Hearts of Fire by Miranda Lee

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Hearts of Fire, Miranda Lee, Harlequin, 2002

3 Stars

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Book – Hearts of Fire by Miranda Lee

Miranda Lee’s “Hearts of Fire” series for the Harlequin Presents line was an epic six book series that focused on the lives of two warring families in the glittering Sydney social set. While each book had its own romance, the over-arching story line was that of the sexually-damaged Nathan and his much younger and innocent wife, Gemma. I seem to be one of the few readers who enjoyed the series.

As for Hearts of Fire, a full-length romantic suspense novel… Well, it was a disappointing conclusion to the Australian “Hearts of Fire” series, if only because the series was so good and this book is rather anticlimactic.

Couple #1

Readers may recall that Nathan, the hero of the original series, had a daughter from his first marriage, Kirsty. Kirsty has loved Ryan since he saved her from a kidnapping when she was a teenager. But Ryan was married, so nothing came out of it.

Years later, there are threats against Kirsty. Nathan hires Ryan to protect his daughter…and bang her. Yup, Daddy dearest hires a bodyguard to help Kirsty loosen up, and take her virginity once and for all! Creepy!

Secrets from the past come to light as Kirsty and Ryan work together to find out who’s behind the threats. They also draw closer together as Ryan can no longer hide his attraction to Kirsty.

Shallow quibble: why did Kirsty dye her beautiful red hair blonde? I know she wanted anonymity after being kidnapped as a teenager, but I always imagined Kirsty looking a certain way, and that wasn’t it.

Ryan is an ok hero, although a bit of a man-slut like Kirsty’s dad was. He’s also a bit oblivious as a bodyguard, unable to piece together who the stalker is almost before it’s too late.

Couple #2

Meanwhile, Nathan is taking his wife Gemma on a romantic cruise. His marriage with Gemma has been on the rocks lately since he had a vasectomy without her knowledge. Gemma had wanted a houseful of children, but Nathan was content with two sons. So, controlling man that he is, Nathan took matters into his own hands without consulting Gemma.

Things look rough for the original “Hearts of Fire” pair. Will Gemma ever forgive Nathan? Will Nathan find consolation in another woman’s arms?

Big spoiler here: I hate the fact that Nathan has a secret daughter from a previous, horrible relationship. A much, much older woman (a good friend of his mother’s) basically sexually abused/raped him when he was sixteen and orphaned. I didn’t see the need for Mimi’s character at all.

Opinion

The villain was predictable, and I hated Nathan’s lies to Gemma.

Still, it’s a Miranda Lee book. It was filled with the requisite sensuality found in her previous works. Even her “bad” books aren’t that bad! This was a good read, but not great or excellent as her previous installments in the “Hearts of Fire” were.

Surviving Raine by Shay Savage

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Surviving Raine, Shay Savage, 2013, Createspace Independent Publishing

WARNING: OFFENSIVE CONTENT & SPOILER ALERT ⚠

2 Stars

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Some Questions For Lovers of Romance Novels

Romance readers, are you tired of heroes who never speak their minds; those enigmatic, steely-gazed men who make heroines tremor with just one harshly uttered word?

Does it bother you when an author writes an inscrutable male protagonist whose emotions are a mystery until the very end?

Do you miss out on not experiencing every single brainfart that whiffs through the hero’s cavernous head?

Book – Surviving Raine by Shay Savage

In Shay Savage’s Surviving Raine, Bastian, a bad boy with lots of baggage, finds himself adrift in the ocean with Raine, a young woman with lots of heart. You won’t have to worry about him keeping his card close to his chest! This is first-person, introspective, bellybutton-lint-picking on a level never endured before! (By me, at least!)

See it all in full-color Hero-Vision!

Sigh in delight as we get these priceless nuggets of gold:

Toss her overboard or stick my tongue down her throat? I couldn’t decide, and it fucking ticked me off.

SURVIVING RAINE

(I understand Frank Reynolds and Mac had the same problem on “It’s Always Sun in Philadelphia” when they got stuck on a life raft. Thank God they found the rum ham.)

 photo rumhamat sea.jpg
What to do when you’re trapped on a dinghy floating in the ocean?

Feel the chills when you read the cutesy reference to the title:

I was pretty confident I could survive in a life raft for quite some time, but survive Raine without my cock jumping straight out of my shorts like a divining rod? Not sure.

SURVIVING RAINE

Witness the horrors as Bastian recounts the brutality of his tough life as he spends weeks adrift at sea in a life raft with a sexy girl who wants to heal his soul! Like, the toughest life anyone’s ever lived. On a scale of 1-10, this is how fucked up Bastian is:

 photo 11.jpg
11 is greater than 10!

That fucking bad.

Don’t believe it? Hear it directly from Bastian’s mouth how broken he is:

“Do you think I’m a fucking idiot?
“No [Bastian], I think you’re sick.”
“Sick.”
I laughed and shook my head at her. “You think I’m sick? Baby, you have no idea all the sick twisted shit I’ve done. The number of people I’ve slaughtered, the number of women I’ve fucked. Shit–I don’t even remember how many!”

SURVIVING RAINE

More Question To Ponder

Readers, do you prefer your romance heroines to be a totally blank slate? Do you think she should be little more than a knock-out bod’ that the hero wants to fuck?

Do you often ask yourself why the heroine in a romance novel should have any discernable qualities other than being a hot, sweet, orphaned quasi-virgin (yeah, she’s, had sex, but no ‘gasms) who saves unwanted doggies and one unwanted, unlovable man?

