Fiction: The First Three Holmes/Russell Books (again) by Laurie R. King

beekeeper's apprenticeMonstrous-Regiment-Women-Bletter of maryI realized this summer that it had been three years since I’d read A Letter of Mary, and maybe it’s time to read the next book in the series.  True to form, however, I had to re-read the first three books in the series again before jumping into The Moor.

Rather than take up time re-re-reviewing books (which, remember, are the story of a retired Sherlock Holmes and his apprentice-then partner-then wife Mary Russell), I decided to just read them straight through and post a short review of anything I may have missed previously.  I can’t think of anything I didn’t already say about The Beekeeper’s Apprentice; it’s still one of five or so books I can pick up at any time and it’s just like putting on your favorite sweater or cuddling down under the covers in your feather bed, or watching your favorite black-and-white movie in front of a roaring fire. It’s cozy, is what I’m trying to say; it just feels like home.

A Monstrous Regiment of Women, however, feels more feminist in nature than my first (or second) reading.  Maybe it’s because I know the ending now and I’m not racing to get to the end where Holmes admits he loves Russell (or maybe it’s because I’m finding myself more attuned to those types of discussions, I’m not sure), but I felt like this time I read it, I was more attuned to the works and ideals of Margery Childe, and I really liked the relationship she and Mary Russell had.  I would liked to have seen more of her in future books, but her storyline is neatly wrapped up in the epilogue.

And as for A Letter of Mary, I still felt that I didn’t enjoy this title as much as the other two – I would say that I feel that the plot takes too long to get going, but then in Beekeeper’s Apprentice, the main mystery (who’s trying to kill Holmes and his compatriots) doesn’t even begin until, what, page 150? So that feeling seems invalid. Or maybe that the solution is almost — well, actually, Holmes was pissed off about the solution too.  (Here’s where I’d normally quote the book, but I just got back last night from housesitting for someone for ten days, and the book is still out in my car because I didn’t feel like unpacking when I got home last night.)  Paraphrasing the great detective, he was pissed off that the motive was merely money, and not something grander. And with the letter ostensibly being from Mary Magdelene, calling herself an apostle to Christ, there were a lot of “other reasons” for motive at stake.

Thus concludes my re-reads of the first three Holmes/Russell novels. As I said above, I was all ready to jump into The Moor, which is the fourth novel in the series, but when I read the back and realized it took place on the same more as The Hound of the Baskervilles did, I then realized that I had another book to read before cracking The Moor open.  So … Hound of the Baskervilles is coming up next.

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Fiction: “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid's TaleBefore I get into this review, I should probably give a couple of warnings:

Long-time readers of That’s What She Read can probably glean two things: 1) That I really make every attempt to not discuss politics in any way, shape or form while discussing a book, and 2) that in the rare instance I do, I probably lean liberal. (The .gifs from The Daily Show most likely add to that indication.)

Having said that, this book is going to be tough for me to discuss in a neutral fashion. Because while I have read this book before, it really wasn’t on my radar to read again — until the Hobby Lobby decision. And I realize that my timing to discuss that topic is poor – between the Gaza/Israeli conflict, John Boehner suing the President, and who knows what’s happened since I went to bed last night, the Hobby Lobby decision and its aftermath are probably far from near everyone’s minds.

So, here’s how I’m going to “discuss” this book: I’m going to give you as much of the plot as I can without spoilering people. Then I’m going to give you a ton of quotes that struck me about the situation going on in this book, and hopefully, I’ll be able to point out a couple of topics from the book that are safe to discuss.

Because look: it’s a tough subject. I get that. And in real life, there are some major things that need to happen so that Jon Stewart no longer grits his teeth as he’s closing the first act. But this blog is for book discussion, not political discussion. So if you want to comment and start a fight with me over some of the issues here, you best be pointing out that I should have used “metonymy” instead of “metaphor,” because if you are going to try and fight with me on women’s issues on my book blog, you got another think coming.

And with that, let’s get into The Handmaid’s Tale.

The book takes place in a near future, though it was written in 1986 – that becomes important. We learn the setting is sometime after the turn of the twentieth century, but there are no markers to tell us how far into the twenty-first it is. The planet (and the United States especially) has been ravaged by nuclear explosions and pollution; in addition, there is made a link (possibly quite specious, but again, I might get into that in a minute) between birth control and infertility.

