Fiction: “The Invisible Library” by Genevieve Cogman

invisible libraryI picked this up from the library because … because I don’t know why. Look, I was doing that thing where I walked through the aisles with my head tilted and the spine of this book caught my eye. It had the word “library” in the title, I like books, and the description on the back of it sounded interesting – kind of a mix of Doctor Who and The Eyre Affair with some mystery thrown in. Whatever, I’m not always deep about shit.

So in the universe of The Invisible Library, there is a Library. And it is invisible. I mean, kind of. The people who work at the Library – y’know, Librarians – they can see the Library. It’s invisible to you and I, because we aren’t Librarians.

The Library is always written with a capital L. It exists outside of time or space, and acts as a hub between worlds – or as the Librarians call them, “alternates.” Librarians travel throughout the alternates to bring copies of books native to those alternates to be stored in the Library.

“Then what is the purpose of the Library?” Vale asked.

“To save books,” Irene said firmly. The words were so automatic that she didn’t even need to think about them. She’d spent all her life with the idea. But the words had never sounded hollow to her before. She made herself focus on the familiar justification. “To save created works. In time, if their original alternate loses them, we can give them back copies, so that they aren’t lost. And in the meantime, the Library exists and endures.” [p. 184]

Irene is our protagonist. She is a Junior-level Librarian; a field agent, if you will, who travels to alternates to retrieve books. In between her assignments, she is able to devote her time to research … things. Write dissertations? I don’t know, I didn’t write that part down in my notes. But Irene longs for the day when she doesn’t have to travel and can just stay in her office and study.

Today – er, the start of the book – is not that day.

Almost immediately upon her return from an alternate, she is assigned another job – and this time, she has a new recruit to take with her. Mentoring is an essential responsibility for Librarians, and Irene has been dragging her feet on taking a recruit on. Irene’s intern (I don’t care or recall if that’s the actual term used, but that’s the one I’m going with) is Kai.

Kai is very pretty.

He had the sort of beauty that instantly shifted him from a possible romance object to an absolute impossibility. Nobody got to spend time with people who looked like that outside the front pages of newspapers and glossy magazines. His skin was so pale that she could see blue veins at his wrists and throat. And his hair was a shade of black that looked almost steely blue in the dim lights, braided down the back of his neck. His eyebrows were the same shade, like lines of ink on his face, and his cheekbones could have been used to cut diamonds, let alone cheese. [p. 23]

Sure. Okay.

At first, Kai seems sullen and surly. But as he works with Irene, we see that he uses his intensity to mask a desire to learn. He’s also very respectful to Irene, which I thought was a nice character trait. I mean, you read a few young adult-ish novels where the Sullen Teen Boy is just a bit of a bitca to everyone, and when one of them isn’t, it’s noticeable.

Anyway. Their assignment takes them to a steampunk-esque alternate for Victorian London, where they meet up with Peregrine Vale, an analogue for Sherlock Holmes. A rare edition of Grimm’s Fairy Tales has gone missing, and they need to get it back.

The owner of the Grimm, Lord Wyndham, has died. He was also a vampire. I don’t recall if it’s important that Wyndham was a vampire; I only wrote down that he was a vampire. So I’m mentioning it. His rival (?), Lord Silver, is a suspect – oh, maybe it’s because vampires and the Fae are mortal enemies? Oh, shit, right – so, Lord Silver is a Fae. He’s also the ambassador to Lichtenstein.

jon hamm nod

Irene runs into Lord Silver while investigating the crime scene. “But Alaina,” you cry, “Irene’s a Librarian! Why is she working the crime scene?”

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Irene is almost seduced by Lord Silver – in that he Fae’s her into being attracted to him – but she keeps her cool. She uses his seduction to score an invitation to the Ambassador’s Ball where she’ll be able to do more investigating. (I cannot remember the reason why they needed to get to the Ball, but it doesn’t really matter.) While there, the Iron Brotherhood – a cult or something who worship mechanical stuff and the sworn enemy of the Fae and also Lichtenstein – attack the Ball with robot crocodiles.

That was the other reason I picked up the book – I’m pretty sure the back of the book mentioned mechanical crocodiles or something.

