Simple Truths by Anne Mather

Sinful Truths, Anne Mather, Harlequin, 2003

Synopsis:

What possible novelty could there be in seducing his wife?

Jake McCabe separated from his wife, Isobel, convinced that the daughter she gave birth to was not his. Insistent that Emily was Jake’s child, Isobel struggled on as a single mother.

But now Jake finds himself in Isobel’s life once more–and caught up again by the same heated desire that held him tight when they were first married. Seducing Isobel can only add to the list of their sins, and it won’t change the truth of her betrayal…or will it?

2.5 Stars

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Book – Sinful Truths by Anne Mather

Sinful Truths by Anne Mather, if done right, could have been a good read. But it was bogged down by too many unlikeable characters except one innocent child at the center who deserved better adults in her life.

The Jerks and Their Story

The hero separated from his wife when he caught her in bed with his best friend. He didn’t believe the baby she carried was his. However, he never divorced her.

Ten years later, he wants to marry a shallow model, but somehow can’t ask for a divorce because he suddenly realizes he’s still in lust with his wife.

The hero is an asshat who never heard of DNA testing. The stupid heroine never took any initiative in her life. The poor, miserable daughter just wants a daddy. The selfish grandmother just cares about her money and family manor. Jerky characters all around.

My Opinion

But oddly, I didn’t hate it. Maybe lately I’ve been reading too many boring books that make me feel absolutely nothing. For all its stupid premise, Sinful Truths kept me involved in the story.

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 storyline 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.

My 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:
 photo alcoholwithdrawal2.jpg
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:

 photo saul.jpg
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.

 photo plaid.jpg
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.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn, Broadway Books, 2012

Spoiler Alert ⚠

5 Stars

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Book – Gone Girl

July 2013 was a difficult month.

I had ordered Gone Girl for beach reading on a very rare family vacation. I hadn’t been out of the country for 12 years and was looking forward to it. The book didn’t arrive in time, so I lay in the sun for hours without a summer blockbuster to enjoy. While the food, beaches, and people of Nassau were wonderful, due to various reasons I came back from the trip in bad spirits. And there, waiting in my mailbox was Gone Girl, a work of fiction to befriend me in my time of illness and self-pity. It became a twisted friend, one that fed upon my sickness and bad feelings.

Spending so much time in the heat was not the smartest thing to do for someone with lupus. A massive flare-up occurred, with a fever registering at 105.5˚F. Much worse, despite the many visits to the vet, my sweet little English bull terrier was suffering from a terminal illness. I couldn’t move out of bed to care for her properly. Plus, there were family matters to deal with that were unsettling. (In retrospect, those issues were trivial, but being sick with my beloved doggie dying didn’t make for rational thoughts). I was angry at everything: my body, my family, and the vets. I couldn’t do anything but lie there a dizzying fog, where occasional moments of lucidity and strength allowed me to flip the pages and read.

Gone Girl fed that dark place inside me with even more darkness. At the time, I was not in a state to process it in the right perspective.

The plot appears simple. A wife goes missing. The clues left behind can mean only one thing: someone killed her. The person most likely to have done it was the husband, Nick. A media firestorm ensues as the search for wife Amy leads to startling revelations about a seemingly perfect marriage.

Alternating with Nick’s narration are entries from the Amy’s diary, giving us an insight into the marriage before the disappearance. We are fed little bits of information, piece by piece at a time, molding the reader’s opinion like potter’s clay. Then events then take an odd turn and we see our perspective has been skewed all along. What we are told is not always true. Gillian Flynn created a warped, revolting world about two people so horrible that they destroyed everything in their path because they were selfish fucks.

Which horrible person do we root for? The side you pick may say something about you, something disturbing.

I’m ok with that. No doubt about it, I’m on Team Disturbed.

Here Be Spoilers & Rants

First of all I loved Amy. I know she is a horrible person and in real life I would run away from anyone who was 1/10th as crazy as she was. But as a character, she had me rooting for her 100%. Yeah, she was evil, but so is Hannibal Lecter and readers, moviegoers, and TV-watchers root for him. Why doesn’t Amy get any love? Those wheels in her mechanical brain were always turning. Even when things didn’t work out as planned, she always kept rolling and going on to something new. What she did to Nick was a wicked thing, to set him up for her murder, hoping he’d get the death penalty. Regardless, it was she who drew me into the story, not Nick.

I am satisfied that at she got her “happy” ending, as messed up as it was. If you watched “Breaking Bad” and loved Walter White even at his most evil, then you might find Amy sympathetic. Then again, maybe not. One could argue Walter had legitimate reasons to down a dark path, although it was his ego that kept him on it. Amy was always ego, a broken human being who wasn’t truly a person, just whatever persona she decided to put on. God, I loved her.

On the other hand, I loathed Nick. I hated his fake good guy identity. He was a liar, a thief, and a cheat. If Amy was a sociopath, Nick was a narcissist. He walked through life with his good looks and expected women to take care of him. Unlike Amy he did become self-aware and own up to his flaws, but it wasn’t enough to turn him into a good guy hero. Nick was perfectly content to have his sister pick up the slack at work, his wife pay for his bills, and his mistress take care of his sexual and emotional needs. Plus he was dumb, a fatal flaw in a character.

Nick takes his wife’s money to start his dream bar in his sleepy home town, far from their life in New York. He gets do what he wants and live his life while Amy sits home and waits for life to happen. Screw that. He’s no hero.

Then again, Amy’s certainly no heroine.

On the scale of evil, she’s far worse than Nick. Amy is a liar, a psychopath, a stalker, a killer. She frames innocent people for crimes and delights in ruining peoples’ lives. She is beyond redemption. Nick is merely a scummy, mooching adulterer. He pales in comparison.

