laurielikesbooks.blog-city.com — September 2002
A Bit of Reflection
Mrs. Giggles and I keep in touch fairly often; I thoroughly enjoy her "Soapbox" essays. There's a lot of funny stuff in them, stuff that sometimes I wish I could write myself but know I could never write now for AAR. Periodically I'll go back and read my early columns and notice how much my writing's changed between then and now. The columns used to be more biting and tongue-in-cheek than they are now. While I don't feel as though I've compromised content over the years, my role has changed. I'm hoping that keeping this blog will help me loosen up and get back more of that old bite.
It's tough, though, since blogging is so one-sided; I'm so used to the feedback we get at AAR via our message boards that I miss hearing from people who are reading my bloggings. And the fact that my musings here are so personal doesn't help; laying open my thoughts and fears here is as scary to me as the early days of LN&V when I didn't think there'd be enough readers to warrant the time and effort expended in writing the column.
There's also the whole "publisher" thing with which to contend; instead of simply representing myself, I know I represent an entity. I have a different function when I write things that are "official" at AAR than I used to when I was simply a columnist/reviewer at someone else's site. I still hear from authors, although not in the same way as I used to, because my role is less that of an individual to another individual. Instead it's more of an official role. Yes, I still hear some great gossip and learn things I can't share with anyone, but I know that sometimes information is passed along to me with an agenda attached.
That's not always the case, though, and there are people - authors and readers alike - who know I can be trusted, journalistically speaking, not to reveal sources and what can and cannot be shared with a wider audience. That's a good feeling. The biggest perk in my job has been the ability to talk to authors about their work. A perk I never expected is a psychological one - the confidence-building boost I get when authors I respect tell me I have to written something interesting, clever, funny, enlightening, and/or important. Opening an author's email about an article is like getting a present on a day that isn't my birthday. And, if after I put their comments through my "bullsh_t" meter and determine there's no agenda attached, I get a goofy grin on my face and a warm fuzzy feeling that last for hours...or until we piss someone off again.
TTFN, Laurie Likes Books
|Irish Thoroughbred||1981||C-||Irish #1|
|Second Nature||1985||B-||Celebrity Magazine #1|
|One Summer||1986||B-||Celebrity Magazine #2|
|Playing the Odds||1985||B+||MacGregor #1|
|Tempting Fate||1985||B-||MacGregor #2|
|All the Possibilities||1985||B-||MacGregor #3|
|One Man's Art||1985||B+||MacGregor #4|
|The MacGregor Brides||1997||B||MacGregor #6|
|The MacGregor Grooms||1998||B||MacGregor #8|
|Affaire Royale||1986||B-||Cordinia #1|
|Command Performance||1986||B-||Cordinia #2|
|The Playboy Prince||1987||C+||Cordinia #3|
|The Last Honest Woman||1988||C||O'Hurley #1|
|Born in Fire||1994||A-||Born in #1|
|Born in Ice||1994||B+||Born in #2|
|Born in Shame||1995||C+||Born in #3|
|The Return of Rafe McKade||1995||B||McKade #1|
|The Pride of Jared McKade||1995||B+||McKade #2|
|Sea Swept||1998||A-||Chesapeake Bay #1|
|Rising Tides||1998||B+||Chesapeake Bay #2|
|Inner Harbor||1999||B+||Chesapeake Bay #3|
|Jewels of the Sun||1999||A-||Gallagher #1|
|Chesapeake Blue (Nov release)||2002||A||Chesapeake Bay #4|
A whopping 70% of the Nora Roberts books I've read earned B level grades from me. 17% earned C level grades and 13% - 4 of the 30 books - earned DIK status. My approval rating on her writing is phenomenal, particularly as I don't consider Roberts my favorite romance author. There are other authors whom I've granted more DIK's to, but in the case of Julie Garwood, there aren't even 30 books of hers to read, let alone grade. And Catherine Coulter, who has written five DIK's, has also earned many D's and F's from me.
On the other hand, there are some of Roberts' books I haven't read beyond the first few pages because I knew I wouldn't like them, which tends to skew the results. A few that come to mind are Irish Rose, The Heart of Devin McKade (sacrilegious, I know), and Dance of Dreams, which I started last night but know I won't finish. It's the sequel to 1983's Reflections, and the older man/younger woman, teacher/student, ballet company director/prima ballerina premise was just too creepy for me. When the two of them sat down to eat yogurt and bottled water, all I could think of was every ballet article I've ever read about the physical pain, the anorexia, the lack of living beyond the ballet. That was it for me; I closed the book and put it away, most likely forever.