This sets the stage for a massive coup:

It was after the catastrophe, when they shot the president and machine-gunned the Congress and the army declared a state of emergency. They blamed it on the Islamic fanatics, at the time.

Keep calm, they said on television. Everything is under control.

I was stunned. Everyone was, I know that. It was hard to believe. The entire government, gone like that. How did they get in, how did it happen?

That was when they suspended the Constitution. They said it would be temporary. There wasn’t even any rioting in the streets. People stayed home at night, watching television, looking for some direction. There wasn’t even an enemy you could put your finger on. [p. 174]

This state of emergency allows this nameless group (it becomes clear it is not an Islamic faction) to create a new country called Gilead, and it is heavily based on a Biblical culture. Their reading of that text is both literal and radical, and what they do is take away everyone’s rights, but create a new theocracy, enslaving women.

First, they take away their bank accounts – all the money they’ve earned and saved gets automatically transferred to their husband’s account (or male next-of-kin, if they’re unwed). Then, they make it illegal for women to work or own property, essentially keeping them in their home. Then, they make second marriages and divorces illegal, and if you have a child in that second marriage, you are deemed unfit and your child is taken from you.

Then come the Handmaids.

If you were able to have a child (and one of the women who committed adultery or a second marriage), you are conscripted into the Handmaids. Taken from a verse in the Bible:

And when Rachel saw that she bare Jacob no children, Rachel envied her sister; and said unto Jacob, Give me children, or else I die.

And Jacob’s anger was kindled against Rachel; and he said, Am I in God’s stead, who hath withheld from thee the fruit of the womb?

And she said, Behold my maid Bilhah, go in unto her; and she shall bear upon my knees, that I may also have children by her. [Genesis 30:1-3]

[Thank you, epigraph! Because the only knowledge I have from the Bible, I got from Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal and Raiders of the Lost Ark.]

The women who are able to bear children and have proven to do so before this culture are sent to the Rachel and Leah center, where they are taught that this servitude will protect them. They are conscripted to Commanders and other high male officials, and their job is to conceive them a child. But not through in-vitro fertilization, no: they must have sex with the men while their Wives are present – “she shall bear upon my knees.”  The Handmaid has three years to conceive, then she moves to another house to try again. If she is able to bear a healthy child – because birth defects are also prevalent – she still moves to another house to try again.

How are they able to convince these intelligent women that this is an appropriate new world order? Through lies of safety and persecution. In this new culture, everyone has a uniform tied to their role in society: Wives wear blue gowns, Handmaids wear red. Handmaids also have huge veils – blinkers, essentially – to keep them from straying from their proscribed path and from interacting with others. Marthas, who are basically maids and servants in upper-class households, wear green. Aunts were women who ran the Rachel and Leah center: they indoctrinated the Handmaids and furthered propaganda to get them to come around to their way of thinking.  Aunts wore khaki.

A person’s color of dress immediately designates where they fit into this society.

Going back to the propaganda, here’s an example of how thinking was changed:

I’m remembering my feet on these sidewalks, in the time before, and what I used to wear on them. Sometimes it was shoes for running, with cushioned soles and breathing holes, and stars of fluorescent fabric that reflected light in the darkness. Though I never ran at night; and in the daytime, only beside well-frequented roads.

Women were not protected then.

I remember the rules, rules that were never spelled out but that every woman knew: Don’t open your door to a stranger, even if he says he is the police. Make him slide his ID under the door. Don’t stop on the road to help a motorist pretending to be in trouble. Keep the locks on and keep going. If anyone whistles, don’t turn to look. Don’t go into a laundromat, by yourself, at night.

I think about laundromats. What I wore to them: shorts, jeans, jogging pants. What I put into them: my own clothes, my own soap, my own money, money I earned myself. I think about having such control.

Now we walk along the same street, in red pairs, and no man shouts obscenities at us, speaks to us, touches us. No one whistles.

