Thursday, February 27, 2014

Reading: An Honest Report

With a topic like "What have you been reading?" I suffer from a terrible desire to present myself as cool and cherry-pick something very clever out of my recent list. To free myself of the tyranny of that performance, here's what's been going on with my Kindle for the past two weeks, unedited, in order.

Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America by Barbara Ehrenreich

I can't begin to describe how refreshing I found this book. I vicariously enjoyed Ehrenreich's takedown of the fake quantum science often used to justify pop positive thinking, and I loved her incisive look into the (often questionable) social science touted in support of positive thinking's benefits. Ehrenreich begins by describing her experience with breast cancer (when she felt scolded whenever she expressed the slightest amount of anger) and expands from there to many sectors of American culture. I should add that Ehrenreich concludes by saying that the opposite of positive thinking isn't despair—it's a realistic view of the world. I dug this so much because I spent a great deal of my life trying to convince myself that things were better than they were and that I just needed to have a better attitude. Even my darker moods are a relief after that.

The Illusionist by Francoise Mallet-Joris

I think I liked this book, but it was the sort of reading experience where I wasn't sure how I felt for much of my time with it. The Illusionist is about a young girl who has an affair with her father's mistress. It's not an uplifting read, and most of the characters aren't sympathetic. They are fascinating, however. The author (who wrote the book when she was just 19!) exhibits virtuosic understanding of the human psyche accompanied by shamelessness about displaying all the darker, stranger corners of the soul. I winced through a lot of it because it seemed things could not possibly end well, but I couldn't look away either.

Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal

Aptly billed as Jane Austen with magic, I couldn't put this book down. I even read it while walking down ice-covered sidewalks (I know, I know). The fantasy premise is that one of the "feminine arts" is glamour—the ability to decorate and enhance decor through illusion. The main character is an unmarried 28-year-old who is an uncommonly talented glamourist. One of the most fascinating and unusual things about this book is that it bucks the convention of making a fantasy hero/ine's gifts be about Saving the World or something similarly weighty. As I was reading this, it constantly made me notice and wonder about my sense that this magic wasn't very important because it was so feminine. The author is very tuned to the various brands of sexism in play in her setting (and, I suspect, in her reader), but maintains the light, delightful tone that Austen is so famous for (Austen, of course, raised similar issues while spinning pleasurable tales).

Currently Reading:

Fetish Sex: A Complete Guide to Sexual Fetishes by Violet Blue

I'm reading this book for two reasons. As an erotica writer, I like to read broadly about sexuality because I like to have a lot of information and imagery churning around in the back of my mind. I would love to encounter an exciting fetish I've never heard of in this book (so far, there have been several mentions of having a fetish for balloons, which I hadn't heard of before, but that's not doing anything for me yet). The second reason is that personally, I'm at a point where I'm feeling confused about fetishes. When I got divorced several years ago, I believed that I had a clear image of my sexuality and fetishes, and what I wanted to do about them, and I was determined to explore those things. As I have explored, however, things that seemed clear have changed shape. I've lost interest in some things I thought were essential, and have developed new interests and rediscovered others (some of which feel problematic). I am hoping that reading this book will give me a good lens through which to contemplate all this and think about where my interests will take me next. So far, I like the practical tone, and the range the book seems to cover.

Mother Jones - March/April 2014

I almost left this off, but I do read a fair number of magazines, and as a former journalist, I realized I wanted to acknowledge that. I recently subscribed to Mother Jones and am really impressed with the quality of the reporting. That said, it's generally an upsetting read. I just finished a feature on problems with the plastics industry that seem pervasive to the point of inescapability, and the journalist detailed various ways that the industry has been able to lobby against and stymie efforts to do unbiased science on the impacts of potentially harmful chemicals. Much of the article focused on plastics used in baby bottles and such, but I couldn't help but notice mentions of phthalates, which I've read about before in the context of unsafe sex toys (there have been pieces on this in recent volumes of Best Sex Writing, and Tristan Taormino has written a lot about this as well).


