Fiction: “Seduction in Death” by J.D. Robb

seductionAs I was finishing up The Witches, I realized I wanted something a little lighter for my next reading fare. While I was still reading silly little romance novels at home, that genre still isn’t something I feel comfortable reading in public – especially since I don’t read them on my Kindle app. (Or don’t, for the most part.) So I went with the next best thing to a cheesy romance novel: a crime novel with some romance! Also known as, the next book in the J.D. Robb Eve Dallas series.

This book’s villain is actually a team of two: two young, affluent white male geniuses who never got women in high school or college, so they turned to meeting women under pseudonyms online – and really obvious pseudonyms to the modern day reader; I’m talking about John Keats, or Byron. Poets from the Romantic period that people in 2058ish (when the series takes place) might not be as familiar with as we are right now. But they entice a lady via their online profiles, and then when they go out on their first date, they roofie the girls, and then, after they’ve consented (while incapacitated, so, no, consent wasn’t part of the discussion), they inject another drug into the girl’s bloodstream which causes her to have a heart attack mid-orgasm, and die.

Yet another reason why I’m still single.

No, but for real: many well-meaning people have said to me, “Alaina, why don’t you try online dating?” And while I was just as hesitant prior to reading Seduction in Death, this certainly doesn’t help. (Although at least I’d give myself enough credit to know when someone’s masquerading as John Keats or something to figure out they’re lyin’.)

Look, one of my formative influences is Buffy the Vampire Slayer. And in episode 8 of season 1, “I Robot, You Jane,” Willow dates Malcolm, and the relationship is all online. Malcolm also turns out to be a demon, but that’s neither here nor there. This conversation between Buffy and Xander, however, completely explains my reservations:

Xander: I mean, sure he says he’s a high school student, but can say I’m a high school student.
Buffy: [duh] You are.
Xander: Okay, but I could also say I’m an elderly Dutch woman. Get me? I mean, who’s to say I’m not if I’m in the elderly Dutch chat room?
Buffy: I get your point. [realizes] I get your point! Oh, this guy could be anybody! He could be weird, or crazy, or old, or … he could be a circus freak! He’s probably a circus freak!
Xander: Yeah, I mean, we read about it all the time. Y’know, people meet on the ‘net, they talk, they get together, have dinner, a show … horrible ax murder.
Buffy: Willow … ax murdered, by a circus freak. Okay, okay, what do we do?

PS, this conversation? aired back in 1997. It’s stuck with me for almost oh god I just counted twenty years. Just because Dude posts a picture of himself, how do I know it’s really Dude? I have trust issues up the wazoo! There is no way I am going to be able to trust anyone, no matter how well-meaning they may be.

holy shit next year is the 20th goddamned anniversary of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

So anyway, Dear Well-Meaning Friends: stop suggesting I try online dating. Don’t quote to me the magnificent Carrie Fisher, who said “stay afraid, but do it anyway.” As much as I admire her (and god, do I ever), and aspire to her level of life-living, when it comes to that avenue, there are Things I (clearly) need to work on (probably via talk therapy), and until those Things have been Worked, online dating will be a no-go for me. And I’m okay with that.

oh god how will i be able to trust a stranger in talk therapy i’m probably going to assume he’s a cannibal and welp there goes that plan

hannibal-season-2-episode-12-hannibal-chair

SO ANYWAY. (I probably should have waited to write this until I was a little less scatter-brained, but I am way behind on blog posts and Hamilton Tickets [who I’m puppy-sitting again] is asleep on my feet and not jumping on me, so I’m going to take advantage of the quiet and my awakeness to get at least one post done.)

There really isn’t much else to talk about plot-wise. If you read these books to keep up with the budding romance between Peabody and McNab, they ended the last book on the outs, but they’re back together by the end of this one. Eve and Roarke are still very tight and in love, and seriously, I’ve said it before and I will continue to say it until it’s no longer true: I love their relationship.

“Eve.”

“Don’t.” She held up a finger at Roarke’s quiet tone. “I don’t want to talk about that now. I don’t ever want to talk about it, but I especially don’t want to talk about it now. And if anybody had listened to me when I said she and McNab getting tangled was going to screw things up, we wouldn’t have to talk about it, would we?”

“Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think you’re talking about it.”

“Oh, shut up.” [p. 73]

The only other dogears I made in the book all detail the villains’ attitude towards their victims. They’re rich, well-educated, assholey white boys who are killing women because women never paid them attention while they attended their genius schools. It’s exactly as horrifying and probably indicative of actual attitudes as you can imagine. And we’ve all had a rough week, month, year – even though J.D. Robb / Nora Roberts wrote these characters back in 2001, I don’t want to bring any more negativity into this week if I can help it.

Grade for Seduction in Death: 2.5 stars

Non-Fiction: “The Witches: Salem, 1692” by Stacy Schiff

the WitchesMerry Christmas Eve! Let’s spend the time between now and the annual live-tweet of Alaina Watches Die Hard, The Best Christmas Movie In History, No I’m Serious, Don’t @ Me, by discussing a) a book I finished reading six months ago, b) about witches. So, completely the wrong holiday. Whatever; deal with it.