Despite that, Amy’s entertaining as hell and fun. She’s so crazy that even in my sick haze, I kept reading to see what she would do next. Her “Cool Girl” rant is one off the most enjoyable passages I’ve ever read in modern books. It had me nodding, “Hell yes!”

Opinion of Gone Girl

Gillian Flynn excels at characterization. She never writes about good people. In her books all the people are different levels of suck. You wouldn’t want anything to do with these slimy, twisted characters (Save for Go, Nick’s sister, the only “sinless” character in this book. And the baby, of course!)

Nick and Amy are both the protagonists and antagonists; both are villains in a story with no heroes. Many readers hated the ending, thinking the bad guy got away with it all, but I liked it. It’s a perfectly perverse conclusion for a perverse romance. Although it was a bit rushed (a commonality among Flynn’s endings).

The concept of how people forge intimate bonds with media images of beautiful crime victims while demonizing the suspects is depicted in Gone Girl with perfect, biting satire. Flynn’s books deal with sharp themes on what it means to be a “man” or “woman.” She is by far the most entertaining, insightful, and well-written author of the recent popular-phenom books I’ve read, blowing away those over-praised duds by silly Dan Brown and humorless Stieg Larsson.

Of her three novels so far, Gone Girl is my favorite, which is saying something, as her other two other books, Sharp Objects and Dark Places, were incredible dark reads. I anxiously await Flynn’s next book. It can’t come soon enough!

Star Wars: Darth Maul Son of Dathomir by Jeremy Barlow

Star Wars: Darth Maul Son of Dathomir, Jeremy Barlow et al, Dark Horse Comics, 2014

4.5 Stars

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Darth Maul vs All of the Sith

When last we saw Maul in the cartoon, his brother Savage was killed in an awesome double dual against Darth Sidious, aka Chancellor Palpatine, and Maul was taken prisoner for Sidious’ nefarious plans.

There’s no spoilers in telling that Maul makes his escape and vows his revenge. Using his crime syndicate & allies of The Pikes, Black Sun & the Mandalorians, Maul enacts his plan to usurp Sidious as The Dark Lord of the Sith through brute force and turn Sidious’s allies against him.

Fans of Dark Force users will take delight that there are no puny Jedis in this story, just Siths, their acolytes, Night Brothers of Dathomir, and a not-so-surprising return of Maul’s mother, the Night Sister witch, Mother Talzin. There’s plenty of action in this series, with Sith fighting Sith & the Confederation of Independent Systems (CIS) vs Maul’s criminal allies.

I do wish we could have seen this in true animated form, with Sam Witwer’s silky performance as Maul, but this comic was a next-best substitute.

The artwork is solid and the plot is satisfactorily violent. By the end, all the pieces are put in place for “The Clone Wars'” finale, a 4 episode arc of the Siege of Mandalore, which runs parallel to my favorite Star Wars film, Revenge of the Sith.

Titus Andronicus by William Shakespeare

Titus Andronicus, William Shakespeare, original pub 1594

3.5 Stars

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Book – Titus Andronicus

Known as the English bard’s most violent play, “Titus Andronicus” had all the foul elements to be right up my alley. As a lover of the horror genre in all its forms, a tale filled with dismemberment, filicide, abduction, murder, tongue-cutting, adultery, beheadings, throat-slashings, and regicide should have made me quiver with terror. While I enjoyed it, I was not moved by the ceaseless calamities nor by Shakespeare’s less than usually stellar dialogue.

As a youth I never appreciated Shakespeare as I should have. A well-meaning, but overly enthusiastic 11th grade English teacher’s glee turned me off him. I was a contrarian, hating things just because I thought it was cool. That was foolish, of course, and it wasn’t until years later that I could appreciate the unmatchable poetry of Shakespeare’s writing.

Alas, the writing in this play was not as exquisite as I have to come to expect from Shakespeare. I daresay even “Romeo and Juliet was better penned.

As usual in Shakespeare, “Titus Andronicus” is filled with unlikeable characters whose follies lead to their dooms. The title character is an arrogant General, stuffed full of foolish pride. The only players here that are wholly honorable would be Titus’s brother Marcus, and Titus’s grandson, Young Lucius.

A Villain to Die For

The most enjoyable role is the evil Aaron, a so-called “blackamoor.” One could decry the obvious racism in making the black character the greatest villain in this tale, but Aaron has the greatest lines. More importantly, as it is he who masterminds much of the villainy, in a way he’s the most powerful character of them all. Much like Wesley Snipes in “Demolition Man,” Aaron chews up the scenery with his unrepentant evil. And has a grand old time with it.

He is Queen Tamora’s secret lover, and when she births a dark-skinned child, her sons are aghast:

Demetrius: Villain, what hast thou done?

Aaron: That which thou canst not undo.

Chiron: Thou hast undone our mother.

Aaron: Villain, I have done thy mother.

BURN!

And at the finale, when Aaron is punished for his evil deeds by being buried alive up to his neck and left to starve to death, does he beg for mercy? Hell no!

Aaron:
O, why should wrath be mute, and fury dumb?
I am no baby, I, that with base prayers
I should repent the evils I have done:
Ten thousand worse than ever yet I did
Would I perform, if I might have my will;
If one good deed in all my life I did,
I do repent it from my very soul.

So unrepentant in his evil! How awesome! I wish more of the play had been like this! 🙂

The Bloody Conclusion

The beautiful Shakespearean poetry was lacking here, and the stage directions of brutality followed by brutality were as humorous as the Black Knight’s bloody dismemberment in “Monty Python & the Holy Grail.”