There is more than one kind of freedom, said Aunt Lydia. Freedom to and freedom from. In the days of anarchy, it was freedom to. Now you are being given freedom from. Don’t underrate it. [p. 24]

Our narrator is Offred – oh that’s right. In this culture, if you’re a Handmaid, your name is taken away and assigned to your Commander – Offred, Ofglen, Ofwarren. So Offred is on her last assignment, and her Commander’s Wife is anxious to have a baby. Offred’s walking partner to the market is Ofglen. Meanwhile, Offred is plagued by memories of her daughter, taken from her because while her marriage to Luke was her first, she was Luke’s second wife. They tried to escape when things started getting bad, but they were found out at the border. Her daughter was taken away, she was taken to be a Handmaid, and she has no idea what happened to Luke.

Her best friend, Moira was in the Center with her, but Moira escaped. She has no idea where she ended up.

Offred does her duties, though she struggles with her remaining streak of independence. Then one night, she is called into the Commander’s study. Handmaids are not supposed to consort with men of any sort, even their Commander outside of their Ceremony. She doesn’t know what to expect, but the Commander just wants to play Scrabble with her. This is a huge treat, because women are also not allowed to read or write any longer. Then he escalates into letting her read old magazines, which were supposed to have all been burned.

Then he takes her to Jezebel’s, which is a big hotel where high-ranking male officials go to have anonymous sex with whores for free.

“I thought this sort of thing was strictly forbidden,” I say.

“Well, officially,” he says. “But everyone’s human, after all.”

I wait for him to elaborate on this, but he doesn’t, so I say, “What does that mean?”

“It means you can’t cheat Nature,” he says. “Nature demands variety, for men. It stands to reason, it’s part of the procreational strategy. It’s Nature’s plan.” I don’t say anything, so he goes on. “Women know that instinctively. Why did they buy so many different clothes, in the old days? To trick the men into thinking they were several different women. A new one each day.”

He says this as if he believes it, but he says many things that way. Maybe he believes it, maybe he doesn’t, or maybe he does both at the same time. Impossible to tell what he believes.

“So now that we don’t have different clothes,” I say, “you merely have different women.” This is irony, but he doesn’t acknowledge it.

“It solves a lot of problems,” he says, without a twitch. [p. 237]

While this is going on, the Commander’s Wife has arranged to have Offred sleep with Nick, the chauffeur, in an effort to speed her conception along.

The end of the book is actually a speech from a college lecture on the Gileadean society, given in the year 2195. It sheds more light on the culture changes and what happened or may have happened to Offred.

There – I think I did all right without getting political. So, here come more quotes, most likely out of context and open to your own interpretation.

A description of Offred’s room:

A window, two white curtains. Under the window, a window seat with a little cushion. When the window is partly open – it only opens partly – the air can come in and make the curtains move. I can sit in the chair, or on the window seat, hands folded, and watch this. Sunlight comes in through the window too, and falls on the floor, which is made of wood, in narrow strips, highly polished. I can smell the polish. There’s a rug on the floor, oval, of braided rags. This is the kind of touch they like: folk art, archaic, made by women, in their spare time, from things that have no further use. A return to traditional values. Waste not want not. I am not being wasted. Why do I want? [p. 7]

A return to traditional values. That’s how this culture shift started.

[It] used to be a movie theater, before. Students went there a lot; every spring they had a Humphrey Bogart festival, with Lauren Bacall or Katherine Hepburn, women on their own, making up their minds. They wore blouses with buttons down the front that suggested the possibilities of the word undone. These women could be undone; or not. They seemed to be able to choose. We seemed to be able to choose, then. We were a society dying, said Aunt Lydia, of too much choice. [p. 25]

One of the places the Handmaids can go on their daily walks is The Wall, where the Eyes (the police force, essentially) hang the bodies of the criminals they’ve executed, as reminders.

The men wear white coats, like those worn by doctors or scientists. […] Each has a placard hung around his neck to show why he has been executed: a drawing of a human fetus. They were doctors, then, in the time before, when such things were legal. Angel makers, they used to call them; or was that something else? They’ve been turned up now by the searches through hospital records, or – more likely, since most hospitals destroyed such records once it became clear what was going to happen – by informants: ex-nurses perhaps, or a pair of them, since evidence from a single woman is no longer admissible; or another doctor, hoping to save his own skin; or someone already accused, lashing out an an enemy, or at random, in some desperate bid for safety. Though informants are not always pardoned.