As you can tell from the title of the book, Ms. Schiff’s research attempts to find out what exactly led to the events of the Salem Witch Trials. She goes through the years 1690 through 1694 in deep detail, focusing on each family of Salem and their interactions, and discussed how political and interpersonal relationships could have led to exacerbating the situation with the witches.

The first quote I dogeared (and then transcribed into a Word document, because this was a library book and I didn’t want to incur six months’ of overdue fees just to be able to quote things afterwards) speaks to the mystery still attached to Salem:

Nearly as many theories have been advanced to explain the Salem witch trials as the Kennedy assassination. Our [nation’s] first true-crime story has been attributed to generational, sexual, economic, ecclesiastical, and class tensions; regional hostilities imported from England; food poisoning; a hothouse religion in a cold climate; teenage hysteria; fraud, taxes, conspiracy; political instability; trauma induced by Indian attacks; and to witchcraft itself, among the more reasonable theories. [p. 4-5]

For as many details there are in the book – and there are plenty – there are no true, definitive answers. The source materials Ms. Schiff draws from are incredibly deficient – family diaries, incomplete court testimonies, and the biased opinion essays of pastors and preachers related to the trials.

While the bewitched commanded a rapt audience for much of a year, their voices are lost to us. Their words come to us exclusively from men who were far from thorough, seldom impartial, and not always transcribing in the room in which they heard those statements. They mangle and strangle the voices of the accused; they are equally inattentive to the accusers, not all of whose statements they committed to paper. [p. 12]

I think everyone here must be aware of the basic plotline of the Salem Witch Trials: young girls start acting weird and accusing other women in town of being witches and using their witchcraft against them, everyone believes them, and at the end of it all, nearly twenty residents were executed after being found guilty of witchcraft. In fact, everything the collective consciousness knows about the Salem Witch Trials most likely comes from our reading of The Crucible when we were in high school. But The Crucible was a parable Arthur Miller used to expose the hypocrisy and hysteria surrounding McCarthyism, and should not be considered a historical artifact, regardless of the fact that Mr. Miller used the names of actual Salem residents for his characters.

Ms. Schiff attributes the cause of the Salem Witch Hysteria to many things, including a general distrust of women, an incredibly oppressive religious atmosphere, and a contagious psychological disorder. Sadly, we will never know the true root of the issue, as that is lost to history. Thanks, Puritan judges and other people back then who didn’t realize they should really WRITE THINGS DOWN.

Relatively early in her narrative, Ms. Schiff discusses the attitudes towards the women involved in the Witch Trials. She points out that this is one of the few times in history where the actions are directly related to the actions of women:

History is not rich in unruly young women; with the exception of Joan of Arc and a few underage sovereigns, it would be difficult to name another historical moment so dominated by teenage virgins, traditionally a vulnerable, mute, and disenfranchised cohort. [p. 131]

Additionally, she discusses the power surrounding these women, and how the mysticism of witchcraft increased that power:

The wrinkle with Salem’s infernal onslaught of 1692 was that both the spirited victims and their oppressors were predominantly female. And in a New England first, women’s voices proved so commanding that the spectral testimony of two dead wives could prevail in court against an articulate, Harvard-educated minister. [p. 145]

Think about that: this is a period of time before the United States Consitutiton was even a thought. Alexander Hamilton and George Washington hadn’t even been born. The concept of “innocent until proven guilty” hadn’t been put forth yet. So our modern concept of a “trial” is not even closely related to what occurred in Salem. In Salem in 1692, a judge could accept the “testimony” of deceased women over that of a minister who had graduated from Harvard. That is a crazy concept to wrap one’s head around.

The accusations of witchcraft and witchery flew throughout the town, and created an oppressive atmosphere that centered on a form of gaslighting: fingers pointing at nearly every citizen of Salem, accusing them of witchcraft, and using previous actions as specious proof of interacting with the Devil:

For weeks the women had been stretched on the most pernicious of psychological racks: You are not what you think you are, they were hectored; you are what we think you are. [p. 235]

The biggest piece of new information regarding the Salem Witch Trials was actually a supposition or extrapolation: Ms. Schiff proposes that the cause was a form of mass hysteria, known as conversion disorder, where physical symptoms can arise following an emotional or mental crisis:

Where the seventeenth-century authority saw the devil, we tend to recognize an overtaxed nervous system; what an earlier age called hysteria we term conversion disorder, the body literally translating emotions into symptoms. [p. 386]

The witch hysteria began in the house of Samuel Parris, with his daughter Betty and her cousin Abigail Williams. Samuel Parris was the pastor of the town, and one of the more religious ones they’d had in town for a while. (Which is hard to believe, seeing as how Puritan the whole area was.) As Ms. Schiff states,