At the climax Titus serves a meal made up of Tamora’s sons to the unknowing queen which is quickly (and I do mean blink-and-you -miss-it, quick) followed by three hasty murders. It was so silly that it should have been written as a comedy.

In fact that scene was adapted to a comedic form hundreds of years later in the best South Park episode of all time: “Scott Tenorman Must Die” where a gleeful Eric Cartman makes a chili out of Scott’s parents and licks his enemy’s tears in delight:

 photo tumblr_lzjro2Tv011r4gei2o4_400.gif

This would have worked SO MUCH better as a comedy. But hey, it’s Shakespeare, so it was still fun.

The Da Vinci Code By Dan Brown

The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown, Doubleday, 2003

2 Stars

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Book – The Da Vinci Code

When I was a kid, I adored the Saturday morning cartoon “A Pup Named Scooby-Doo.”

 photo pupnamedscooby.jpg
Remember this ABC Saturday a.m. cartoon, kids? No? Damn, I’m old.

It was my favorite incarnation of Scooby Doo as it was bright, colorful, amusing, and kept me wanting more. While reading Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, I was reminded of this series, only because I was amazed that a made-for-children animated program had more wit and mystery than this mess of a book. I started to read this and went into a tizzy. What the hell was Brown guy thinking? Did millions of people worldwide truly take this poorly-researched, poorly-written junk seriously?

The plot isn’t complex: Langdon Brown, Harvard professor of Cryptology, or some such nonsense, is in Paris to give a lecture and then meet the overseer of the Louvre. But before Langdon can meet him, the art scholar is killed. Langdon is called by police to go to the Louvre to solve some puzzling clues. A mysterious young beauty, Sophie Neveu, arrives and then Langdon is soon considered the prime suspect of the murder. The two flee from police, while solving “complex” puzzles that lead to more clues.

Meanwhile, in Rome, Bishop Arringarosa, head of the secretive organization, Opus Dei…

The Right Reverend, His Excellency, the Bishop

…has sent his henchman, Silas, a self-flagellating, albino monk who wears brown robes and wraps barbed wire around his thigh so it constantly bleeds (because that’s the kind of guy who blends into a crowd) to make sure a secret regarding the Holy Grail—-one that could destroy the whole Christian faith—-is never revealed.

The book was obviously written with its eye on Hollywood (I haven’t yet seen the movie, and this book doesn’t inspire me to do so). Langdon is referred to looking like “Harrison Ford in Harris tweed” and Dan Brown admittedly wrote the character of Bezu Fache with actor Jean Reno in mind. I enjoy good pulp-fiction, a potboiler that leaves you on the edge of your seat, waiting to know what happens next…but this book was not that kind of read.

For people with ADD/ADHD like me, The Da Vinci Code is split up into short chapters, which should make for easy reading. However, they usually end with nail-biting cliffhangers such as:

“Now, I’ll tell you the rest of the story.”

Or: 

“I can’t drive a stick-shift!”

Dun-Dun! Can you feel the suspense?

Lots of Action: Running and Talking, Driving and Talking, & More Running and Talking!

The pacing is all wrong; the book is 450+ pages long and 90% of the action takes place over 12 hours. Perhaps my definition of a fast-paced novel is different than Brown’s: to me, it’s not one set in a short period of time, but one where a lot of action and suspense occur. Stuff happens here, but mostly it’s just running: Langdon and Sophie escape from the police, they hide though out the Louvre, then drive through the streets of Paris to the countryside to meet a friend, fly to England, hide some more, and skulk their way to another museum, always fleeing from police and bad guys.

All the while, there are a lot of stupid questions asked by supposed code-expert Sophie. Langdon’s long-winded explanations of facts that Sophie should be more than aware of are ham-handedly inserted to enlighten the reader. Thrown in are lots of extemporaneous, long speeches about what this work of art represents plus stupid flashbacks. For example, as they’re pursued by cops, Langdon thinks: “Hmm, this reminds me of the time I was sharing my divine knowledge with prison inmates in a speech about the ambiguous sexuality of the Mona Lisa. She’s really a dude. That blew the their minds. I’m so smart, heh-heh.”

There is another flashback where Landon describes the Fibonacci code to a class of Harvard students who are shocked and dumbfounded that such a series exists in nature.

Really? A 15 year-old-stoner who’s watched Darren Aranofsky’s misnamed “Pi” knows the relevance of this basic sequence!

There are plenty of other silly ideas, such as Langdon stating that the Greeks used the word Eros as an anagram for rose. But this makes no sense because “Eros” is Greek and “rose” is English or French. In Greek, rose is ρόζα which translates into roughly “rhodon” or “rodon,” and the alphabets are different besides!

Brown claims in the painting The Last Supper there is a disembodied hand holding a knife at Jesus’s back. In every version I’ve seen, it’s Peter who is holding the knife. (Ok, some art historians claim that it was added in a restoration of Leonardo’s work, as he was such a master of the human form that it makes little sense to have Peter in such an awkward, unnatural pose.)

But Brown is no religious historian either; his “facts” should in no way be taken as such. He’s an average pulp writer trying to make a controversial book and sell copies, and by hitting those divisive notes he shows himself to be a better salesman/promoter than author.

It’s Just Fiction, Relax…

I realized to take Brown’s errors with a grain of salt as I had a huge epiphany about halfway through this book. In a startling revelation, Langdon points to his Mickey Mouse watch and discloses that Walt Disney, like numerous notable historical figures, was one of the keepers the Holy Grail’s secret. Many of his films were filled with hidden “Easter Eggs,” such as the “The Little Mermaid” where Ariel’s red hair makes her a perfect match for Mary Magdalene!

