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

Fiction: “Mistress of My Fate” by Hallie Rubenhold

Mistress of my FateOkay. It’s 10:02. I am giving myself until midnight to get this written. If I’m not done by then, I’m posting it incomplete, and you can fill in the blanks yourownself.

To be honest, this book was pretty … forgettable. I picked this up in the middle of my historical romance kick (I’ve still got a few of those left to review, be tee dubs), and was … very disappointed.

This is the first novel in a trilogy (how?!), narrated by Henrietta Lightfoot, the adopted niece of an Earl who becomes a fancy prostitute. Growing up, all she wanted was for her cousin, Catherine, to be her BFF. And for a time it looked like her wish came true, but then Henrietta becomes close with Catherine’s fiance, George Allenham. Catherine finds Henrietta’s platonic letters to George, becomes ill with the plague or something, and then dies under possibly suspicious circumstances. So Henrietta runs away (she also finds out that she’s not a foundling, she’s actually the illegitimate daughter of the Earl, who she was raised to believe was her uncle or whatever) to George Allenham, who takes her in and pretty much promises to marry her … but then bolts in the night.

(There’s a whole subplot about how George is a bit of an anarchist, fighting against the royals in France before the Revolution, and that he may be a spy or something, but it’s not very clear and honestly, not pertinent to my discussion of this book.)

So Henrietta, alone, follows George to London, but is a few days late and quite a number of pounds short. She is taken in by a kindly woman, and poor Henrietta learns too late that the kindly woman is actually a fancy prostitute. Henrietta is appalled — appalled, I say! — but then she’s introduced to St. John Something-Or-Other, who used to go with Henrietta’s mother (who was also a prostitute, and apparently the Best Madam Who Hast Ever Madamed), and he offers to take her in but then makes her his mistress. Then she learns that she’s pregnant, by Allenham, and when her pregnancy is discovered St. John again agrees to take care of her, but she’s a kept woman, and she then learns that nothing of hers actually belongs to her. It’s a whole big thing.

The rest of the book is Henrietta scheming with other Kept Ladies on how to maintain her autonomy in a man’s world, while also trying to make sure she has enough money to find Allenham in Paris.

Here’s the thing: I don’t trust Henrietta as a narrator. I talked about reliable narrators briefly with regards to Nick Carroway, the narrator of The Great Gatsby. We trust Nick, because it seems that he relates the events as they happen, without outside commentary. Henrietta, however, addresses the reader directly, and she tells us in the first two paragraphs that this “book” is being “written” to tell her side of the story:

I have no doubt that many of you have come to this work out of curiosity. You have heard so much about me, most of which is pure fabrication. Now that you have torn off the packaging and cut the pages, you can begin to read my story and to know who I am. [p. 1]

The fourth sentence of the entire novel is this:

Now you may now the truth, and nothing gives me greater relief than this. [p. 1]

And maybe it’s me, being a cynic; but, in the words of my forever Pretend Husband (not boyfriend – he deserves more than that), Jon Stewartnobody says “believe me” unless they are lying. And, similar to saying “believe me,” I’m not inclined to accept what someone says is the truth if they’re constantly telling me it’s the truth.

Oh, this may sound unrelated, and I know the person I’m kind of subtweeting here won’t see this, but: DUDE: JUST TELL ME IF YOU’RE ABANDONING YOUR CAR. I DO NOT CARE IF YOU’RE ABANDONING YOUR CAR. I DO NOT JUDGE YOU ON THIS. IT MAY SOUND LIKE I’M JUDGING, BUT I ASSURE YOU, I’M NOT. BUT DON’T FUCKING TELL ME THE CAR HAS BEEN TOWED TO THE DEALER. NO DEALER WILL TOW A CAR TO THE DEALERSHIP FOR DIAGNOSIS OF THE ISSUE AND THEN TOW THE VEHICLE BACK TO THE PARKING GARAGE FROM WHENCE IT CAME. AND NOT ONLY THE GARAGE, BUT THE EXACT FUCKING SPOT THE CAR WAS IN FOUR MONTHS AGO. IT. HAS. NOT. MOVED. FOR CHRIST’S SAKE, MAN UP, AND GET A NEW DAMN CAR.

Ahem. Thank you for allowing me to get that off my chest. I would bring it up, but my horoscope tells me I should keep my mouth shut tomorrow.

ANYHOODLE. So, I don’t trust Henrietta. And that means that as I was reading her escapades, a voice in the back of my head was wondering, how much of a victim is she, really?

Other, stray thoughts:

I was far too inexperienced to recognize flirtation when I encountered it, and began to panic. [p. 48]

^^ IT ME.

And speaking of it being me,

“Do you have a strong appetite, Miss Lightfoot?”

“Why, I do not believe my appetite stronger than that of most ladies,” came my innocent reply. The company began to titter.

“And do you find most ladies to have large appetites, madam?”