Getting a Kindle this January sped my reading significantly and made me more likely to finish books, but of course that's only made my ambitions grow. I have so many books waiting to be read, and I keep buying more... I'm also way behind on entering things into Goodreads.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

You've GOT to Read This

by Daddy X

Momma X and I vacationed in Hawaii in 2010—Kaui to be more precise. One of the books we found in the rental house was a thick volume titled as above. ( Edited by Ron Hansen and Jim Shepard © 1994 Harper Perennial). Since titles can’t be copyrighted, I figured it’d be cool to use it for my blog post. As was the decision to pick up the book and haul it to the beach. 

After all, who could resist?

The premise: Thirty-four contemporary authors each choose and introduce a short story that they find most compelling. The stories vary from tried and true tales by Tolstoy and Dickens to newer entries by Raymond Carver, Flannery O’Connor, John Updike and Tim O’Brien. They’re introduced by the likes of Amy Tan, Joyce Carol Oates, John Irving, Jane Smiley, Francine Prose and T. Coraghessen Boyle. Some authors are represented by a story as well as their recommendation. No matter if you like (or not) the authors who make the choices, the variety and depth of the anthology seems never-ending. You are sure to be awed by at least a few entries.

The first story is my favorite: “A Mother’s Tale” by James Agee. Suffice to say it’s told from the POV of a mother cow, a teacher. She’s telling her son and his young calf friends why all the older cows are leaving in such a big group, seemingly enthralled with what they imagine the journey ahead to be. The youngsters are jealous because they can’t join the passing herd until next year’s trip. Mother Cow tells the story of The One Who Came Back. It's far more than what it seems, not just a surface treatment intended to draw tears and bolster vegetarianism. Deeply philosophical conundrums are explored.

I would recommend reading each story first, before the presenters’ synopsis, which tend to reveal too much of what one should expect from the read. I prefer my own conclusions, gleaned by experiencing a work cold, without any particular expectations.

But I did go over the intros afterward to see what I’d missed. Duhhh… :>)

Of course, we had to leave the book behind; it wouldn’t really do to gleep it. Imagine my surprise to find the paperback edition last week for $2 in a Hospice thrift shop. If anybody out there owns a new hardbound copy of this, it’s priced near four figures on line, and the used paperback edition in decent condition commands a $30 price tag.  

As usual, over the last few months, I’ve probably quit more books than I’ve finished. For example, Stephen King’s “Dr. Sleep” came well recommended, and after enjoying his “Under The Dome” a couple of years back,  I was looking forward to another well-told King tale. Before ‘Dome’, I’d become disillusioned by a lot of his work and was pleased he’d gone back to the great storytelling style of his earlier career. Sorry to say, ‘Sleep’ just isn’t up to par. I put it down after 35 pages or so; then, after admonishment by a good friend, I read on to page 85. Still no grab, so I quit wasting time.

One that did hold my attention (in spades) was “A Civil Action” by Jonathan Harr (First Vintage Books ed. 1996). They did a high profile movie of this in 1998 with an all-star cast starring Robert Duvall, Kathleen Quinlan, John Travolta, Tony Shaloub, William. H. Macy and John Lithgow.

Besides the victims, you won’t find many characters to like in this the true-life saga of the American justice system (or what passes for it) gone awry:

A cancer ‘cluster’ is discovered in a Massachusetts town after several neighborhood children come down with childhood leukemia. Someone figures out that it’s the water, and the polluters who are responsible turn out to be subsidiaries of multi-billion dollar conglomerates. There’s lots of illness and sad times in the beginning of the book, which I would have put down had the misery continued. But the story evolved into an obsessive legal tome, rendered in a literary style. One of those where you resent any time not invested in the book.  

BTW- I know Momma and I saw the movie. I know this because she remembers. I kinda recall the film a bit, but it sure didn’t make the impression on me that the book has. A singular read in the factual novel tradition.

This one also cost $2 at the local thrift shop. 

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

I am reading everything!

What am I reading?