Do you hate it when romances have a heroine who’s smart, inventive, quick thinking, conflicted, tormented, or even the slightest bit interesting?

If so, THIS is your book!

Act Fast; Supplies Are Limited

While the author uses a literary device called a “plot,” the plot is just there to get these two disparate people together. Bastian and Raine are lost at sea and then stranded on an island with only their wits (not much on Raine’s part) for survival. Man vs. Nature is just the backdrop. Surviving Raine is about one unwanted, tortured, neglected, abused, unlovable, misguided, self-hating, angry, sad, bitter man in need of the one woman who will heal him with her gentle, bland, boring personality and–oh yes–true love.

But wait! THERE’S MORE!

Read now, and you’ll get these extras:

  • Hero was abused by his biological family, who then callously abandoned him in a bar when he was a toddler. Nightmares haunt him.
  • Hero was tossed around from foster family to foster family because he is unlovable… Just like this guy:
 photo unlovable.jpg
Bastian is as unlovable as this sad puppy.

(Ladies out there, are any of you ovulating out of pity yet? No? Not even a little? What, are your hearts made of cold iron?)

  • Bastian ended up in juvie as a kid where he had a tragic relationship with a woman he used sexually and is now tormented by her brutal death. The nightmares haunt him still.
  • There’s some borrowing from other more successful books. There’s an unbelievable “Hunger Games” back story where the hero used to engage in fight-to-the-death challenges in arenas worldwide while criminal billionaires bet on which one of the many combatants would survive. Of course, our hero Bastian was the champion, “playing” for years, winning every match (duh) and raking in millions! But still, he is plagued by the battles and killings. The nightmares haunt him still.

For more drama-trauma that will get you hot:

  • Bastian changes his name and starts a new anonymous life at sea. He leaves the past behind and only screws who-ores. The nightmares haunt him still.
  • To forget it all, our hero is an alcoholic. a major, major alcoholic. So bad he goes through extreme withdrawal, coming close to death. This was another reason why a rum ham in the life raft was required! Bastian was as sick as these guys:
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In case I haven’t mentioned it, I’m a big fan of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”

And only poor, hapless Raine can save him!

If you’re a fertile female and not yet releasing ova perhaps this final fact might do the trick.

  • Even though Bastian uses a huge variety of curse words in almost every paragraph, he’s no troglodyte. He knows his fucking poetry. He’s an educated brute!

Hey, if this guy can get his Legal Degree from the University of American Samoa’s correspondence school:

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I also enjoy watching “Better Call Saul”

There’s no reason why Bastian can’t get his master’s degree in English Literature! He can quote the English bard whenever the Savage apparently feels it’s necessary to add some class to Bastian’s ass.

Opinion

Bastian is really nothing more than a pathetic, unwanted puppy dog who needs gentleness and affection. Raine is constantly comparing him to Mr. Fluffy, a pit bull she saved from a dog-fighting ring. See? Mr. Fluffy was a misunderstood sweetie-pie forced into cruel underground fight-to-the-death matches, just like Bastian. With Raine’s love, Mr. Fluffy was healed and saved. (By the way, the heroine is very young and starting college. What happened to Mr. Fluffy?)

Oh, I get the allure of these books. The intense need to love a man who’s hurting and heal him with your love, because you and only you can! I get the whole “I want to absolve you bad boy of all your sins and vice-versa.” As a teen, I would sigh over the lyrics of just about every Depeche Mode song.

There’ll be times
When my crimes
Will seem almost unforgivable…
…Will you take the pain
I will give to you
Again and again…

STRANGELOVE – DEPECHE MODE

&

Things on your chest
You need to confess
I will deliver
You know I’m a forgive
r

PERSONAL JESUS – DEPECHE MODE

Listening to Dave Gahan and Martin Gore sing about being wicked, evil men who wanted to find release in the love of a good woman (or drugs, or whatever) sent shivers up my spine as a teen (and still does to this day). So I understand the attraction for this kind of romance. Unfortunately for me, there were no shivers here.

It was just emotional crap piled on and on and on! There’s way too much of Bastian and not enough of Raine. Sadly, I don’t think changing that would have made this any better as both characters sucked. Everything’s so overwrought.

More of My Opinion

All the dramas and traumas were hilarious. I love a book that make me feel so intensely I cry, but this took the pain and suffering beyond ludicrous speed. It went plaid.

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This reference is from “Spaceballs.” You should watch that movie instead of reading this book.

Hey, I’m the wrong audience for this book, I understand. Savage fooled me with Transcendence. I loved that one! Transcendence was a hero’s POV story about another caveman, but a real one who couldn’t speak.

Surviving Raine takes a caveman, puts him in the early 21st century with access to plenty of poon and booze then gives him the power of curse words. And Bastian loves using them! I noted while reading that the “F” word and its variants are used about 750 times here.

I’m mentioning this, not because I found it offensive—fuck no, but because: 1) It was cuter in Transcendence when all the hero could do was say “Uggh” and “Beh.” 2) It cemented my preference for non-contemporary heroes who are full-grown adults and can express themselves with a bit of eloquence or charm.

Bastian is 29 but acts 15. I’ve come to a point in my life where a man on the “good side” of 20 no longer appeals, no matter how rock-hard his abs are. (I never gave much of a care for abs anyway. A little beer belly is not a turn-off. I was always an arms/shoulders/chest kind of woman.)

