Monday, March 30, 2009

So Bad It's Good

From Booking Through Thursday:

What’s the best ‘worst’ book you’ve ever read — the one you like despite some negative reviews or features?

Hollywood Kids is the only Jackie Collins book I've ever read, and it is trashy trashy trashy. But oh so fun. I'm not entirely sure why I picked it up--probably it was one of those bored-out-of-my-mind grocery store purchases--and in all honesty I don't recall the plot very clearly. I do remember it starts off with a bang and traces the lives of the young, rich, and beautiful in Hollywood's most glamorous settings. There are tons of plotlines going on (which naturally somehow tie together at the end), sex, mobsters, psycho killers, drugs, anorexia, classy hookers, star-crossed lovers, shootings... basically all the standard elements of pulp fiction. This book was pure trash, but it was thoroughly enjoyable trash that I couldn't put down. I loved it.

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Thursday, March 26, 2009

Danger In a Red Dress

This book was terrible.

Christina Dodd is one of my favorite authors and one of most popular writers in romance. Her nickname in Romancelandia is "La Dodd"--that's how huge she is. I remember the first time I opened my first Christina Dodd book... but that's a story for another day. Dodd used to write strictly historical romances; but recently (2003), she switched to contemporary and paranormal novels, of which this book is one of the former.

Danger in a Red Dress
wraps up her two contemporary series: Lost Texas Hearts and The Fortune Hunters. Don't ask me to sum up those series or how this book is supposed to wrap them up, exactly, because quite frankly I don't remember anything about them.

The "plot" to this book is sort of all over the place: a nurse named Hannah accepts a somewhat sketchy job taking care of a rich old lady, due to circumstances which are outlined with unnecessary detail at the beginning of the book. A security guy named Gabriel is hired by said old lady's son to keep an eye on Hannah. As soon as he sees her photo, he's in lurve. Ah, l'amour. So while she's under surveillance, he watches her do things like take showers and sleep (stalker much?); and then they finally move on to talking over the phone! Wow, this romance is steamy--NOT! Then something happens that I can't tell you about (just in case you decide to read the book after this review), and Hannah goes on the run. Gabriel chases her down and they finally meet and fall into bed together. Blah blah blah, Hannah decides to forgive him for being a total dork and they live happily ever after.

One of the things I really liked about this book was the Gothic feel of it: an orphaned nurse, alone in the world, living in an isolated and mysterious mansion and never knowing who she can trust, is a classic set-up for a Gothic suspense novel à la Rebecca. However, I was frustrated by how Dodd wouldn't let the story be Gothic. You don't write a Gothic novel by revealing at the start of the book who the bad guys and good guys are; that takes away all of the suspense. I know she wanted to put Gabriel in there as a good guy because he's the carry-over character from her other contemporary series--but in all honestly I could care less about Gabriel and his role in the series (see above). Is this a good book, does the story flow naturally; that's what I care about. And quite frankly, I thought both the suspense plot and the romance were dumb (I searched for another descriptor, but that sums it up the best).

The main problem with the romance for me is that there isn't one. Gabriel sees Hannah's photo and is attracted to her--all right, I can believe that--but then he gets way stalker-y with the watching her sleep. Meanwhile, he doesn't bother to know her, her personality and character, at all! His brother/client/evil doer tells him that she's an unprincipled nurse who seduced her client for fifty thousand dollars and then killed him to collect the money, and Gabriel just believes him. Hmm, maybe you could investigate that claim, mister investigator man.

There are also a lot of inconsistencies in the book that I just didn't buy into. The biggest one is in the latter half of the book when Gabriel asks Hannah--who's on the run and has just been shot at--to move into his condo and nurse him back to health. Er, one--lame; two--I can see him luring her into his apartment, but I don't see her falling for that excuse when he already has his EMT-trained security specialist living with him and his doc doing house calls. And how does Gabriel have so much money, anyway? Apparently security is the greatest money-making business since making and selling upside-down loans, because the guy is rolling in dough (of course; every romance hero HAS to be rich. He can be ugly, he can be uncouth, but poor? Das ist verböten).

And, when they finally "get together" (re: have sex), the scene essentially runs like this: "Gabriel pulled her down to the bed and DOT DOT DOT." Huh? I don't require sex scenes in my romance novels, by any means, but I have never read a Dodd book without a sex scene in it. Furthermore, there was an awful lot of build-up to how Gabriel wants her sooo baaaaaad, yeah baby; and then dot dot dot?!?!? I feel cheated.

I could really go on, but I feel like I've made my point. This book was terrible. It is NOT worth eight dollars. This might be something to pick up if you deeply feel the need to close the series, but otherwise I wouldn't recommend it.

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Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Mummy

Or, Ramses the Damned... sexy, that is!