And I finally got it, slapped myself on the forehead, and exclaimed, “D’oh!”

Dan Brown is screwing with the reader and had a jolly old time laughing his way to the bank.

Like the—ahem—History Channel’s program “Ancient Aliens,” he throws so much crap and conjecture that some might figure, well, even if 1% of what’s said is true, then this changes everything! We are through the looking glass, people!

Dan is both a hack and a genius! What’s more he made himself known as a “preeminent” author and made a ton of cash!

Thankfully, I got this e-book for free.

Opinion of The Da Vinci Code

As long as I’m entertained, I can tolerate a silly plot. For me, the Da Vinci Code started out as horrible, then mildly irritating, then unintentionally quasi-hilarious.

If you want to find something amusing that skewers sacred cows, I suggest watching the South Park’s “Fantastic Easter Special” episode, which was snot-flying-from-the-nose-hysterical and revealed the Catholic Church’s true secret:

 photo truepope.jpg
Papa Lepus

If you want a nail-biting action-thriller, look elsewhere; as far as I’m concerned Sidney Sheldon’s reputation as “The Master Storyteller” is still safe. If you want to search religious or artistic truth, seek non-fiction, documented sources. Brown might claim his facts are so, but some simple research will show otherwise.

Far from being the engaging blockbuster that I had heard, I found The Da Vinci Code to be an unremarkable let-down filled with flat characters and silly “twists.” Christians of all stripes, Gnostics, atheists, agnostics, historians, lovers of art, readers who enjoy characterization or fast-paced thrillers or even mildly entertaining books, all these people should be offended, because if you’re paying good money for an appealing story, this isn’t it. But like I said, I got it for free, so there’s that.

This was a frustrating read, but it wasn’t so boring that I hated this thing. That’s a positive, I suppose.

Peter the Cruel by Edward Storer

Peter the Cruel, Edward Storer, Andesite Press, 2015 reprint

Spoiler Alert ⚠

5 Stars

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Prince Pedro

In a dusty castle in Andalusia there resided an abandoned Queen and her son, the Infante Don Pedro, heir to the Castilian throne. For years Queen Maria of Spain, daughter of Portugal, had been cast aside by her husband King Alfonso XI in favor of his mistress Leonor de Guzman and the ten illegitimate children she bore him. By right it was Maria who was Queen but it was a concubine who reigned in the King’s court as consort. And so, for years Queen Maria languished, while in her heart burned a longing for vengeance.

By the mid-14th century the romance of the Medieval Age had long-ago subsided. Troubadours and jongleurs no longer galivanted from city to walled city. The Black Plague tormented the continent. As war ravaged Europe, the people were beset by vagabonds, pirates, and thieves. The Renaissance, which had begun in Italy, had not yet reached the Hispanic Peninsula. Five kingdoms ruled Iberia: Portugal to the west; Castile-Leon taking up the vast center; Navarre to the northeast; Aragon to the east; and in the south, the last Muslim stronghold of Granada. Violence ruled the day. Although there was often intermarriage among the Christian kingdoms much time was spent battling each other, not to mention the centuries-old Christian Crusade of the Reconquista to overtake Granada.

It was in Granada where Pedro’s father, waging yet another war, met his end to the Plague. Pedro was not quite 16 years of age. At long last, Maria and her son were set free.

Book – Peter The Cruel: The Life of the Notorious Don Pedro of Castile, together with an Account of His Relations with the Famous Maria de Padilla

Pedro had not harbored resentment towards his father and half-siblings as his mother had. He longed for his brothers’ and sisters’ company and welcomed them into his fold. Leonor de Guzman, as the mother of his half-siblings, he believed, was due respect. One may wonder how such a seemingly kind-hearted young boy grew to be such a despised monarch. When Pedro reached maturity, he would be a fine figure of a man at 6 feet in height, blond-haired, blue-eyed, active, and fit, and except for knees that tended to crack when he walked, had few physical flaws. He would reign on and off for 19 years over a time of civil war and strife and earn the menacing sobriquet of Pedro el Cruel, or Peter the Cruel.

Edward Storer’s Peter the Cruel: The Life of the Notorious Don Pedro of Castile, together with an Account of His Relations with the Famous Maria de Padilla is a terrific historical read. His compact book of 333 pages is supported by 60 works of references, including direct accounts Pedro’s personal historian, Pedro Lopez de Ayala, who was no lover of King Pedro, as well as apologist Prosper Merimee’s hefty 2-part biography (no joke, I own these books and they are about 3 inches thick each). Storer’s work is academic, dismissing rumor from fact, resulting in a fair, ostensibly unbiased look at the much-maligned king.

The Young King Learns to Rule

Young Pedro was, as youths tend to be, naïve. He did not understand how great his brothers’ powers were. Their father, King Alfonso, had given them lands and titles. Enrique, the eldest surviving son, was named Conde de Trastamara (remember that name), his twin, Fadrique, was made Master of the order of Santiago, and the third son was named Don Tello. To guide King Pedro through political waters was Don Juan Alonso de Albuquerque, a nobleman of Portuguese origin. First, Albuquerque set his sights on marriage for the King to a lady of a great family, Juana de Villena. In the first of many betrayals, Pedro’s brother Enrique would elope with Dona Juana, claiming a childhood betrothal gave him the right to her hand and her vast fortune.

This led to various factions across the kingdom fighting it out in the first on many civil wars. Pedro learned that betrayal must be punished with the harshest of penalties. His first murder was that of a knight, Garci Laso, who had the misfortune of choosing the opposing side. Upon Pedro’s order, Laso was maced to death, his brains and skull splattering upon the stones of the floor before Pedro’s throne.