I approach my career as a writer as a business, because that’s what it is to me. That means I spend most of each day at my computer, first on emails and social media, then after treadmill and shower, solid writing. When I quit for the day, eat dinner and watch Jeopardy (I am an admitted addict), I pull on my comfy pajamas and crawl into bed and……read! It’s my other addiction. I crave books. Reading to me is better than chocolates and wine and anything else you can name.
What does that mean? That I choose my books very carefully. Oh, sure, I always find a few less-than-desirables. Especially with a new author it can be a crap shoot. On the other hand, sometimes when you try a new author you find a nugget of gold that opens the way to an entire mine.
Such an author is Marie Force. Her entire McCarthys of Gansett Island series is better than the best aged whiskey. It’s got love, sex, conflict, great characters, crises, anything you want. And written with an incredibly fine hand. Start with Maid For Love.
Second comes her Fatal Attraction series and now her Green Mountain Inn series, I just finished the first book, All You Need is Love. She has such a way with characters and plots, and brings you right into the story.
I’m also reading Maya Banks, about one eighty from Marie Force but also a strong writer. Loved, love, love the Breathless Trilogy. Raw sex at its absolute best.
Then there’s my historical detour. Although history was one of my majors in college (back in the Dark Ages, dontcha know!) I never seemed to develop a taste for historical novels. However, when I was touted on to Jo-Ann Power’s novel about WWI nurses, Heroic Measure, I couldn’t resist. What a wonderful love story and a glimpse into the heroic nurses who served in the battlefields of that war. Don’t miss this book.
Then of course there is Joey Hill, who writes the most incredible beautiful erotic love story with a heavy focus on the D/s lifestyle. She weaves a magic spell with her words, capturing the reader from the very beginning. I’d recommend the two-book arc that’s part of her Nature of Desire series, The Ice Queen and Mirror of My Soul.
And finally, in a complete change of pace, a book I read time and again. It’s not a romance. Not a love story of any kind, But it is an adult fairy tale. Trustee From the Tool Room. Whenever I have a bad day I read this book because it reminds me there is an innate goodness to humanity.
So there you have it. Hope you got some good tips here.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Reading Not with a Bang but a Whimper

Sacchi Green

Reading? What have I been reading?

Well. Let’s begin with the two books-on-tape I’ve listened to for relaxation. (Yes, my car is so old that it only has a tape deck, and I only listen to books while I’m in my car.)

First was The Country of the Pointed Firs by Sarah Orne Jewett, a noted woman author of the nineteenth century and a practitioner of what came to be termed “American literary regionalism.” I’d been meaning to read it for years, and, while it took some getting into, I did eventually enjoy her portrayal of small-town coastal Maine and found it moving as well as interesting.

Next, for pure comedic distraction, was The Mating Season by P.G. Wodehouse. Need I say more? I’ve read/heard all the Bertie Wooster/Jeeves books before, but after all, one doesn’t read them for plot but for Bertie’s ineffable turns of phrase and the general parody of an upper class British twitdom that possibly never existed.

Now for the whimpering part, which is purely due to my own procrastination, or rather to committing to too many obligations all due at about the same time. Two blog tour posts in February necessitated reading two books (the last one just completed today); one review for Erotica Revealed requires another, which I’ve scarcely begun; one beta-reading project for a friend has been completed; all while I’ve been trying to finish up my next anthology for Cleis and send it in by March 1. Plus submitting three stories and desperately hoping to revise another in time to send it off, but that’s not exactly reading. All of this wouldn’t have been a big deal, except that I let so much of it pile up until the last few days.

The books themselves are perfectly enjoyable under ordinary circumstances. The first blog tour post was for Alison Tyler’s The Delicious Torment, well worth reading even if, like me, you’re not into Dominance/submission yourself. The writing is topnotch. The second, which I’ll be posting on my blog on Tuesday, is for Kristina Wright’s anthology XOXO: Sweet and Sexy Romance, also very enjoyable if one like’s that sort of thing. Well, actually, one shouldn’t draw too many conclusions about what sort of thing that is; there’s quite a bit of variety there, including my story “Gargoyle Lovers” about a lesbian couple honeymooning in Paris.

The book I beta-read for a friend was excellent in many ways, after a slightly muddled beginning. The main character has a distinctive voice and the settings are spot-on; the Boston area, Provincetown, and Quabbin Reservoir. The author has published a few short stories in relatively minor venues, but this is her first novel. I’d really like to see it published, although it’ll be a very hard sell; a sizeable chunk of the book is about an affair the lesbian main character has (before she rediscovers her true love) with a transwoman. This is very well handled, but I have some doubts as to whether any of the usual publishers of lesbian fiction will touch it, which is a shame. There are some very dark aspects to the whole thing, as well, PTSD, child abuse and animal cruelty among them, but that sort of thing wouldn’t doom it. We’ll just have to wait and see.