These men, we’ve been told, are like war criminals. It’s no excuse that what they did was legal at the time; their crimes are retroactive. They have committed atrocities and must be made into examples, for the rest. Though this is hardly needed. No woman in her right mind, these days, would seek to prevent a birth, should she be so lucky as to conceive. [p. 32-33]

This seems like such a sad world. Is there nothing funny?

I hear something, inside my body. I’ve broken, something has cracked, that must be it. Noise is coming up, coming out, of the broken place, in my face. Without warning: I wasn’t thinking about here or there or anything. If I let the noise get out into the air it will be laughter, too loud, too much of it, someone is bound to hear, and then there will be hurrying footsteps and commands and who knows? Judgment: emotion inappropriate to the occasion. The wandering womb, they used to think. Hysteria. And then a needle, a pill. It could be fatal. [p. 146]

Oh, okay then.

One of the stores in the town is Soul Scrolls, where Commanders’ Wives can order prayers to be read.

Ordering prayers from Soul Scrolls is supposed to be a sign of piety and faithfulness to the regime, so of course the Commanders’ Wives do it a lot. It helps their husbands’ careers. [p. 167]

There’s a quick reference to The Sabine Women, a picture of which is depicted in one of the Commander’s books Offred looks through. I’d recommend reading the Wikipedia page for that if you’re interested in looking at parallels.

Two quick notes about marriages, then two more points to make, and then I’m done (I promise).

First note: marriages are arranged in this new society, and marriages occur as part of a public ceremony:

And now the twenty veiled daughters, in white, come shyly forward, their mothers holding their elbows. It’s mothers, not fathers, who give away daughters these days and help with the arrangement of the marriages.

[…] They’ll always have been in white, in groups of girls; they’ll always have been silent. [p. 219]

And flashing back to Offred’s marriage to Luke, before it was canceled:

We still have … he said. But he didn’t go on to say what we still had. It occurred to me that he shouldn’t be saying we, since nothing that I knew of had been taken away from him.

[…] We are not each other’s, anymore. Instead, I am his. [p. 182]

Point number one: one of the themes I saw running through the book is the envy everyone has of everyone else. Offred envies the Marthas’ ability to use knives. The Marthas envy Offred because she can leave the house. Offred’s Wife envies Offred because Offred will be the one to give the Commander a child. Offred envies the Commander’s Wife for her freedom to do other things. It all goes right back to the Bible quote: Rachel envied her sister. Envy is prevalent in this society, and it appears to be the one sin the new regime has neglected to eradicate.

Point number two: rape culture. During the indoctrination process, much is made about how “bad” it was “before,” through heightened language and hyperbole. Now, I, Alaina, am not saying we don’t have a problem with rape culture. Far from it. This current society in 2014 has a definite problem with rape culture – as evidenced here, by one of my heroes, Jessica Williams of The Daily Show fame. But it’s also a bad thing to make women think the world is even worse than it is.

Having said that:

Modesty is invisibility, said Aunt Lydia. Never forget it. To be seen – to be seen – is to be – her voice trembled – penetrated. What you must be, girls, is impenetrable. She called us girls. [p. 28]

And I can’t find a more horrifying example than this:

It’s Janine, telling about how she was gang-raped at fourteen and had an abortion. She told the same story last week. She seemed almost proud of it, while she was telling. It may not even be true. At Testifying, it’s safer to make things up than to say you have nothing to reveal. But since it’s Janine, it’s probably more or less true.

But whose fault was it? Aunt Helena says, holding up one plump finger.

Her fault, her fault, her fault, we chant in unison.

Who led them on? Aunt Helena beams, pleased with us.

She did. She did. She did.

Why did God allow such a terrible thing to happen?

Teach her a lesson. Teach her a lesson. Teach her a lesson.

[…] This week Janine doesn’t wait for us to jeer at her. It was my fault, she says. It was my own fault. I led them on. I deserved the pain.

Very good, Janine, says Aunt Lydia. You are an example. [p. 71-72.]

Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines “feminism” as “the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities.” Do I believe that our current society has equal rights and opportunities for men and women? No. I see it in how news media wonders if Hillary Rodham Clinton’s impending grandmother-dom was a strategy designed to make her more appealing to voters in the 2016 presidential race, and yet no one cares whether the male candidates are grandfathers. I see it in how colleges teach their female students on how to avoid being raped but neglect to teach either gender that rape is wrong and shouldn’t be done. I see it in how a privately-held corporation can be allowed to not provide health care benefits that affect a woman’s reproductive system because they (erroneously, against scientific proof) believe that those birth controls cause abortions, and yet Viagra and vasectomies are both covered in full.

What The Handmaid’s Tale shows us is a warped version of women’s culture:

You wanted a woman’s culture. Well, now there is one. It isn’t what you meant, but it exists. Be thankful for small mercies. [p. 127]

What goes unsaid is this women’s culture was one shaped by men. It is a man’s interpretation of a woman’s culture: women are subservient to men (not equal), yet given certain powers (pregnancy and birth is revered and in the house of women; male doctors only interfere if the natural birth proves tricky). They hold no office of political power; they are also not allowed to read or write.

This is a twisted ideal of a women’s culture. And remember, this book was published in 1986. This women’s culture is within our near future.

How do you feel now?

Grade for The Handmaid’s Tale5 stars.

The Collaborators!: “The Empire Striketh Back” by Ian Doescher

If the theme song isn't stuck in your head, I don't know what you're even doing.

It’s that time of year again! Erica and I are Collaborating on our first sequel: The Empire Striketh Back, by Ian Doescher.

empire doth strike

This is the first time we have read the next book in a series — we’ve read the first book in a series before, but if y’all remember, I was very clear about not continuing that particular series.  This will be interesting for a couple of reasons: namely, does Erica look for the same things in sequels and series that I do?

For instance, I read a lot of series; mystery novels especially.  Between Kinsey Millhone, V.I. Warshawski, Gregor Demarkian … holy crap, hold up. If I ever get off my ass and start writing a mystery series, I am naming my character the most innocuous name ever.  Like, Emily Jones.  Or Sarah Thompson. Bob Miller.  Plain and simple. I never really realized before now how unique and special-snowflake those names are.

(Fun Fact!: When Ian Fleming was writing his first spy novel, he couldn’t decide on a name for his main character. He ended up picking a name from the author of a book on birdwatching, because he felt the name was the most boring name he’d ever seen. That name? James Bond.)

ANYWAY. (drink!) When I decide to continue with a series, ultimately, it comes down enjoyment and consistency. Did I enjoy the characters enough in the first book to make me want to read more about them? Because remember: the plots will change from book to book, but the characters remain constant. You may not enjoy the plot from book to book, but I find that the relationship I’ve built with the characters gives me the motivation to continue (see the J.D. Robb series – I really felt uncomfortable with parts of Witness in Death, but my enjoyment of the relationship between Eve and Roarke was enough to keep me going to read Judgment in Death).

Obviously, I enjoyed William Shakespeare’s Star Wars – it was a new interpretation of an old story, showing us different facets of some very well-known icons of pop culture.  Plus, R2-D2 speaks! In English, even! What’s not to love? So continuing with this series was a no-brainer.

Now we come to consistency – do the elements of the characters remain true enough in new circumstances that my enjoyment doesn’t diminish? My enjoyment of Eve and Roarke, Kinsey Millhone, and Holmes and Russell does not diminish as I continue through their series – their qualities remain constant, so I get to see how they react in different situations.

(Note: I include neither Patricia Cornwell nor Laurel K. Hamilton’s series in this discussion, as my ‘enjoyment’ of those series [such as it is] is based on inconsistency and disapproval of the characters. I hate-read them, basically.)

Going back to the Shakespeare Star Wars series – do I feel that there’s enough consistency? Again, duh. It also helps that I know a little of what to expect – having seen the movies, now I have additional things to look forward to. For instance: the banter between Han and Leia is one of my favorite things about The Empire Strikes Back. If there are no references or shades of the relationship between Benedick and Beatrice from Much Ado About Nothing in this book, I am going to be severely disappointed.