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ANYWAY. So Irene, Kai, and their new friend Peregrine Vale escape the crocodile ball in a carriage. BUT! Their carriage gets taken over by Alberich, a rogue Librarian who is ALSO searching for the missing Grimm volume! AND! Alberich drives the carriage right into the icy cold river and uses MAGIC (which I’ll explain in a minute) to make the carriage inescapable, ensuring Team Library will drown!

But apparently Kai is actually a dragon and is able to tell the water not to drown them so they survive.

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Now she was sure what Kai really was. A river spirit might have changed himself to water to save them, and a nature spirit of some other type might have cajoled or persuaded the river to help them, but only one sort of being would give orders to a river.

Kai was a dragon. What the hell was she supposed to do about that? [p. 176-177]

Um, could you explain what that meant?

Here’s my biggest complaint about this book: nothing is ever really explained. We begin the book as Irene is returning from her assignment. Before we can take a breath to learn about this strange new world, we’re moved right into the next assignment with Kai. But Kai already has a basis of knowledge about this world, so no explanations are necessary from Irene. BUT WE THE READERS ARE NOT KAI! Us readers are asked to take A LOT on faith.

Like, the magic stuff. Librarians can speak the Language – commands uttered with a Capital Letter which controls the alternate world. So for instance, if a Librarian is in an alternate and there’s a locked door but they don’t have the key, a Librarian can use the Language to order That Specific Door to Open. There aren’t any spells or magic words – it’s just capital letters.

But apparently Kai didn’t use the Language to save them in the river – he just dropped his human form (?) to become a dragon (??) to tell the river (?!?) to not drown them, and then turned back into human (?*!?), BUT WE NEVER SEE THE DRAGON THING AGAIN OR LEARN WHY IT’S APPARENTLY A BIG DEAL.

Another example is the whole Bradamant thing. Bradamant is another Librarian, and she was Irene’s mentor when Irene was an intern or trainee or whatever. Bradamant is the type of mentor to praise you when no one else is looking, and then when you do a great job out in the field, Bradamant will take credit for everything you do and then highlight every mistake you made. So in short, she’s a middle manager.

But there’s so much tension between Bradamant and Irene! And apparently there was an Incident, but the only description you get of the Incident (and that’s my capitalization, not the book’s) comes from Bradamant, who we’ve already determined to be unreliable.

“We were trying to locate a book which had been stolen by a notorious thief. Everyone knew who she was. The best police officers in the city were watching her every move and still they couldn’t catch her. And when Irene and I were trying to investigate, well …” [Bradamant] smiled again, tolerantly. “The lady in question was very charming. And it isn’t as if I was in any significant danger while Irene was so, shall we say, “preoccupied” with her. And I managed to find the book, so all’s well that ends well.”

Irene looked down at her knees and bit her tongue. It hadn’t been like that at all, but that was all the story that anyone would know now. [p. 223-224]

BUT WHAT WAS IT LIKE, IRENE?! It sounds like Irene merely tried to talk to the lady!thief and convince her to not steal anymore, but that is not clear! Why can’t you say the thing?

If you want to read a much more in-depth review, please check out the comments on the book over on Goodreads, Tinka’s especially.

When I was done with the book, it almost felt like the characters were sharks – if they stopped moving through the action, they would die. They almost had an aversion to sitting down and explaining what was going on. And with such a fantastical story as this, the story really needed to be able to take those moments and get everyone on the same page.

I mean they had mechanical crocodiles in this book and they were completely wasted.

Grade for The Invisible Library: 1 star

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Fiction: “Shameless” by Karen Robards

ShamelessOh good, another book from the library where I didn’t take notes!

This was the second of three hardcover romance novels I picked up back in January by authors I’d heard of or at least read before. I’m pretty sure I’ve read something by Karen Robards before – it just happens to predate this blog. If I have read something by Ms. Robards, it was one of her contemporary romances – I didn’t realize she wrote historicals until I picked this one up.

I also didn’t realize until I entered the book into my Goodreads account that this is the third book in a trilogy. Luckily for me and my weird OCD-ishness about this type of thing, it didn’t really matter and I did not need to have read the other two to know what was going on.

(And let’s be real for a second here – even with other historical romance series, there’s no actual need for me to read them in order. I wholly admit I’m very, very weird about that sort of thing.)