There would be many more brutal slayings to follow, some the typical works of a king seeking to consolidate power, others the kinds that even God might not forgive.

In another betrayal against Pedro, his mother Maria plotted in secret to have her former adversary Leonor de Guzman murdered. Despite who she was, Pedro had never wanted this. While his brother Don Tello received the notification of his mother’s death with ease, the twins were not as forgiving. Enrique & Fadrique would be consumed with a bloodlust for their brother that could only end in murder.

After a bout of sickness, Pedro set upon ruling. Although Storer does not go in depth at this point, it is said that Pedro relaxed laws against Jews, giving them more opportunities (indeed his treasurer Simuel el Levi was Jewish) and tightened control over the nobles. This could not stand.

Enter Maria

Albuquerque plotted to take his young King’s mind off governing and introduced him to one, Maria de Padilla. While not as politically powerful as other royal mistresses in history, such as Madame de Pompadour or Barbara Villiers, the influence she wielded on King Pedro and his reign is undeniable. She was his love, his obsession, his sanctuary, his torment. In his favorite city of Seville, he lived an idyllic life of Oriental decadence with the ravishing Maria, who would bear his children.

After it became obvious that Pedro’s obsession with his mistress was more than a fleeting romance, Albuquerque again attempted to maneuver a political alliance for Pedro. This time he was successful, arranging a marriage to Blanca (Blanche) of Bourbon, niece to the king of France. He sent Pedro’s half-brother, Fadrique, to France to accompany the sweet lady into the land of castles.

One would think that with his mother having been so ill-treated by her husband, Pedro would grant his Queen the respect that was her due. But either Maria de Padilla’s embraces were so memorable, or poor Blanca was so repulsive, or perhaps Blanca’s dowry had not yet been received, that Pedro tired of his wife after a mere two days of marriage. He fled to seek the comforting arms of his mistress, only to return for a few more days and then once more leave his bride, alone & imprisoned, for the rest of her short, pathetic life.

His romance with the infamous Padilla woman was filled with passionate turmoils. After one heated argument Maria threatened to retreat to a nunnery and Pedro left in disgust. During this separation, he found time to romance Juana de Castro, a beautiful, elegant widow, whom Pedro pursued with a deep intensity. Juana would not be content to live as mistress to the King; she wanted Holy Matrimony. Pedro’s marriage to Blanca was declared null and void by his decree. But this was not enough. King Pedro threatened two bishops upon penalty of death to declare King Pedro free to marry. This resulted in the bishops being called to the Pope’s residence to receive harsh punishments. Pedro, himself, would later be excommunicated by the Church for cruelties against the clergy.

In a phony marriage ceremony, Pedro bonded himself to Juana. Unfortunately for Juana, she was to be humiliated in the worst way, abandoned by the King after only one night in his bed. One wonders for what reason such a beautiful lady could have displeased the King. Was it merely the pursuit of the hunt and not the nubile target that intrigued him? In any case, Maria never entered a convent, and it was back to her loving bed where Pedro returned.

Ramon Madaula as Pedro el Cruel

Endless Violence

It is here where events turn endlessly violent. The Padilla family had gained power in Pedro’s court, ousting Albuquerque who fled to Portugal, as did the Dowager Queen, who had found love in her homeland with a handsome knight. Pedro had many enemies: the Portuguese, including his mother and the spurned Albuquerque; the French whom he had offended with his ill-treatment of Blanche; his Trastamara brothers; the Spanish nobles who plotted against him; and the kingdom of Aragon, with its slight ties to the Castilian throne. Bloody skirmishes were fought.

Eventually, Pedro was captured by his brothers and pled for mercy. He was held prisoner for some time and would never be the same after his eventual escape. He had been disgraced; now, he hungered for vengeance. There would be no mercy, not even for his mother. Maria had foolishly decided to go to battle against her son. As punishment, he had her lover and other knights murdered before her horrified eyes. It just one of many in a series of assassinations. Heads on pikes were a common sight in the middle ages. During Pedro’s reign, they were prolific.

More murders were to come. Although Storer denies the veracity of such claims, it was said that during the long months’ travels from France to Spain, Pedro’s bride, Blanca, had been especially close with her guard, Don Fadrique. A love affair had formed. Pedro heard these rumors and it was yet another insult his brothers had cast against him, yet another bitter potion to swallow. He was insatiable in his quest for vengeance.

War was also on the agenda. A moment at sea where Pedro found himself tauntingly threatened by Catalan pirates led to a protracted conflict with Aragon.

Betrayals and Love Affairs

In the meantime, his mother was disgracing herself in the courts of Portugal. Maria, seeking to stamp out memories of her beloved knight was entertaining herself with lover after lover. Her death via poisoning soon followed. Storer admits that Pedro could have been behind her death but dismisses the charges as improbable. More likely, it was her father the King of Portugal who had Maria poisoned. Medieval politics made for tenuous family ties.

A new love affair ensued for King Pedro. This time with a Dona Aldonza whom he chased with an intense ferocity, his pursuit sprouting legends, worthy of the ancient Greek gods. She hid in a convent believing herself to be safe in such a holy sanctuary, but Pedro mercilessly searched every room until he found her. Yet Peter had not forgotten about his Maria. Like a sultan of old, Peter had two households of women. Two women who shared his bed and his ear for politics. A power play arose between the ladies. Ultimately Aldonza overplayed her hand, leaving Maria victorious and Pedro disgusted with her. Thus, she retired again to a nunnery for the rest of her life.