Lando Calrissian’s betrayal (probably) has overtones of Othello (a of all, because Othello deals with betrayal, not because of the moor thing. But b of all, I say “probably” because … I’ve never read Othello. Or seen it performed. Basically, all I know about Othello is from this video and this series of gifs.)

And don’t get me started on how excited I am to learn what the hell Yoda sounds like in iambic pentameter.

So I’m greatly looking forward to reading this. Because yes, I believe that I’m going to enjoy this as much as the first book in the series, but also because I’m curious what Erica’s looking for in this next chapter, so to speak – and whether or not we both get what we’re looking for.

Fiction: “The Pelican Brief” by John Grisham

Pelican BriefOkay, full disclosure: I finished reading this like, two weeks ago.  I’m still not sure why I haven’t written the review of it yet; I blame Comic-Con and all its goings on (you guys – you guys – we meet Francis Dolarhyde in episode 8 next year!  I AM NOT OKAY).

I alluded to my reading list a couple of entries ago, and basically the Hobby Lobby decision made me want to reread two favorites: The Pelican Brief, because somebody decides to kill Supreme Court Justices; and The Handmaid’s Tale, because if nothing happens, it could become our future and not just some culture-warning science-fiction.  But I’ll talk more about that book in that review.

Now, The Pelican Brief does not deal with women’s rights, feminism, or hardly any of the issues the current Congress is fighting over, and that’s fine: I didn’t read it for the issues, I read it for the violence.  In the first three or so chapters, a highly-skilled assassin named Khamel kills two Supreme Court Justices – Rosenberg, because he’s the most outspoken liberal on a higher-majority-than-our-current Conservative Court; and Jensen, an oddball.  The Feds can’t come up with a link between the two Justices and who would want to kill both of them.

Enter Darby Shaw, and her law professor/lover, Thomas Callahan.  Callahan, a Constitutional law professor at Tulane, worshipped Rosenberg, and he takes his death very hard.  Darby, meanwhile, “plays detective” and tries to figure out what killed him and Jensen.  What she discovers, she dismisses out of hand, but still types up a brief to give to Thomas.  Thomas gives her brief to his friend in the FBI, who gives it to his boss, the head of the unit, and he gives it to the White House Chief of Staff, and before everyone knows it, all of Washington is talking about this thing that comes to be known as the Pelican Brief.

And then the mastermind behind the Justice killings starts getting paranoid and even more murder-ey.  He blows up Thomas in a car bomb, and if Thomas hadn’t been drinking enough to keep Darcy out of the car, she’d be dead too. She immediately goes underground, cutting and dyeing her hair and taking every precaution she can.  Thomas’s friend at the FBI tracks her down, and she’s about to escape New Orleans with him when Khamel kills him and assumes his identity.  She nearly gets killed, except Khamel was being followed by the CIA and someone shoots him first.

At this point, Darcy contacts a journalist at the Washington Post – Gray Grantham, who wants the story.  He agrees to play by her rules and her time constraints, and eventually the two of them get back into Washington from New Orleans and they find all the missing pieces.

Essentially, there’s this power and money-hungry oil tycoon who bought tons of oil-rich acreage in Louisiana, and he’s been biding his time before he can start drilling.  Just before he can start his enterprise, an environmental group called Green Fund sues some of his companies and holdings, claiming that the enterprise will effectively wipe out the Louisiana Brown pelican, a species near extinction as it is.  The case has been tied up in courts for years, and eventually, it will make its way to the Supreme Court.  And even though it won’t end up at the Supreme Court for years, the paranoid and evil mastermind decides to kill Rosenberg and Jensen now – firstly because they almost always come down on the side of the environment, and also because if he waits for Rosenberg to die, he could be replaced by another liberal.  The current president (in this world) is Republican, and will most likely create a bench full of Conservatives.

You almost have to admit: his plan was sheer elegance in its simplicity.

Obviously the good guys save the day; it’s a Grisham novel, and one of his earliest.  There won’t be any instances of Goliath beating David in his novels for a while now, at least.

Before I get into how this Grisham novel officially shakes out, let’s talk about some parts where I laughed my ass off.