Hysteria prefers decorous, sober households, where tensions puddle more deeply; it made sense that the Salem minister wound up with more witchcraft victims under his roof than anyone else. [p. 387]

So what would have been the inciting event that caused the mass hysteria? Possibly puberty – I mean, think about it. The two girls in Parris’s household that started the whole thing? Were 9 and 11. And in that type of oppressive religious atmosphere, who’s to say what emotional trauma may have been caused by a religious interpretation of changing bodies? Or even having a thought that went against what had been taught for years upon years? After all,

It would have been easier at the parsonage to have a vision than an opinion. [p. 388]

We will never know what really happened with the Salem Witch Trials – the causes of that trauma have been lost to history. We can only make assumptions and attempt to decipher the few documents from that era that still exist, and recognize that whatever was written down, was written from the points of view of extremely religious views and interpretations. But we can’t forget the Salem Witch Trials, or even attempt to ignore it. While the cause may have been conversion disorder, the unfounded persecution against a minority that led to the deaths of innocents was still the result.

The Salem Witch Trials endure in American history “not only as a metaphor but as a vaccine and a taunt” [p. 413]. We as a people use the Witch Trials any time someone feels unjustly persecuted. But instead of using it as a label, or a crutch, we should use it as a reminder: we have done this before. We have pointed our fingers, as a society, at fellow citizens and deemed them guilty of crimes that were not proven. We killed innocents out of fear of the unknown. That era is not a time we should hope to return to. We should look to that era as a warning of where we’ve been, and how far we’ve come, so as to not slide.

Grade for The Witches: Salem, 1692: 2 stars

Fiction: “The Rogue Not Taken” by Sarah MacLean

rogue-not-takenI had every intention of getting back into this a couple of weeks ago. But a couple of weeks ago the entire world turned upside down, and I kind of feel like the British troops did when they were run out of Yorktown – stunned, disheartened, and slightly confused as to how this all even fucking happened.

However, fear not: this is not a politics blog – even though I have had the occasional tangent down that dark alley. But my promise to you, my dear reader(s), is to maintain this blog in the same way I always have: poorly, with non-sequiturs and tangents, and only rarely discussing the actual plot of the books I read. And that’s a promise I won’t break.

So this is the third out of currently six “silly little romance novels” I’ve read thus far in 2016. Fun Fact!: I both began and finished reading this book while in the middle of reading The Witches. Y’ALL FORGOT THE WITCHES WAS GONNA BE A THING, didn’t you?! Don’t worry – it’s still coming up. Next, in fact. It’s, uh … it’s a Thing on its own.

I’d read a lot of good press about Sarah MacLean’s romances – that the heroines she wrote about were intelligent women with their own agency and a generous dash of snark, and that the romancing itself was very hot. I have to say, the press was actually correct in that respect. Now, pardon me while I quickly skim through the book to remind myself about the plot, because I read it in July.

(Another Fun Fact!: I was going to review this a couple of days ago, while I was puppysitting Hamilton Tickets for my parents [[oh my god i don’t think i’ve talked about Hamilton Tickets on here GIVE ME A MINUTE THIS WILL BE A TREAT]], but the book fell out of my laundry basket on my way downstairs and it was left on my deck outside for 24 hours [I live on the second floor and my entrance is through an open-air deck], wherein the book got rained on. But let’s take a moment to thank Avon Publishing for their stellar choice of cover material. The cover is only slightly warped, but the pages inside are STILL DRY.)

[[After My Sister’s Wedding, Mom and Dad got a puppy. Her real name is Ginger, but Hamilton Tickets is shaping up to be an excellent nickname (Thanks, Alaina’s Dear Friend Sarah!). Also, my goal in mentioning Hamilton Tickets is to get this picture to come up when people google “Hamilton Tickets”:

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LOOK AT THAT FAAAAAAACE SHE’S SO PRECIOUS]]

Okay, Alaina – the book. Talk about the book.

The Rogue Not Taken is the first book in the series “Scandal and Scoundrel”: each book in the series deals with gossip rags published and read among the ton, and while I think each subsequent book deals with a tertiary character from the last book in the series, I don’t think it will be like other romance series where each book deals with another member of the same family. I’m not sure, to be honest; the second book in the series was only recently released, so I’m not 100% sure what the pattern will be.

So in The Rogue Not Taken, we are introduced to the Talbot sisters: a family of five girls who rose to prominence when their parents purchased a title. The ton gets all mad because they don’t like upstarts who purchase titles; they only approve homegrown blue-bloods. Sophie, the youngest Talbot, keeps to herself and stays out of the gossip rags – unlike her sisters. And the story starts when her temper gets the better of her, and she pushes her brother-in-law into a goldfish pond after discovering him boinking someone else at a party.

In a spontaneous moment, she decides to leave London and return to her childhood home in Cumbria. But because this is 1833 and not 2013, she can’t exactly take an Uber there. So with the last of her pocket money, she hires a footman away from a carriage and disguises herself as said footman and hitches a ride on said carriage and rolls right into trouble.