I thought seriously upon Lord Barrymore’s question. The entire table seemed to hang upon my answer.

“No, my lord, I do not believe we do. As we are smaller creatures than gentlemen, we are more readily filled.” [p. 249]

THAT’S WHAT SHE SAID.

Don’t be surprised if I don’t continue with the series.

(11 minutes past midnight; I’ll take it.)

Grade for Mistress of My Fate: 1 star

Fiction: “The Killing Dance” by Laurell K. Hamilton

Killing DanceI have had this draft saved in my draft folder for approximately ten days. That is how little I want to review it. But my backlog is starting to push double digits, and that’s a thing that cannot stand. So – into the fray I must go.

Because seriously – I am starting to wonder why I continue to read this series. I can officially say: With The Killing Dance, Ms. Hamilton is starting to turn her corner into supernatural erotica, and I am not looking forward to the journey down that road.

So — *pfft.*  Okay. Anita returned from Branson, Missouri (at the conclusion of Bloody Bones), and she is continuing to date both Richard the Shapeshifter and Jean-Claude the Master Vampire. Why is she dating both of them? Because Jean-Claude is making her.

No, really.

See, Anita thought she was falling in love with Richard a couple of books ago — even after she found out he was a shapeshifter. (I keep wanting to call him a werewolf, but I’m 90% sure the term Ms. Hamilton uses is “shapeshifter.” I say “90% sure” because I’m not really sure, but I also can’t be arsed to look it up, even though the book is literally three inches away from my knee right now.) And Jean-Claude has always lurrved Anita, even though she’s a vampire hunter and he’s — well, a vampire. Anita finally admitted recently – maybe as recent as this book, I’m not sure if she mentioned it in previous books, and again: not looking it up – that she is attracted to Jean-Claude sexually. At the beginning of the series, Anita was able to recognize Jean-Claude’s physical beauty, much like I am able to recognize the beauty of, say, Channing Tatum, and not have a single iota of sexual attraction related to seeing his face.

Congratulations, ladies – he does absolutely nothing for me. He’s very pretty, but he’s all yours.

Also, and the real reason why she’s dating both Richard and Jean-Claude: Jean-Claude told her he would kill Richard if she didn’t. Because Jean-Claude sees Anita’s willingness to date “one of the monsters” (i.e., Richard) as a slim chance that she could look past Jean-Claude’s own monster-dom and find her way to dating him. So he has ultimatum’d her into dating both of them, until she can make up her mind as to which one she prefers.

Because there is absolutely no way in heaven or hell that that could end badly.

So in The Killing Dance, Anita is enjoying her time spent with both Richard and Jean-Claude, and she is finding it harder and harder to resist either one of them. But before we dig even deeper into this stupid triangle, the plot must be dealt with.

Anita starts the book by having a meeting with Jean-Claude, another old-as-fuck vampire, and the old-as-fuck vampire’s human servant. The old-as-fuck vampire gave up drinking human blood as a way to try and keep his lady love from leaving him, but all it left him with is a disgusting, decaying body. Because apparently, switching from human to animal blood gives vampires leprosy? And to be clear, it’s not really leprosy – it makes entire limbs rot off and slime away. When Anita meets the old-as-fuck vampire, he’s levitating because he doesn’t have any legs. Because of the Slime Leprosy. It’s really gross.

And I don’t know about this whole “animal blood turns vampires into Slime Lepers” thing; this information has never been brought up before. And also, that’s not how it happens on The Vampire Diaries. Or Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Although if it were true, it would really turn Twilight into something a bit more interesting.

I mean, what happens to Edward’s sparkles when he’s overcome with Slime Leprosy?

Speaking of Edward, this is a not-so-great segueway into talking about Anita’s only friend, Edward the Bounty Hunter. Edward the Bounty Hunter calls Anita when she’s going out with Richard to let her know that someone has put a $500,000 price on her head, and she’s got to survive the next 24 hours without being assassinated. But she has no idea who would want to kill her, besides the usual suspects, and the usual suspects don’t have the Disposable Boat kind of money. So, she’s at a loss. And what does she do? Not leave town, that’s for fucking sure!

Because Richard is having a crisis with his pack! There are these two members, Marcus and Raina, and they like filming shapeshifter porn, which is just as out there as you can probably imagine it to be. It is not pretty, it is extremely violent, it is not sponsored by Pornhub. (Oh god, I hope my mentioning Pornhub won’t bring people seeking supernatural porn to my blog … because they are going to be horrifically disappointed.)

So on their date, Richard gets called out to the porn shoot to rescue one of his pack members who had been shanghaied into appearing in this film against his will, and Anita has to tag along because she’s the first-person narrator and she doesn’t think it’s a big deal if she shows her face in public with a bounty on her head. While rescuing the meek shapeshifter, Anita displays dominance by vowing to protect … Whatshisname (never looking it up), and now Richard has a power problem in addition to the porn problem.