My Final Opinion, I Swear

Now where was I?

Yeah, this book. I know I filled my review with a bunch of references to pop culture stuff that amuses me, and that’s not my typical review style. I threw so much crap in here that it might not make much sense, but hey, that was my experience reading Surviving Raine, and I simply wanted to share the feeling.

Maybe I’ll take a page out of Bastian and the Gang’s book and do what they do best to forget this disaster:

 photo blackout drunk.png
If you’ve never seen an episode of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadephia” start now; it’s a riot!

I gave the stupid book a generous 2 stars for the laughs. But the joke’s on me because I bought the sequel to this piece of crap long before reading the first book…

So ha, ha, ha! You got me, Shay Savage. You got me.

P.S. What did happen to Mr. Fluffy? 😦

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Stieg Larsson, Knopf, 2005

WARNING: Spoiler & Sensitive Material ⚠

1 Star

Rating: 1 out of 5.

Book – The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

I found BR Meyer’s A Reader’s Manifesto an Attack on the Growing Pretentiousness in the American Literary Prose to be a useful gauge in analyzing Steig Larsson’s the The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. No, TGwtDT was not published in the US, but it was a blockbuster-literary-phenom here, so using that book is relevant. What differentiates novels like The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo from other lengthy blockbusters like, say Gone Girl is that the former takes itself much too earnestly to be appreciated. TGwtDT is a bestseller, yes, but it deals with a serious topic no other book has touched: violence against women!

I read a review of TGwtDT that derided readers who complained the book was too slow, and chided readers for not knowing how to skim over the unimportant parts! That’s how real readers read, don’t you know! Look, I’m no speed-reader, but I’m a believer in that words have meanings. They exist for a reason. If I skim a lot, it’s a sign that the author has lost my interest.

This belief seems to be confusing for some. Like the literary critics in Meyer’s manifesto write: 

“If anyone has earned the right to bore us for our own good, it’s [NAME REDACTED],” writes Salon Martha Russo. “Since [HE] is smarter than we are,” intones John Leonard in the New York Review of Books, “trust [HIM].”

A Reader’s Manifesto an Attack on the Growing Pretentiousness in the American Literary ProseBR Meyer

Such is the early 21st century mindset about LITTER-A-CHORE.

Since I do not own the physical version of TGwtDT, and don’t intend to everagain listen to the audio, I cannot quote verbatim from his book. So I will borrow from Myer’s manifesto when he criticizes Cormac McCarthy’s tiresome writing from one of McCarthy’s later works:

“He ate the last of the eggs and wiped the plate with the tortilla and ate the tortilla and drank the last of the coffee and wiped his mouth and looked up and thanked her.”

CORMAC McCARTHY- THE CROSSING

Replace eggs and tortilla with sandwiches and bread and add in even more copious amounts of coffee, and there you have about 10%-15% of Larsson’s book. It’s tedious.

Feminist Tome or Something Less Noble?

As TGwtDT deals with rape and murder, it’s not unusual that there would be explicit scenes depicting this. The heroine Lisbeth Salander is raped by her social worker two various times. Once, orally in his office and the second time anally in his home after he has ties her to his bed.

These scenes are written in a slightly horrific, yet detached manner. It’s not these scenes that I question; it’s the revenge scene that follows. Lisbeth turns the tables on the social worker when she returns to his home, ‘promising’ another night of sex for pay, then tazes him, ties him to his bed and rapes him.

But the way the scene is written is done in an oddly titillating manner. Lisbeth stands at the foot of the bed, dressed all in black, wielding a whip, with her dyed-black hair, tattoos and piercings giving her a dark dominatrix look as the man struggles against his bonds and ball-gag. Lisbeth proceeds to rape him with an anal plug without the use of lubrication. She then tortures him by tattooing a message across his abdomen. Lisbeth finally ends his torture by showing the man a video that she recorded from the previous encounter when he had raped her. For an hour and a half she forces him to watch this!

Frightening stuff, one would think, but the way it’s written is done in such a kinky manner, that I—a long time reader of subtle kink—can spot it when I see it. This scene is supposed to be critical to the novel as it shows the true nature of Lisbeth and the depths she is capable of.

To me, though. it reads as a writer’s fantasy of being dominated by a tough woman. It’s more like, “Yes, I am a bad, bad, evil man. I am a filthy dirty man, and I must be punished. I understand you will stick painful things up my bum without lube. Oh, it hurts, oh it’s painful…but…now…I am in a quiet, almost hypnotized state of ecstasy at your masterful female dominance. Oh…yes I will do whatever you say. I will be your slave.”

Genre Fiction That Takes Itself Too Seriously

Many years ago I read Jane De Lynn’s Some Do where a similar scene is portrayed. After a friend is brutally raped and dies as a consequence, several women avenge that savagery by raping her attacker. However in Some Do, the scene was disturbing. The man is assaulted in his office, blindfolded and gagged, and there is not even a sniff of subtly or eroticism; it was pure female anger at masculine oppression, replete with horror and a lust only for vengeance.

Some Do was written by an American woman in the 1970s and The Girl With a Dragon Tattoo was written by a Swedish man in the 2000s. There was a vast difference in the way the parallel scenes were depicted. One was written with a raw anger beneath it, filled with a sentiment of “We’re not taking this anymore! We will fight back and hurt you worse if you hurt us!”