Several more betrayals by his Trastamara brothers led Pedro to the conclusion that their deaths would be the only solution to his problems. In the Arabesque halls of his beloved castle in Seville, the Alcazar, he would order the death of Fadrique de Trastamara. His brother was hunted down like a rabbit, dying only after a long, harrowing chase. His butchered body lay on the mosaic tiled floor, gore flecking the walls.

Pedro dined at his corpse.

Don Tello was also on Pedro’s kill-list, but due to his more suspicious nature, Tello fled before Pedro’s men could reach him. Fadrique’s gruesome death, coupled with the executions Peter mandated for the Spanish nobleman who revolted against him, made the tales about his despotism grow. The soil was fertile for Enrique to gather allies against the King. Illegitimate though he was, he was still a Prince and he perceived he had rights to the throne.

More cruelties followed, including the death of Pedro’s Queen, Blanca, who had been locked away for years. Storer demurs to claim outright whether Pedro ordered her death, offering several options and letting the reader can come to his or her own conclusions. In my opinion, he likely did.

The End for Pedro

Then came his beloved Maria de Padilla’s death. Her loss was painful, but ever the amorous man, King Pedro was able to find solace with numerous women in the remaining years of his life. It was the death of his only son with Maria that profoundly changed him. He became weaker, more dissolute. More murders of noblemen occurred. The number of his enemies grew larger and larger. Numerous people wanted Pedro dead.

Eventually, Pedro became involved in the Hundred Years’ War, allying himself with England. The Black Prince himself came to Spain with thousands of men to lend aid to Pedro. On one side were the Castilians and the English, on the other, the Aragonese, the French, and the Trastamaras. Many knights from far away lands came to Hispania to battle for glory.

Whether through subterfuge or capture, Pedro found himself in a military tent with his brother, Enrique. The knights watched as brother fought brother. It looked as if the more powerful Pedro had the upper hand, but a knight—probably the famous French knight Bertrand du Guesclin—aided Enrique, allowing him to get to his knife and sink it into Pedro’s flesh. Whether Enrique gave the killing blow, or if Pedro was done in by the final stabs of others, is not certain. On that twenty-third day of March in the year 1369, Pedro the Cruel’s reign came to an end.

Through fratricide, the bastard, Enrique de Trastamara had gained the throne of Castile-Leon. His descendants would rule Spain for centuries, first as Trastamaras, then as Hapsburgs, for he was the ancestor of Isabel the Catholic of Castile, Juana I the Mad, Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, and King Phillip II of Spain, among others.

Pedro’s Legacy

Pedro’s descendants lived on through his children by Maria. His daughters would be Constance, Duchess of Lancaster, wife to the Edward III of England’s son, John of Gaunt, and the other Isabella, Duchess of York.

As for Pedro’s legacy, it is a mixed one. He was, by the standards of his time, truly not more bloodthirsty a king than most others. However, he did not wage his war upon the peasantry nor persecuted minorities, but on nobles. His attempt at social reforms, his unwillingness to oppress Jews, and his endeavors to decrease crimes through harsher punishments were not forgotten. For that, later historians have called him el Justiciero, the Lawful.

It was in personal matters wherein Pedro was dissolute and wicked. More importantly, he lost his crown to a man who had the power to dictate history, the founding ruler of a powerful dynasty whose bloodline lives on today in the royal families of Europe.

The life of Pedro the I has been the subject of many works, with each artist putting his own spin on the disparaged king. Storer writes his life story with organized, even-handed elegance. This work is history come to life, where you can smell the orange blossoms and taste the metallic blood. Peter the Cruel is a wonderful read, an excellent biography for any Hispanophile’s library.

In the Warrior’s Bed by Mary Wine

In the Warrior’s Bed, Mary Wine, Kensington Brava, 2010, James Griffin cover art

3 Stars

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Something New-ish

After realizing that all the romance novels I read are at least 20 years old, I decided to give something newer a try. Mary Wine’s 2010 Scottish historical romance In the Warrior’s Bed is not a bad book, but it lacks that extra something that makes it memorable.

Actually it’s memorable for one thing: they didn’t get the cover right! If you’re anal-retentive like me, this will bother you. As much as I find them dehumanizing, a headless torso cover would have been preferable. The heroine is supposed to be blond yet the cover depicts a black-haired woman. And let’s not talk about the inaccurate plaid (grumble, grumble).

You can’t blame cover artist James Griffin because the heroine’s name is Bronwyn and most Bronwyns in Romancelandia have black hair, LOL. Plus the author doesn’t give a physical description of her heroine until page 69 of this trade issue book, and then it’s only to briefly describe her honey-colored hair. If one is writing a romance novel, there is no shame in giving a physical description of your character by page 10.

Book – In the Warrior’s Bed

Anyhoo, onto the actual book. We’ve seen this plot before: two Scottish clans are feuding, and the hero abducts the heroine, schtupps her silly and they fall in love, while the evil-doers do their bad thing and try to separate them/kill them.

In the Warrior’s Bed falters when the main characters Bronwyn and Cullen are not together, so fortunately, they’re together a lot. Cullen McJames is a sexy, masculine hero, but I couldn’t really understand Bronwyn. Her loyalty to her family is noble, although not reasonable. They treat her like a slave, humiliate her, and want her dead. Here’s this hunk with a brogue who wants to treat her like a lady, take her away from her violent clan, and give her lots of orgasms. But of course, she just has to fight him every step of the way.

As this is a modern Brava romance there will be no mention of manhoods, manroots, or members, however c***s will be constantly stirring in kilts. For the first half of the book, Cullen is in a constant state of priapism, even when the heroine is nowhere to be found. I thought the guy should have contacted his doctor because we’ve all heard what those commercials say about 4 hour erections.

