fell on his new car. right through the moonroof.

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Like, I can’t even, you guys. I can’t with this. I just. I am laughing so hard at this, again, some more, five days later. I mean, karma, you guys – CARMA.

I guess the only good news is that this car can’t be abandoned in a parking garage, because he’s payments on it? I just — *sigh* it’s too good. It’s hilarious.

Needless to say, however, I won’t be covering his still-abandoned vehicle with Jerry Maguire VHS tapes anymore. That would be beyond the pale; I’d practically be pouring salt into the wound at that rate.

Okay. So that’s the update. Thank you for indulging me in my “horrible person” persona. And now, a poorly-written review.

When I get bored with the endless circle of Facebook, Twitter, and now, the Washington Post, I’ll check out Buzzfeed. Up until what feels like very recent times, Buzzfeed would occasionally post book recommendations. (Unlike last week, where an actual post is titled “Pick Six ‘90s Foods, Then We’ll Correctly Guess Your Age.” I picked Toaster Strudel, Dunkaroos, Handi-Snacks, Capri Sun, Flintstone’s Push-Up Pop, and Lunchables. Buzzfeed thought I was 22 to 25. I am 34.)

Back in 2015, Buzzfeed posted a list of the 51 Best Fantasy Series Ever Written. I’ve ventured into the fantasy genre on occasion, but never more than a title here or there. I’ve wanted to read more fantasy lately, and so I browsed the Buzzfeed list, and came across the description for the “Gentlemen Bastard Sequence” by Scott Lynch:

Thieves, pirates, and a beautifully planned series of heists that are a delight to watch unfold. This series is not without its share of heartbreak and loss, but the tribulations of its protagonists are tempered with a joyful sense of mischief, cunning, and a fair amount of swashbuckling. Oceans 11 meets Pirates of the Caribbean meets Robin Hood.

DUDES. That is right up my alley! Ocean’s Eleven? Pirates? HEISTS?! I love all of those things! On one of my lunchtime trips to Barnes and Noble, I found a copy, purchased it, and forgot about it – until January, when I needed to read something on the plane from Boston to Vegas and back. The book is over 700 pages long, and I thought it would keep me occupied.

I slept through all the flights. I read maybe sixty pages? It was weird – it was one of those books that felt like it took forever for action and plot to start, but I’d think it was “starting too slow” and look at the page number and found I was on page 145 or something. If I can make it past page 50 I’m in it for the long haul.

So what’s The Lies of Locke Lamora about? Uuhhhh….

Look, I’m sorry: this is a dense book, and there’s no way I’m going to do it proper justice. I read it almost ten months ago. I can give you what details I can remember, but please know I’m not being very good at it. What I can tell you is that if you like fantasy novels (or, really, epic novels) and sarcastic thieves with hearts of gold (or at least plated with it), chances are you’re going to like this book.

The story takes place on the island city of Camorr, which is made up of the thievery class and the rich upper class. There are sects in the thieves as well. When Locke is a little boy, he is sold to Father Chains of the Gentlemen Bastards, and taught to be a thief along with the Sanza twins, Calo and Galdo, and Jean, a young ruffian and excellent fighter. The Gentlemen Bastards grow up to be great Robin Hoods, stealing from the rich through crazy schemes (like, counterfeiting whisky from another island, and then asking for investment money).

Meanwhile, there’s a character known as the Grey King, who has been killing the capos of the thief gangs in Camorr in an attempt to consolidate power. (He is not actually a king.) And the Grey King ensnares Locke into his plot: Locke must pretend to be the Grey King and have a conversation with Locke’s good friend (and boss, of sorts), Capo Basarvi. Well, that plan goes tits-up pretty much immediately, and Basarvi and his family are murdered by the Grey King’s army, and Locke only just manages to escape with his life.

The rest of the book is Locke and Jean going for revenge on the Grey King. They succeed (spoiler alert? I mean, there are more books in the series, guys), but not without losses.

The book also jumps back and forth between present-day and the past, showing us how Locke came to be in the employ of Father Chains and the Gentlemen Bastards, some of their earlier escapades, and other tales.