Larsson, it seems, wrote his book as an aggrieved male figure for all the violence committed against woman by men as a dark-revenge fantasy.

The initial rapes of Lisbeth were crude, but didn’t disturb me overmuch. That sort of sexual violence is de riguer in murder-mystery books, unfortunate to say. But it was Lisbeth’s revenge scene where I had my “epiphany.”

Controversial Opinion

As a person, I can’t judge Larsson, However, as a reader judging an author, I certainly can. His character of Lisbeth is not a true woman: she is an amalgam of all that is “cool” and “ballsy” about women in media: a cartoon/manga/movie/porn version of what a “kick-ass woman” is. Weird that in a book originally titled Men Who Hate Women Larsson used a female protagonist who is a caricaturized version of post-modern ideal femininity to conquer all the bad evil men.

(Or perhaps Larsson WAS so smart he knew exactly what he was doing? Maybe. Even so, I didn’t care.)

Eh, if you’re going to market a mass-murder/rapist book as feminist theory, at least make it a teeny bit based in realism. And interesting.

And I apologize to Dan Brown for all the mean things I said about him. I won’t take them back, because they’re true! It’s that I should have kept it all in perspective in the “literary” sense. There’s being a successful hack who knows he’s a hack. And then there’s being a hack that’s pawned off as a literary genius and arbiter of feminism. Plus, there’s the fact that Larsson died relatively young, so like Kurt Cobain, no one can EVER complain about Larsson’s talent.

(Ok, that last part WAS cruel. But I won’t take that back, either.)

Awful, awful and boring book!

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia: The 7 Secrets of Awakening the Highly Effective Four-Hour Giant, Today by The Gang

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia: The 7 Secrets of Awakening the Highly Effective Four-Hour Giant, Today, The IASIP Gang, Dey Street, 2015

5 Stars

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Book – It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia: The 7 Secrets of Awakening the Highly Effective Four-Hour Giant, Today by The Gang

If you have never watched an episode of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” then this book is not for a jabroni like you.

But if you are a glue-huffing degenerate who enjoys the antics of the most wretched gang of drunks (who are a fusion the best and worst of the”Trailer Park Boys” and “Seinfeld”) this is a self-help book for written just for us suckers geniuses.

Charlie

The funniest sections were Charlie’s by far. It’s ironic that an illiterate’s writings and rants were the best. Love his advice for stalking the one you love. His avian brilliance also reminds us why he is the pre-eminent expert on US bird law.

And his recipes for making cheese are priceless. Remember that old Polly-o String Cheese Commercial?

(Blond kid walks into pizzeria)

KID: Gimme me pizza with extra cheese….And hold the sauce…And hold the crust.

CASHIER (bewildered): Hey Jimmy, give me a cheese with nuttin’!

JIMMY (dumbfounded): Nuttin’?!!

POLLY-O STRING CHEESE COMMERCIAL

Other cheese making recipes include stealing from rat traps or making your own cheese with orange juice and half and half, letting it sit around for a couple of weeks behind a toilet…and enjoy!

That Charlie, he’s a cheese-rat genius.

Dennis

Dennis’ sections are lucid and intelligent. He actually gives good advice on how to not get stuck doing Charlie work and how a man should properly apply makeup (to his face, abs and penis). Dennis may be a potential serial killer, is questionably a rapist and absolutely is a voyeur, but other than that, he’s a golden god with a body sculpted to proportions of Michaelangelo’s David, so what he says matters.

Frank

I love Frank’s advice how to screw over everybody. That man knows his stuff. And his recipes! Mmm-mmm! Now I know how to make a delicious rum ham using only a canned ham, a few bottles of rum, a gun and several bullets. Plus Italian parsley for garnish to make it classy. There’s his blue-jean tea recipe which require crabs dredged out from the polluted Delaware river.

But his recipe for raccoon…yummy! For you “Hannibal” fans afraid to take the leap into full-out cannibalism, a raccoon is as close as you’ll get to tasting human flesh. Just watch out for those tapeworms. Unless you want tapeworms to lose weight, then it’s all good.

The Gangly Bird

Dee’s sections surprisingly didn’t suck, even though she’s the useless chick. As we all know in this group there is the Wildcard: Charlie, The Brain: Mac, The Looks: Dennis, The Muscle: Frank and the Useless Chick: Dee (also known as the giant bird). Her reverse D.E.N.N.I.S system S.I.N.N.E.D. is awesome, because while Dennis bangs chicks just to bang them and leave, Dee bangs guys to steal from them.

Even Frank says he’s proud of his girl because she is both a whore and a thief, and that’s the best way to get through life is whorin’ and thievin’. (She’s also likes to poison people, but that big, yellow bird can’t do anything right!)

Mac

As last, Mac… Well his sections weren’t awful, but they were the least funny. At first I did laugh at how he went on and on about the oily, buffed, masculine physiques of certain action stars (Carl Weathers, Sly Stallone, Jesse Ventura, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Dolph Lundgren). And we all know he is certainly 1000% not gay, so there’s nothing to be read in there. His comment about it being “Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve Hawking” did merit a chuckle, but he should stick to topics he knows best, like his martial art moves and occular pat-downs.

Opinion

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia: The 7 Secrets of Awakening the Highly Effective Four-Hour Giant, Today by The Gang is a classic destined to be treasured forever with the writings of Shakespeare and Twain and Hemingway. No doubt will it be taught in classrooms for decades to come.