And Anita still has to go on her date with Jean-Claude the next night, because that’s how everything fucking works. So they go to the opening of Jean-Claude’s new club, SomewheresVille, and Anita lets her guard down for a minute and almost gets iced in the ladies’ room.

So now she’s forced to stay in Jean-Claude’s apartments under the Circus of the Damned until she can accompany Richard to the Killing Dance, where he is finally going to attempt to kill Marcus, the leader of the pack, after many, many, many discussions with Anita and how relatively easy it is for Anita to kill people, versus Richard’s fight for life. But Richard, Jean-Claude and Anita all join forces and are able to share their respective powers between each other, but in the end Anita can’t really face Richard as he shapeshifts, and she goes back to Jean-Claude’s apartment to clean up, and she and Jean-Claude have sex, and so she breaks up with Richard. But then she gets kidnapped by Raina and the rogue members of Marcus’s pack, and it turns out that her assassination attempt was orchestrated by the female human servant of the Old-As-Fuck Vampire (remember him? of the Slime Leprosy?), and it was just an attempt to conquer Jean-Claude’s hold on the City.

So that’s it. That’s the plot. Just as jumbled as they’ve been since at least Circus of the Damned, and it’s starting to wear on me. Not enough to make me stop reading them, mind you; look, at some point, I bought the majority of the novels, so since I own ’em, I’m going to read ’em.

And if I know me like I think I know me, I’ll pull out the next title in the series next January. I’m not sure why I always end up returning to this series in January; maybe it’s because January is already so fucking miserable, I might as well just add an acid-dipped cherry to the shit sundae that is January in Maine by reading the next Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter novel.

So, that’s a thing that’ll be happening next year.

Grade for The Killing Dance: 1 star

 

Fiction: “India Black” by Carol K. Carr

India BlackFUCK YEAH THREE POSTINGS IN AS MANY DAYS I GOT THIS

So one day, I spent my lunch break at the Augusta Barnes & Noble – probably because I was close to finishing The Mysteries of Udolpho and I knew I wanted to read something with … I don’t know, something not Mysteries of Udolpho. And I was browsing the shelves and came across this series, wherein the main character, India Black, was described as a “madam of espionage.” Okay, that sounds like a pun I’d make.

Crossing my fingers, I turned the book over, and sure enough – India was not only a spy for Britain, but she was also the madam of a brothel. “Sign me up!” I said, in the middle of that Barnes & Noble – where I was promptly shushed, even though it’s technically not a library. But unfortunately for me, Barnes & Noble did not have the first book in the series, and since I really prefer to start series at the beginning, I refrained from purchasing anything at that time.

Then I ordered it off of Amazon, along with like, four other books. Most of which, I’ve read at this point. BUT ANYWAY.

According to the back of the book, it is the winter of 1876 and India is minding her own business – Lotus House, her brothel. One of her charges is entertaining someone upstairs, when he unfortunately dies of a heart attack. Because she doesn’t want to have a death besmirch the honor of her house, she enlists the help of young Vincent, a pickpocket with a heart of gold — oh, actually, I meant a heart for gold. And just when they’re bundling the corpse into a wagon to take him to the docks, a smart gent by the name of French happens upon them and takes over the whole operation.

See, the dead guy was a member of the Ministry, and they’re going to make his death look like an info drop gone bad. But French needs Dead Guy’s briefcase. When India goes to retrieve it from the room, it’s missing. And now, French and the Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli, threaten to close down her shop unless she helps them retrieve it.

Thus, India gets sucked into the world of espionage with nary a thought. The rest of the plot involves Russian spies, a couple more deaths, and a sable coat, but overall, I do not feel like this book lived up to its potential.

India Black was clearly written as a “strong female character.” Meaning, she has pluck and tenacity, but … no real weaknesses. She doesn’t have a spasm of horror at seeing Dead Ministry Guy; she’s all, “Oh shite, now we’ve got a mess to clean up. Guess I’ll have to find the starveling to help me with this.” Her dinners consist of a glass of strong whiskey and toast. We see her provide comfort to the women that live and work in her brothel, but we don’t see her care for them. India doesn’t have any friends; she is alone. And being alone is all right, but it seemed as if India was meant to be a man and then gender-switched to a woman, thrown in a brothel because apparently that’s the only place a smart woman can own a business in that time period (which, besides a dressmaker’s shop, is probably true) – and “brothel madam” just adds that hint of spice that I thought I was going to get.

Her part of Operation Retrieve Briefcase is simple: get invited into this Russian guy’s party and distract him enough so she can get the briefcase. Intel provides that Russian Guy has a preference for lesbian porn; therefore, India will rope one of her friendliest fellow madams (because remember, India really doesn’t have friends) into attending because a) Fellow Madam is bisexual and has always wanted to “get into India’s trousers,” and b) India doesn’t mind her, so — two birds, one stone.