Dance of Dreams ends the Nora reading glom I've been on for six weeks. It started with an advance reading copy of Chesapeake Blue, continued through the first three Cordinia books, then the Celebrity Magazine duo, Reflections, and the aborted Dance of Dreams. Oddly enough, I hadn't been able to read a Roberts romance through in more than two years. I remember having a discussion with Blythe and Claudia, who granted DIK status to the second and third books in the Gallagher trilogy and saying that if we'd switched the order of reviewing that series (had I read the second or third and one of them read the first), none of the books would have gotten DIK status. Although I loved the first book in that series, I picked up the second book and put it down about a third of the way through. I never even tried the third, even though my sense is that I might like it at some point in the future.
There are other groupings of Roberts books that I never even bought, including her Stars of Mithra and Three Sisters Island trilogies, not to mention all of her J.D. Robb books. I went through a lengthy Roberts "dry spell" between Jewels of the Sun and Chesapeake Blue, which I'd feared wouldn't be good since the rumors I'd heard made it sound as though she hadn't originally planned to write Seth's story and "did it for the fans" - I hadn't even picked up one of her books since last summer. Wow, did I do some quick catching up by reading seven of her books in just six weeks! I doubt I'll let such another lengthy period go by without reading her again.
But back to my original point: when did Roberts hit her stride as far as I'm concerned? I think it was in the mid-1980's, several years after she was first published. Her MacGregor series is key to her growth; I can see the beginning of certain character types that she and she alone seems to do in these books. I've heard many a reader complain that her trilogies or quartets feature Roberts Hero A, Roberts Hero B, and so on (for both heroes and heroines), but for the most part, this doesn't bother me as much as it does with other authors. One thing that surprised me when I went through my database was that I gave One Man's Art a higher grade than many of the other books in her MacGregor series. It was so different from the other books in the series, and not only because neither the hero nor heroine was a MacGregor. It had, if I remember correctly, less humor as well. Perhaps I shouldn't be surprised at the grade after all, though...I seem to have a soft spot for Nora Roberts artists, whether they are glass artists or painters.
After not having been enthralled with a Roberts book in more than two years, I was quite honestly shocked to have loved Chesapeake Blue as much as I did. How could an author who's written 150+ books write a book that's fourth in a series and have it be so wonderful? I simply can't wrap my mind around that. I'll be talking more about the book in particular, but probably at AAR rather than in this blog.
TTFN, Laurie Likes Books
The Good, the Bad (and Kelly)
I realize how difficult it must be to satisfy a variety of different tastes after several books, but being the optimistic sort of person I am, I want to see winning streaks continue forever. I'd like to see both Justiss and Henderson start a new winning streak with their very next release so that we can continue to tout them both as buried treasures.
Okay...that was the bad...now for the good. We posted a DIK Review yesterday for Susan Grant, whose first book - Once a Pirate - I gave a great review to, and whose second book, The Star King, I also enjoyed (and reviewed). Her third book (The Star Prince) was not reviewed by me but received another good grade from Heidi Haglin. Sandy Coleman's review of her October release, Contact, hit my in-box late last week.
When I reached into my reviews folder yesterday and pulled Sandy's review out, I was so excited to see that it was a total rave - a DIK with absolutely no reservations - that I practically performed a little happy dance in my office. Just as I get disappointed when we post a so-so or negative review for an author I enjoy reading, I am thrilled when we post a terrific review for an author whose books I enjoy. And when the author is relatively new and I've been "with her" since the start, I'm all the happier because so many times my taste doesn't match our review staff. Where Susan Grant is concerned, I also consider her a role model for strong women given that she's spent most of her career breaking ground for other women in male-dominated fields (I have similar admiration for Merline Lovelace). I can't wait until October and I can get a copy of Contact myself.
And now for something off-topic: last night's finale of American Idol. The first thing I noticed is that the vast majority of songs "the kids" sang in their Brady-esque/Godspell fashion were old. When I mentioned this to my family, my daughter exclaimed, "That's because most new songs suck!" I'm so glad those words came out of her mouth instead of mine; had I said the same thing, she'd have argued with me for half an hour.
One great thing about my daughter is that if she likes you, you're automatically pretty or cute or handsome. She thinks Kelly's gorgeous, and didn't take too kindly to my husband and I disagreeing with her. She has a great voice, but as far as looks go, she's the girl-next-door with a big booty, and that's one reason I think she won.
Let me explain. My husband had been trying to prepare our daughter all week for the possibility that Justin might win because all the girls would vote for him. I strongly disagreed; he's definitely got charisma and charm and great hair, a great smile, and a twinkle in his eye, but I thought those same girls would vote for Kelly instead because she's not gorgeous (or slutty) like Britney, Jessica, Mandy, and Christina. Any girl or young woman could look at Kelly and think: "Wow, she's talented but she doesn't look like a model. She looks like me!"