Broom_Service recommended this book to me, and I'm really happy she did. I enjoyed it; but at the same time, I feel totally dissatisfied with the ending and as if I never connected with the characters.

I've read Anne Rice before (you know how I love the books about the vampires), but I didn't like her. Her world view is extremely... how do I put it... depressing. It's like her books want to be about good and evil and life after death, but she doesn't really believe in any of those things, so it doesn't work out. And by the way, I did think that about her writing long before I knew she was an atheist (back when she was an atheist... she changed her mind, didn't she?).

The book begins with a Howard Carter-like discovery in Egypt. Lawrence Stratford, a wealthy English businessman and amateur archaeologist, has made a brilliant discovery: an intact tomb from the time of Cleopatra. Only, the writing on the tomb is from the time of Ramses II and, as Lawrence finds out when he opens it up, it's not a tomb. Instead, it appears to be a study with scrolls containing the autobiography of Ramses the Great, telling of how he fell in love with Cleopatra about 1000 after he should have been dead.

Oh, and the tomb/study also contains the mummy of Ramses II.

Except, just like the tomb, the mummy isn't a really a mummy. As Ramses writes in the scrolls, he took an elixir to make himself immortal. After centuries of wandering all over the ancient world, Ramses decided to put himself into an endless sleep, from which a ruler of Egypt could awaken him if they needed his help. Cleopatra woke him, they fell in love, and you probably know how the rest of Cleopatra's story worked out. Broken-hearted by her death and her refusal to become immortal, Ramses put himself into another sleep, from which he planned never to awaken.

Lawrence is not as incredulous of this story as one might think. But before he can investigate further, he's murdered. The not-a-mummy is shipped back to England and placed in the possession of his daughter, Julie. Struck by sunlight, Ramses awakens, just in time to save Julie from being killed by the same person who killed her father. Naturally, Julie is shocked; but by the end of the day she's head-over-heels in love with Ramses. OF COURSE SHE IS. He's handsome, charismatic, he saved her life, and he's probably the only lusty heterosexual male she's ever encountered (seriously, there seems to be a surplus of bisexual men in her life, which is kinda weird, and the one who's not bisexual--that we know of--is sort of a push-over).

Meeeeanwhile, Ramses is in love with Julie, too. Hmm, am I sensing a pattern here? He wakes up, gloms onto the first woman he sees, and pretty soon he's in lurv! Whatever. That doesn't mean he's over his ex, Cleopatra, though. So when Julie and Ramses decide they need to go to Egypt so he can put his past to rest, you can already guess what's going to happen: somehow, some way, Ramses is going to come across Cleopatra's mummy and bring her to life with his elixir of immortality. And yes, he did make more even though he knows it is bad news.

Well, that is exactly what happens, kids! Ramses sees Cleopatra in the Cairo Museum and brings her un-rotting corpse back to rotting state, and consciousness, with his elixir. This is when the book really starts to get interesting. Horrified by what he has done, Ramses backs away from the walking mummy, and then is arrested by museum guards. Like Dr. Frankenstein, Ramses has created life with something that doesn't know its own strengths and is not prepared to handle the real world. Cleopatra, who is the real mummy of the story, immediately starts killing people.

There are several themes running through the book, one of which is the idea of modernity. This is the Edwardian era, well after the start of the Industrial Revolution, and both Cleopatra and Ramses are shocked and disoriented by the noise and speed of the modern world--Ramses pleasantly, Cleopatra not so much. The characters are constantly talking about "modernity," the modern world, etc. I think this is because the elixir is a metaphor for modernity or technology. Ramses has possibly the greatest technological advance of all time--something that can be produced cheaply and easily, with common ingredients, make anything indestructable, and bring people back from the dead. Even though he knows from experience that the elixir is not merely dangerous but "is the secret to the end of the world itself [p. 152]," he cannot stop experimenting with it. Even though he knows what he's doing is horrible and morally reprehensible, he can't stop himself from taking the next step in seeing whether or not it will bring a 1,000-years-dead corpse back to life. And he can't stop producing the stuff because the knowledge is in his head. That's his only excuse--he knows it, and he can't unknow it. The same might be said of modern technology, from the Victorians to today; technology keeps advancing, even though what it's capable of becomes more and more dangerous. Once the technology has been created, there're no re-do's--it's out there, and people are going to use it. Ramses is damned not because he's immortal, but because he's incapable of learning from his mistakes. Oh, he may gain some impulse control for a while, but pretty soon his memory starts to fade and then there he is, pouring the elixir on plants again; in that sense, Ramses is a metaphor for all of humanity.