No hesitation about having to not only have sex with someone she almost considers a friend, let alone in front of a stranger, let alone for nefarious reasons. India doesn’t hesitate; she sees the clearest means to an end and then pursues that end to … well, the end. I would expect any human being, female or otherwise, to have some qualms or murmurs of doubt or … just overall feelings about that type of scenario.

I’m definitely not saying that female lead characters should not show strength. But there is a difference between using strength as a character’s main characteristic and showing strength as a facet of a character. There’s a really good article on the use of a “Strong Female Character” that my friend Jen may have linked to me years ago – Jen, if this is the same article, yay I remembered! If it’s not, look, I found another one! But anyway, the article basically says that male characters get to have many facets whereas female characters, if they’re the lead, get to only be “strong”:

Sherlock Holmes gets to be brilliant, solitary, abrasive, Bohemian, whimsical, brave, sad, manipulative, neurotic, vain, untidy, fastidious, artistic, courteous, rude, a polymath genius. Female characters get to be Strong.

Everyone should totally read this article, especially the end.

I want my female characters to have depths – make them brave, allow them to be sad, make them scared. Give her traits that show that maybe, her rudeness or roughness are defense mechanisms, that she only acts that way when she feels cornered. Show she has a tender side. Give her female friends. Even if she tends to be a loner, tell me she’s happy being a loner.

Overall, I felt that India Black was a cipher – she was a Strong Female Character with an Interesting Occupation thrown into a Situation and she needed to assist a man without letting him be the boss. No, she never needed rescuing. Yes, she could use a gun, and she used it well. But she treated everything that came in her path as another run-of-the-mill thing that she needed to check off a to-do list. Oh no, I have to escape this room. Guess I’ll go out the window and try and get into the next room from the windowsill. No big deal, it’s only two stories up if I fall, and it snowed, so – I’ll be fine. I mean, she’s so – NONCHALANT! That’s the word I was searching for! Anyway, she’s so nonchalant about this whole business that she keeps referring to Benjamin Disraeli as “Dizzy.”

The only time she shows a different aspect of herself, India is able to rationalize it away:

… for a minute I almost lost my nerve and wished myself back safe in Lotus House, away from the cold and the dead Cossack and the exquisitely turned out Oksana. I could feel the sting of tears close to the surface, but I refused to give way. Then I recollected that I had had little to eat since dawn, my hands and feet were numb from lack of circulation, it was colder than the proverbial witch’s tit, and French and I were being held prisoner by a ruthless Russian major and his bitch of an accomplice. No wonder I was feeling a bit down.

Cheered by the revelation that I did not in fact have a serious character flaw … [p. 234-235]

Being scared and wanting to go home is not a character flaw! Uggghhhhh….

I was just really disappointed. I will try to read the next one – I’m definitely ordering it from the library, that’s for sure, no more spending money on this author for me – but if there isn’t growth in her character in the next one, I’m probably going to stop reading this series. Which is a shame, because I feel like there’s so much potential for this story.

Alaina has a sad now.

Grade for India Black: 1 star

Fiction: “The Mysteries of Udolpho” by Ann Radcliffe

mysteries of udolphoA few months ago, my friend Erica read Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen. I had read it a few years ago, and it was getting time to make my selection for Spring Classic Literature Month. Well, I was perusing the shelves of the Yarmouth Library after returning Babayaga, and came across The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe. This book was actually mentioned by the characters in Northanger Abbey numerous times, as it is the favorite novel of the lead character Catherine. And Northanger Abbey was in the back of my mind, and this book was free and I’d never read it before, so … hey! Synergy!

Please feel free to add this title to the list of Bad Decisions Alaina’s Made In Life.

Look, I’ve read a lot of classic literature in my day, but oh man – this was like, 700 pages of nothingThe Mysteries of Udolpho is supposed to be the first Gothic novel, and I kept waiting for some suspense? But after reading Red Dragon or, fuck it, Dracula, this book was a snooze fest.

As evidence, please look at the fact that it took me ten weeks to read this. TEN FUCKING WEEKS.

So the plot, as she is horribly, horribly overwritten: Emily St. Aubert lives with her father in the South of France (I think). After her mother dies, she and her father take a tour of the rest of the south of France as part of their bereavement tour or whatever. On the trip, they meet a chevalier (traveling knight) named Vaillancourt. Emily and Vaillancourt fall in love on, like, page 109, and then Emily’s father dies and Emily gets sent to live with her Aunt, Madame Chernon. Madame Chernon disapproves of Vaillancourt, so she forbids them to be together. Then she relents because she finds out Vaillancourt has wealthy connections. Meanwhile, Madame Chernon is wooed by Count Montoni, who appears to be some suave Italian motherfucker. Well, Madame Chernon agrees to marry Count Montoni, does so by stealing the wedding plans of Emily and Vaillancourt, then forbids Emily from continuing her relationship with Vaillancourt. Count Montoni then removes his new wife and Emily to his palace in Venice, where we come to learn that Montoni? is actually a dick.