Dooku: Jedi Lost by Cavan Scott

Dooku; Jedi Lost, Cavan Scott, Del Rey, 2019

5 Stars

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Audiobook – Dooku: Jedi Lost by Cavan Scott

Long ago, in a galaxy far, far away…

One thing I love about the Star Wars domain is how vast it is, so much so that any genre fits within it. The films, tv series, video games, comics, cartoons, books, audiobooks, and fan-fiction can tell varying stories for all ages: science fiction; science fantasy; space opera; military fiction; action/adventure; horror; traditional romance; and now, with Cavan Scott’s Dooku: Jedi Lost, a Gothic tale.

Dooku: Jedi Lost was originally released as an audiobook, then a screenplay. The screenplay is great, but I recommend listening to the audiobook, which is fantastic. The casting of each character is on point, especially the feline voice of the narrator, Asajj Ventress.

A Star Wars Gothic

Like any good Gothic, the tale is told in 1st-person-POV. Our heroine resides in dark, dreary castle with a wicked man who completely owns her destiny.

“I hate it here.

I hate the castle. I hate the cliff. I hate the spikes whirling above the forest far below. I hate the moons grinning down at me.

I hate the fact that night after night I stand on this ledge, feeling the breeze against my skin, wondering what it would be like to jump, to drop into the trees.

Would the Force guide me?”

Dooku: Jedi Lost

Thus begins the tale of the tormented Sith acolyte and assassin, who is under the yoke of her master, Darth Tyrannus, better known as Count Dooku of the planet Serenno. Taken by Dooku after he had found her in a gladiatorial arena, Ventress is his servant, forced to do his bloody bidding or face the might of his Sith lightning. In the meantime, there is also a ghost in this gothic tale, as Ventress is haunted by the spirit of her deceased Jedi Master, Ky Narek, who torments her with thoughts of the past and of-what-could-be.

The Count has ordered his disciple to listen to holographs & recordings that tell the story of his life, in hopes that they will help her in seeking out his long-lost sister, Jenza. This framework takes us through Dooku’s past, from his time as a youngling, to Padawan apprentice under Master Yoda’s tutelage, to full-fledged Jedi knight and beyond.

Dooku has an unusual past for a (former) Jedi: unlike other Jedi, he knew his blood-family and formed attachments to them. Not only that, but he also had a great and lasting friendship with his fellow Padawan, Sifo-Diyas, a relationship that would have a devastating effect upon the galaxy. I won’t delve further into the plot, because while the plot is labyrinthine and twisted, it’s the atmosphere and emotion that really won me over.

Asajj Ventress and Count Dooku

The first time I listened to this on Audible, I enjoyed it; the second time I was kicking myself for not initially grasping how awesome it was. This was so much better than the other new-canon book about Ventress, The Dark Disciple, which I’ve reviewed already.

Asajj’s feelings for Dooku are complicated. She hates him yet is caught under his powerful spell. I was never one for shipping fictional characters, however, Ventress is such a sultry, sensual creature that she has great chemistry with everybody she comes in contact with! On “The Clone Wars” animated show, she once skewered a Clone Trooper with her lightsaber as she kissed him sweetly to his death. On that same show, she and Obi-Wan Kenobi had a running flirtation, each one sassily countering the other’s insults with ripostes and occasional double entendres.

Count Dooku, played by Sir Christopher Lee in the films and voiced by Corey Burton in TCW, is such a fascinating character, with an unfortunate sounding name. George Lucas named the character Count Dooku after Count Dracula in honor of his portrayer, Christopher Lee. Seemingly cool, urbane, and stoic, the Count has an aura of great strength and power. (view spoiler) He is a semi-tragic figure in that his fate was sealed once he partnered up with Lord Sidious and the Dark Side.

Do not mistake my feelings about Asajj & Dooku for actual romance, because there is none in this story. There is an extremely strong bond between them, one that Asajj yearns to break, but cannot. She is his thrall.

One quibble about this story: I dislike that in the new canon it’s not his former Padawan Qui-Gon Jinn’s death that forces Dooku to leave the Jedi, but his brother’s death that makes Dooku claim his title as Duke of Serenno. It was more touching when Qui-Gon’s death affected Dooku so, and more meaningful to his downfall.

Opinion

At any rate, if you are a fan of the darkside, I recommend this audio play. As I said, it’s well-performed and the production quality is as spotless as ever (the Star Wars books are all phenomenal on Audible; even a bad story sounds great on that medium).

Alas, for what could have been for both Asajj Ventress and Count Dooku, two conflicted souls destined for the Dark Side of the Force.

Of Cats and Men: Profiles of History’s Great Cat-Loving Artists, Writers, Thinkers, and Statesmen by Sam Kalda

Of Cats and Men: Profiles of History’s Great Cat-Loving Artists, Writers, Thinkers, and Statesmen, Sam Kalda, Ten Speed Press, 2017

5 Stars

Rating: 5 out of 5.

A Crazy Cat Lady Reviews

Of Cats and Men: Profiles of History’s Great Cat-Loving Artists, Writers, Thinkers, and Statesmen by artist Sam Kalda is a book that sings to my soul.

This lovely illustrated work features 30 feline fanciers in history who were “forward-thinking” men (31 if you include the author).

The first quote in this book is Mark Twain’s statement: “When a man loves cats, I am his friend and comrade without further introduction.”

I could not agree more. What woman can’t resist a man who loves pussy?