My next reading project, just begun, is Coming Together: Girl on Girl, edited by Leigh Ellwood for the Coming Together series run by Alessio Brio to raise funds for charities, in this case the National Center for Lesbian Rights. I hope it’s a knock-out. Nobody wants to badmouth a book that benefits a charity. Good or not, I need to read it and turn in my review by Friday.

And meanwhile I have to finish reading and rereading and reading yet again the stories I’ll be turning in to my publisher for Me and My Boi: Queer Erotic Stories. They’re all edited and formatted, but I haven’t written my introduction yet. Yes, they all seemed like great stories the first dozen times I read them, but by now, how can I tell?

Strangely enough, I think the reading I most enjoyed this month was during the four days my partner was too sick and feverish to read, and I read out loud from Terry Pratchett’s Jingo. Endlessly inventive, slyly satirical, overwhelmingly hilarious. Next to the antibiotics, which finally kicked in, laughter really was the best medicine.

And now—onward to Coming Together: Girl on Girl. If the stories can make me forget I’m supposed to review them, it’ll be a winner.    

Friday, February 21, 2014


Post by Lily Harlem

That's the word that comes out of my mouth most when I'm immersed in a good book, and my latest 'shhh' book has been Thrill Seeker by Kristina Lloyd.

Oh my goodness this lady can write erotica. That's not a new concept to me, I've been devouring Kristina's books for years and eagerly await her new releases. Thrill Seeker is a hot off the press from Black Lace, re-launched, and I have to say it completely captivated me to the point I was rubbish company until I reached The End.


'I'd never set out to snag Mr Right but I'd veered so far off that track I was now at the mercy of Mr Dangerously Wrong...'

Betrayed by her lover, Natalie Lovell finds herself exploring the world of internet dating.

Then she meets a dark sexy stranger online who promises all the danger, excitement and dominance she craves. But how far will Natalie go to get the ultimate in thrills…?

* * * *

Thrill Seeker both entertains and shocks. Natalie is a controversial heroine but that suits me just fine. I like a bit of crazy thrown into the mix! There are three heroes strutting through the pages, all essential to the plot and each will ignite a different reaction from the reader. Ms Lloyd is eloquent, fresh, dirty and raw and I absolutely love her style. If you haven't read her work treat yourself, any lover of erotica won't be disappointed.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Marketing-Related Depression

by Giselle Renarde

I never read just one book at a time. I've always got about four on the go.  At the moment, those four would be (in the fiction category) The Bonfire of the Vanities, and (in the non-fiction category) A History of Mistresses by Elizabeth Abbott, Buzzmarketing by Mark Hughes, and Who Cares Wins: Why good business is better business by David Jones.

Yup, I read a lot of business and marketing books. A lot of them.

Why?  Because writers are businesses, these days.  Writers are marketers.  It doesn't matter whether you're traditionally published, self-published, or hybrid--if you put pen to paper for profit, you need to get yourself out there.  Sell! Sell! Sell!

At least, that's what I've been hearing from every blogger everywhere since forever. It sounded like it was probably true, so I really went at it.  I've been reading marketing and business books for years, trying to establish innovative and ethical marketing plans for my books.  I really work at this.  I do.

And does it make a bit of difference?

A bout of depression came over me this weekend--a work-related bout of depression. It started when last month's Amazon royalty statement came in.  I only set up my self-publishing accounts last October, but I have such a huge backlist and so many previously published works whose rights had reverted to me that I already have... I'm going to say 50-60 ebooks on the market?  Maybe more than that.  Everything from erotic shorts to box sets.  Just a lot of material.

So, how much did my self-publishing account earn me in January?  At, $71.  Seventy-motherfucking-one dollars. With dozens of books on the market.

Wouldn't you be depressed?

If you're an author, you're either thinking "Yeah, you suck" or "Yeah, it sucks" or "You made $71? I want $71!"

Some authors are really really super-successful.  I know they exist because I know them.  I know A LOT of them.  And then, on the flip side, I read a study that said most writers (and we're not just talking self-published authors) earn less than $1,000 a year.

It's getting to the point where I have no idea whether I'm doing well. What I NEED out of my writing (considering it is my career) is to pay my bills.  Sorry, but $71 isn't going to cover my rent. Yes, I have many other books placed with many other publishers, but I've kind of got self-publishing tunnel vision right now.