He’s a leader of the dreaded Italian Bandits, which would make a great name for a rock band. But really, he’s a thief and a murderer. He attempts to sell Emily’s hand in marriage to a Count Morano, but when that deal goes belly-up, he takes the entire “family” up to his palace in the region known as Udolpho.

The Udolpho palace is full of secrets – it’s like Gretchen Weiners’ hair. Emily and her chambermaid, Annette, get into all sorts of adventures. And when I say “adventures,” I mean “forty pages of Annette rambling and Emily saying she doesn’t want to hear it but then says okay sure, I’ll listen, and then they walk through the halls of the castle and see weird shit which will all be explained as not paranormal whatsoever in about five hundred pages.”

While they are imprisoned in Udolpho, Madame Chernon passes away – oh, shit, spoiler alert, I guess – and then Montoni pressures Emily into giving up the land she inherited from her aunt. But Emily refuses, because she’s moral or whatever. Anyway, one night she thinks she hears the voice of her beloved Vaillancourt, but it turns out that it’s another dude from her region of France, who has been imprisoned by Montoni. Not too much later from that, Emily, her maid Annettte, this other dude, and Annette’s boyfriend Ludovico escape from Udolpho and end up at the mansion of a friend named … George, I guess. (I’m wrong, but it’s an easy name to make up and the book’s been back at the library for a month now and I’m not going to look it up.) George had apparently run into Vaillancourt in Paris, and Emily’s boyfriend had managed to turn into a bit of a gambler, so George tells her to cut him loose because he’s a bad egg. When Vaillancourt returns to plead his case, she refuses him.

But after another hundred pages of back and forth, Emily realizes that Vaillancourt was only gambling to make money to help pay off her debts to her servants and other shit, so his morality is restored and they end up married or whatever.

See?  It took me not even 1000 words to give the major points of the plot. Why was this book nearly 700 pages long?

Well, it would have been shorter if Mrs. Radcliffe knew how to use the comma properly.

No, for reals. And while I recognize that this was written nearly three hundred years ago and common grammatical structure has evolved, THERE ARE ENTIRELY TOO MANY COMMAS IN THIS BOOK.

I decided to turn it into a game after I read this sentence:

The immense pine-forests, which, at that period, overhung these mountains, and between which the road wound, excluded all view but of the cliffs aspiring above, except, that, now and then, an opening through the dark woods allowed the eye a momentary glimpse of the country below. [p. 224]

I MEAN. So, as I continued to read – because I don’t give up on books, not anymore – I decided to see if I could find the sentence in the novel that had the most commas.

BEHOLD:

Beneath the dark and spreading branches, appeared, to the north, and to the east, the woody Apennines, rising in majestic amphitheatre, not black with pines, as she had been accustomed to see them, but their loftiest summits crowned with antient forests of chesnut, oak, and oriental plane, now animated with the rich tints of autumn, and which swept downward to the valley uninterruptedly, except where some bold rocky promontory looked out from among the foliage, and caught the passing gleam. [p. 413]

That is one entire sentence, folks. It has 14 – FOURTEEN – commas in that one sentence. That’s … entirely too many commas.

Let’s see, what else can I talk about – oh, how about how Annette the Maid is so annoying, even the saintly main character Emily hates her? Okay, maybe “hates” is a strong word, but she does delight in poking fun at Annette who is too stupid to realize it.

“Down this passage, ma’amselle ; this leads to a back stair-case. O! if I see any thing, I shall be frightened out of my wits!”

“That will scarcely be possible,” said Emily … [p. 232]

“But the story went round, and many strange reports were spread, so very strange, ma’amselle, that I shall not tell them.”

“That is stranger still, Annette,” said Emily … [p. 238]

Another thing I love about reading old books? What was probably very tame and normal back then sounds really dirty now.

Madame La Comtesse had often deep play at her house, which she affected to restrain, but secretly encouraged … [294]

“I have myself seen the Chevalier engaged in deep play with men, whom I almost shuddered to look upon.” [507]

“Deep play” is defined in the notes as “gambling,” which is such a buzzkill.

Oh, and Ms. Radcliffe attempts to break the novel up by inserting poetry. And if one of those poems have a verse that sounds dirty, well, Alaina’s going to take note of it:

Neptune for this oft binds me fast
To rocks below, with coral chain,
Till all the tempest’s over-past,
And drowning seamen cry in vain. [181]

Overall, the entire book suffers from histrionics which were probably considered the height of literature three hundred years ago, but today reads horribly. I can step back and appreciate it for what it was during its time, but am I ever going to read this again? Hell no.

Grade for The Mysteries of Udolpho: 1 star

(the star is for the That’s What She Said moments the book provided; that’s it.)