Opinion of In the Warrior’s Bed

Although the romance here is a bit lacking, the love scenes are quite sensual. The good guys are good and the bad guys are eeevilll! Plus, there’s lots of blood and killing, which is fun in fiction. In the Warrior’s Bed ends nice and violently, so that’s a positive.

This is the second novel in a series of three books, so one day I may pick up the others out of curiosity because Ms. Wine’s writing style is to be admired. Still, it took me two weeks to finish this 277 page romance, as I kept putting it down and reading something else. I’d give it 3 stars, which is not bad, but not a keeper.

The Story of the Eye by Georges Bataille

The Story of the Eye, Georges Bataille, City Lights Publishers, 1928

Extreme seductiveness is at the boundary of horror.

THE EYE

4 Stars

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Carnality Beyond Sex

Written in 1928 and denounced as blasphemous, The Story of the Eye by French author Georges Bataille, straddles the line between horror and sex in a manner that would offend most readers, both 100 years in the past and in today’s modern era.

Although I devour trashy reads from horror to pulp to romance, I am not a fan of erotica. A vanilla erotic romance is ok, but pure pornography rarely moves me in a sensual manner. I was bored senseless by Anne Rice’s forays into erotica. It’s always the same repetitive theatrics in these books: sex in this orifice, sex in that orifice, put this object into this orifice, place that object into that orifice.

What is erotic to me in books, be it literature or trash, has always been the anticipation, the desire for the act, not the technical description of the act itself.

Books with no plot, just sex, remind me of a scene from “The Golden Girls”:

Rose: I hate to admit it, but my relationship with Miles is really getting boring. We even make love the same.
Blanche: How?
Rose: Well, first he says, “Let’s go watch TV in the bedroom.” And then I think, “Wait, he doesn’t have a TV in the bedroom.” And then he says, “Come lie down. I won’t try anything.” And then we have four hours of the most boring sex you’ve ever had in your life.
Blanche: Four hours?
Rose: I guess it could take less if I stopped playing hard to get.

THE GOLDEN GIRLS

The Depths of Depravity

While Georges Bataille’s The Story of the Eye is hardly sexually arousing, it was such a visceral work it was capable of creating deep emotions within me, whereas pure erotica bores me. Ok, the emotions were not arousal or lust, but revulsion, disgust, pity, rage, and yes, a bit of awe at the writing (which must be incredible in its original French.)

These are contemptible, loathsome people engaging in the most depraved acts. The perversity here can only lead to insanity, imprisonment, or death.

If Clive Barker was influenced by this short work, I wouldn’t be surprised. It’s easy to imagine the Cenobites’ from the Hellraiser films delighting in the blood-and-urine-soaked orgies these twisted characters engage in.

The eroticism of the human eye plays a prominent, profanely obscene role throughout the novel. A woman comes to orgasm upon seeing a man being gored by a bull, the man’s eye impaled by the horn. Later, she sits upon a plate of said bull’s testicles, her vulva bare, and exalts in delight.

Orgies, necrophilia, madness, mayhem, and murder follow the main couple as they take part in one perverse adventure after another.

To others, the universe seems decent because decent people have gelded eyes. That is why they fear lewdness. They are never frightened by the crowing of a rooster or when strolling under a starry heaven. In general, people savour the “pleasures of the flesh” only on condition that they be insipid.

THE EYE

Opinion of The Story of the Eye

This book is disgusting, nihilistic filth. However, it has no pretensions of being erotic. The Story of the Eye  is designed to engage the senses in an offensive way. It is transgressive, postmodernism, and being so, I should have detested this. However I found this to be a more honest piece of writing than many other books I’ve come upon. 

The Story of the Eye is a fascinating psychological study and more so on a metaphysical level. The author was an anti-religionist; even so, spiritual questions arise. Are these characters demonically possessed? Insane? Sane in a crazed world?

Bataille’s writing “transcends” erotica. There is literary merit to his art. It is up to the reader to decide what meaning to attribute to this tale, or if indeed, there is any meaning to it all.

Dark Disciple by Christie Golden

Dark Disciple, Christie Golden, Lucas Books, 2015

SPOILER ALERT ⚠

2.5 Stars

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Look How They Massacred My Girl!

Oh, Don Corleone, I know your pain.

I gave the Christie Golden penned Dark Disciple a liberal 2.5-star rating only because I listened to it on Audible. Otherwise, I do not think I would have had the patience with what they did to my beloved Asajj Ventress, a major villainess in the Star Wars galaxy.

Ventress is a bald-headed Dathomirian Nightsister who, as a Sith assassin, wields two red lightsabers. Her people are so badass that the women enslave Dathomirian Zabrak males as their workers and mates. You know Darth Maul, the devil-looking monster with the dual-bladed crimson lightsaber who killed Qui-Gon Jinn? He and his brothers are the Nightsister’s playthings!

She was the great Ventress, who was introduced in Genndy Tartakovsky’s “Clone Wars” micro-series and fought Anakin Skywalker in an epic death-match on Yavin IV. In Star Wars Legends, it was she who gave Anakin Skywalker his dashing face scar. After Darth Zannah, she’s my favorite female character in all of Star Wars (yes, I am prejudiced in favor of the Sith!), and one of my top 10 overall.

Or she was, until Dark Disciple.

In DD, her character is ruined. I don’t know if the blame lies with George Lucas, Dave Filoni, or author Christie Golden, or all three of them, but why did they have to do that to Ventress? I know this was a lost 8-or-9-episode arc from the show, that, thankfully, never made it to the little screen, but unfortunately is set into canon with this book.