I start to scramble.  I start thinking, "What could I do differently?  I try so hard.  How can I fail so miserably?"  I used to think it was because I was a terrible writer.  And then I actually read work by other (popular!) authors in the genre and I realized that, yeah, there are some amaaaazing writers out there, but there are even more terrible writers (not YOU, obviously), and even MORE middling ones--like me. Realistically, most of us are middling.

But are other middling authors rolling in dough?  Some are, yes.  But most of the authors who seem popular?  Do they actually have sales or do I just think of them as "popular" because they give that impression?

Can you taste my anxiety?

I don't even know, guys.  Sometimes I'm like, "Why do I even bother?  Why try?  Why not just write and be a hermit and not bother marketing at all?"

If you've got all the answers, I'd love to hear them.  Because I've done a hell of a lot of reading and I still don't have a clue.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

"The Rats in the Walls" and the nature of racism

I'm seriously trying to get a story in Weird Tales ("The Unique Magazine"!) the greatest and longest running of all the old pulp magazines, the Valhalla of the literary heroes I adored when I was a wee little kid; Ray Bradbury, H P Lovecraft, Robert E Howard and others.  Names to conjure with.  I want to be there with them, I want to be able to tell people I was once in Weird Tales, so I've been schooling myself in horror fiction specifically to get a notion of what this genre looks like when it’s done right.   Who are the good writers today?  Who are the old masters?  What do they sound like?  How do you scare someone really?  Do you build up suspense like Edgar Allen Poe or go for the gross-out like Stephen King?  I've especially been reading Ramsey Campbell who pioneered erotic horror which would be my natural trajectory.
One of Weird Tales most often anthologized classics  is H P Lovecraft’s early story "The Rats in the Walls", considered his best story.  I take heart from the fact that Lovecraft was an unknown who fell flat during his short lifetime, but was rediscovered and developed a modern cult following long after his death.  I'll take what I can get.

 According to omniscient Wikipedia, "Rats in the Walls" was more or less inspired by contemplation of the cracks in Lovecraft's wall paper.  Writers I suspect secretly spend a lot of their productive time staring into cold cups of coffee, cracked wall paper, brown grass or out the window.  This mental loafing is one of the most important investments of your time you can make.

So here’s the least you need to know about “The Rats in the Walls”:

The present day (this would be 1923) descendent of the de la Poer family has moved into his ancestral home of Exham Priory in England.  This is a shunned place, despised for generations of townspeople for whispered and unspecified hellacious shenanigans, but he is of course ignorant of this and uses his wealth to restore the place to its former dark glory.  After moving in he and his several cats become aware of strange scurrying sounds behind the ancient walls of the priory.  He discovers the priory is built on a satanic cult temple going back to Roman settlements, which is built over a secret underground city which had been maintained in the distant past by his degenerate ancestors in which cannibalism was practiced, with human cattle bred for slaughter. 


Human cattle.  Think about that for a minute.  They are described as "quadrupeds" in Lovecraft's baroque voice, but implied to be human beings who had tumbled backwards down the evolutionary ladder over generations of in-breeding and degenerated into some mindless  and debased form of humanoid life upon which people (and giant rats) fed.

Human cattle.

 Huh.  That's interesting.
Excuse me while I turn and stare at the wall paper for a while.  Let's stare at it together.

Cannibalism is as old as our species.  There are many reasons why different groups of people turned to it.  Religious ceremony.  A profound gesture of respect for loved ones or fallen enemies.  Desperation when no other food could be found. 

 Human beings, as a general thing, have always been good eating as any large carnivore would testify.  Alone and unarmed a human is a relatively easy kill and more good meat and fat on his bones than a deer or a pig.  Paul Theroux, who spent some time among cannibals, said that it is reputed to taste very much like Spam, and was referred to by islanders who would know as "long pork". 

 But human cattle on purpose?

 What is this notion of breeding human beings for a purpose, much like the Morlocks who bred the Eloi in H G Wells’ novel "The Time Machine"?  How far can you go before you hit the wall of human decency?   If you bred them for food, would you also breed them for sex?  Taking it upon yourself to grow your herds as it were?  Or for status symbols if you could breed an especially beautiful woman or handsome man?   Slavery, another institution that goes back to the dawn of time, was different in a fundamental way in ancient times from modern slavery.  Slaves were not intentionally bred like human cattle.