So. This book starts with a dude sneaking into a mansion’s library while a ball is going on. The dude, Neil Severin, happens to be an assassin. And as he’s lying in wait for his target to appear, the Lady Elizabeth storms in, her latest fiance in tow, in the middle of a fight. Neil hides behind the curtain and watches Beth’s fiance try to save his reputation by assaulting Beth.

See, Beth is apparently a “shameless” flirt, in that she’s had two engagements and has broken off each. This fiance refuses to be the third castoff, so he rips her bodice and attempts to get her in a compromising position. Unfortunately for you, my readers, I can’t remember how the situation was resolved – I want to think Beth hit him over the head with a poker? But it may have been Neil or someone else, but whatever – the engagement is over, and Neil had spent a good few minutes staring at Beth’s tits.

And look – what I do remember, without having written it down, was how much of a big deal was made of Beth’s bosom. I vaguely recall that it was described as “spectacular”, I want to say, multiple times? I mean, it was very hyperbolic. At moments, it felt like the novel was written through the male gaze, and guys – that’s fine and all, tits are great, yay tits, but they aren’t the reason I read historical romance novels.

Anyway. So Neil helps Beth out of her scrape and then Beth helps Neil get out of the library, and I think Neil convinces Beth he was a thief, and I think I remember being excited that maybe, this book was a Regency-version of How To Steal a Million, one of my favorite movies of ALL. FREAKING. TIME, but goddammit, it wasn’t.

In How To Steal a Million, Audrey Hepburn’s character is the daughter of an art forger, and Peter O’Toole is the guy who’s trying to catch him, and one night he breaks into their house and lies and says he’s a burglar, and then when Audrey Hepburn needs to steal a forged statue from a museum where her father had put it on display (because it would definitely fail the authentication tests the museum puts it through), she calls Peter O’Toole and asks him to help her rob a museum, and shenanigans ensue and it’s DELIGHTFUL.

This book was not delightful.

Beth helps Neil leave the building and agrees to meet up with him in a park or something later to pay him, maybe? But when she gets to the park she gets KIDNAPPED and I think it turns out the kidnapping was orchestrated by Beth’s jilted fiance? But Neil is in the park and manages to track her down, but she had not only been kidnapped, but kidnapped to be auctioned off as a sex slave in some weird sex slave cult or something.

It’s weird, you guys.

But Neil manages to — I don’t think Neil bids for her, but he manages to find her and they try to make their escape, but Beth refuses to leave the other women she’s bonded with as prisoners, so reluctantly, Neil allows six other women to accompany him on his rescue mission, and shenanigans ensue.

On the way back to London, Neil sticks very close to Beth, because (according to Goodreads, I definitely didn’t remember this part), Neil wants to “kidnap” Beth to draw her brother-in-law out so he can kill him, because remember, Neil is an assassin! Neil is a spy and Beth’s brother-in-law pretty much burn noticed Neil, and now Neil wants to kill the brother-in-law to save his own hide.

Except he falls in love with Beth and Beth decides the best way to save everyone – her reputation, her brother-in-law, and Neil – is to marry Neil, that way no one will kill each other and also she won’t be “ruined” anymore.

The plot was kind of ludicrous, to be honest. Crazy sex cults? Like, I know they probably existed back then, but man, this plot resembled the insanest parts of Dynasty at times. And you know I love me some Dynasty, but this was even more over-the-top than that.

And I don’t know why, in being more over-the-top than Dynasty, I did not like the book. Maybe because there was no humor involved? Dynasty winks at everything – “look at how stupid this is, Fallon’s trying to sell Carrington Atlantic to the Van Kirks, except that the Van Kirks think she’s married their son, Liam [who I thought his name was Jack? Why is everyone still calling him Liam?!] so she has to pretend to be married to Liam so the sale will go through, except her “father-in-law” propositioned her and won’t sell unless she visits him in his penthouse, so to get out of that Fallon hires an escort that looks a lot like her, leaves Papa Van Kirk blindfolded in the penthouse and tags the escort in so that Fallon can fly to Atlanta to be at her best friend’s club’s opening, and then she gets a call that Papa Van Kirk died after sex with the escort.”