Because she’s an unchaperoned young woman not fooling anyone in her footman’s clothes. And the carriage happens to belong to a dude whose name is, hand to God, “Kingscote.” He goes by “King.” Alaina is Never Making It Up. He is a bit of an asshole, at first – he’s heading back to his hometown (which is just outside of Sophie’s hometown, because coincidence is prevalent in silly little romance novels) because his dying father wants King to come back home and accept his responsibilities as duke. Or marquess. Whatever title King doesn’t want to do. I know he’s not an actual king.

See, King and his dad had a falling out, because years ago, King loved a commoner, and King’s Dad disapproved of the match, and when King’s Dad ran the girl off of the estate, the coach she was in careened her to her death, and King blames King’s Dad for it and that’s why he’s returning home reluctantly. Also, he’s vowed to never marry and the line ends with me and all that jazz.

(This is the second book I can recall where this is a major plot line. Spoiler alert!: they always change their mind.)

When he finds out that Sophie’s going in the same direction he is, his first assumption is that she’s trying to trap him into marriage – much like her sisters did with their husbands. But all Sophie wants to do is return to Cumbria, open a bookshop, and meet up with her childhood sweetheart Robbie and hope he’s still unattached. (Spoiler alert!: he’s not.)

King attempts to leave Sophie to her own devices, but she sells his fancy curricle wheels behind his back to get some money for a ticket on the mail coach. When King finds out, he goes after her (for the wheels, definitely not because he thinks he likes her, we’re only 100 pages in at this point, he hasn’t recognized what that feeling is yet). But when he gets to the mail coach, the passengers are being robbed at gunpoint, and Sophie actually gets hit. It’s a non-critical hit, but a hit nonetheless.

Can I just take a minute and praise this plot? First, let me point out to you the pun in the title: The Rogue Not Taken = “the road not taken.” This is a book full of road trip hijinks! Where the heroine takes a bullet! Unfortunately, the road trip aspect involves a lot more romance and no Hamilton karaoke, so it’s not exactly like an Alaina Patterson Road Trip™, but it’s still pretty hijink-ey. (The other part of the title that makes it almost a pun is that King is a rogue who is unattached – i.e., not taken. Geddit?)

I’m sorry. I don’t know why I didn’t trust you guys (are there more than one of you? Sometimes I wonder…) to get the pun in the title. I’m a bad person.

King takes Sophie to the nearest village and the doctor saves her, and then King feels responsible so he agrees to take her back to Cumbria. To keep an eye on her. Definitely not because he thinks he’s falling in love with her, dudes don’t do that.

Also, if you like heroines who don’t believe they’re pretty and heroes determined to prove them otherwise (see The Deception of the Emerald Ring), it becomes a theme between Sophie and King.

King eventually brings Sophie to his childhood home and introduces her to his father. We learn that the grudge King bears his father isn’t fully deserved, and Sophie and King work towards declaring their love, when Sophie’s family barges in and comes up with a cockamamie plot to trap King into marrying her, against Sophie’s will. She loves him for him and not his title or fortune, but her family doesn’t see it the same way.

There’s an obstacle in – not even the third act, it’s practically the denouement – but it’s overcome quickly. Again, the obstacle arrives in the last fifty pages, so it’s a quick descent to the happily-ever-after.

The banter between King and Sophie is great throughout the book, and the romance is quite steamy, and practically modern compared to some other novels I’ve read. (Stephanie Laurens’ next book in the Cynster series, A Rake’s Vow, I’m giving you this face right now:)

angry-kuzco

So I’m definitely adding Sarah MacLean to my list of authors where I must read every thing she’s ever done, because I really liked it. Even if “King” is a really stupid name for a dude.

Grade for The Rogue Not Taken4 stars

Non-Fiction: “Bonk” by Mary Roach

bonkOkay, I’m going to try and bang this one right out. (thematically-appropriate puns for the win!)

Picture it: I’m getting ready to drive to D.C. for Operation: Pick Up My Dear Friend Sarah In D.C. So She Can Photograph My Sister’s Wedding. And I know I’m going to stop occasionally for food, and since I’m going to be alone, I intend to bring a book with me to read at the table. I don’t want to bring Alexander Hamilton – it’s way too big. The other book I was currently reading at time was What a Pirate Desires, and that cover would have surely inspired conversations that I didn’t want to have. Namely, I was using the drive as an escape from talking to people.

So I wanted a book that a) I owned, because I have previously left library books at someone’s house accidentally, which then caused that person to mail my library book back to me so I could return it (thanks Sarah!), b) was small enough to fit in my purse without weighing a metric ton, and c) interesting enough that I would actually read it on the road.

And Bonk was what I found. I know I bought it a while ago because of its subtitle: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex. But I definitely brought it with me on my trip this year because the cover was innocuous enough that no one would give it a second thought:

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No one said a word to me aside from “More coffee, dear?” The answer to which was, “Can I get it to go? Thanks!”