Still, I wasn't sure Kelly would win and so I had also tried to prepare our daughter for that over the last few days. I told her that several of the finalists - including Tamyra and Ryan - would likely get record contracts and that they might be better off in the long run than the winner of American Idol. And after I having heard the first "single" they'll be releasing for Kelly, the also-rans might truly be better off. It doesn't matter how well you sing, a song has to be a good one for people to want to buy it. The song released by winner of the UK's version of the show was far better than the song Kelly will be releasing. I have no doubt she'll make it as a singer, but her success may actually be delayed as she runs around fulfilling her "American Idol" obligations. As I said in an earlier blogging, most people ask "Sam who?" when asked if they remember Sam Harris, the singing phenom from the first year of Star Search. I'm not sure if the same people who got caught up watching American Idol actually propel record sales. We'll keep up with her career and buy her CD's, of course, because we "know" her.
TTFN, Laurie Likes Books
A's and F's (and Dodd)
Whenever we post A's or F's, there's more of a chance of reader disagreement than for other grades. Often times I believe we're taken to task more for A's than F's, but either way we leave ourselves open to a barrage of disagreement. We get lots of negative feedback for F's in two situations: when the author is little known but has supportive friends and/or family or when the author is very well known and generally well-respected.
For instance, we've posted many, many F's for Cassie Edwards and Connie Mason - the two AAR "whipping boys" - but these reviews never generate much response other than the sort of "thanks for giving me a laugh w/your review" comments we've seen before. On the other hand, when we pan a book by an author who's written extremely well before - even when we've given her lots of good reviews in the past - postings Â which disagree with our review can go on for several days. Sometimes these lengthy threads degenerate into a good, old-fashioned flame war. So I always get stomach cramps when we post an F for a well-respected author, and today's F for the new Susan Wiggs already has my tummy tied up in knots.
On the other hand, I'm very, very pleased that we posted a B+ review for the new Christina Dodd today because I've been a fan of her writing in the past. While we took a lot of heat for our reviews for her last two books, none of that heat came from her. It may have come on her behalf, but I personally thought she was a class act throughout and respect her for that. Even when she joked about "which book she was going to steal from next" when promoting her book with Connie Brockway (Once Upon a Pillow), I personally thought she was making lemonade out of lemons. I know not all AAR staff agreed, but so be it. I still believe those reviews were excellent, but I also liked how she handled herself.
I picked up my copy of the Dodd yesterday and may read it beginning today. I hope it's as good as A Well Pleasured Lady or Rules of Surrender, my two Dodd favorites.
TTFN, Laurie Likes Books
While the nation's year of mourning began on September 11, 2001, our personal year of grief began on Monday, August 27th when I rushed our daughter to the hospital with meningitis and watched her nearly die before my eyes.
Today is Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and we've just returned from a wonderful family service. In addition to the main services, there are three distinct services - for families with young children, older children, and teens. I'm not the only one who loves the services for families with older children because it keeps growing year after year not only as younger children grow old enough to attend, but with older children who feel the sense of community so strongly that they don't wish to move on to the teen service. After all, where else can you hear a Pete Seger parable as the sermon and sing along with a guitar-playing rabbi who riffs "Dueling Banjos?"
One of the best parts of the service is the blowing of the shofar, a ram's horn which heralds the New Year and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, which will occur in 10 days. We've listened to the same young man blowing his shofar since he was no more than a boy, really. My favorite moment is the very last note blown on the shofar for it is incredibly long, and this year it was the longest ever. How wonderful that he came home for the weekend to celebrate another new year with us - he's now in college studying to become a rabbi. After he lengthened out that note to be extra, superbly long, I exclaimed its excellence, which his proud parents, sitting in the row ahead of us, overheard. When he returned to his seat, his mom leaned to him and whispered something, at which point he looked back at me and grinned. Then my daughter let me hug and kiss her...in public. Yay!
I'm not a very religious person, certainly less religious than my husband and his family. But there's something very special about this year's services; we have much to be thankful for. The first is that we can attend services at all because last year, with our daughter in the very initial stages of her recovery from meningitis, she and I didn't go - either for Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur. We are also thankful that she is finally and completely recovered...it took about 10 1/2 months for her life to return to normal.
But there's even more. She "graduated" from occupational therapy after six years. She still has minor physically-manifested neurological deficits, but she's developed enough coping mechanisms to handle just about anything. Yay! She also said goodbye to the behavioral therapeutic school she'd attended for 2 1/2 years and began fifth grade in a wonderful but very academically tough private middle school. While we weren't sure she was ready, she'd asked us this spring to give her the chance to show what she is capable of, did well on the private school entrance exam (a three hour SAT-like test), was accepted into the school, and started two weeks ago. This past week she was elected as class vice-president. Yay!
