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

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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