Here’s one:

“The states have compelling reasons to prohibit the sale and possession of certain types of arms.  The interests of the state of New Jersey outweigh the Second Amendment rights of Mr. Nash.  Society cannot allow individuals to own sophisticated weaponry.” [p. 20]

OH MY GOD.  I LAUGHED SO HARD, YOU GUYS.  SO HARD.  Because everyone knows now that the Second Amendment is the most holy of our texts – it even supersedes the Bible. You can take our lives, but you’ll never take our AK-47s and other advanced weaponry! And after my giggle fit subsided, I of course burst into tears at the state of our country.

What else made me laugh/cry?

One of the reactions to the deaths of the Justices was an upcropping of protests and vindication from some fringe groups.  This (clearly confused) group targets the porn houses of Washington, D.C. (remember guys: this book was written before the Internet, a time when porn theaters were a thing because no one could get it for free on the Interwebs):

But his was a nonviolent group, opposed to the indiscriminate killing of innocent and/or insignificant people.  They had killed a few necessary victims.  Their specialty, however, was the demolition of structures used by the enemy.  They picked easy targets: unarmed abortion clinics, unprotected ACLU offices, unsuspecting smut houses. [p. 81]

He keeps saying “non-violent”; I do not think it means what he thinks it means.

Oh, this made me laugh, but only to myself: the President in this book goes unnamed.  When I’m first introduced to the character, I picture Pres. Fitzwilliam Grant* on Scandal, because yes, I do watch other shows besides Hannibal.  The Chief of Staff in The Pelican Brief is Fletcher Coal, and he is a smarmy jackass of the first order.  So I went to imdb. to figure out who played Coal in the movie, and lo and behold, the actor who plays Fitz on Scandal?  Played Fletcher Coal in the movie!  I couldn’t have made that up if I tried!

*HOLY SHIT. I JUST REALIZED THAT BIG JIM, FITZ’S FATHER ON SCANDAL, IS PLAYED BY BARRY BOSTWICK.  YOU GUYS: FITZ’S FATHER IS A TRUE AMERICAN BADASS.  (And now I really don’t know how to feel about what happened to Mellie … )

Two more brief things:

1) I learned that one of the best movies according to Khamel is Three Days of the Condor.  Reading that line reminded me that my friend Amelia’s favorite movie is Three Days of the Condor, which means that I really should watch Three Days of the Condor, because if it’s good enough for both my good friends and paid assassins to love it, I’ll love it too?

2) The Chain of Screaming is officially a thing!

“Sorry.  I’ve slept six hours since they found the bodies.  The Director screams at me at least five times a day.  I scream at everybody under me.  It’s one big brawl over there.” [p. 99]

So, according to my handy-dandy Grisham-O-Matic, how does The Pelican Brief shake out?

I. An idealistic lawyer – the fresher out of law school, the better;
discovers
C. The case s/he’s currently working on has ties to the highest of government.
With the help of
2. The FBI,
s/he:
c. is able to prove the conspiracy.
As his/her life is now in danger, s/he must:
i. escape to the Caribbean or South America.
Usually, s/he also manages to swindle the Mafia/Government/Whatever out of a tidy sum of:
* $10 million.

(although this time, the $10 million was the fee to Khamel for his killings; Darby was already fairly well off.)

Grade for The Pelican Brief: 3 stars

Fiction: “Heat Rises” by “Richard Castle”

heat risesOkay, heck with this.  Don’t get me wrong, I am enjoying my new job. (Basically, I’m loving the quiet and the fact that I don’t have grown men arguing with me over having to pay for shit that they bought [yet – I am working in taxation now]).  But this whole, “free-study time” from eight until noon every day is starting to drive me bonkers.  I suppose it’s possible that there isn’t a proper training structure in place because it’s (most likely) been years since the government’s hired anybody in this division, but come on!  I am a former trainer!  I’m not going to learn anything if the only thing I’m supposed to do is read bulletins online!  Give me a project!  Teach me how to do something!  Anything!  Grant me at least a new servitude!

Ahem.  Anyway.  Basically, shut up, I’m going to write this review while I’ve got a bulletin up online so that it looks like I’m studying or whatever.  (It also doesn’t help that the woman I’m supposed to be working with is “too busy” to give me anything to do, which basically means that my presence here is taken as evidence that she’s going to be forced to retire, and what is with me and crazy officemates?  At least this one understands how the US Postal Service works.  Although she is a hummer.  Big turn-off.  I like people who can remember the lyrics.)