Locke is a very sarcastic and witty character (after my own heart), but he uses his sarcasm to mask his emotions and seem detached. It allows him to do terrible things when necessary. But always for the good of the Gentlemen Bastards.

It was an interesting story – very dense, and not a lot of magic. There is someone called a Bondsmage, who is able to illusion people to do his bidding – or, actually, the bidding of the Gray King, who is the Bondsmage’s boss. But there aren’t wizards or other races (like Orcs or elves) to deal with – all the characters are human.

I wish I could remember more about the plot (or at least, had internet right now so I could look up the Wikipedia entry), but at the same time …

My Dear Friend Sarah and I had a discussion last year, driving back from New York late at night. I can’t remember how we got onto the topic – I think we started talking about Breaking Bad again and then spoilers – and what came out of that discussion was that she and I read books (and watch TV) differently than I do.

She views authors as telling us a story. And she puts her faith in letting the author develop that story enough to draw her interest. In relation to Breaking Bad, she couldn’t really get over that she was not interested in the story at all. Whereas I let my curiosity take hold and that was what propelled me through the series: I knew what was going to happen, and I wanted to see how the story got there.

When Sarah was growing up, she read primarily from the fantasy genre. Game of Thrones, the extended Star Wars universe, and others. Meanwhile, I was reading Trixie Belden and Nancy Drew, and eventually graduated to Kinsey Millhone and other mystery novels. She was reading books that took you on a journey; I was reading books that led to an answer or solution. And I think that’s why we came at Breaking Bad differently – she wanted a journey to enjoy, but I was looking for the solution.

Don’t get me wrong, I still don’t know how I feel about Breaking Bad, other than that I know I’m never going to rewatch it.

So I struggled reading The Lies Of Locke Lamora a bit – I’m not used to being taken on a journey like this. I think the modern parlance of the characters helped me enjoy it more than if I had been reading Tolkien or something. I’ll probably read the next book in the series, but it probably won’t be any time soon.

Anyway. That’s The Lies of Locke Lamora. I’m sorry I did a shitty job reviewing it, but I’m going to try and get better.

Grade for The Lies of Locke Lamora: 2 stars

Fiction: “Moonraker” by Ian Fleming

moonrakerOooohhhh it is 10:50 and I should really go to bed but I can type this up real quick because I don’t have a lot to say.

I picked up Moonraker almost a year ago because deep down, I still have a cockamamie plan to someday write a scholarly thesis about James Bond. But winter and (slight) depression set in back in January (when I finished reading this), and then my book blog backlog got stupid, and then earlier last week I went to pick up this book again so I could actually write the review and get moving on my backlog and I couldn’t find the book, and long story short, I found it, and now I realize I only have a couple of things to say about it.

Which is fine – sometimes I think I’m too damn long-winded on this thing.

This is the second time I’ve read this book, and the good news for you, Dear Reader, is that the first time I read it I actually did a sorta okay job reviewing it. No, really! I talked about Bond’s relationship with Gala Brand and how it wasn’t completely misogynist, and how Moonraker actually showed Bond’s personal life, and other things!

ALSO: that review mentioned a soon-to-be-happening tie-in to Movies Alaina’s Never Seen, because Alaina had Never Seen Moonraker, and guess what? It actually happened.

Behold, 2013: A Year Where Alaina Didn’t Completely Suck At Blogging.

Please, by all means, go read my “review”-slash-liveblog of Moonraker: The Movie. It is, to date, one of my most favorite things I’ve ever written. You’ll meet such characters as: the Illiterate Braless Pilot! The Venetian Ninja! The Braless Mute Orchid Whisperer! It’s great! Don’t forget your vodka.

So with all of that, there’s only one other thing I want to say about Moonraker, and it’s about the villain, Hugo Drax.

He’s a fucking Nazi.

I’m not making that up, and I’m not being hyperbolic. The book was first published in 1955. Ian Fleming was an operative that infiltrated Germany in hopes of gathering intelligence. James Bond and his exploits were modeled, in part, on some of Fleming’s missions. Nazis were fucking real, is what I’m saying.