Up until the last few centuries slavery was common and almost universal among civilizations.  Usually slaves were your own countrymen who had fallen into poverty and sold off to pay debts, often as children.  Or were born of parents who were slaves themselves, or convicted criminals condemned to work until they dropped dead, or people of conquered lands who had been enslaved by the victors.  By the time of the fall of the Roman Empire the population of slaves outnumbered the population of free Romans.  Artistically gifted Greeks were often Roman slaves.  Hebrews were slaves of the Egyptians for generations until Moses came along.  Slaves were often educated and invested in to perform highly skilled work.  No one regarded them as anything less than human only socially unequal.
What if  . . . .

. . . say, Neanderthals or Homo Erectus were still around?  Lovecraft's "quadrupeds"? 
Anthropologists tell us there were, at one time, as many as six genetically distinct species of Hominids living simultaneously here on God's foot stool.  This is the common condition of almost all animals, to have several species of one family co-existing at the same time.  Hominids are an exception in that all species except Homo Sapiens have gone extinct for reasons that aren't all that clear.
What if . . .

 . . .  a species, clearly regarded as inferior or less developed than Homo Sapiens had survived to the present day?  Say, Homo Erectus.  Or maybe they'd gone extinct but advanced DNA science had brought Homo Erectus back without necessarily making us Homo Sapiens any kinder or wiser?

 Could you have a Hominid of another species for a personal pet?
We have lived with domestic animals bred for utilitarian purposes since the dawn of civilization.  Cows to milk; horses to ride and pull; sheep to eat; dogs to hunt and guard;  cats to patrol for pests.  But we've never had a domestic companion that was not human (e.g. Homo Sapiens) but close enough to be used as a human. 

 Yes, sex.  We’re talking about sex here.

 Close enough to human to fuck any time, any manner, on demand as often as we want without having to feel bestial about it.  We might make a Homo Erectus male or female part of the household menagerie as a sex toy or a brute servant.  We might breed them for specific qualities, like body type, phallus size, breast size, sexual appetite, docility or loyalty. Parade them for prizes in breeding pageants.  Pass them down to our sons and daughters when they reach puberty. That troublesome Facts of Life talk, but augmented by a hairy lab partner -  "Here, son.  Watch how I do this - whoa!  Oh yeah!   Just like that.  See?  Now, you try it, kid." 

Here's an interesting question; which came first, Slavery or Racism?

Remember slavery has been around pretty much forever.  It’s around now.  According to Amnesty International there are more slaves in the United States at this time than before the Civil War.  Think about that.  In the past, Romans and other slave owning societies did not regard their slaves as in any way racially or physically inhuman or inferior.  They were simply people society and circumstance had given into your hand to exploit.  There were complex laws regarding their rights and protecting them from violence or gratuitous abuse.  This was never true about slavery in modern times.
Indigenous peoples, black people and even Asians were conveniently declared as subhuman half way through the Twentieth Century, well within my lifetime.   Consequently white folks felt they had a free hand to treat them like brute animals, or even worse than animals like Lovecraft's quadrupeds.  These were Christian people.  These were people who regarded themselves as right with God.  Racism appeared after the fact of modern slavery as the necessary justification for a civilized conscience, to explain using human beings worse than you would use a dog.  Worse than you would even be allowed to use a dog.  Myths were made up about Africans and Indians, their mental inferiority, their physical prowess, they didn't feel cold and heat like we did, they didn't attach themselves to their offspring like we did.  This is how a morally aware person lives with evil.

And make no mistake - if your body and all of its most intriguing orifices are someone's legal property in front of both God and Man and Church to dispose of, sex will not be far behind.

Now that's horror.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Reader's Anonymous by J.P. Bowie

I read a lot...too much sometimes as my partner will tell me when I've got my head stuck in a book or my ebook reader. I read just about anything, and working in a bookstore I have first dibs on the advance reader's copies that come through from the publishers. Sadly, some of what is published these days by major publishing companies is just not very good. Luckily, there are some that are totally brilliant, like:

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness.