Oh, I know why I bought this – I just looked through the book to find Mary Roach’s credentials, and I saw via the hand-written “$7.50” on the inside cover that I bought this at one of my trips to the Harvard bookstore – probably my first trip, where I bought Mildred Pierce. And that would have timed when I had Showtime and was into watching Masters of Sex, the story of Masters and Johnson and their human sexuality study. See? I’m not a pervert, I’m just curious!

And Mary Roach is, above all, curious. Other books she’s written before and since Bonk include: Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers (which I’m pretty sure I’ve seen on My Dear Friend Emily’s bookshelf, seeing as how she originally went to school to become a medical examiner); Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal; and her most recent, Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans At War.

Additionally, Ms. Roach does not describe herself as a scientist: I just perused her website and her list of credentials are all her published books and magazine articles; not a single doctorate among them. As a writer who is immersed in her subject the same way I immersed myself in Hannibal – I know the subject inside and out, but I was not one of the creators of Hannibal, just an observer – she is able to write about these subjects in an amazingly accessible way.

Look, I read a lot of books – my book blog backlog as proof positive of that. And of those books, a fair amount end up being non-fiction. And there have been some non-fiction books which were written by people within that field, and the communication tends to get murky because I think the author doesn’t realize s/he should be writing for outside the industry. A perfect example of this is Michael Lewis and The Big Short: Mr. Lewis worked on Wall Street. He dealt with stocks and bonds routinely. So when he went to talk about the housing market crash, he knew what all of those terms meant, because he was within the industry. And while he made valiant attempts to explain those terms within the book, it wasn’t until Adam McKay and the movie did it visually that I was able to say, Yes, I kind of get this now. (I still don’t, and would direct anyone who wants to understand that subject to the film, because it did a really great job.)

But when I read Mr. Lewis’s Moneyball (sidenote, I’m rereading it now – GO CUBS GO oh my god they won the World Series I am still in shock and crying about it), you can tell he is using his statistical background and applying it to baseball, and he doesn’t have the language of baseball because he wasn’t in baseball. Therefore, I find Moneyball more accessible and understandable than I did The Big Short.

For Ms. Roach, as the only industry she is in is writing, any topic she puts her mind to will be like when Mr. Lewis tackles baseball: she’s not in the industry, she doesn’t have the language; therefore, she will make every attempt to explain the terms and concepts to make the concept accessible not only to her, but to her readers as well.

And I appreciated that, reading about Masters & Johnson’s penis camera while eating Momma’s French Toast Breakfast at the Tewksbury, Massachusetts Cracker Barrel.

NOTE FROM THE IMMEDIATE FUTURE: Hi, Readers! Thanks for sticking with me through my digressions. Now, look: this book is not a how-to book on sex; it gets into some serious sciencey discussions.  And I’m going to talk about the book now, and that is going to include some strong language: I’m going to be bringing up female genitalia, orgasms, and all sorts of stuff that you may not feel comfortable reading about in a Cracker Barrel. So if you don’t want to know about this or feel that it’s inappropriate to talk about, go ahead and skip to the last paragraph. It’s cool. But I wanted to warn you before you were knee-deep in a paragraph about female masturbation without notice. Cheers!

Masters and Johnson is where Ms. Roach begins, which is an excellent starting point: Bill Masters and Virginia Johnson began their research on human sexuality in the 1950s; prior to that, sex and the science behind it was definitely not an appropriate topic of study. The first season of Masters of Sex attempts to show the difficulties Bill Masters had in getting his study off the ground, but then the show veers into interpersonal relationships and while the show is good, don’t watch it for science, okay? In order to study what actually happens, physiologically, to a woman when she orgasms, they patented a penis-camera: essentially, a vibrator with a camera in it. That discussion leads Ms. Roach into the sex machine industry, where she ends up at the Center for Sex and Culture in San Francisco:

The Center for Sex and Culture does not court the curious passerby. No sign is posted on the outside of the building or inside the entryway. It is a nonprofit in a plain brown wrapper. Eventually, you notice the street number, 298, on a window near the door. There is an intercom with a buzzer labeled CSC. When you ring it, a voice says simply, “Hello?” forcing you to announce that you are HERE FOR THE SEX-MACHINE EVENT. [p. 54]

Ms. Roach’s curiosity leads her through a number of topics: Does the distance between the clitoris and vagina affect the strength of a woman’s orgasm? Does orgasm increase fertility? Is surgery the answer to impotence? How can we diagnose and help low female libido issues?

What fascinates me is how the stigma of talking about sex – even in purely scientific terms – has caused our complete lack of education on these points. And I’m not even talking about abstinence-only programs and how we educate our teenagers on sex directly influences how they will approach sex when they’re old enough and how belief structures fit into all of that. I’m saying, we were able to put a man on the moon within ten years of Jack Kennedy saying we should do that, but we have yet to know definitively how a woman approaches sexual arousal, because we think it’s private and shouldn’t be studied, and who knows how many women could have benefited from that study?