While we were in services this afternoon, one line in our prayerbook struck me: "Our gift to God is to make use of God's gifts to us." This is very nearly the same thing I've told my daughter over and over again for the past several years - that she needs to use the gifts God gave her. Whenever she's frustrated about the things she can't do or can't do well (her neurological issues have always been physical as opposed to intellectual), I remind her of all the great gifts she does have. This was particularly difficult over the past year; not only did her illness rob her of the ability to move easily, it also affected her cognitive abilities for many months. Thankfully, that too has passed, and not only do we have our wonderfully brilliant and creative girl back, we have a girl who has finally decided to be a "human being." Her determination to leave Â her old school, along with the skills she (finally) internalized after 2 1/2 years there, have transformed her: her sense of humor is less biting and actually funnier; her behavior is finally age-appropriate to a 10-year-old rather than being a mix of immature social skills along with the "attitude" of a rebellious teen; and while she'll always be unique, she fits in better with others around her. Yay!
Recovery and becoming a "human being" were particularly difficult given the states of all our emotional health this past year. Getting over September 11th is something that has affected us all (I don't really buy into this whole "those who don't live in NY or D.C. got over it months ago"), but as September 11 2002 draws nearer, it's time for those of us who've gotten stuck in our grief to rejoin the living.
And so I've set two goals for September 12th. The first is to put behind me my daughter's illness, her time in therapy, her old school, and the way I view her. She's in regular kid school now; I vow to treat her as I would a regular 10-year-old. She's earned it. Yay! Secondly, I must end my personal mini-nervous breakdown that I believe started last year on August 29th, 13 days before the World Trade Center collapsed in Manhattan, and got worse when the world as we knew up turned upside down on 9/11.
The world can be a place of immense suffering; the supreme irony is that much of the suffering comes from people of different faiths who believe their faith is better than the faith of others, who believe those of other faiths must be destroyed to make a more perfect world. How many times will there be death and destruction in the name of religion and God?
Let's make use of the gifts God gave us. That's my goal for the new year. Shona Tova... Happy New Year!
TTFN, Laurie Likes Books
My Favorite Bride
I haven't actually read a book by Dodd in about 2 1/2 years, since Rules of Surrender, which I enjoyed. And, after the bad reviews we gave her Lost in Your Arms and In My Wildest Dreams, with the "scandal" associated with our reviews of these two books, I'd just about given up on her. In fact, in AAR's in-house style poll, my rating for her was 4J, for Always or Almost Always Like/Jumped the Shark.
How could I give an author a rating like that - isn't it illogical to say you always or almost always like her books but you think she's past her prime? I wonder...is it any more odd to give an author a rating of 4J than 0J, which means I've never read any books by an author but believe she's jumped the shark. That was my rating, after all, for Robin Schone.
But back to Dodd... I loved this book. It may turn out to be a DIK for me (I haven't quite decided). Unfortunately, I doubt I'm on speaking terms with Christina Dodd at this point because of those two very widely read negative reviews we posted for her in recent years. The controversy over our review of In My Wildest Dreams was so enormous that there's really no way to get past it, which is unfortunate. Jen's review was brilliant...and so is this new book. Damn!
TTFN, Laurie Likes Books
What It's Like For Me
She's required to do a lot of writing in her new school. She's a good writer, but new to the challenging requirements her school sets, and rewriting is something she doesn't think is necessary. Luckily enough, I always have a story to tell her, although I suspect she thinks I make them up...which I don't.
The first two years I worked for the City of Dallas, it was through a very difficult management training program specifically for people with master's degrees in public administration. The year I got into the program, three slots were filled from well over 100 applicants through a 5 hour interview/in-box "test"/essay process. My first rotation was with the Dallas Police Department. I worked for a captain in the Planning and Research Department. He was out of town when I finished a report for the Chief, and I turned my work in to the officer in charge that day - a female Sgt. She read my report and handed it back to me - full of red ink.
I was outraged, as only a young person with lots of educational arrogance could be. How dare this...this person, with only a college degree, say that my work, my writing, was unacceptable? After all, I was the one who could have written "sh_t" on a piece of paper and gotten an A! Needless to say, I mishandled the whole thing and am still embarrassed by my reaction when truly, her changes made my work better.
I learned a very important lesson that day, which is that editing is a very good thing, that a good piece of writing can only become a better piece of writing when honed over and over again by at least two sets of eyes. I don't know that my daughter has accepted this yet, but it's something everyone at AAR has, or they wouldn't last long.
Now, back to this new column, which wasn't really telling all of the story it needed to tell, which is why Blythe Barnhill, Andrea Pool, and Rachel Potter stepped in to help. While Rachel helped on some of the facts, Blythe and Andrea helped with last-minute segments, and I juggled paragraphs and re-wrote others to make room. It read differently, but it was better, much better.
It's always an exhaustive process, and I had thought it was getting more and more difficult lately, but then I thought back to the beginning. I started to write my column in March of 1996, 6 1/2 years ago. At that time, my daughter was four, and I can remember literally handing her off to my husband on a Friday night, saying: "I've got to write this weekend...see you two Sunday night." Then I would lock myself in my study, getting up from my desk only to eat and sleep. I'd emerge a couple of days later, a bit stinky, but satisfied.