If you haven't yet got around to this really fantastic fantasy I'll give you a brief description. This is the lady's first novel, and boy, does she have the knack for storytelling. The main characters are especially captivating. Diana Bishop is a witch, descended from a long line of witches. She also happens to be a historian who teaches at Yale. Matthew Clairmont is a vampire who also happens to be a geneticist and a fellow at Oxford University- great yes?

The two go on a wild adventure when Diana opens a bewitched alchemical manuscript - Together we lifted our feet and stepped into the unknown - Of course Diana and Matthew fall in love, although it's no easy relationship at first. He confesses to a friend, "I climbed into  her window when she was asleep, I follow her when she's running. She resists my attempts to help her, and the more she does, the hungrier I feel."

There's a movie afoot of course. I've actually seen a mock up with Richard Armitage as Matthew. He'd be good in the role...brooding and not too pretty.

Harkness does an excellent job with all the other characters, witches, demons, other vamps, good and bad, and her descriptions of locations are so detailed without being too much, that you can see it all quite vividly through her eyes. I haven't read the sequels yet, but I will.

The Son by Phillip Meyer is an epic tale of a family descended from a man, Eli McCullough, kidnapped when he was a boy and raised  by Comanche Indians. This is no fairy tale version of life among the Comanche - it is brutal, violent, yet at the same time respectful of the dire situation the Comanches found themselves in faced with the white man's superior firepower - and disease. Eli eventually returns to Texas, and after a stint as a Texas Ranger he marries, has a son and so begins his dynasty founded on the ranch he builds with ill-gotten gains.

I found this book hard to put down, and although it's not an easy read, I would recommend it to those of you who like a good historical saga reminiscent of Giant at times. Meyer even gets a dig in at Edna Ferber.

Because I write m/m romance I do read some occasionally - two recently have annoyed me for various reasons. I'm not going to give the titles or authors here, because...well because I'm a nice guy. One was by an author who generally writes m/f romance. This one word title was her first foray into m/m and  honestly I hated it. Neither character was worth reading about, both were self serving, whining jerks who didn't deserve the pages and pages and PAGES of sex this book encompassed. Gee whiz, but I was cross-eyed with boredom by the time they'd done it for the very first time! Then they did it again and again and... You get the picture.

The second one I'm still reading though I'm ready to pack it in. I have nothing against lady authors writing about men in love - some do it extremely well, but some...well lets just say with these guys, one should be wearing a dress. Although they are physically massive, bulging muscles, wall like chests etc, their interactions are straight out of Georgette Heyer's regency romances. "Oh no I can't, but oh God I want to. I must never be alone with him. I'm bad for him, he's bad for me" and so on and on with this endless tripe.

Am I being harsh? I don't think so. Not when there are truly gifted lady authors in the genre like Kendall Mckenna, Adrienne Wilder, LB Gregg and many more.  So enough of my ranting. It's Tuesday and tomorrow I have to have a spinal injection to ease my stenosis - whatever that it. Oh the joys of getting old(er).

Monday, February 17, 2014

Psychedelic Noir

By Lisabet Sarai

For the next two weeks, the denizens here at the Grip will be talking about our recent reading. I'm thrilled. Back at beginning of February, I finished Thomas Pyncheon's wonderful and bizarre novel Inherent Vice, but I just haven't had the time to write the review it deserves. Now I have additional motivation, although I doubt I can thoroughly convey the sheer brilliance of this literary gem.

Despite his stellar reputation, I am not in general a fan of Pynchon's work. On my husband's enthusiastic recommendation, I struggled through The Crying of Lot 49. I still can't tell you what the book is about, except that it has something to do with postal stamps. I tried to read Gravity's Rainbow and gave up. Pynchon's lengthy sentences and stream of consciousness style gave me a headache. The feeling that I'm too stupid to understand a book really ruins my reading pleasure.

Hence, when K. picked up Inherent Vice at our favorite used bookstore, I figured this was one book we wouldn't share. As he made his way through the neon-jacketed novel, snorting with amazement, chuckling with amusement and occasionally quoting outrageous passages, I changed my mind.

I'm so glad I did.