I’m also saying Nazis are still fucking real and anyone daring to wear a swastika in public shouldn’t be surprised when they get punched in the face, but that’s another story for another blog post.

ANYWAY. Drax’s backstory in the book is that he was shelled and when he woke up in a hospital, he pretended to have amnesia. The British identified him as Hugo Drax, and he returned to England and made a whole lot of money and enjoyed great success in engineering, to the point where Drax was awarded the contract for the Moonraker missiles, designed to defend Britain from attack. Except Drax actually plotted Moonraker’s collision course for central London, and his plan would have worked if it wasn’t for those meddling spies, Bond and Gala Brand.

But, true to any type of villain, Drax enjoys monologuing to Bond, and explains that his whole plot boils down to mere revenge:

“[My plans] consisted quite simply of revenge on England for what she had done to me and to my country. It gradually became an obsession. I admit it. Every day during the year of the rape and destruction of my country, my hatred and scorn for the English grew more bitter.” The veins on Drax’s face started to swell and suddenly he pounded on the desk and shouted across at them, looking with bulging eyes from one to the other. “I loath and despise you all. You swine! Useless, idle, decadent fools, hiding behind your bloody white cliffs while other people fight your battles. Too weak to defend your colonies, toadying to America with your hats in your hands. Stinking snobs who’ll do anything for money. Hah!” [p. 208]

So, picture it: I started reading this in late November, early December. I finished reading it when I returned home from my Las Vegas trip. I finished reading it after the inauguration.

And at that time – after the inauguration -, I read Drax ask Bond:

“Well. Say something. Don’t sit there like a dummy. What do you think of my story? Don’t you think it’s extraordinary, remarkable? For one man to have done all that?” [p. 210-211]

And here, my friends, is Bond’s cool response:

“It’s a remarkable case-history. Galloping paranoia. Delusions of jealousy and persecution. Megalomaniac hatred and desire for revenge. Curiously enough,” he went on conversationally, “it may have something to do with your teeth. Diastema, they call it. Comes from sucking your thumb when you’re a child. Yes, I expect that’s what the psychologists will say when they get you into the lunatic asylum. “Ogre’s teeth.” Being bullied at school and so on. Extraordinary the effect it has on a child. Then Nazism helped to fan the flames and then came the crack on your ugly head. The crack you engineered yourself. I expect that settled it. From then on you were really mad. Same sort of thing as people who think they’re God. Extraordinary what tenacity they have. Absolute fanatics. You’re almost a genius. Lombroso would have been delighted with you. As it is you’re just a mad dog that’ll have to be shot. Or else you’ll commit suicide. Paranoiacs generally do. Too bad. Sad business.”

Bond paused and put all the scorn he could summon into his voice. “And now let’s get on with this farce, you great hairy-faced lunatic.” [p. 211]

Gee. Why does that sound familiar.

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Change “teeth” to “extraordinarily tiny hands” and “bullied at school” to “Daddy didn’t love you” and doesn’t that sound like someone who thinks Nazis include some very fine people amongst their ranks?

And keep in mind:

  • Moonraker was originally published in 1955;
  • I finished reading Moonraker shortly after the inauguration.

I am not a witch. (They’re gonna need a shitload of ducks to prove that point when the Aunts come for me.)

Fiction: “Trouble in High Heels” by Christina Dodd

Trouble in High HeelsFIRST THINGS FIRST, for those of you keeping track of the Saga Of The Abandoned Car:

The Friend has finally – FINALLY – purchased a new vehicle.

it's about damn time

HOWEVER – the abandoned vehicle is still abandoned. Details to follow when they become available.

And now, back to our regularly scheduled program, already in progress. (hahaha none of those words apply to this blog in any way, shape, or form i’m a horrible person ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ )

When I was moving out of my apartment in Portland to my current place in Yarmouth, not only did I move all of my books, but I also rescued a few dozen from my roommate, who was going to throw them away because she wasn’t going to read them again, and she didn’t have the time to donate them or sell them to a used bookstore. (We were both very busy during those few months, and I totally get it.) She read a lot of contemporary romances, whereas I had primarily stuck to the historical branch of that genre. One of my rescue-ees was Christina Dodd’s “Fortune Hunter” series; I had heard good things about Ms. Dodd, so I figured, “why not, I’ll read them eventually.”