In the beginning, when ATBF was Laurie's News & Views and there were no message boards, it was just me, my books, and email. The columns were shorter and they were different, often irreverant and tongue-in-cheek, and perhaps more fun. I still think there are moments of humor, but they are more serious now, and often more "important." I felt it very necessary, for example, to have the grouping of romance family tree columns written. And when Mary, Jen, and Rachel and I worked to put together the site-wide style poll and re-vamped If You Like... pages, we all believed we were creating something of significance.
Bringing Robin in as co-columnist, and then Anne, has been so wonderful. Collaborating and bouncing ideas off other people helps make the writing process less of a lonely one. It is, after all, rather isolating to live so often in your own head. And the way ideas come can be frustrating. The ideas for this new column, for instance, came in a variety of ways, and at different times, including 1 a.m. when I should have been asleep.
There's often a panic that sets in, usually right after a column goes online when I worry about what to write for the next column. This is another terrific reason for having collaborators. After I'd finished working with Mary, Jen, and Rachel, I told Anne and Robin I needed a breather and that they'd have to do the next column alone. Wouldn't you know...I'd have to stick my own two cents in anyway and wrote my own small segment?
I figure that the 145 columns already written probably amount to 2,000 pages of original material, and when I read on a message board or receive an email from someone new to AAR who has settled down to read the back issues, I'm always surprised because I don't think I could do that - there's just too much. I'm also surprised that there's still stuff to write about after 6 1/2 years and 2,000 pages. Or that reading a romance after having read so many hundreds of romances before can still make me laugh or cry.
Doing this column has always been a labor of love. It reminds me, though, of the drawing classes I took in college. I didn't enjoy the process, but I loved the final results. Drawing was difficult for me - I certainly had less talent than the art majors in the classes, but I did it anyway and created some nice charcoal drawings through two semester's time. Doing that with bad vision required total concentration and focus on my part. Now, I'm told I'm an intense person anyway , but this total effort wiped me out in a similar way I'm wiped out whenever I finish a column. I may grumble before and after, but the final result is always worth it.
TTFN, Laurie Likes Books
(Mostly) Anne Rice and (a Little) Calvin Trillin
I first read Anne Rice in the late-80's, and have read every book she's written. Indeed, her backlist sits with the entire backlist of another author - Calvin Trillin - on a very large bookshelf in my den. Permit me to go off on a tangent about Trillin while he's on my mind. His Tepper Isn't Going Out, a witty take on parking, New York City and an out-of-control mayor, had the unfortunate distinction of being a pre-September 11 satire in a post-September 11th world. If you missed it and have a warped sense of humor, consider Tepper or any of Trillin's other funny books. This was his first novel; his previous humor books are collections of his essays. He's also a dedicated foodie and has written a book or two about eating, as well as two straight non-fiction books - one about his father, and the other about the life and suicide of a man with whom he attended Yale. In another entry I'll tackle Trillin again, but I'd like to get back to Anne Rice now.
I had never read a horror novel before reading Interview with the Vampire; after reading it I was hooked. The Queen of the Damned had just been released, which meant I read Interview, The Vampire Lestat, and Queen in a row, very quickly. I loved the first, thoroughly enjoyed the second, and found the third to be my favorite of the Vampire Chronicles series. My husband, needless to say, was surprised at this gorey turn of events, even more so when I relayed a favorite scene from Queen to him wherein Pandora quite literally picks up her victims, snaps their bones like twigs, and devours them from the inside out.
Of all Rice's books, there's only been one I've never read, even though I tried to get through it not once, but twice. That would be The Feast of All Saints, which Rice describes as: "an historical novel (that) traces the journey of the community of free people of color who were feared and ignored by whites in 1840's New Orleans." I can't say why this book never engaged me; it's not because I don't like her historical fiction because I adored Cry to Heaven, an historical novel about the Castrati in 18th century Italy.
I buy Rice's books in hardcover, even though it's been several years now since I've really enjoyed on of her books. I'm going to list her books and the grades I gave them. I did something similar several years ago at the bottom of my AAR Review of Pandora, but she's had several books released since then. I'll also list her B&D/S&M erotica titles, but without a grade; I'm not sure I know how to assess them because they are so totally bizarre. But, I have read them, even though finding them in Dallas in the late 1980's was no easy feat, particularly as they were published under a pen name.