Here’s an example: in Chapter 10, “The Prescription-Strength Vibrator,” Ms. Roach meets with doctors who are trying to find solutions for so-called “sexually dysfunctional women.” I say “so-called” because I don’t want a man to tell me what’s considered sexually dysfunctional to me as a woman; I am not discounting a woman’s sense of being dysfunctional in that department. But she brings up a theory: if a physical symptom of arousal is increased blood flow to the clitoris, and increased blood flow can also be caused by manual stimulation, would increased masturbation lead to increased arousal for a woman during intercourse? Ms. Roach emails this question to a professor of gynecologic oncology, who then refers her to Maryann Schroder, a licensed sexology at the University of Chicago.

“You have posed a very interesting question,” she said. “It hasn’t been studied, if you can believe.” She reminded me of what happened to the last person who got involved with masturbation as a beneficial activity: Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders. Former President Bill Clinton dismissed Elders after she suggested, in a World AIDS Day speech, that masturbation was something that “should perhaps be taught.”

“Can you imagine if I tried to get funding for a study that had masturbation in the title?” And then, quite unintentionally, Dr. Schroder delivered the ultimate masturbation-research sound bite. “Masturbation,” she said, “is a touchy area.” [p. 209]

WELCOME BACK, Readers who skipped the sex talk but also missed the best pun I’ve ever seen in print!

I really enjoyed this book. Ms. Roach is a wonderful writer, who does not shy away from stigmatized topics, and infuses her research with humor. She’s incredibly welcoming and accessible in her writing, and in non-fiction, that is a huge bonus factor. I highly recommend this book – even if you’re not going to ironically read it in a stereotypical Southern breakfast environment, while escaping from a family wedding (NOTE: I went back, I have the pictures to prove it) – and look forward to reading the rest of Ms. Roach’s back catalogue.

Grade for Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex: 5 stars

Fiction: “Sex Criminals” Vol. 1, by Matt Fraction / Chip Zdarsky

sex-criminals-vol-1I had seen this graphic novel advertised on the interwebs, and I found a used copy at Bull Moose one day. I was familiar with Matt Fraction – he wrote the Hawkeye series I started to read (and have yet to find a library version of the next volume, what the hell, Yarmouth Library), and this series was touted as a comedy with heart.

I should probably explain two things before digging into this. First of all, this book is DEFINITELY Not Safe For Work. Secondly, this book is named “Sex Criminals” because the lead characters are two consenting adults who have sex and then commit crimes. I want to emphasize that this book does not detail sexual crimes.

Finally, I’m writing this while watching the Cubs play the Giants in Game 3 of the NLDS. I want to extend my sympathies to Red Sox Nation, and I’m hoping I can finish this entry before the end of the game. (How mad was I when I found out the game wasn’t scheduled to start until 9:30 EST? SO MAD. I have to go back to work tomorrow, you guys! The good news I have about that is I’ve already put tomorrow’s outfit in the bathroom and my purse and shoes are already by the door – I shouldn’t have any reason why I couldn’t hit the Topsham Starbucks on tomorrow’s commute.)

Okay. So, the graphic novel stars Suzie, who learned when she was a teenager that when she orgasms, time stops. Like, the world is frozen, but she can run around and do stuff, including yell at her mother and pet tigers at the zoo and just really wonder what the hell is going on. She calls it “in the Quiet,” and she’s all alone in the quiet until she meets Jon.

Jon is also able to enter “the Quiet” when he orgasms, except he calls it “Cumworld,” after the porn shop he frequents as a teenager – and when I say “frequent,” I mean “visit the bank across the street from the adult toy store, rub one out in the public restroom, then run across the street to the porn shop undetected.”

Jon works for BankCorp, which is the bank Suzie’s father worked for until he got in the way of another banker on a day the markets crashed. Suzie’s father got caught with a bullet or pushed out a high-story window – either way, he died, and Suzie’s mother was really unable to take care of herself or her daughter. When Suzie started asking normal teenage sex questions, her mother dismisses her curiosity. So Suzie starts doing her own research, and ends up in the library.

Flash-forward to now: Suzie still works at the library, but the bank is going to foreclose on it. (Rutting bastards – how dare you foreclose on a library!) She meets Jon at her Save the Books Party, and their first date lasts almost three full days. They keep hanging out, and then Jon comes up with a brilliant idea – why don’t they use The Quiet to pay off the library’s debt? By having sex in public, and then taking small amounts of money from various banks?

And that works really well — holy Jesus, we’re only in the third inning still?! (I just looked up – I shouldn’t have looked up. This game has gone for almost an hour and a half and we’re just in the third?! Crap. I am going to be One Tired Alaina tomorrow morning.)

ANYWAY, before the Giants scored, I was going to say that Suzie and Jon’s plan works very well – until the Sex Police get wind of what they’re doing, and show up on the day of their big heist.