So hey!  I read a book last week!  The weekend before the Fourth of July was the annual book sale in my hometown, so my mother and I each took ten bucks or so and partook in the festivities. And, in addition to a couple more of the J.D. Robb novels, I was able to get my mitts on the next Richard Castle novel, which I’d been looking or at least a couple of years.  Hooray!

I admit, it has been a while since I read one of these, and it took me a couple of chapters to get back into the swing of things – mainly, I forgot where Det. Nikki Heat and Jameson Rook were in their relationship.  I’ve kept fairly up-to-date with the Castle series, and the Beckett/Castle relationship had them walking down the aisle this year.  But they had four years of unresolved sexual tension (and frustration) before that. So I forgot that in Naked Heat, Heat and Rook had become exclusive.

And really, my shoddy memory can be somewhat forgiven, seeing as how it’s been almost three years since I read Naked Heat, and then I spent more time talking about the awesomeness that is Nathan Fillion and finding funny in-jokes than I did actually discussing the plot. (That’s not to say that I’m not going to mention any in-jokes with this book, because there are some, and they please my little geek-lovin’ heart, but hopefully I’ll actually say something about the plot this time, too.)

The story starts — as all episodes of Castle do — at a fresh homicide.  A priest has died in the middle of a bondage scene in a sex dungeon.  (Clearly books can get away with less censorship and crazier ideas than ABC Primetime.)  As Nikki investigates, she learns that the priest has ties to a Columbian nationalistic group (or something) called Justicia y Gardia (again, or something), as well as her boss Captain Montrose, who’s been acting rather fishy of late.

Meanwhile, Nikki has also taken the Lieutenant’s test, which is the first step towards a promotion.  She meets Zeke Hamner and Phyllis Yardborough, both of whom are in the Commissioner’s Office, and both really want Nikki to move up the corporate ladder.

But when a crisis occurs (which I won’t get into, because spoilers) Nikki is suspended due to an Internal Affairs probe.  Because she’s Nikki Heat, and because policework is her life, not just her career, she uses her resources (namely Rook, Raley and Ochoa — and I will always refuse to call the latter twosome “Roach,” because again, that feels just stupidly lazy) to solve the case from outside the precinct.

In the end, Nikki gets reinstated and promoted, but she elects to remain a detective, because in her heart she’s a detective – she needs to be searching for clues rather than making schedules.  She leads from within rather than from above, and everybody respects her decision.

She and Rook also become closer, but their relationship is secondary to the action of the plot – both solving the case and Nikki’s dilemma.  And I like that the viewpoint in the novels is so clearly Nikki’s.  If you want to get extremely meta about this whole enterprise, “Richard Castle” has created Jameson Rook as his stand-in character, and Nikki becomes the main character because Castle’s not writing about himself, he’s writing about Beckett. And I think that the show Castle does a very good job highlighting Beckett’s strength as a character, but who is always mentioned with regards to the show?  Castle.  Who’s the lead actor?  Nathan Fillion.  Even when I use “actor” as a non-gendered term, people still mention Nathan Fillion before Stana Katic.

So anyway.  After watching a show for six years that focused on the guy (an admittedly ruggedly-handsome guy, who I definitely wouldn’t hesitate to freak out over if I ever happened to run into him and actually be able to have a conversation with him), it’s always enjoyable to see things from the other side, as it were.

Here’s where I was going to point out all the in-jokes that I really appreciated, but … I’m home now, typing this up from my lunchtime notes, and I can’t remember where I put the book.  It’s probably underneath the pile of clothes and potato chip bags on the corner of my couch (MOM DON’T WORRY IT’S NOT THAT BAD), but I’m sitting in my armchair sweating up a storm because the humidity decided to return like a bitch, and let’s all remember that I am, at the deepest part of my heart, lazy.  I know there was a moment where Rook caught a glance at himself in a mirror and said, “I really am ruggedly handsome, aren’t I?” and there was the obligatory Firefly reference, and I’m sure there was some other stuff, but this time?  Y’all are gonna have to find the book on your own.

Grade for Heat Rises: 3.5 stars