Fiction: “Babayaga” by Toby Barlow

babayagaShortly after Erica and I finished reading Egg & Spoon, I found myself wandering the aisles of the Yarmouth Library. Now, I am used to browsing the Portland Public Library and Curtis Memorial Library, in my hometown of Brunswick – both libraries are filled to the brim with a wide variety of reading material. When I go to the library, I intend to spend at least thirty minutes perusing the aisles. So when I wander around the Yarmouth Library and all of their fiction – all of it – fits in one room?!

Well, needless to say, I was a bit gobsmacked.

Instead of browsing through rows upon rows like I’m used to, I looked at pretty much every book in that room. (I almost said “literally” just now, but decided against it.) When I got to the B’s and saw Babayaga, I shrugged and added it to my pile.

It … it was weird. The book, and having so small a library. The whole thing was weird all over.

The story of this particular babayaga takes place in Paris in either the late 1950s or early 1960s. I can’t remember which, and the book has since been returned to the World’s Second-Smallest Library (I’m sure there’s a smaller one somewhere else – there has to be). The plot involves two witches – babayagas – that escaped Russia after the Bolshevik revolution and are now attempting to hide in plain sight. There’s also Will, an American CIA agent hiding as an advertising executive, who’s just been told his position is being eliminated. He crosses paths with the younger, more beautiful witch, Zoya, who ends up falling in love with Will against her better nature. There’s also Elga, Zoya’s older colleage (who happens to be much more diabolical than Zoya), and Inspector Vidot of the Paris police force, who spends the better part of the novel as a flea.

To say this book is surreal would be the biggest understatement since I said, “Man, this show Hannibal is pretty good.” Obviously it’s going to be weird, what with the Russian witches and Parisians that speak perfect English and the people being Kafka’d into arthropods, or however the fuck fleas are classified. But Vidot never really reacts poorly to being turned into a flea; nor does Will really react when he observes a magic fight between Zoya, Elga, and Elga’s apprentice whose name I cannot remember. I don’t know if it’s because the novel takes place in France and the French are typically blasé about everything, or if the author is attempting to make a statement about the supernatural being just as mundane as everyday life. But whatever the reason, there were numerous moments where I felt someone – anyone – should react like this:

buffy cast scream photo buffycastscream.gifbut instead, everyone reacted like this:

tv-addiction-emma-stone-meh-gif

(if I had madder Photoshop skillz, I’d totally add a beret and cigarette to that .gif.)

ANYWAY. (drink!) For lack of a better phrase, the entire book felt very … existential. Like, it almost – almost, mind you – almost made me want to reread Les Jeux Sont Faits by Jean-Paul Sartre. And while I do have a compendium of essential existential works (wait – is that an oxymoron? Dear Friend Thomas, care to weigh in on this?), rereading anything in its original French (no translation, hurrah!) is daunting, at best.

If I remember the back of the book correctly, Babayaga is supposed to explore love as a concept, and I’ll be honest, I … didn’t really get that. At all. Sure, the characters extemporize on the emotion, but nothing really resonated with me.

Although there were some pretty epic quotes, of which I thankfully remembered to take pictures before I returned the book to the library. Yay forethought!

The novel’s narrative structure is broken up by the occasional poem, or “Witch’s Song.” These songs are supposed to shed enlightenment on the plot through the ethereal voices of Elga’s former babayaga coven. I really liked this last stanza of one of the songs:

Ghosts, they say, stay for three simple reasons:
they love life too wholly to leave,
they love some other too deeply to part,
or they need to linger on for a bit,
to coax a distant knife
toward its fated throat.  [p. 110]

For all of her crazy, Elga really is a feminist:

“I’ll tell you one important thing,” [Elga] said. “If you ever marry a man, don’t take his name. Tell him you’re untraditional, make a scene, have a fight, but” — she shook her finger in their faces — “always keep that one precious thing. Men want to swallow you down, take all of you, even your name, like a big fish gulps down minnows. I tell, you, your name is the piece they cannot have. I have been chased by the law and I have been forced into hiding, but I have always used my own name, in every country where I have ever been, even if the police know it, it’s no matter. Your name is the only important word there is. If you lose your name, you lose your strength, and here amid the beasts you need all the strength you can get.” [p. 268]

And here we have Zoya’s final thoughts about Will and the curse she has bestowed upon him:

Maybe the owls will guide you back to me, maybe not, but I hope with my whole heart they keep you running the wrong way. I hope they make you suffer through it all. It is the oldest and most simple curse on earth, and when properly applied, no cure can be found. Some might call it love.

(i didn’t cite the page because a) I forgot to take a picture of the page number but b) it’s also the very last page of the book. oh shit – spoiler alert!)

In the end, if I were to rank babayagas, the Baba Yaga from Egg & Spoon would be number 2 (Mad Madam Mim would be #1), and these babayagas would be … very much below them.