Not My Ventress

Last we met Ventress, she had been abandoned by her Master Darth Tyrannus (aka Count Dooku). Her life as a Sith acolyte over, she now resides in the lower levels of Coruscant, working as a bounty hunter. In a contradictory-mess of a plan, the Jedi have decided that the way to end the Clone Wars is through the assassination of Count Dooku, leader of the Confederacy of Independent Systems. Assassination goes against the Jedi code of self-defense, but whatever. Their plan is to use Jedi Master Quinlan Vos to con his way into Dooku’s life via his former apprentice, Ventress, and he will do the evil deed.

Along the way, Ventress and Vos get close, as close as two people can be.

Oh, but you thought the Jedi couldn’t have attachments? Well, apparently that huge plot point of the Star Wars Prequels gets thrown out the window here. Attachments are ok, so long as you are planning the cold-blooded murder of your political enemy.

You know, the more I think about it, the more I hate the plot of this book.

Ventress grows her hair out into a bleached-blonde cut and wears revealing miniskirts. She goes from this menacing creature:

Ventress inClone Wars”

To this brutal, yet sensual fighter:

Ventress in “The Clone Wars”

To the unholy mother of all evil, Karen:

How I pictured Ventress in Dark Disciple

(Thank you Google for that last one).

Major Spoilers Below (Scroll Quick to Avoid)

I never read the EU comics having to do with Vos. I don’t care how cool he was then. He’s a tool, now. Ventress constantly refers to him in her head as “that idiot.” You know that means she secretly loves him. Vos is a tattooed, dreadlocked, muscle-bound caveman of a Jedi and I cared not one whit for him.

The story here is a mess. Is Vos secretly working with Dooku? Is his partnership with Dooku part of the original plan or has the plan gone awry? When those questions are answered, more arise. How could Vos turn to the Darkside so quickly? And then turn back again? And back and forth, etc.?

The end is meant to be redemptive to Ventress, but she needed no redemption! In Season 5 of “The Clone Wars,” she helped Ahsoka out when Ahsoka sought out the killer who framed her. That was enough. There was no need to make Ventress fall in love with Vos and save his life by taking on Dooku, thus losing her own life in the process! Vos brings Ventress’s body back to Dathomir to bury her with her fallen sisters. And that’s the end of Asajj.

Opinion of Dark Disciple

Look, I love romance novels, the good, the bad, and the extra-cheesy. Asajj Ventress could have had a love story, or many love stories, in her life. But to have it go that way was so underwhelming and out of character. They transformed Ventress from a deadly, savage killer and replaced her with a bland action heroine whose fate is that of a Nicholas Sparks protagonist.

Asajj Ventress deserved better!

2 stars for the book, 3 for the Audible version.

Names Through the Ages by Teresa Norman

Names through the Ages, Teresa Norman, Berkley, 1999

3.5 Stars

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Names Through Some Nations’ Ages

The description for Names Through the Ages claims that “In the first book of its kind, Teresa Norman traces the history of Europe, from the ancient Roman era to the present, and shows how names originated and changed throughout the ages,” which is sort of true, but not completely so. What is presented here is valuable information on the etymology of certain names, both first and last, that range over several thousand years.

As unprecedented as this book claims to be, its scope is limited to a small portion of Europe, specifically France and the British Isles, as well as America. No other European nations are covered. France is the lone non-Anglophonic one mentioned. This Anglocentric perspective is expected, as in the English-speaking world it’s natural to focus on English naming conventions and France’s history has been tied to England’s for over a millennium. Still, it’s a shame, considering many of the names listed are derived from Aramaic, Germanic, Scandinavian, Hellenic, and Roman roots, so it would have been fascinating to learn of other nations’ naming customs.

Norman provides in-depth historical details that led to the evolution of names over time. The book is broken down by area and eras, with sections on England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, France, and later, the USA. The chapters begin with lists of the rulers of each country, then go on to impart information on political, social, and religious norms of individual time periods, before examining how those issues contributed to the formation of names. Roots, prefixes, and suffixes are provided. The lists of names are sorted by gender and their definitions are shown, but not, lamentably pronunciations.

American Names, Too?

The American portion of the book is the shortest, but gives the greatest variety of names, as one might expect considering the multicultural and multilingual roots of her people. The origins of surnames are indicated and vary from English to Spanish to Native American to Japanese. However, the names are not broken down by region, nor indicate how they are distributed among ethnic/racial lines, which would have made it more comprehensive. Nevertheless, it’s possible there are people named Zebulon Chin, Leif Aguilera, Latasha Bear Killer, and Rashad Metzger because that’s just the way America rolls.

A Useful Guide

“Names Through the Ages” is a helpful source for creators of fiction who want authentic sounding names in their works. Looking for a male Scots name circa 1400? How about Ruaraidh Colquhoun? (I assume it’s pronounced Rory Culkin, but don’t hold me to that.) A female character during the French Revolution could be Alexandrine Bouteiller. How about an English Regency-era rake? Sir Lyell Sutton sounds appropriately pompous.

But even if you’re not writing, this is a useful reference. My daughter would often steal this book from my shelf to search for names for her Medieval Sims characters or when she played RPGs. And of course, potential parents will find this handy when trying to find that perfect name for their babies.

What’s here in this book is super utile, however, I was hoping for a wider expanse of names. I’d give this 5 stars if it were called British and French Names Through the Ages as it is very enlightening when it comes to those. I have deducted 1 star-and-a-half as it covers a mere fraction of Europe, but don’t let my grievances deter you from reading this book; it is, as I said, an illuminating source of knowledge.