Flash forward to November, 2016. I was still coming to grips with the next president of the United States (and still am, bee tee dubs, but I am trying so goddamned hard to not talk about it here), and a lot of my feelings just … went away. I wasn’t interested in doing anything. Instead of catching up on any number of TV shows I was told I should watch (This is Us, Stranger Things, Black Mirror) I found myself rewatching 30 Rock. But only for a couple of seasons. Or Bob’s Burgers.

And in the midst of all this, I wasn’t interested in reading anything. I was going back and forth between Publish & Perish and a couple of romance novels, but I was just … going through the motions.

One night, I randomly pulled a book out of my contemporary romance bookshelf, conveniently located right next to my bed. I had done this a few years ago and ended up reading Demon Rumm. Well, the book I grabbed in mid-November was Danger in a Red Dress – the fourth book in the series. And when I verified what the first book in the series was, I realized … my ex-roommate didn’t have that one.


So I added Trouble in High Heels to my latest Amazon purchase (along with the remainder of my James Bond series, so I now own all of them in the same style, and that did give some joy to my heart). And eventually, in December, I started reading it. And I finished it in January, after what turned out to be a bit of a hardscrabble road.

Hoo boy.

Let me first say: I was expecting a bit more out of this book. I’d heard many good things about Ms. Dodd – her characters, the plots, all were supposed to be good. But after reading this, I can only hope that maybe she wrote it as a form of satire? But then continued for another three titles in the series to make sure she hits all the points? Maybe? I mean … well, lemme go through the plot.

Brandi Michaels —

*sigh* I feel like I could probably stop right here.  You can figure out what the problems are gonna be, right?

ANYHOO. Brandi Michaels is a lawyer in Chicago who was just dumped by her fiancé when he calls Brandi to tell her that a) he’s not marrying Brandi anymore, because b) he just married c) his sidepiece d) who happens to be knocked up e) with his kid. Also, he didn’t understand why Brandi wanted to continue with her fledgling law career when he was going to be a doctor and he could take care of her. Why should she want to work?

So instead of giving up and going back home to Momma, Brandi decides to have a one-night stand following her break-up, and ends up with a weekender with a hot Italian dude named Roberto. And then Monday comes along, and on her first day of the job, she learns that Roberto is actually a) a client of the law firm, b) is also an Italian count, and c) a suspected jewel thief.

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And as part of the whole “representing” thing, she has to pretty much handcuff herself to Roberto, and all he wants to do is bone, because he’s uber-confident about everything, and she wants to be seen as intelligent and professional, but she keeps ending up in delicate situations, and long story short, the Mafia is also involved but everything turns up okay in the end.

I guess I didn’t expect the plot to be so … farcical? I mean, I don’t recall that there were actual handcuffs between Brandi and Roberto, but … the whole plot feels like it was lifted from a sweeps storyline on General Hospital, that was then turned down for being too ludicrous.

In addition to the plot being far-fetched and dumb, the characters are stereotypes. Brandi Michaels is described to look exactly how you may think someone named “Brandi Michaels” looks like, apologies to real-life Brandi Michaels who probably don’t look like a blonde, less-intelligent version of Jessica Rabbit. She’s smart enough to graduate with a law degree from Vanderbilt, but when her assets are discussed, they’re only found in her double-D cups. Every person she comes in contact with treats her law career as just something to do until she settles down. At the end of the novel she gets engaged to Roberto, but I can’t recall (and I’m not going to look it up) if she decides to keep her law career, or if that’s even a condition for their marriage.

Roberto is a cipher, installed to be the dall, tark, and mysterious stranger —

I just wrote “dall” and “tark” – what the hell, Alaina. No, you know what? I’m keeping it.

