Wednesday, March 11, 2009

#6--Blood Noir, by Laurell K Hamilton

This book opened with one brief chapter of talking/whining/angsting, and immediately moved on to three straight chapters of sex.

I don't care how many people are involved, how many different positions they go through, and whether or not they're drinking blood and/or shifting into different animals: there is never, ever an excuse for a description of fucking to go on longer than a chapter.

So, why did I read this dreck?

Because once upon a time, the Anita Blake series did not suck.

No, seriously.

I started reading around the time the third book, Circus of the Damned, was released, and I still maintain that the second book, The Laughing Corpse, was the best of the series. Laurel Hamilton had found her voice, and the editors were still willing to do their damned jobs, Anita was still adamant that she didn't date monsters, she killed them, and it produced a really enjoyable mystery/action story with plenty of literal monsters of the human and inhuman kind. If you like the Dresden Files, you'll probably really enjoy the early Anita Blake books.

However, if you haven't started on them, all I can say is: Don't! Save yourself now!

Holy flying, fucking werewolves, did these books ever start to suck.

Why am I still reading? Because I was duped into caring about the characters back when they didn't suck. This is, however, the very first series to go from books I'd check out from the library to books I'd purchase as soon as they were released to books I'll eventually read when I pick up a used copy on the cheap at the local Friends of the Library book sale.

Which is exactly how I ended up with my copy of Blood Noir, and if it weren't for the fact that my $2 went to support my favorite library system, I'd be whining about being ripped off.

This particular time around, Anita finds out that Jason (werewolf, friend, occasional fuck buddy, and Jean Claude's regular food) has to go home to see his dying son of a bitch father (because there is not a single character in this entire series who has a good relationship with their family, as though Mrs. Hamilton has somehow determined that you can't be interesting unless you've got the appropriate tragic back story to go along with it). There is much whining from all the other men in her life, but she still packs up and flies off to meet the family.

Blah, blah, confrontations with family, blah, more sex, blah, lots of whining and personality deconstructing, blah, blah, lots more sex we at least don't have to read about, blah, blah, the plot finally shows up and people die.

There was actually considerably less sex in this book than in the last few, and we're at least blessedly spared the two day fucking marathon (which, had it been described in the usual manner, would have made the book at least four times as long and sixteen times more unbearable).

I'm so sick of this series, and I'm not sure why I'm still compelled to pick them up. Anita Blake is a detestable woman--she's selfish to an absolute fault, even when it's come to her attention that she's somehow hurting someone she'd have you believe she cares about. She'll only act to fix the problem when and if she decides she can 'handle' it, and she's obsessed with having the moral high ground, even when she's lying on her living room floor in the sticky leavings from her most recent round of sex with a minimum of two men. which is always accidental. How many times can you accidentally fuck multiple men before it's not really an accident anymore? I swear to God, this woman can no longer cross a room without tripping and landing on a dick. And the men surrounding her are their own special breed of pussy whipped (a phrase I find contemptible, but highly appropriate in this one case).

And the sex is mind-bogglingly boring. Or maybe I just have an abnormally high tolerance for violent vampire and lycanthrope group sex. Have you seen what's lurking in the depths of Forget the furries. Once you've read Dumbledore topping Hagrid, you can handle anything.

Also, I absolutely love psychoanalyzing my characters. I totally corner hapless friends into discussions involving characters they've somehow been involved with, and it does help me work out all kinds of issues and smooth out personalities and all the ticks and quirks that go along with them. But all of that needs to happen in the background, where it's reflected on the page in actions, words, and deeds, not agonizingly poured over by the characters themselves.

I wanted to say that with a competent editor wielding a machete, this could possibly have been chopped into shape, but I'm not sure that would be true. This could maybe pass as a novella or a short story, and I think there were all kinds of details that fell by the wayside that could have better served the story itself (Jason only saw his dad twice? Really? There was a possible war between vampire masters of cities, and it was barely mentioned? Spoiler--a master of a city freakin' died and it barely gets a mention in the final wrap up? What the fuck? Endeth Spoiler).

At this point, Anita Blake can go fuck a duck (she's already doing a swan, so it's not too far out of point).

I need a drink and a good book.

Next up: Maledicte.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

#5--Affinity, by Sarah Waters

I came out of the closet, in as much as I ever needed to, when I was about 16. I've wavered back and forth between the idea of being a lesbian or being asexual from time to time, but that I might be straight has never really crossed my mind.