CATS! Pussy cats. I’m just kitten around here!

Since the age of 17, I’ve always had a feline friend in my life. Also since that age, I’ve had a cat-loving man in my life as well. First, a high school boyfriend, then a year later, my college sweetheart who’d I go on to marry. Both males shared a commonality of being physical men with artistic bents. My first boyfriend was a linebacker and a wrestler who played piano and wrote short stories. My dear husband was never one for team sports, preferring one-on-one martial combats such as karate, boxing, or streetfights, although he has a philosopher’s soul and has dabbled in oil painting and poetry.

Book – Of Cats and Men: Profiles of History’s Great Cat-loving Artists, Writers, Thinkers, and Statesmen by Sam Kalda

Kalda’s book portrays men who unashamedly loved cats. While domestic canines typically have been depicted as man’s best friend, cats have held an equal place in the lives of many. The dog might have helped Paleolithic cavemen survive by hunting, but the cat aided Neolithic man into the age of civilization.

Cats have been historically associated with women, particularly women on the fringes of society. Men with cats were the cerebral types, thinkers, not doers.

On the other hand, men with doggy companions are seen as heroes, athletes, and warriors. The macho US General Patton loved his English Bull Terrier, William the Conqueror, or Willie. Conventionally masculine men are depicted as being more in tune with their emotions, only with their beloved canines rather than with women. Harlan Ellison wrote of such devotion in “A Boy and His Dog.”

Upon my first quick read of Kalda’s book, I was a bit disappointed that all the men depicted were (as he clearly states) “Artists, Writers, Thinkers, and Statemen.” As I’ve noted in my experience, loving cats doesn’t make a man less physical.

Then on a second reading, I realized how silly & biased my preconceived notions were! A man who appreciates the company of cats isn’t less of anything. He is, perhaps, simply more in touch with his introverted side, as cats are not outgoing creatures. Introverted natures tend towards the arts or history, so it’s only natural that artists, historians, and philosopher-kings would be drawn to these quiet, pensive animals that delight their humans with their strange, adorable habits.

Cat Crazy Men

“Like Prometheus to the fire, generation of enlightened fellows have gravitated to the feline species. We stand with our cat-loving sisters as crazy cat men, proudly wearing our scarlet letters in solidarity.”

Of Cats and Men: Profiles of History’s Great Cat-loving Artists, Writers, Thinkers, and Statesmen

And who are these cat-crazy men? There was King Hywel the Good of Wales who introduced laws that protected domestic cats. A Mamluk Sultan named Baibars bequeathed a garden near a mosque to be dedicated as a cat sanctuary in Cairo. Sir Isaac Newton, Samuel Johnson, the aforementioned Twain, Haruki Murakami, Ernest Hemingway, and Andy Warhol are a few of the intelligent, creative, and avant-garde cat fanciers you’ll meet.

Finally, let me address the artwork. Kalda’s work is deceptively simple and modern. When briefly looked at, one sees colorful images of men and cats. Look closer, and there are layers upon layers in his work. It is in the details where Kalda shines. Whether it’s the fur pattern of a tabby cat, individual blades of grass, every leaf on palm trees, or a Mandala-like halo surrounding a deceased Zoraostrian pop star’s visage, Kalda painstakingly adds strokes and lines to create texture and nuance.

Some of My Favorite Images:

MARLON BRANDO:

marlon brando cat

CHARLES SWAIN:

charleswain

SULTAN BAIBARS:

catgardens

FREDDY MERCURY:

FREDDYMERCURY

However, the omission of this fella does irk me:

bubble kittty

But there are lots of cat lovers out there, so it’s a forgivable act.

My Opinion

Of Cats and Men: Profiles of History’s Great Cat-Loving Artists, Writers, Thinkers, and Statesmen is a must-have for any man who loves cats. Or a woman who loves cats. Or a man or woman who loves men who love cats. Or just cats. I couldn’t find this book for the longest time, and it was due to one of my kitties sleeping on it.

The Stranger Beside Me: Ted Bundy (The Shocking Inside Story) by Ann Rule

The Stranger Beside Me: Ted Bundy (The Shocking Inside Story), Ann Rule, Signet, 1981

4 Stars

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Book – The Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule

On my Goodreads account I filed The Stranger Beside Me: Ted Bundy (The Shocking Inside Story) under my “so bad it’s good” and “unintentionally hilarious” shelves. Without a proper review to qualify the categorization, it occurred to me perhaps people might misconstrue my reasoning.

The all-too-real crime of a depraved serial killer who raped and murdered countless defenseless females was not what “amused” me, for lack of a better word. Author Ann Rule’s defensive narration of her relationship with the murderous Bundy was akin to watching the Hindenburg burn up or Titanic go down. It made for quite a spectacle.

Ted Bundy

As a GenXer, I’ve heard of Ted Bundy for most of my life. I remember his execution in 1989 when they showed his dead body in the media. Tabloid news TV and the daytime talk shows were obsessed with Bundy and his depraved murders. Perhaps it was his well-mannered appearance in contrast to his heinous actions, but the Bundy killings made for a strangely fascinating tale.

True crime author Ann Rule built her reputation on Ted Bundy. Rule was his friend and co-worker. They worked together at a crisis hotline center. To her, he was a handsome, hard-working, sensitive, up-and-comer. As a writer who penned detective stories and worked with the police department, she could not see what was before her. Bundy a narcissistic sociopath who preyed upon innocent women.