— Talldark, and mysterious stranger who reveals he has emotional baggage. Now, usually, that’s my kind of dude. But Roberto was just so … flat. For the first half of the book, he was just a piece of meat that Brandi lusted after. Even when she learned he was a suspected jewel thief, there wasn’t any depth to him. It wasn’t until later – almost the end of the book – when we learn his motivation for getting involved in this latest scheme.

“I’m not an international jewel thief – not usually – but I know the family business and I keep up the Contini contacts. Nonno [Roberto’s grandfather or uncle or someone] called and said that Mossimo Fossera intended to steal the Romanov Blaze. I used my contacts. I went to the FBI and told Aiden Tuchman that if he would find out who my father was, I would help him bring down the Fosseras.” [Roberto] shrugged his massive shoulders. “It’s as simple as that.” [p. 372]

Oh my god, he has Daddy Issues! Just like Brandi has Daddy Issues, but to a different degree! No, see, the book starts with Brandi at 11, overhearing an argument between her parents about her:

“[Brandi’s] smart, too. She’s never had anything but straight A’s, even in math.” Mama didn’t pay a bit of attention to Daddy’s insult to her, but leaped into the fray to defend Brandi.

[…] “Brandi’s probably going to be some kind of freaking English major and a drain on my wallet for the rest of my life.” He sounded so disgusted, as if being good in English were a waste.

“She’s the best in her class in gymnastics and ballet.”

“A bunch of skinny little girls in tights!”

Brandi gritted her teeth. She wasn’t skinny or little anymore. She had a figure, and at five-foot-ten she was an inch taller than Mama and four inches taller than any of the rest of the girls in her class. But around the house Daddy hardly glanced at Brandi, and he had never bothered to come to her recitals. [p. 6]

I just to point out here: in these paragraphs? Brandi is eleven. At the age of 11, this kid is taller than me, a 34-year-old woman. And apparently, she has a figure. At eleven. I am not okay with the fact that this eleven-year-old kid is given “a figure”.

(I know that girls develop at different rates, and it’s entirely possible that an eleven-year-old girl could be taller than an adult woman, and could possibly have “a figure” already. But that description, taken in conjunction with the phrase “around the house Daddy hardly glanced at Brandi”, I am hit with the idea that Brandi wanted Daddy to notice her the way he notices other women – adult women, I presume – and I just got … wicked icky about the whole thing.)

And as I said before – or may have alluded to, because I’m not scrolling up to see if I did say it or not – a lot is made of Brandi’s figure. By her mother, Tiffany –

“What are you wearing [to the lawyer party]?” Tiffany asked.

Uh-oh. “That black sheath I bought for parties at law school.”

“Darling, black? That’s so New York. Show those Chicago lawyers how good a Southern girl can look! […] the sheath doesn’t show off your figure.”

“Thank God. Do you know how hard it is to dress for business with a chest like mine?” [p. 20-21]

– her mentor, “Uncle” Charles –

“Now, Brandi, you go ahead and dress up for [Roberto] Bartolini; I know he enjoys seeing a pretty girl as much as I do. Anyway, I always thought you worked too hard. When this is over and you’re buried in dusty law books, you’ll look back and wonder what you were complaining about.” [p. 278-279]

– and a whole bunch of randos at that fancy lawyer party, where she chose a red dress in which to snare her one-night stand after being dumped by her skeezy ex:

She unbelted the coat. Unbuttoned it. Taking a deep breath, she slid it off her shoulders and down her arms.

The silence in the foyer was profound.

She looked around. Jerry’s mouth was hanging open. One black security guard had his arm braced against the wall. The other had taken a step forward. The Asian security guard was smiling as if she’d just had a vision – Brandi hadn’t realized she was a lesbian, but obviously she was. And of the Hispanic guests, the husband looked enthralled and the wife furious.

So Mother was right. A red dress worked.