Another motif running through the book is the opera, Aïda. Both Ramses and Cleopatra are totally obsessed with listening to the opera on their amazing new gramophones; and a performance of the opera at Shepherd's Hotel ("the hotel") provides the scene for the climax of the book. The opera is about an Ancient Egyptian commander, Radames, who falls in love with an Ethopian princess named Aïda (an Arabic name meaning "visitor" or "returning," according to Wikipedia). Unfortunately for him, the pharoh's daughter, Amneris, is also in love with Radames and she doesn't take well to being rejected. To put it lightly. Eventually, Radames is convicted of being a traitor and sentenced to be buried alived. Aïda locks herself up in the tomb with Radames, chosing to die with her beloved, while Amneris simply stands outside the tomb and cries.

It's no wonder Ramses and Cleopatra love this opera so much, because it basically tells the story of their relationship in Ancient Egypt. I know you're thinking Ramses is Radames in this metaphor, but he's not--he's Amneris. He loved Cleopatra more than she could ever love him, and in the end she chose to die with Mark Anthony rather than face eternity (or any length of time, for that matter) with Ramses.

As I mentioned before, I did not like the end of this book. Even though the actions of the characters make sense if my theory that the elixir as a metaphor for modern technology is correct, I felt like there were a lot of questions and issues left hanging. There wasn't much of an emotional resolution to the story at all, and the only character who got shafted was Julie's ex-fiance, Alex, who in all honesty was the only character who didn't deserve it. The others walked away from their actions with little to no consequences. I can understand the impulse not to moralize, but I feel cheated that Rice didn't give me something to frame the story into a wider context. Give it meaning, if you will.

Despite that, however, I did really enjoy the book as a whole. It was entertaining and fun to read (although I wouldn't call it scary), and would recommend it to just about anyone.

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Friday, March 6, 2009

The Best Books Remain Unread

A question from Booking Through Thursday:

We've all seen the lists, we've all thought, "I should really read that someday," but for all of us, there are still books on "The List" that we haven't actually gotten around to reading. Even though we know they're fabulous. Even though we know that we'll like them. Or that we'll learn from them. Or just that they're supposed to be worthy. We just … haven't gotten around to them yet.

What's the best book that YOU haven't read yet?

I suppose everyone has books they feel they should read, for whatever reason; but there are always newer, funner books out there to read, so they never get to it. In all honesty, I usually don't feel the pressure to read a certain book… except for these books:

Byron, Don Juan

I bought this book at Barnes & Noble… one of my more foolish purchases. I had just read a great romance novel (Lord of Scoundrels by Loretta Chase) where this book played a major role, and I read a snippet and it seemed funny. Haha, not so much. Now I feel like I have to read the thing. Uhg.

Tanith Lee, Faces Under Water

Do you have a book lying around that you always take on vacation, thinking to yourself, "Surely, deprived of any other form of entertainment and absolutely desperate from boredom, I will read this novel"? But then you never read it because you do somehow manage to find something else to do (stare out the window) or read—the newspaper, for example. Or the map.

This book has accompanied me all over the US and Europe. No joke. It's been to Venice twice; it should have its own passport. I didn't take it on our last vacation, though, because I finally admitted to myself that I'm simply not going to start reading it on vacation.

It's not a bad book. The author, Tanith Lee, is a great science fiction writer that I've read several times before and really liked. My favorite book of hers is The Silver Metal Lover. I did manage to start this book, and it was actually pretty good. It's about a guy in a Venice-like setting who finds a dead body in the canal. I just had no idea what was going on, and I could tell it was going to be one of those books where I would have no idea what was going on most of the time. *sigh* I don't know, maybe it's just too smart for me.

I really need to read this book. Someday.

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings

I know so many people who have read this series and loved it—my mother and little brother, just to start off with. I really should try to read it again. I did try once a few years ago, but the last thing I need in my life is a sixty-page treatise on hobbits. Where are the swords? Where's Viggo Mortensen? Hobbits are not sexy. Anyway, I got bored and said, "Nope, not going to go there," but there are times when I think I might be missing something.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Bookish Survey

Book Corner Wednesday | buckeyegirl31's Xanga Site - Weblog

What can I say... I really, really like books. I can't stop talking about them. So I love pointless quizes about what I love about books! Buckeyegirl31 pointed me to Booking Through Thursday (which, from what I've seen so far, looks like a really great website for you bibliophiles) and their book survey.

Hardcover? Or paperback?

Paperbacks are cheaper and much easier to carry around, so I prefer paperbacks. That being said, if I really like a book, I'll generally spend the money to re-buy it in hardcover.

Illustrations? Or just text?

Ha. Illustrations are way too distracting for me. When a book has illustrations, I spend most of my time staring at them and not reading. So I suppose I would prefer a book without illustrations… unless it's an art history book we're talking about, then I want as many illustrations as humanly possible.