|Interview with the Vampire||1976||A||Vampire Chronicles #1|
|The Vampire Lestat||1985||B+||Vampire Chronicles #2|
|Queen of the Damned||1988||A+||Vampire Chronicles #3|
|Tale of the Body Thief||1992||F||Vampire Chronicles #4|
|Memnoch the Devil||1995||B||Vampire Chronicles #5|
|The Vampire Armand||1998||D||Vampire Chronicles #6|
|Blood and Gold||2001||D||Vampire Chronicles #7|
|The Witching Hour||1990||A||Mayfair Witches #1|
|Lasher||1993||B||Mayfair Witches #2|
|Taltos||1994||A||Mayfair Witches #3|
|Pandora||1998||B+||New Tales of the Vampires #1|
|Vittorio||1999||D||New Tales #2|
|Merrick||2000||C||New Tales #3|
(related to Mayfair too)
|The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty||1983||Beauty #1|
|Beauty's Punishment||1984||Beauty #2|
|Beauty's Release||1985||Beauty #3|
|The Feast of All Saints||1979||(Never finished)|
|Cry to Heaven||1982||B|
|Exit to Eden||1985|
|Servant of the Bones||1996||B-|
Some final random thoughts on Rice's books. I don't remember which of the first two Mayfair Witch books Catherine Coulter's The Hellion Bride reminds me of, but a scene in Coulter's book where the hero believes he's been drugged and had sex with the heroine in Jamaica is reminiscent of similar scene involving a Dutch (?) member of the Talamasca. If anyone knows the scene I'm talking about, please email me!
I'd like to see her get back to her Mayfair Witches series; Merrick didn't cut it for me. There's been far too much emphasis on Aaron and David and not enough on what made the first and third book in this series so interesting. I know a great many people hated the second in this series (Lasher), but I thought it was good in a gross way, if that makes sense.
Many readers, particularly those who love romance novels, seem to love The Mummy. Her writing has always had a lush romanticism, even at its most gruesome, but I'm afraid I could never get over an ancient Egyptian coming back to life as a blue-eyed hottie.
While I personally enjoyed the religious aspect of Memnoch, Rice didn't know when to stop and it seemed she went on an extended religious bender that was at its worst in Violin and Armand. What's worse is that her writing has become very self-indulgent; Violin, in fact, was an exercise in self-indulgence. I had thought that since Servant of the Bones and Pandora were pretty good, she'd gotten over it, but her four most recent books (Armand, Vittorio the Vampire, Merrick, and Blood and Gold) were disappointing. Marius' tale, in Blood and Gold (2001), was so much less than it should have been that I'm not even sure why I'll be buying Blackwood Farm when it's released...but I will.
TTFN, Laurie Likes Books
My YA Fiction Glom
First was Truth or Dairy, a 2000 release written by Catherine Clark (there's a sequel, released in 2001, entitled Wurst Case Scenario, but I've not read it). I picked up this book on Rachel Potter's recommendation, among others, while at the library with my daughter over the weekend. We'd gone so she could check out the two sequels to Louise Rennison's Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging.
Written in diary format like Snogging, Truth or Dairy, as you can discern from the title, is irreverent. Courtney Von Dragen Smith is about to be a high-school senior who decides to keep a diary after her college-bound boyfriend breaks up with her. Her plan is to go through her senior year boy-free. She's certainly got enough to keep her busy, what with her job at the Truth or Dairy cafÃ©, her friends, and her epileptic dog who keeps running away from home. What can she do about her ex-boyfriend's friends who keep hanging around, particularly Grant ("like-the-lake") Superior, who always seems to be in her face and is much cuter and nicer than he has any right to be? And how does this too-cool-for-school teen end up running for student body vice-president?
Courtney is very believable - she's incredibly self-absorbed, lacks a sense of humor about herself while being fully able to accept the ironies around her, and behaves with a credible amount of disgust and dismay when she discovers a relationship between two people very close to her. Even though she's sworn off boys, her dealings with Tom, the tomcatting student body president who has "hooked up" with every girl but her, are interesting. She doesn't want him, but why hasn't he hit on her? At times Courtney seems world-weary while at others she behaves childishly - in other words, she behaves like most teens do. What works best is that she sounds like a teenager, and has feelings teens really have.
In a diary entry Courtney alludes to previous sexual experience with the ex-boyfriend, so my recommendation is that actual teens as opposed to pre-teens read this one. On the other hand, kissing is about as hot and heavy as the action is in Truth or Dairy. There's a lot to recommend about this book; Courtney's younger brother turns out to be less bratty and more human than younger siblings tend to be portrayed in a lot of YA fiction. Courtney's mother, on the other hand, is a bit too wacky for my tastes, although the sub-plot involving her ends in a nice way. The sub-plot involving her grandparents allows the author to explore the grossness of "old people" having sex, and the book ends on an up beat. My grade for this one is a B-; it would have been higher had there been less focus on her job.
Next up were the three Angus books, the first of which my daughter has read so often the front and back covers have already disintegrated. She checked out books two and three while I checked out the first. I read all three in a 24-hour period. I can see why my daughter loved Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging and I'm sure she'll love On the Bright Side, I'm Now the Girlfriend of a Sex God and Knocked Out by My Nunga-Nungas just as much. I kind of overdosed on them and wish the third had more of an ending than it actually did (I understand it ends as it does because there's a fourth book, only available at this time in the UK), but am glad I read them regardless.