I don’t know why I find “Neil has to rescue Beth from being kidnapped when he was supposed to be the one to kidnap her and when he gets to where she’s been taken she’s about to be auctioned off as part of this weird sex cult, but he rescues her in time but she won’t go without like, six other girls, so he reluctantly agrees to help them escape the castle, and it involves a lot of running around in basements and catacombs and trudging through forests but they finally get away so he brings Beth to an inn where they can stay the night and he needs to figure out how to re-use her as bait to lure her brother-in-law to rescue Beth from Neil so Neil can kill her brother-in-law” less interesting than the fake Fallon sex heart attack plot I described up there. Maybe it’s a visual thing. I just …

Maybe Neil didn’t seem believable as a hard-ass assassin? And Fallon seems absolutely believable as the type of person to hire an escort to have sex with her fake father-in-law so she can seal a business deal. Maybe that’s the reason.

I don’t know. It didn’t suck? I mean, I think I read it fairly quickly, overall. The plot and characters were more memorable than the ones in Otherwise Engaged, by a long shot, but this is still not a book I think I’d read again.

Grade for Shameless: 1 star

Fiction: “Otherwise Engaged” by Amanda Quick

otherwise engagedIn January, I went to the Library and left with about six books – three of which were hardcover romance novels by authors I’ve either read before, or seen my mother read, so I figured they were pretty good. Also, since they were hardcover, their covers weren’t as racy as what I usually get from the Wal-Mart Book Aisle, and therefore, appropriate to read at work on my lunch break.

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I mean, look at that cover – it’s so demure, compared to other things I could be reading. I mean, could you imagine Janice From Accounting’s face when she sees me reading, oh, I don’t know – how about Getting Off, a pulp novel by Lawrence Block? Something tells me that that cover will actually make her give a fuuuck.

So this was my first Amanda Quick novel. Amanda Quick is one of the pen names of Jayne Ann Krentz, and so this was also my first Jayne Ann Krentz novel. And I … I was sorely disappointed. And I’m not sure how that’s possible, considering my only expectation for the book was that the plotline and characters would keep me interested in reading towards its conclusion.

Eight-ish months later, and I know that I didn’t really like it. Sadly, I never took down any notes (and I could swear that I had at least taken some pictures of quotes, but apparently not), so I’m gonna crib from GoodReads a lot.

The star of this novel is Miss Amity Doncaster, a single lady who writes about travel for a London newspaper. At the beginning of the novel, she is somewhere in the West Indies, and comes across Benedict Stanbridge in a darkened alley. But don’t worry, he’d just been shot, so he’s not a threat. She manages to get him back on board their cruise ship (I guess they had those in the 1890s?) and nurses him back to health. Except a good portion of that nursing occurs in Benedict’s stateroom, and though no hanky-panky occurs, Amity’s reputation does suffer slightly on her return to London.

Benedict disembarks in New York and then travels to California, where he’s researching … something. I think this MacGuffin may be an automatic rifle of some sort? I remember it’s some form of advanced weaponry. But whatever – he doesn’t write to her, so she starts pouting and then moves on with her life.

… Right into a carriage that is then hijacked by a serial killer known as The Bridegroom! Look, I can’t remember the motivation behind why he attacked Amity – I think it was something about how it looked like she rejected Benedict and he was avenging the rights of Man or whatever – it doesn’t matter. All you need to know is a) she defended herself adequately, because the fan that she always carries around is actually a tessen, which is a Japanese war fan, and b) Benedict ends up hearing about her abduction and races to her aid.

And his aid is: let’s pretend to be engaged! That will save your reputation and I’ll be able to protect you from any other strangers who may want to attack you!

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But her sister, Penny, convinces her that it’s a necessary step, so she goes along with it.

And of course, all the parties involved want to figure out who the Bridegroom is, and also, Benedict is a spy for the War Office or something and he’s trying to figure out who may have stolen a notebook or whatever, and so he and Amity and this police detective whose name escapes me and Amity’s sister Penny all become detectives and it’s all whatever and also boring and repetitive.

Because when someone comes up with a great idea, everyone else has to comment on its brilliance. “Oh, brilliant Penny!” “Yes indeed, Miss Doncaster, very brilliant indeed!” and so you have to listen to each character go in a Round Robin until the compliments are over, and then they begin again with the next brilliant idea another character has.

I’m not sure what else I can say about this book at this point. I mean, the characters were all fairly bland? When an author gives every character the same verbal tic, no character sounds distinct enough to stand out. It’s a romance novel – of course the “fake engaged” trope is going to work out in the hero/heroine’s favor! (And in this instance, you end up with a double happy ending, because Penny and the detective also fall in love and get together before the end of the novel.)