Everybody knows the tale of Ted Bundy. He’s as notable a character to 20th-century American culture as Jack the Ripper is to the British Victorian Era.

The parents who raised him for the formative years of his life were, in actuality, his grandmother and grandfather. Bundy’s true mother his elder sister. Born outside of marriage, he spent the first months of infancy in an orphanage. Ted’s grandfather was abusive to him, yet Ted looked up to as him as his lone source of male authority. When Ted was older, he moved to live with his mother and her new husband, who adopted Ted as his son.

Ann and Ted, Friends

Ted was a respectable-seeming guy, a college student at the University of Washington who was majoring in psychology when Rule met Bundy. Rule was a decade older than Ted and found him charming. She trusted him so much she let her children play with him.

Rule goes on at length in her book about how she wasn’t sexually attracted to Ted. Sure, sure. Ok, so maybe her feelings were wholly platonic and she just saw Ted as a kid brother. Whatever it was, she was drawn to him and liked him.

Rule makes a big deal about her friendship with Ted. However, she only knew him for a couple of years. Of course, during part of those years, he was abducting women, butchering them, and violating their corpses.

Later, Rule writes how she never knew the real Ted Bundy. They were just casual friends. He seemed nice, so she had taken him under her maternal wing. Eventually, like many in friendships, they lost contact.

But Ann never forgot about him.

The True Crime Writer and the Killer

After Bundy was arrested for murder, the two wrote and called each other. Ted insisted on his innocence, and Ann listened to his denials. Rule believed him so much she sent him money for his defense. When Bundy escaped from prison and there was a nationwide manhunt for him, Bundy sent her letters, still proclaiming his innocence.

Even his final murderous spree in Florida where he killed a young girl, did not fully dissuade Rule about his guilt. Only after being confronted with genuine forensic evidence in a court of law, could the “savvy” writer of detective stories concede the man she considered a friend was a monster.

Conclusion

The Stranger Beside Me was an enlightening source of insight into the life and crimes of Ted Bundy. But it was even more so for the Ann Rule, who used this to catapult her career.

Denial ain’t just a river.

Unfinished Business by Suzanne Forster

Unfinished Business, Suzanne Forster, Harlequin, 2005

2.5 Stars

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Book – Unfinished Business by Suzanne Forster

Suzanne Forster was an author I’d read before Unfinished Business. This book arrived in one of my monthly subscriptions to category romances. Receiving it was a pleasant surprise, as I’d enjoyed Foster’s previous works. Sucks for me that this one was not as fun as what I’d read before.

Back in the early 2000s I briefly subscribed to Harlequin’s Blaze imprint (they don’t publish those anymore, do they?). To my disappointment, I was not too impressed with most of them. I think I DNFed half that I started. The romances either were all about sex with little plot or mildly sexy stories with lots of suspense, better suited to Harlequin’s Intrigue or Romantic Suspense lines.

Blazes were the replacement for the Temptation imprint, which I preferred as they ranged from run-of-the-mill romances to paranormals with just about anything else in between, and enough steam to satisfy. In the new millennium, romance novels were less euphemistic than in the past with more erotic scenes. Harlequin’s Blaze line was supposed to cash in on that.

In my eyes, I thought the authors were trying too hard to be kinky. Most love scenes read the same: vanilla BDSM, being tied up, light spanking, use of toys… Sure the sex was there, but the love stories lacked heart.

The Plot

A while back, Melissa had a one-night stand in Cancun. She awoke in a hung-over daze with a ring on her finger. Had she just marry some random stranger? Before her hunk’s sleep can be disturbed, Melissa flees and leaves Mexico behind her.

In the ensuing years she becomes a wildly successful author. Her books? Well, they’re about sex, of course! She details all all the naughty ways to make love. Melissa uses her “marriage” for her credentials. In truth, Melissa has no love life at all, just what’s in her memories and imagination. But she’s a great faker and the media makes her a sensation.

To Melissa’s shock, after she’s interviewed on a talk show, who should return to her life, but Tony the very man she “married.” Tony wants answers as to why she left him behind. Moreover, why is she pretending they’re still together?

Melissa makes lame excuses and is perturbed by her intense attraction to him. Tony pursues her, accompanying her while she advertises her book. He becomes part of the promotional campaign. The pair pretend to be deeply in love. Pretense turns into reality as Melissa and Tony spend more and more time together.

Later on, Melissa and Tony appear on a 24-hour reality show and have rather boring sex under the covers while the cameras are on.

He also shaves her legs with a straightedge razor. Was that’s supposed to be erotic? When my legs are hairy, I do not want my man touching them, even if it’s to help groom.

Opinion

I remember being really disappointed by the lackluster love scenes in this one. The plot was rom-com cute, but poorly executed. (I could swear a Lifetime flick starring Laura Prepon from “That ’70s Show” ripped off this plot, or at least part of it [Note: It did! The movie was called “Romancing The Bride” and was only loosely based on Unfinished Business]).

So what were the highlights?

The story was mildly funny, as Suzanne Forster has a good sense of humor, so that was a positive.

Lamentably, the erotic scenes failed to titillate. For example, Melissa and Tony engaged in lots of finger-licking, which is fine for Cheeto-dusted fingers. When it comes to bedroom foreplay, that’s gross. Hey, I believe in different strokes and all that, but do people really get turned on by having their fingers sucked? Like, what if the woman has pointed, acrylic nails or the guy hasn’t watched his hands after going to the bathroom? That’s as sexy as licking the inside of somebody’s stinky, lint-filled belly button.