Georgia Nicolson is 14-years-old and lives in suburban England. At the start of the series, her penny-pinching father is unemployed and yells at her for being on the phone. As do all of the characters in this series, he takes things to an extreme, with hilarious results. Her mother, who works in management, doesn't seem to be much of a mother as far as Georgia is concerned; she doesn't cook, and Georgia spends more time taking care of her three-year-old sister than her mom does. Many of the series' funniest moments are derived from Georgia's sister, who refuses to be potty-trained and leaves evidence of her poo-filled diapers in Georgia's room; other items end up in Georgia's bed because her little sister sleeps with her so often. And when she's awake, she often says things extremely embarrassing to her older sister.
Georgia owns an enormous cat named Angus (he's from Scotland) who is half-cat, half-beast, and who terrorizes the people and pets of their neighborhood. Although Georgia is not the prettiest of her friends (she obsesses over the enormity of her nose), she's somewhat of a boy magnet throughout the series; the boy she pays to teach her to kiss ends up dating her, the boy she dates to make her true love (aka the Sex God) jealous falls in love with her, and even though he's too old for her, the Sex God can't stay away. Whether that's because of the growth of her nunga-nungas or her personality is hard to say...maybe it's because she's so good at snogging?
I was intrigued when some of my AAR colleagues referred to Angus as "better than Bridget Jones's Diary." They were right. It's hard to describe what works best about this series of books without giving away moments I'd prefer you to discover and laugh about yourself, but there are many laugh-out-loud moments. The definitions of British words have a distinctly "Georgiaosity" to them, the names and descriptions she and her friends give to people they don't like, and the list she and her gal pals create (and eventually revise) for kissing, petting, and "the full monty" are all priceless. And one line from the third book is so good I have to share it with you here. Although Georgia would rather be home and near the Sex God, she's forced to take a vacation to Scotland with her family. They're in a remote area with absolutely nothing to do (the American equivalent of what my dad liked to call "East Bumf_ck," and Georgia begins riffing on the locals' speech patterns. When she sees the hideousity of their cabin, she says: "You can tak our lives, but you cannae tak our freedom!"
Georgia obsesses about snogging and other intimate things and one of her friends smokes. I wondered what my daughter thought about all the sexual obsessing, which is often funny, particularly when it has to do with her nunga-nungas. What my daughter thought was funny, though, was how ridiculously Georgia's parents are shown to be, and how funny are the antics of her little sister and cat. Of the three books, my favorite was the first, followed by the third, and then the second. Had the third had a conclusive ending, it would have been my favorite. All three are certainly B level reads, extremely creative and funny. As a parent, I cringed at Georgia's lasse faire attitude toward school, but when I lightened up I laughed at all the things she did that got her into trouble.
The final of the five YA books I read was written by Caroline Cooney, author of the three Janie books I mentioned in a previous blogging. Tune in Anytime, originally published in 1999, tells the story of Sophie Olivette's soap opera-ish 16th year. Shortly after Sophie's sister goes to college, she brings home her somewhat older roommate for a visit. Her father falls immediately in love with the young woman and determines to end his marriage to Sophie's mother and to sell their massive house out from under them (and move Sophy and her mom into a small apartment) so that he and the young woman can marry and travel. Her mother, a free spirit who for some reason refuses to accept the reality of the situation, will not fight for her community property rights, allows the young woman to live in her home, and spends all her time planning for a winter solstice ceremony at the "henge" belonging to the Larkman's (owners of the local gravel pit).
Sophy's father is presented as wholly unlikable throughout the book. Even though Sophy's mother comes off as a nut, his selfish attitude made me want to punch his lights out... really. Sophy's selfish sister, Marley, devises her own way to live through the dissolution of her family, leaving Sophy on her own. If not for the Larkman family's essentially "adopting" Sophy and her mother, and for the growing relationship between Ted Larkman and Sophy, this book would have been too depressing to read. Instead it was quirky, depressing, and sweet - all at the same time. And the ending is wonderful. While the other four YA books I've talked about in this blogging are irreverent, Tune in Anytime is serious stuff, but there are some lighter moments that balance the tone of the book.
I believe many women will relate to Sophy on some level. It brought back to me, for instance, the superiority I once felt over my mother for being "just a housewife." While this isn't the issue with Sophy's mom, Sophy's feelings about her mother's simply giving up are reminiscent of how I used to feel about having a mom who played tennis and shopped rather than doing charity or "important" work. And children of divorce will no doubt feel a kinship with Sophy. There's a strong symmetry at work in this book, and Cooney is able to turn black and white into shades of gray in an accessible way. I plan to go back to the library and check out some more of her books. I understand she's written a series of time-travel teen romances...wonder if they're any good?
TTFN, Laurie Likes Books
Anne Rice Question Answered!
Nancy's answer only piqued my interest, though, so I did a bit of searching on Google and found a page that tells the whole story of that scene. Here's the link: http://witches.implicit.net/old/petyr.html. The site in general may be of interest to fans of this series. The main link is http://witches.implicit.net/mayfairs.html.