A long, silk, sleeveless scarlet dress with, as Mr. Arturo said, “Two really elegant design features, darling, and both of them hold up the bodice.” [p. 54]

There’s a lot here. There’s the fact that, with one fell swoop, Brandi’s scarlet-clad tits apparently turned all these professional individuals into the Wolf from Red Hot Riding Hood. I’m not sure if we’re to believe that Brandi has such an uncanny sense of gaydar that she is normally able to pick out all gays and lesbians in a quarter mile radius, but apparently she was so proud of herself stunning everyone else into submission she missed the Asian lesbian security guard, but also, in retrospect, it was obvious that the Asian lesbian security guard was gay? How was it obvious?!

And for all of her protesting that Brandi’s extremely smart in addition to having a crazy figure, Brandi isn’t always … the smartest …

Check out her first meeting on her first day at work, after having spent the weekend in flagrante with Roberto, a tall Italian count:

“[Our client] has dual citizenship, American and Italian. The FBI claims he’s a jewel thief. They assert his specialty is diamonds, big diamonds, and that he’s stolen from museums and private citizens in New York City, San Francisco, and Houston. The CIA also has an interest in him, claiming he’s committed similar crimes in Rome, Bombay, and London. But the FBI landed him first.

[…] The FBI has videos of our client in two of those locations prior to a robbery, and most important, an audiotape of him speaking to the owner of the jewel a mere hour before the robbery took place. He’s renowned for romancing females before he allegedly steals their finest pieces — […] and this woman, Mrs. Vandermere, says she saw him take her eight-carat diamond necklace before he left for the night. The FBI is prosecuting on circumstantial evidence and one woman’s accusations.” Glenn swayed like a cobra preparing to strike. “They might be able to make it stick … if our client were poor. But he’s not. He can afford the best defense, and that’s us.”

“Of course,” Brandi said.

“He’s independently wealthy and a respected businessman.” Diana smiled with reminiscent pleasure. “The fact that he’s an Italian count doesn’t hurt, either.”

The hair on the back of Brandi’s neck stood up. She drove her pen tip into her notebook. The top page tore, but she barely noticed. Wildly she looked from one attorney to another. “What’s his name?”

“Don’t you ever read the papers?” Sanjin asked.

“His name!” Brandi rapped her knuckles on the table.

Her fierce demand took even Glenn aback. “It’s Bartolini,” he said. “Roberto Bartolini.” [p. 119-120]

Like, for real: maybe it was drawn out for dramatic irony, but come on; hearing dual citizenship with Italy wasn’t going to ping her brain at all?

By this point, I hope I’ve given ya’ll a sense of Brandi. But what of Roberto? Well, he’s short on words and prone to random Italian outbursts, to remind the reader he’s Italian:

“Why didn’t you tell me later?”

“When, Roberto? At the courthouse, when you were mouthing off to Judge Knight? At the Stuffed Dog, where Mossimo’s men were threatening you with a gun? At your grandfather’s?” She was getting wound up. “I actually meant to tell you yesterday morning, but Tiffany appeared and I didn’t want to explain why I hadn’t told her, so I kept quiet. Then we moved to the hotel, then we went dancing, then you hit Alan, then we came to McGrath and Lindoberth so I could yell at Uncle Charles, for all the good it did me, then we got stuck in a murderous elevator, and now here we are – ”

Buono!” Roberto held up a hand. “You’re right. We’ve been busy.” [p. 295]

Finally, I have two other quotes, and then I promise, I’m done with this book. (I really didn’t expect this review to be more than 2,000 words; for that, I am sorry.)

When Brandi first spies Roberto from across a crowded room, her thought that I read almost made me fall off my elliptical machine (yes, I brought this book to the gym):

He was the one. He was the Matterhorn and she was going to scale him. [p. 70]

And this son of a bitch – I have no idea what the fuck this sentence even means:

Memories like that had kept [Roberto] awake far into the night … and gave him a hard-on big enough to warrant a line at the Navy Pier amusement park. [p. 223]


think Roberto’s trying to liken his massive erection to a thrill ride that mayhap be found at the Navy Pier Amusement Park in Chicago. But given the choice between Roberto, the Italian Matterhorn, and the Disneyland Matterhorn, churro me up, baby, I’m going to Disneyland.

Grade for Trouble in High Heels: 1 star