It was very … blah. Nondescript. There was never any urgency to the plot, or any weight given to the characters and their wants. Overall, I am very glad I did not pay for this book, as I would definitely be asking for a refund.

The one star grade is for the use of a Japanese war fan as a weapon – that was a new thing for me.

Grade for Otherwise Engaged: 1 star

Fiction: “A Dangerous Love” by Sabrina Jeffries

dangerous lovePicture it: Halloween 2017. I had just gotten back from a whirlwind weekend trip to Montreal with an old friend and was pretty exhausted. My friend and her friend left for California on the last Sunday in October, and I didn’t have to go back to work until November. So after sleeping pretty much all day Monday, I felt like I had to accomplish something, and I wasn’t in the middle of binging anything on TV, and I didn’t have any Halloween plans. So I decided to sit on my ass the entire day on Tuesday, with the goal of reading an entire book in a single day.

Aside from a few Sidney Sheldon thrillers I read in high school, I’ve never been able to do that. I get distracted, or, lately, I fall asleep. But if I pick the right book – which would be around 300 pages with a good-sized print and an interesting plot – and if I pace myself, I could probably do it. I mean, books are, on average, 200 to 300 pages long. I tend to read (depending on print size) a page a minute. So even if I’m reading something that’s 360 pages long, theoretically, I should be able to finish a book in six hours – and that’s without stopping for food, bathroom breaks, or the inevitable naptime.

And to give myself a handicap, I picked a “silly little romance novel,” because c’mon, if I’m going to be in my jam-jams all day (“pajamas”), I’m not going to be reading anything heavier plot-wise than that.

I perused my romance bookcase and took out A Dangerous Love. This is the first book in Ms. Jeffries’ Swanlea Spinsters series, and I had previously read After the Abduction, the third book, so now I could have the added bonus of getting caught up in a series! And y’all know how I am with a series.

The good news is that I was able to read the book in a single day.

archer wooooo

The bad news is that I just grabbed the book off of my “to review” shelf and realized a) I did not dogear any pages, so there weren’t any quotes that really struck me, and b) I do not remember anything about the plot.

lana hooray

Here’s what the back of the book says:

The ailing Earl of Swanlea is determined to see his daughters provided for before he dies …

But Lady Rosalind, the earl’s headstrong middle child, wants no part of her father’s scheme to marry her off to Griff Knighton. She is, in fact, far more intrigued by the unwanted visitor’s man of affairs – a devilish rogue, more arrogantly self-assured than the average valet, who has an air of danger about him that is tempting Rosalind to venture onto forbidden ground.

It is Griff himself, however, who has enflamed her desires – having mischievously swapped places with his own manservant to avoid unwanted romantic entanglements. And though he never dreamed he could want any woman so passionately, how can he reveal the truth to the proud, exquisite Rosalind without destroying their blossoming –

— and that’s where the back of the book is cut off by a sticker that I cannot remove. Blossoming love, maybe? Who knows. It’s a mystery.

From what I can remember (and read off of other Goodreads reviews, and by skimming the first couple of chapters), Griff is made to believe he’s a bastard. Like, an actual, born-out-of-wedlock bastard, not just an asshole. In spite of his bastard state, he has managed to build a massive trading firm from the ground up, and it rivals the East India Company. (Sure; sure.) The Earl of Swanlea is a distant cousin of Griff (so marrying one of the Earl’s daughters wouldn’t be completely icky – thanks, Regency England!), and Griff isn’t interested in marriage – but he is interested in searching the Swanlea estate to try and find proof of his legitimacy, which will then allow him to join a trade delegation to China.

So his brilliant idea is to bring his business partner Daniel along, and while Daniel-slash-Griff is “wooing” Swanlea’s daughter, Daniel-slash-Griff’s valet “Griff” can search the estate for Griff’s parents’ marriage certificate, which will prove he was legitimate.

Meanwhile, Rosalind is dead set against marrying out of her impending poverty. Her elder sister, Helena, is also not interested in marriage. But their youngest sister, Juliet, is ready to be married and thus set the plan in motion.

Mentioned quite frequently on Goodreads is the boorish qualities of Griff. I believe them, because I have no memory of the plot. However, I just skimmed the rest of the book – speed-reading for the win! – and while Griff isn’t a bastard, he is most definitely a dick.