First editions? Or you don't care?

This kind of thing isn't really on my radar, although I do really love old books. But I can look at them in a library. lol ;-)

Signed by the author? Or not?

Oooh, I love getting books signed by authors! It doesn't happen very often because, you know, I live in the middle of nowheres; but talking to writers is fun.

The Darkest Night by Gena Showalter—a Review

I had this book hidden in my TBR for the longest time… a year, at least. Then Buckeyegirl31 reminded me that I had it when she did a review of it… um, a while ago. What can I say, I get caught up in things. Anyway, I decided I needed to dig it out and give it a try, since she and several others had told me they liked it.

The Lords of the Underworld (as they're called) are a group of warriors who used to protect Zeus. Then Zeus let Pandora take care of his most prized possession, a box made out of bones that contained all the demons meant to torment humanity. This pissed the Lords of the Underworld off because they thought they should be able to guard the box; so they hatched a half-assed plan to steal the box from Pandora and let the demons loose—just for a little bit, just so Zeus learned his lesson that he shouldn't trust anyone but them with such an important task. Predictably, this plan went horribly awry, and the demons all escaped before the Lords could capture them. To punish them, Zeus cursed them to have one of the demons trapped inside their bodies for all eternity.

Maddox, the main character of the first book the series, The Darkest Night, is doubly cursed: while under the influence of his demon, Violence, he killed Pandora. So now every night, he dies exactly as she did, with six stab wounds to his stomach, and then spends the rest of the night being tortured in hell.

Then Ashley walks into his life. Ashley is a psychic who can hear every conversation that went on in any specific spot. She's constantly bombarded by other people's words and thoughts, and she hates it. Searching for some way to stop the voices, she finds herself in Budapest, climbing up the hill up to the Lords' fortress.

The Lords are very suspicious of Ashley because they think she's Bait, a female seductress used by Hunters (human baddies who want to rid the world of all evil, re: the Lords of the Underworld) to lure the Lords out into the open and kill them. However, as soon as she and Maddox meet, she stops hearing voices. Relief at last! So she gloms onto him like a barnacle and refuses to let go. Also she thinks he's kinda cute, in a "GRR MAN ANGRY," sort of way.

Meanwhile, there's a bunch of other stuff happening. There's been a coup d'état on Mt. Olympus and the Titans have retaken control from the Olympian gods. They've ordered another one of the Lords, Aeron (possessed of the demon Wrath) to kill a young woman and her family. He doesn't want to do it (because underneath their demonic rages, they're really just nice guys, dontcha know), but he knows that the Titans are going to force it on him. Of course, one of the other Lords starts crushing on one of Aeron's future victims; and with Hunters running about Budapest like it's the party capital of Europe, the Lords are moving from one crisis to the next.

But who really cares about that. We care about Maddox (whom I keep wanting to call Maddie, for some reason) and Ashley! How will they ever have a future if Maddox can't control the beasty inside him that wants to smash things, like people's faces? Will Ashley be able to tame the beast?? OH I THINK SHE WILL.

In all honesty, I didn't like this book as much as buckeyegirl31 did, although it was really fun and a quick read. The beginning was sort of slow because it was inundated with a lot of back story that could (and should) have been revealed gradually over the course of the opening scene. The beginning also felt really derivative to me, of both the Dark Hunter series by Sherrilyn Kenyon, and the "Dark" series by Christine Feehan, although the book went in its own direction early on.

There are also some inconsistencies in the narrative and world-building. In one scene, for example, Maddox says he won't die if he touches Tornin (possessed by Disease), but that the next human he touched would die. Then later he says he can touch a human who's been infected by Disease, but if he touches Tornin he'll die. Okay?

But now I'm getting nitpicky. Overall, this book is just fun and silly. It's obviously derived from the fairy tale Beauty and the Beast (even Maddox calls Ashley "Beauty"), and there are a lot of references to fairy tales in the book, which is always fun. I like Beauty and the Beast stories. The romance between Maddox and Ashley is very sweet, even though it's one of those Romancelandia relationships where he looks at her once and immediately wants to bang her. All the other Lords look like promising subjects for torture-by-womankind in their own books as the series progresses, and the non-romantic part of the plotline was pretty much non-stop action.

In all honesty, I'm confused as to why I didn't like this book moar. It's exactly the type of book I usually really enjoy, but for some reason I wasn't really feeling it. At some point (3 AM last night), a part of me concluded that I pretty much knew what was going to happen. Actually, that part of me was proved wrong, but I still feel kind of borderline about the book. Maybe I just wasn't in the right mood or something.

Anyway, I guess my point is, if you like these kinds of books, you should try the Lords of the Underworld. You'll probably enjoy it a lot more than I did.


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