I always kind of suspect, though, that I don't make a very good lesbian. I've never really been a part of the community, although I'm sort of aware that it's out there. I know of at least three lesbian-specific clubs right here in town, even though I live in Oklahoma, which most people wouldn't expect to be very gay-friendly. We've got an actual gay district, though (tiny though it may be), and the largest gay resort in the entire center of the country (which, seeing it every day on my way to work, makes me a little sad. That's the best the vast geographical majority of the country can do? Seriously?).

Several years ago, I went through this phase where I thought I was going to make myself a better lesbian. I started hanging out at a local feminist-but-mostly-lesbian-focused library/community center, I started trying to watch more lesbian movies, and I decided to try reading more lesbian books.

It didn't last long before I lost patience with the whole affair. Guess I'll never be a good lesbian, whatever the hell that means.

I especially had trouble finding lesbian fiction that I cared to read. I know a lot of people really love coming of age stories, but I have trouble stirring up my interest. I wasn't too into lesbian detectives solving murder mysteries, either. Take out those and the erotica, and you've got like, maybe five books to chose from.

Which would be how I came across Tipping the Velvet, which I'll admit I selected for the most shallow reason of them all (the cover was pretty). And I really enjoyed the hell out of that book. So much so that I gave it to a friend to read, who started out skeptical and ended up also really enjoying it.

So when I came across another book by Sara Waters, I grabbed it.

And Fingersmith totally let me down. It was a well crafted book, and the plot itself was enjoyable, but the relationship between the characters felt so forced and unnatural that it ruined the whole thing for me. Especially the end.

So I approached Affinity with a great deal of caution. I picked it up occasionally. I read the first few pages every now and again, and then I put it back down.

Then I made a critical error: I watched the BBC movie based on the book.

The movie was faithful to the book, in as much as a movie can afford to be. The problem is that this is a story with an ending you really shouldn't know going in. Knowing where it was all heading cast a shadow over the rest of the book, and I'm sorry I didn't go in blind.

Tipping the Velvet was a lesbian adventure in Victorian theater and the socialist movement. Fingersmith was a dash through London thieves and Victorian pornography. Affinity was a look at Victorian spiritualism and the women's prisons of the time.

I think it was also weaker than Waters' first outing, but I enjoyed it far more than Fingersmith. This is a much darker book than the previous two, tackling weightier issues.

I won't get into the plot, because it's better explored blind. I loved Margaret Prior, and wanted the best for her throughout. I thought that the relationship that developed between her and one particular prisoner she visited in Millbanks, Miss Selena Dawes, was natural and believable. I enjoyed the handling of the spiritualism, and I think the plot wrapped itself up neatly without being too exasperatingly clever.

And it is dark and sad. I enjoyed it, but I'm not sure it's a book I'll revisit.

Next up: Blood Noir

#4--The Fat Girl's Guide to Life, by Wendy Shanker

I am a fat girl. I won't get into too much detail (because who needs that), but there's not a whole lot I can do about it. Eat right? Check. Exercise? Check. Cholesterol low? Check. Blood sugar normal? Check. Blood pressure normal? Check. Warning signs for impending health problems related to being overweight? Not a one.

I'm in good health, I'm just fat. All of the conventional (and unconventional) ways of fixing that last problem haven't worked (short of surgery, which I think we can agree is taking things a little far when my health is otherwise unaffected by the fat). So there reaches a point where I have to look around and think, Is it really so terrible?

I'm not so much into self help books. I get their appeal, just not really on a personal level. I've read a few, and really did enjoy some of them. And this one really seemed right up my alley.

I can't tell you what I was expecting, but I couldn't really enjoy the Fat Girl's Guide to Life. It felt less like a book that should somehow help me so much as a book in which the author was trying to work painfully through her own issues.

As hard as Ms. Shanker tried to convince me that she had gotten past all of the self-hate, the bitterness and discomfort with herself sort of dripped off of every page. Like maybe she's almost there, but not quite far enough to be writing anything that goes into self help.

I had a hard time identifying with many of Ms. Shanker's trials and tribulations, though it's possible that some other fat girl could read them, sympathize, and even feel inspired. Mostly through this book, though, I wanted to make her a nice cup and tea and tell her that she looks fine, and not to worry so much.

I think what mostly sticks with me is a long passage about how she liked to go to the gym, crank up her headphones, and sing along while she worked out. When someone working there asked her to keep it down, there followed a long, self-indulgent rant about how she deserved to use the gym, and how dare she be treated that way?