He cajoles Rosalind into making out with him and then going to third base. She drops her resistance, but in the light of #MeToo, this whole scenario is very icky. Meanwhile, Rosalind is extremely stubborn when it comes to believing people – her father, Griff after he tells the truth – but on the other hand it’s very understandable, seeing as how practically every man in this novel is lying to her.

That’s what I’ve got for this one. I’m very proud that I was able to read an entire book in a single day, but I wish the book was more memorable so I could talk about it more.

Oh well.

Grade for A Dangerous Love: 1 star

Fiction: “The Gunslinger” by Stephen King

GunslingerEven though I’ve lived in Maine my entire life (save for freshman year at Franklin Pierce College), I’ve never been able to get into Stephen King novels. Love him as a person and as a representative of Maine — and one of my best friends had dinner at his house when he [the friend] was going to school at U-Maine! — but other than Hannibal, I’ve never been a huge fan of horror.

Up until this past year, the only Stephen King novel I’d ever read was The Dead Zone, and the only reason I ever read that was because Sean Patrick Flanery was starring in the USA series based on the book, and I loved Sean Patrick Flanery – he was my favorite Boondock Saint.

So anyway. I’m not jazzed about Stephen King. But then, The Dark Tower movie was announced, starring my second-favorite Next James Bond (after Gillian Anderson or Janelle Monáe), Idris Elba. And I like Idris Elba. And I got more interested in the movie than I normally would have been, because My Dear Friend Sarah was interested in the movie.

But, I didn’t want to go into something blind – especially where Stephen King is concerned. So I put a question out into the universe (y’know – Twitter) and asked whether I should read The Dark Tower.

My Dear Friend Sarah said (essentially), “Yes, you should absolutely read the series, but let me warn you, you’re going to get to a point where you throw one of the books across the room. Don’t let it stop you, pick up the book, toss a shot back, and keep going.”

So with that recommendation – and I’m not being facetious, Sarah tells it like it is, and I appreciate that; if someone knows you well enough that they know you’re going to get frustrated with something, give that person a heads-up! — I requested the first book in The Dark Tower series, The Gunslinger, from the Yarmouth Public Library.

Hoo, boy. Okay. So. *sigh* … how the fuck do I talk about this?

I have no idea what happened in that book.

Thanks to Wikipedia for the below five paragraphs, because seriously, I remember there’s a massacre at a town, and a lot of desert walking, a young paranoid kid named Jake, maybe a spider? and a scene in a mountain that reminds me of the mine car sequence from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, but at the end of it Short Round dies.

There’s a Gunslinger. His name is Roland. And he’s searching for a Man in Black. He’s walking through a desert, and stops at this tiny rundown farm, and while he’s there for the night, he tells the farmer about the massacre he caused at the last town at the edge of the desert. The next day he continues on his journey.

Roland rolls into a way station, and meets a young boy named Jake. Jake’s about ten, and he tells Roland how he got there, and apparently he was hit by a car in Manhattan but then ended up at the way station, and it sounds like our universe is parallel to Roland’s, but also maybe it’s limbo or something? Then they defeat a demon in the basement and then Jake goes with Roland on his journey.

They get out of the desert and there’s this succubus in a forest, and Roland saves Jake from it and then Roland sleeps with the succubus so he can figure out what’s going on with his quest. There’s also a pretty substantial flashback to Roland’s childhood, which is not pretty or pleasant.

Then Roland and Jake run into the Man in Black, who says he’s only going to meet one of them on the other side of the mountain. Roland and Jake cross through the mountain, using a handcar. They run into some zombies or something, and then when they get to an abyss where only one of them can cross, Roland sacrifices Jake so he can continue on his journey alone.

He does meet up with the Man in Black on the other side of the mountain, as foretold. The Man in Black tries to convince Roland to give up his quest – which essentially was a revenge killing of the Man in Black – and the Man in Black also tries to tell Roland that Roland’s true enemy is the person controlling the Dark Tower, which they can see on the horizon. The Man in Black deals tarot cards and then there’s a sequence where they go whizzing past different planets, and then Roland falls asleep and when he wakes up the Man in Black has turned into a skeleton, so Roland keeps walking.

The only quote I captured from the book itself (and not from Stephen King’s afterword) is this:

“You asleep?” the gunslinger asked.