Grade for Babayaga: 1 star

Fiction: “Bloody Bones” by Laurell K. Hamilton

Bloody BonesHappy New Year! … One month late, because that’s how I roll. But let’s all forget about my tardiness, roll up our sleeves, and gargle with some warm carbonated water, because it’s time for … THE RANT SONG

*deep breath*

Anita Blake’s fifth outing in her own series takes her out of St. Louis and into the ‘burbs of Branson (which I will always believe is like “If Ned Flanders ran Las Vegas”) for a client who wants her to raise a cemetery’s worth of three-hundred-year-old zombies. As Anita has reluctantly acknowledged her necromancy powers (because Anita does everything reluctantly), she agrees to look at the site and see if she can do it, but she doesn’t agree to take the job. So she and her apprentice Larry take a helicopter ride out to the Branson Burbs and the guy who wants her to raise the zombies wants to raze the cemetery and turn it into a condo complex (or something; look, I read it a month ago and I never really pay too much attention to these books as it is) and the ownership of the land is being contested. Developer Guy says he bought it outright, but this old family (the Bouviers? I think it was the Bouviers, but I’m not going to look it up even though the book is literally three inches from my knee) says it’s their family plot and wasn’t for sale.

Look, I don’t read these books for their interpretation of zombie-related property law; I read these books to see how infuriated Anita’s attitude is going to make me. If she could go for one page without complaining about something, look, I will bake a batch of cookies and air-mail them to Ms. Hamilton at my own expense. But enough about empty threats. Anita has her magical way of getting involved in, like, three different big events in this book and while they all end up being connected, Anita’s “oh no I have to get involved again and it’s only my responsibility to save everyone but no one listens to me so you can’t expect me to have feelings about any of this shit so when can I go home and get some sleep” shtick is really starting to wear thin.

Also, no lie, she started to sound like Sandy from Daria in my head a bit there.

While Anita’s scoping out the cemetery, she gets called to a murder scene as part of the St. Louis Preternatural Squad. She tells her client that she’ll be back at full dark to raise a couple of zombies for him. Then she goes to the murder scene and gets into a spitting match with the detective working the scene. Then she and Larry go to Bloody Bones, a restaurant run by fairies (not joking) to have dinner. While they’re eating, Anita gets called to another murder scene. At this house, the daughter of the family has been killed by a vampire and possibly turned**, and so Anita waits for the sheriff and some other people to go on a search. They search the woods and don’t find the vampire, but the vampire finds them and kills like, two of them. Then, she decides to call Jean-Claude to come up and visit because she needs his master vampireness to get her in with the master vampire in Branson, and because he lurves Anita, he of course agrees to fly up on his private jet, whateverTHEN, Anita and Larry head back to the cemetery to try and raise a couple of zombies and end up raising like, forty, which doesn’t usually happen, but apparently Anita’s necromancy has super juice powers or something, and then the fairy from Bloody Bones shows up and Anita’s client tries to straight-up murder the dude, but Anita and Larry stop them and the fairy gets away, and then Anita and Larry head back to Branson to pick up Jean-Claude and his werewolf pet Jason from the airport but someone stole Jean-Claude’s coffin as a prank, and finally – FINALLY – Anita gets like, maybe, four hours of sleep.

THIS WHOLE THING TAKES PLACE DURING ONE NIGHT. ONE. NIGHT. ONE HUNDRED AND EIGHTY-SEVEN PAGES WERE ONE NIGHT. WHAT THE EVERLOVING FUCK.

Okay so anyway. Anita orders Jean-Claude to come out and help her out, and she hates every fucking second of having to do it. Because while she’s still dating Richard, in order to maintain peace between the werewolves and the vampires, she also has to date Jean-Claude. Which, holy shit, you guys, that is one heaping piece of whatever bullshit pie. And Jean-Claude keeps trying to seduce Anita, but Anita’s too much of a bitch (a smart bitch, because what kind of self-respecting vampire hunter would let herself get seduced by the very thing she’s hunting, Buffy) to let herself fall for him, but the lady doth protest too much, methinks. Then the whole “raising a cemetery for clients” thing goes by the wayside as Team Jean-Claude gets into a war with some ultra vamps from Branson (there’s a sentence I never thought I’d type) and the fairy is involved somehow, and in order to save everyone, Anita turns herself into a human servant of Seraphina, the master vampire of Branson, but she’s able to use her necromancy or whatever and turn a vampire into a zombie for a brief moment in time and that allows her to escape, and the whole thing ends abruptly with almost everyone dying except Team Jean-Claude, who go back to St. Louis and their tale of apathetic relationships.

Also there’s a brief subplot about how Seraphina was able to hack into Anita’s wants and desires through Anita’s Dead Mommy Issues, but I’m not going to get into it because you guys, I’m really kind of depressed right now. 2015 IS THE DARKEST TIMELINE.