And I kind of hated her guts. How fucking rudely was she behaving? And how much like a teenager was her behavior following? If you want to sing while you work out, more power to you. But you really shouldn't be doing that in a gym where you're inflicting your concert on other people, whether they're also working out, or just sitting on the equipment and pretending.

The entire book struck me as self-indulgent and whiny, and I'm not sure I want to be taking advice on how to live my life from someone like that.

I think for now, I'm going to stick with the advice found here:

And if I really just need a quick pick-me-up (and a lot of really adorable girls to go with it), I'll hit YouTube for this:

Next up: Affinity

#3--Twilight, by Stephenie Meyer

It's gotten really cool on the 'tubes to hate on Twilight. And, honestly, I kind of love it. I loved it before I ever even touched a copy of any one of the books. It's hilarious, and has provided me with hours of entertainment.

I actually have a friend who picked up the series when it was first starting. She told me about it before the third book had been released, and she was really thrilled with the series. I wrote it down in my little notebook that I have with me everywhere, and occasionally saw the name and title while I was flipping through looking for something else.

Then, somehow, the whole damned thing exploded and Twilight was everywhere. The popularity actually made me more wary of touching the thing, but I decided to take the plunge, and I was determined to keep an open mind about the whole thing, just in case there really was gold hiding in those pages.

And besides, I like vampires. I was in 8th grade when the Interview with a Vampire movie came out, and I was at just the right age to be totally taken in by the whole thing. I devoured the book, zipped through the Vampire Lestat, and never finished Queen of the Damned. That Christmas, my mother (bless her) gave me a copy of Rosemary Ellen Guiley's Complete Vampire Companion.

And thus, my love of vampires transfered from the angsty gay foppish vamp to the mouldering corpses waiting in their coffins to be staked while they infected their loved ones with consumption. Give me mullos and the sari kedi and polongs and all of the oddball creatures that somehow subsist off of blood, viscera, psychic energy, or by sickening their victims. Give me succubi and incubi. Give me real, live human murderers who drank the blood of their victims and so were dubbed vampires by history or the media.

I still really enjoy fictional vampires, though. And I'm all for a reimagining of the vampire mythology. I've got books and anthologies devoted to that idea, and some of it's great. So I was all ready to pick up Twilight and really enjoy it.

Holy hell.

Every damned thing everyone's got to say about it is completely right. I won't even go into listing the offenses, because I might do myself or my keyboard harm. And it seriously isn't worth the energy required.

I ran into the friend who had recommended it, and told her I'd finally read Twilight. She asked what I thought, and all I could do was cackle. Turns out (bless her) that she loves the series, but she kind of loves to hate it, too. We met up in a coffee house with our computers, and we took turns pointing each other towards all things funny and Twilight-bashing. Much fun was had by all, and for that, I can't really bring myself to hate it.

Also, I went to high school with far too many people who never actually read an entire book cover to cover, not even for class assignments. I know adults who haven't read a whole book, or who are proud of not liking to read. Even if every single Meyers fan never cracks another book after finishing the Twilight saga, that's still that many more people who have read one to four books, and that's a good thing.

Darren McGavin
more lol celebs!

Next up: The Fat Girl's Guide to Life

#2--World War Z, by Max Brooks

Ok, I love me a good zombie movie.

Hell, I love me a bad zombie movie.

I had been aware of the Zombie Survival Guide for some time, and I occasionally saw a copy of it around somewhere and thought, "I need to get a copy of that and read it." It still hasn't happened, but it eventually will. I first heard about World War Z thanks to vague references to the Battle of Yonkers on Fark threads. That alone was enough to get my attention, but the favorable reviews that I started reading sealed the deal and I ordered a copy.

I really enjoyed stringing together the interviews in order to really flesh out the history of the zombie outbreak. It was a device that I think could easily have fallen flat, but was carried off with a kind of skill and style I envy. Some of it was definitely chilling (WTF happened to North Korea?!), and some of the stories had the ring of reading real history instead of fiction.

Still, this was never a book I had trouble putting down. I read it on lunch breaks at work, and when my time was up, I didn't mind dropping it and getting back to work. I wasn't devising methods to keep reading it without the boss noticing. I wasn't squirming around waiting for the next bit. I didn't grab it to read more as soon as I got home.

And, honestly, the ending kind of fell flat. I think it ended how it had to--how it would if it were a real history. I have no suggestions for what should be changed.

I just think it's a book I could have happily checked out from the library and never thought about again. It's not one I need on my shelf to revisit occasionally, though I'm glad I have it to offer to friends to read. I am glad I read it once.

Next up: Twilight