“No.”

“Did you understand what I told you?”

“Understand it?” The boy asked, with cautious scorn. “Understand it? Are you kidding?” [p. 174]

You and me both, boy.

So, even while I was reading it, I was checking out Wikipedia. And the Wikipedia page for the book has this as its second sentence:

The Gunslinger was first published in 1982 as a fix-up novel, joining five short stories that had been published between 1978 and 1981. King substantially revised the novel in 2003, and this version is in print today.

And I went, “wait a minute …”

The version I read – the one I got from the library – was published in 1988; an illustrated version of the original 1982 publication.

This entire time – I was reading the wrong version.

CURSE YOU, YARMOUTH PUBLIC LIBRARY!

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Now, there were a couple of cool things I could take from Stephen King’s afterword, which continues to prove that I like him as a person, but not as a teller of stories.

He said this about the process of getting The Gunslinger to completion:

[…] this segment, “The Gunslinger and the Dark Tower,” was written over a period of twelve years. It is by far the longest I’ve taken with any work … and it might be more honest to put it another way: it is the longest that any of my unfinished works has remained alive and viable in my own mind, and if a book is not alive in the writer’s mind, it is as dead as year-old horseshit even if words continue to march across the page. [p. 219]

Damn straight, Stephen.

And this argument brought me right back to … oh god, what was it freshman year, Advanced Reading 101? What the hell was that stupid fucking “English” course we all had to take with Ms. Ring, where we only read two books, one of which was Into the Wild, which I already hated, and she made us use the entire writing process toolbox every time we had to write something? Anyway, this statement gave me flashbacks:

Somewhere inside I know all of these things, and there is no need of an argument, or a synopsis, or an outline (outlines are the last resource of bad fiction writers who wish to God they were writing masters’ theses). When it’s time, those things — and their relevance to the gunslinger’s quest — will roll out as naturally as tears or laughter. [p. 224]

SERIOUSLY. Look, I have this “novel” I’ve been “writing” for almost seven years now, and my worry is that it’s just a series of conversations between people and there’s no plot. But since I’m not sure how the story ends (I’ve got options), I’m not about to start outlining the fucking thing. I’ll get there eventually.

And probably, eventually, I’ll try to find the “correct”, revised version of The Gunslinger. Sarah told me it’s worth it, and I’ll give it a shot, but let me be very clear: it’s going to take me a while to work up the will to try again. Because this book was the biggest disappointment of 2017 — at least, in the book-reading department.

Grade for The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger1 star (only for Stephen King’s afterword)

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.

Dammit.

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.

yeah okay sure.gif

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]

jon-stewart-huh

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

Fiction: “A Rake’s Vow” by Stephanie Laurens

rake's vowBack in November of last year, I reviewed The Rogue Not Taken, which I had read back in July 2016. At the time of my writing the review, I was in the middle of reading A Rake’s Vow, which I had purchased at Wonderbook during My Dear Friend Sarah’s bachelorette party weekend. And I had this to say:

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 now it’s August 2017, and I’m reviewing a book I read between November and December of 2016, and I am so close to finishing the 2016 portion of Alaina’s Book Blog Backlog (which, if I wasn’t so tied to the name That’s What She Read, I’d almost change it, because at least Alaina’s Book Blog Backlog is more accurate at this moment) that I can taste it.

ANYWAY.

This is the second book in the Cynster series. I had read the first title, Devil’s Bride, way back when in 2011, and I was not impressed. I was so not impressed, I gave it the harshest of ratings: twilight stars.  I thought this book was as bad as Twilight. And in retrospect … I am 99% sure I overreacted. Because the only other titles I’ve ever rated “twilight stars” are … well, the entire Twilight series; the two Shayla Black “novels” I’ve read; Wideacre; the two Catherine Coulter “books” I’ve read; and Devil’s Bride.

one of these things

Because it can’t have been as bad as Twilight. It certainly wasn’t as bad as either The Cove or The Maze. I must have been in a funk when I reviewed Devil’s Bride back then and had a poor perception of it. For that, I am sorry.

… Having said that, it’s not Shakespeare. But it’s not Twilight, either.