I had so many problems with this book. The fact that so much action occurs in such a short span of time threw me. I think, when all was said and done, the book only covered about three days. The book is almost four hundred pages long! And Anita’s life doesn’t have many spots where the action slows down so we can catch our breath; in fact, that’s almost a detriment. Because there are tons of things I still don’t understand about this world that Ms. Hamilton has created, and I’m afraid that she hasn’t explained them fully in order to keep the plots of her books moving right along.

**FOR INSTANCE, how the fuck does a vampire turn a human in this fucking series? I miss the days of Buffy where they suck your blood, you suck their blood (it’s all one big sucking thing), then the vampire snaps your neck, you die, and then you rise in three days only to see Buffy’s amazing late-90s footwear and The Slayer herself twirling a stake amidst her Ring Pop-covered fingers, waiting for you patiently with a smile and a pun. Apparently, in the Anita-verse, the older a vampire is, the more powerful he is. Unless you’re a master of a city, in which case there’s a shitload of protocol to follow, and even when they follow the protocol, the masters never play nice with Jean-Claude, for some fucking reason (REASON: the author is a drama queen). That almost makes me wish for the well-thought-out democracy the Vampire Nation had in True Blood, but while I type that I must disclaim that I’ve only watched up through season three and I have no idea what happens after that, please don’t spoil me, I only want to know when I’m right.

And I know that at some point, this series of books is going to take a hard right from horror/mystery and skid right into the supernatural erotica sphere, and I’m afraid that I’m not going to get the answers I seek before that happens.  ALL I WANT IS A FLOW CHART FOR VAMPIRE TURNING AND ALSO ONE FOR THE VAMPIRICAL HIERARCHY, IS THAT SO MUCH TO ASK

Here are a couple of things I actually found funny:

Why take the legs? A trophy? Maybe. Serial killers took trophies, clothing, personal items, a body part. Maybe a trophy? [p. 43]

Oh, at one of the murders (I can’t remember which one and I can’t be arsed to look it up), the Feds get called in. One of them is named Agent Bradford, but since it was a last name I wasn’t going to say anything. But then, on the sixth page from the end of the fucking book, this happened:

As agent on site, Bradford was in charge. Special Agent Bradley Bradford, yes Bradley Bradford, seemed to think I knew what I was doing. [p. 364]

WHAT. WHAT THE FUCK. ARE YOU KIDDING ME. That is the LAZIEST SHIT I have EVER SEEN, and I just want you to know that I could make a joke about a faulty toilet right here (and I really really want to), but I have my parents coming over on Sunday and I don’t want them to get any ideas about my housekeeping skills or lack thereof. WHO THE FUCK NAMES A CHARACTER BRADLEY BRADFORD. That’s like … I don’t even know what it’s like, Mulder! Except that it is the worst. It’s stupid; it’s lazy, and I hate it.

Because look, as someone who imagines herself to be a writer, I take care with the names of all of my characters, no matter the word count attributed to their dialogue. I like to make sure the names sound well, and appropriate, and all I can think of in this instance is that Ms. Hamilton decided to make Bradley Bradford’s parents horrible people. What kind of mother (because I don’t know about y’all, but in the event I actually end up having kids, the rule in the house will be “Whoever pushes the largest object out of the smallest orifice gets to name the baby”) whose last name is Bradford would look at her husband/partner/whatever and say, “Honey, let’s name him after my father, Bradley,” and her husband/partner/whatever would look at her and go, “Honey, that’s a great name, I love it” and they wouldn’t realize it until they get the birth certificate that reads BRADLEY RUTHERFORD BRADFORD and instead of immediately grabbing the nearest bottle of Wite-Out and yelling DO-OVER, the parents just shrug and say, “Meh. He’ll be fine. He won’t grow up to be maladjusted whatsoever.”

It’s STUPID. IT’S STUPID, AND IT’S LAZY, AND I HAAAAAAAAAAAAATE IT.

And then there’s Anita. Surly, bitchy, “can’t be bothered to care but then cares too much and whines about it” Anita. I mean, what other reason is there besides convenience to make Anita have to date both Richard and Jean-Claude? Sure, it’s apparently to maintain peace in the city, but if Anita doesn’t like Jean-Claude as much as she proclaims, then it shouldn’t be too difficult for her to say “nah bro, fuck off.” (Although this book is the first time in my recollection where Anita actually admits that she found herself attracted to Jean-Claude. She’d never denied his overall attractiveness, but she did deny how it affected her. No denial allowed in Branson, apparently.)

Overall, Anita’s still a bitch – always quick with a deflecting quip and armed almost literally to the teeth, projecting swagger like a badass to make up for the fact that she feels like a weak little girl, except … except she’s not a weak little girl. Anita is strong, and she can take care of herself; yes, Bradley Bradford is right, she does know what she’s doing. And I think what I would love to see happen in this series is for Anita to own up to that, and not constantly deprecate herself and her abilities. I think, if Anita liked herself a bit more, I might be able to like her more.

Nah, bro; that’s never gonna happen.

Grade for Bloody Bones: 1 star