Inherent Vice, set in lurid, smoggy Los Angeles in the late sixties, follows the path of Larry “Doc” Sportello, a hippy stoner hanging out by the beach who just happens to make a living as a private eye. Doc's a hapless, big-hearted lunk with a sharp eye, even when under the influence of various pharmaceutical products, and a terrible fashion sense. One day – yes, you've got it – a lady walks into his down-at-the-heels office. The sexy femme's not a stranger, though. Shasta Fay is Larry's ex-lover and she needs his help. She's fallen in love with a married, billionaire property developer, and she suspects there's some plot against Mickey's life. Agreeing to make some pro bono inquiries for old time's sake, Doc soon finds himself enmeshed in illegal, evil and just plain weird activities involving murderous bikers, slutty stewardesses, heroin addicts, zombie rock and rollers, drug-inspired psychics, perverted dentists, kinky heiresses, gay ex-cons, crooked police and a vicious, shadowy organization called the Golden Fang. The PI navigates this maze with calm aplomb, assisted by copious amounts of marijuana and other mind-altering substances.

With dozens of characters, some straight out of an album by Diane Arbus, and a plot that blossoms and fades like some acid dream, Inherent Vice nevertheless remains comprehensible. It is simultaneously a satirical paean to the sixties, a classic noir thriller, and a meditation on the nature of reality. The book feels chaotic, the author's imagination set loose without the constraints of logic, but that's an illusion. By the last page, Pynchon ties up every loose end and hands every character his or her just desserts.

Meanwhile, every page offers new delights – absurd scenes, laugh-out-loud hilarity, crisp dialogue, wildly creative plot twists, and every now and again, passages of such beauty they stopped me cold. By the time I'd finished reading, I'd turned down at least a dozen pages to mark particularly remarkable prose. Here's an example from early in the book.

Back at his place, Doc stood for a while gazing at a velvet painting from one of the Mexican families who set up their weekend pitches along the boulevards through the green flatland where people still rode horses, between Gordita and the freeway. Out of the vans and into the calm early mornings would come sofa-width Crucifixions and Last Suppers, outlaw bikers on elaborately detailed Harleys, superhero bad asses in Special Forces gear packing M16s and so forth. This picture of Doc's showed a Southern California beach that never was – palms, bikini babes, surfboards, the works. He thought of it as a window to look out of when he couldn't deal with looking out of the traditional glass-type one in the other room. Sometimes in the shadows the view would light up, usually when he was smoking weed, as if the contrast knobs of Creation had been messed with just enough to give everything an underglow, a luminous edge, and promise that the night was about to turn epic somehow.

Long sentences, yes – I noted more than one paragraph without a single period – but nevertheless crystal clear, at least to me. I've seen those paintings. I get it, if you know what I mean.

That was a common sensation while reading Inherent Vice. The author would offer up some description, through Doc's eyes, and I'd have an immediate sense of understanding, a sense that I'd seen this myself and that I grokked the underlying meaning.

Now I did live in southern California for several years – though much later than the time period in this novel. And I will admit that I smoked some pot back in those days. Would this book resonate as strongly for someone who'd never seen Venice Beach or Griffith Park? Someone who'd never tasted good old Mary Jane? Is Pychon a sufficiently gifted writer that he could bring Doc's environment and mental state to life in a reader who had no real world experience to use as a reference?

Of course I can't answer that question. Perhaps that hypothetical reader wouldn't be interested in the book in the first place – and would end up the poorer for it.

Here's another paragraph, one of my favorites, full of imagery that will stick with me long after I've lost the details of this extremely complicated creation.

Later they went outside, where a light rain was blowing in, mixed with salt spray feathering off the surf. Shasta wandered slowly down to the beach and through the wet sand, her nape in a curve she had learned from times when back turning came into it, the charm of. Doc followed the prints of her bare feet already collapsing into rain and shadow, as if in a fool's attempt to find his way back into a past that despite them both had gone on into the future it did. The surf, only now and then visible, was hammering at his spirit, knocking things loose, some to fall into the dark and be lost forever, some to edge into the fitful light of his attention whether he wanted to see them or not. Shasta had nailed it. Forget who – what was he working for anymore?

Funny, surprising, original, insightful – a masterpiece of tongue-in-cheek social commentary, a vivid snapshot of a period lost to history, a no-holds-barred festival of the imagination – if you can handle sentences that ramble on for half a page, and you're not morally opposed to drugs, I think you'll enjoy this book.