So as I said, A Rake’s Vow is the second book of the Cynster series of novels, which is approximately a frillion titles long. (According to Goodreads, the Cynster series is 26 titles long, made up of one major series and three additional trios or quartets. Her website has 15 in the Cynster series, a trilogy and a duo for Cynster Sisters, and two more trilogies of Cynster: The Next Generation. That’s … that’s a lot.)

This title stars Vane Cynster, whose real name is Spencer, who is a cousin to Devil, whose real name I completely forgot. (Sylvester. Look, I’ll give this to Stephanie Laurens: she is thoughtful enough to put a family tree diagram in the front of each of her novels. And she numbers the chronology, too! I have to say, I love a good family tree diagram.) (All the primary Cynster men have nicknames, like Devil, or Scandal, or … I don’t know, Maleficent. The nicknames always have an “evil” element to them and part of the story is how he shows how nice and non-devil-ey he really is.)

Vane is traveling somewhere on his way from a church roof dedication and decides to drop in on his favorite quasi-relative, Minnie. Minnie has opened her manse up to a smorgasbord of characters, including one Patience Debbington, and Patience’s brother, Gerrard. Vane comes across Patience in the garden, as she’s bending over looking for something, and he’s immediately taken with her ass. When Patience rebuffs his charms, he becomes even more determined that he must have her.

But Patience has hang-ups with “elegant gentlemen” – she knows them all to be rakes who won’t stay with women. (It’s what her father did to her mother.) So she resolves to avoid Vane as much as possible during his stay at Bellamy Hall.

MEANWHILE, there is a ghost AND a burglar at Bellamy Hall, and they may be one and the same. Possibly. Nearly every individual has had something precious taken from them – Patience was looking for a missing vase when Vane met her – and they all suspect Gerrard. Minnie asks Vane to look into it, as he’s a newcomer to the party and couldn’t have been involved. So Vane plays private detective, and Patience helps, in attempting to clear her brother’s name. And of course, they end up becoming involved.

Like my complaint with Devil’s Bride, I do not like it when a novel gives us a sort of mystery or overarching plot (in Devil’s Bride, a murder; here, the burglaries) and then break away from the plot for at least a hundred pages just to focus on the romance and sex pieces of the novel. And maybe I wouldn’t complain so loudly about that if the sex writing wasn’t filled with such purple prose (hence the Angry Kuzco Direct Side Eye Face up there). In terms of pacing, though, it kind of throws me off.

Also, as with some of the other novels I’ve read, the purple prose is also kind of funny.

As their lips fused, Patience felt his hands slide lower, deliberately tracing the ripe hemispheres of her bottom. [p. 142]

I am totally naming my rock band The Ripe Hemispheres.

I complained about misogyny in my review of Devil’s Bride, but I’m not sure that’s the right word … The Cynster men (that I’ve read about, at least) have very … patriarchal? views? Maybe that’s the word? They certainly don’t have a dislike of, or contempt for, or prejudice against women. But when they fall in love with a woman, they are compelled to make the woman “belong” to them.

There was, however, […] no reason whatever that they shouldn’t wed — that he shouldn’t become his wife. From his point of view, and from that of anyone with her best interests at heart, from the viewpoint of his family, and hers, and the ton‘s, she was perfect for the position in every way.

All he had to do was convince her of that fact. Find out what hurdle was preventing her from marrying him and overcome it. [p. 192]

Of course, having just defended Vane against a claim of misogyny, in the paragraph directly above that one I just quoted, he did think Patience “logical for a woman”, so … who knows.

Now, there were a couple of things that made me … react. There was this:

Eyes shining, [Patience] looked into his. “I love you.”

Vane’s lip lifted as he bent to kiss her. “I know.” [p. 365]

leia angry

And then there was this:

“Who,” Patience asked, “is Sligo?”

Vane’s lips curved slightly. “Devil’s ex-batman.” [p. 245]

jon-stewart-huh.gif

Were … were there Batmen in Regency England? And so prevalent that some could retire? How does one become an ex-Batman? I don’t — ?? I have mentioned before that I love Batmans in other fictional universes, and now I really want to see this Sligo’s Batman story.

Anyway. At the end of the day, A Rake’s Vow is … it’s okay. It’s not great. I’m not going to read it again. Don’t be surprised if I keep up with the series, though, because by now we should all be aware of how masochistic I get about serieses and stuff. But it’s not “twilight stars” bad.

Grade for A Rake’s Vow: 1 star