Because yes, there is a shadowy organization of others who can enter The Quiet, and they’re trying to stop Suzie and Jon from doing what they’re doing. What hasn’t been revealed yet is their motive or reason for being.

Being a graphic novel collection, this was a very quick read for me – although to be honest, I think I started reading it the weekend of my sister’s wedding because I left the book I was reading in my car or something, and I was so tired that week that it still took me a couple of days to read it. Normally, I can read a graphic novel compilation in a night. But dammit, Kid, your wedding wore me out.

I recommend it. The plot is definitely something I’ve never read before, the characters are great, and the art is gorgeous. Just keep in mind that it is truly rated M for Mature and Not Safe For Work – it’s not just words that are dirty, here. Entire chapters of the story take place at a porn store. And it’s a graphic novel. That means visuals.

Grade for Sex Criminals, Vol. 1: One Weird Trick: 4 stars

Fiction: “What a Pirate Desires” by Michelle Beattie

pirate-desiresLet me paint a picture for you for the next few books I have to review:

As attempted over the past few years, once April came around I found myself drifting towards an American History book. Conveniently, I had received Ron Chernow’s biography of Alexander Hamilton for my birthday. So I dug into that 900-page monstrosity. And as interesting as the story of the ten-dollar founding father is, that book is not very portable. I mean, if I had the hardcover edition, I could use it as a doorstop.

Neither is it easy to read in bed. A habit I cannot break is reading in bed. And when reading in bed, book weight is important to keep in mind. Because let’s say I had fallen asleep while attempting to read Alexander Hamilton: there’s a good chance the book could have fallen right on my face. And my sister was getting married at the end of May – I’m pretty sure she would have killed me if I had to have pictures taken with my nose in a sling.

So while I read Alexander Hamilton at work (and at the gym – which led to a lot of funny looks), I turned to silly little romance novels to fall asleep to, because they don’t weigh enough to possibly deviate my septum should I pass out and drop my book on my face.

(I also turned to a more portable book to read while on the Escape To DC, i.e. Operation: Pick Up My Dear Friend Sarah In D.C. So She Could Photograph My Sister’s Wedding, a.k.a., Hashtag Adventure. But that was a fun read too.)

Well – What a Pirate Desires was a three-dollar find at Bull Moose. Normally, my romance novel preferences lean towards Regency society; looking back, I really don’t think I’ve veered from that theme in almost seven years of blogging about this genre. So “pirate” is actually quite a different step out of my wheelhouse. Look, Dad, I’m still broadening my horizons! (Even though I’m pretty sure that isn’t what he meant by that.)

So – why pirates? Uh, guys? I love pirates. I mean, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest was my favorite movie for quite a few years. I celebrated International Talk Like a Pirate Day for many years running. I brought an actual jar of dirt to work on Halloween one year to ward off rogue kraaken.

Once Upon a Time was an okay show; then they added Captain Hook to the cast, and it became a fantastic show. Hoo boy, did he immediately jump up the list of Alaina’s Pretend Boyfriends. For an entire season and a half, he usurped Daniel Craig/James Bond from the list! I know! That’s horrible!

Don’t worry, guys: Daniel Craig’s back on top. (giggity) And while Captain Hook is still extremely easy on the eyes, his character has been completely assassinated, I think. I mean, look: one of my bulletproof kinks – a surefire storytelling trope that will get all of my emotions firing on all cylinders – is the idea of a bad guy reformed for the love of a girl. And I’m not talking about any Manic Pixie Dream Girl shit; I’m talking about He Was the Villain Or At Least Misguided But This Woman Makes Him Feel Things And Now He Wants to Be A Better Dude. Damon Salvatore on The Vampire Diaries is one of the best examples of this – until those writers RUINED IT by making Damon Elena’s sire so when they finally consummated their relationship there was this aura of “she’s only doing it because he’s her sire and it’s what he wants so now she has to want it too” – it took all of her agency out of the equation.

And Captain Hook was on his way to being the next example of the Love Redeems trope, but they completely took away his struggle – after the Neverland arc, the entire rest of his narrative has been to act as the catalyst for Emma’s growth. And while that’s not unimportant, it effectively revoked Hook’s piratical nature. WHY WOULD YOU REMOVE HOOK’S PIRATE SHIT (that is not a typo)

Uh, okay. I … I apologize. I did not realize I had so many unresolved ~feelings about Once Upon A Time‘s narrative choices. Huh.

SO ANYWAY, since I wasn’t getting swashbuckling in visual forms of media, how about a book?

What a Pirate Desires tells the story of Sam Steele, formerly Samantha Fine, until an evil pirate named Dervish destroyed the ship she and her family were on; her family were unable to escape with her. After a horrible time being enslaved by a racist rapist on a Caribbean plantation, she escaped with one of the asshat’s ships and became a pirate, masquerading as a male captain, on the lookout for revenge against Dervish.

Sam Steele crosses steel with another pirate captain, Luke Bradley. He also seeks revenge against Dervish, and he doesn’t really want to join forces with Sam, but as usually happens in romance novels, her “fiery spirit” or whatever “entrances him” and he slowly comes to realize that he lurrves her.