All in all, however, this was a mediocre read, as it lacked that sexy over-the-top oomph I was expecting.

A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin

A Game of Thrones, George R. R. Martin, Bantam, 1996

4 Stars

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Book – A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin

After reading A Game of Thrones, I concluded that George R. R. Martin is like a little boy who likes to create a big tower out of blocks, carefully laying one on top of the other, so the column reaches a great pinnacle that amazes. As mom’s running to take a picture, he gleefully smashes it down and watches the pieces scatter all over the room.

I was a haughty scoffer about “A Game of Thrones.” It was a popular TV show I didn’t watch. I watched programs like “Turn,” “Bates Motel,” “Damages,” and “Hannibal”…shows that are smart, but few knew were on the air. I had an annoying, superior attitude of “I am smart, do you hear me, you unwashed masses!” 😉 So when everyone and their brother, sister, uncle, plumber, and former college roommate watched the HBO series, I snootily turned my nose up at it.

“The books are so much better,” my little brother told me.

“Yeah. But it’s fantasy…” I demurred.

Long-running series about magic & mystical creatures, and I don’t get on well.

It was ok when my daughter was a child and read to us her beloved Harry Potter series. Book 1 was good, 2 was similar. 3 was more of the same. Finally, at book 4, I couldn’t take any more about Quidditch or Dumbledore’s twinkling eyes and tapped out.

The less I say about Tolkein’s much-loved Lord of the Rings series, the better. I don’t want virtual tomatoes tossed at me over the internet. I’m more of a Robert E. Howard kind of gal. I like my fantasy to be more based on sword and sorcery, short, and with an ending in sight.

Pleasantly Surprised

I don’t recall why, perhaps it was Audible credits, but I decided to give A Game of Thrones a try. I was expecting dreck, but Martin’s penchant for floral descriptions and extreme violence pleasantly surprised me. I created a Goodreads shelf just for that topic.

I began listening to the amazing Roy Dotrice narration on Audible, but I got so interested in the tale, I bought the book, too.

At first, names like Aerys, Arryn, Eyrie blended together. So many places, characters, and settings, and they all sounded alike or were weird to my ears. That’s one of the reasons I never really tried reading the fantasy genre. If I’m going to have to know the names of Kings & Queens and faraway lands, I’d rather use my ever-diminishing brain capacity to store actual historical information.

As I read on, the novel fascinated me more. With so many characters, I found some I loved, others I detested. Sansa and Catelyn were the absolute worst. I could give or take Arya. But Daenerys, Eddard & Tyrion were amazing.

The build-up took a long time, and for a while, I felt the book’s theme was “Hurry up and wait.” But the last third was a thrilling conclusion and made me truly enjoy this epic story.

Opinion

Maybe, I’ll read up to book three, although I kind of doubt I will. Martin’s never going to finish the series, and reading thousands upon thousands of pages with no grand payoff is akin to masturbating for hours and not coming to completion. Sorry, that’s vulgar, but it’s how I feel about book series with no end in sight.

The Highwayman by Kerrigan Byrne

The Highwayman, Kerrigan Byrne, St. Martin’s Press, 2015

2 1/2 Stars

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Book Review – The Highwayman by Kerrigan Byrne

The opening chapter of Kerrigan Byrne’s The Highwayman had me hooked. It has a lovely, heartbreaking beginning. Two lonely orphans in a child-care facility fall in love & “marry.” There’s a nice quote from the beginning where 8-year-old Farah teaches 11-year-old Dougan to read…and love. 

“Love is quite like reading, I expect. Once you know how, you can’t ever imagine not doing it.”

Young Farah tells Dougan before the pair are cruelly separated.

Fast forward 17 years, the heroine’s an independent, progressive yet virginal widow working for Scotland Yard & the hero’s an underworld king. Farah doesn’t recognize Dougan, but he does her, is furious she broke their vow to marry another man, so he kidnaps her and brings her to Scotland.

Then what started so beautifully took a turn into anachronistic historical. Eh, par for the course. Still, it was good. Or at least it was better than most modern historical romances I’ve read. So far.

But Farah was DUMB. She couldn’t guess who Dorian truly was? Same age, same coloring, & how did he get a scar on his eye just like Dougan did? Sharp as butter knife she is.

Dougan’s intriguing, yet while his attitude of “I don’t like touching because I was raped in prison” makes sense (and gave me shades of the film Buffalo ’66“No touching! I don’t like to be touched!”) but his “So just stand there and I’ll just ogle you while I bathe & masturbate” came off as pervy, not sexy. Damaged heroes=meh.

(PS: Walters=Hodar)

At 35% through listening to this book on Audible, however, I decided to return it. The narration was very good, but the story was getting way too repetitive. After a promising start, I found the heroine was both incomprehensibly modern & stupid at the same time. The hero…a douche, but nothing unforgiveable. Although his “Woe is me, you don’t know how much I’ve suffered” attitude was getting on my nerves.

So I returned the audiobook, and read the DTB version.

Alas, it was not to be. The angst was too overwrought, even for me, who adores an angst-ridden romance. And the mindsets were all wrong, far too modern. If I want contemporary attitudes in a romance, I’ll read a contemporary romance. This romance couldn’t decide what it wanted to be, which is fitting, as I couldn’t decide whether it was worth my time or not.