There really wasn’t anything more than that. I really liked that the lead female character was the pirate, and of her own free will, not that she was Stockholm Syndrome’d into becoming a pirate, or that she was a normal maiden who happened to be kidnapped by the pirates and then falls in love with the pirate captain. In her piracy, she was very successful and had the utmost loyalty from her all-male crew.

OH SHIT WAIT I ALMOST FORGOT SOMETHING

TRIGGER WARNING: past rape
When Sam escaped from Dervish’s attack only to land at that horrible plantation, the plantation owner did rape her. It happened in the past so we the reader do not get the chance to relive it (thank goodness), but it happened and it was a formative influence for Sam. Wanted to put that out there in case anyone else might want to read this.

Oh, and after all that blathering up there about the “Love Redeems” trope, that wasn’t really present in this story – Luke never felt that he needed to become a more worthy man in order to win Sam’s love. They were just two pirates with an accord. So I shall continue to explore literature and other TV to find this trope again, because it is one of my favorites and I needs it like cake.

Grade for What a Pirate Desires: 2 stars

Fiction: “The Blind Assassin” by Margaret Atwood

blind-assassinThe Blind Assassin was … well, I don’t know what it was. It’s been so long since I decided to read it that I can’t remember why I wanted to read it anymore. Maybe because it would have been a valid Lunch Break Book while I was reading Just Like Heaven. Maybe because The Handmaid’s Tale is one of my favorite books but I was feeling guilty for not reading anything else by Ms. Atwood. Maybe it’s because I own the book but hadn’t read it yet.

Regardless, I decided to read it, and … ended up finishing it in entirely too long a span of time – one month, to be exact. (She says, writing a blog post about a book she finished in April.)

Full disclosure: this is the fourth time I have attempted to write this review. I am not sure I am up to the task. It’s a dense book with multiple points of view and styles, and I have been trying very hard to not give away spoilers. I’m going to try and just … word-vomit this all out at once and move on, and if in another ten years I look back because I think I want to read The Blind Assassin and hope that my review will remind me of what it was about … sorry, Ten Years From Now Alaina, you were never a good reviewer to begin with, and what did you expect?

So, generally speaking, The Blind Assassin is the story of Iris and Laura Chase. They grew up in Port Ticonderoga, Ontario, the daughters of a button manufacturer who made a name for himself prior to World War I. Laura is a sheltered child, and as we’re learning of her story through Iris’s remembrances, it’s hard to say if this perception is accurate.

At a company picnic, Iris and Laura meet Alex Thomas, a Socialist who is passing through Port Ticonderoga. He gets involved with a riot and the girls hide him in the attic for a spell; both girls fall in love with Alex a bit. Shortly after, the economy turns and the button factory deals with many losses. In an effort to remain afloat, Iris’s father sells the button factory to shirt manufacturer Richard Griffen; he also gives permission for Richard to marry Iris at the same time. Iris’s father’s health declines quickly into alcoholism, so Laura is sent to boarding school to get her out from under Iris’s feet.

Iris grows miserable in her arranged marriage. The only bright spot is the birth of her daughter, Aimee. Then Richard sends Laura away for what appears to be no reason. She is sent to a sanitarium and no one will tell Iris what happened. The assumption is that Laura and Alex Thomas were having an affair and Laura’s fragile mind couldn’t keep up the secrecy. Alex joins the forces in World War II, and after Laura learns of Alex’s death, she steals Iris’s car and drives it off a bridge, killing herself.

The death of Laura Chase is actually the first thing we learn when we begin reading The Blind Assassin; we hear Iris’s remembrance of that day, followed immediately by Laura’s obituary in the paper. Then, we jump into a few chapters of he novel-within-the-novel, titled The Blind Assassin and written by Laura Chase; Iris had it published posthumously.

 

The Blind Assassin that Laura Chase wrote stars two anonymous lovers: the man is in hiding for something, moving from flophouse to flophouse; the woman is in a strained, unhappy marriage to a rich man. In-between bouts of lovemaking, the man tells the woman a science fiction story about a blind assassin. As we read Laura’s novel within Iris’s remembrances, we are led to believe that Laura and Alex are the anonymous lovers in the story.

There is a lot more to the story – both Iris’s and Laura’s. But the fact of the matter is – it has been so long since I read this that the details are no longer fresh in my mind. Additionally, I feel that if I talk about it more or get into more depth, some key notes in the story would be lost and spoiled for a new reader.

What I can say is, while I appreciated the style in which Ms. Atwood told her tale, I find that I will most likely reread The Handmaid’s Tale before rereading The Blind Assassin. I’m also interested in reading more of her truly science-fictioney novels, so as soon as I find those, I’ll pick them up from the library.

Ms. Atwood is an amazing writer; The Blind Assassin won’t be one of my favorite books, that’s all.

Grade for The Blind Assassin: 2 stars