TTFN, Laurie Likes Books
Just Don't Get It (Am Shaking My Head)
The most recent lie-based rumor that came back to me is based on a statement I've made a couple of times in the past - namely that a publisher, based on an author request, threatened to stop sending books to AAR for review. In both instances when this has occurred, the publisher did not act on the author's request; as a result we continue to receive books for review from all the major publishers. (When I've made these public/semi-public statements, I've made sure I've followed them up with equally public/semi-public statements that the publishers did not act.) And yet, the latest rumor, which had its start in a post by a certain author (I've seen it - spies for AAR are everywhere ), is that because our reviews are so horrible, publishers won't send us books for review, and I must provide them to our review staff myself.
We average 60+ reviews a month. After doing the math, I determined that if this rumor were true, I'd be spending something like $360/month to buy books solely for the purpose of having our review staff trash them. Am I really taking more than $4,000 a year off the money tree in my back yard simply because I want to diss romance authors? Does this compute, Will Robinson?
Perhaps I'm being too harsh on the author; a sentence or so later in her post, she said that she (only) knows of X number of publishers who have written AAR off their distribution lists. Gee, last time I looked, the only publisher that doesn't send us their books has never sent us their books, and that would be Harlequin/Silhouette, which produces roughly 75 books a month and, to my knowledge, only sends copies for review purposes to Romantic Times. And, Harlequinn's single title imprint - MIRA - does send us copies for review.
What's weird about this entire episode is that the author involved in this latest go-round has received several good to excellent reviews from AAR. Whether or not her fans actually have been to AAR to see our horrendously mean-spirited efforts remains unknown. At least one of them does not appear to have ever visited our site because her contribution to the thread is that we've "finally" given the author a grade she deserves (a B) in regards to our most recent review of this author's work. Hmmm... I guess she never saw the other good reviews, namely the two A's and five B's.
There's an overriding irony about this particular author, but if included it, I'd be naming names, something I've vowed never to do in this blog. I was honest up front in saying I reserved the right to whine here, but will never to divulge an author's name when I'm picking on her (which is also why I've removed other identifying facts from this blogging). Still, if you figure it out and want to email me about it, I'd love to hear from you.
TTFN, Laurie Likes Books
Lottery Tickets, Neuroses, & My Tombstone
Part of this authority thing is that I'm neurotic about "doing the right thing." I've been known to say "excuse me" after burping...even when I'm alone in the room. Sometimes this "doing right" goes too far and I become self-righteous - why else would I gleefully fantasize about having the following epitaph on my tombstone: "She never bought a lottery ticket"? So when I read "ADVANCE COPY - NOT FOR SALE" on a book I've been sent to review, I don't trade or resell the book even if I never care to read it again.
When I first started to review, ARC's (advance review copies) were far more limited than they are today. ARC's were available to reviewers and those responsible for ordering books in bookstores/libraries. That has apparently changed in the last year or so, which unfortunately mucks up one part of my job.
Let me explain. AAR has five message boards, and upon occasion, there will be a post on our Reviews Message Board disagreeing with a negative review we've posted even though the book hasn't been released to the general public and won't be released to the general public for a month or two. When this has occurred in the past, it's been a rather reliable red flag that the poster is not simply "Jane Doe," but is somehow connected to the author - either a fellow author, a family member, or a "very special" fan. How else, I've been able to surmise, would that person have been able to read the book when it's not even on sale?
But there's been a change - two actually - and both make my job more difficult in terms of monitoring our message boards for fraudulent content. The first is that many people do trade or sell their ARC's even though it's the wrong thing to do. And, publishers have realized what movie makers discovered after the release of The Blair Witch Project; when buzz bubbles up organically, it can do more for a product than thousands spent in an advertising campaign. What better way to build buzz than to send out advance copies to "regular" readers, who can then spread the word?
Which means that it's more difficult now to judge questionable postings made on books a month or two prior to their release dates. This cuts two ways, though - what to do when a publisher sends out advance copies for a book and a reader doesn't like it? And that's what happened today.
There's a highly anticipated romantic suspense novel being released at the end of November. Last night a reader who'd read an advance copy posted about the book...but the posting was very unflattering. What to do?
The purpose of our message boards is to provide a place for people to talk about books in an informed manner. How informed can a discussion be if a book isn't going to be available for the vast majority of readers for two more months? So I made the decision to remove the thread, and then was reminded - not only by AAR staff but by my own words in another thread earlier this week - that the only reason for deleting a thread is if it violates our posting policies. Unless a post is abusive, libelous, obscene, or indecent, contains advertising, or flames, it cannot and should not be deleted.
And so, even though I believe it does no good to start a thread on a book that most people will not be able to read for two months, I reposted the original message. Was I right or wrong when I first deleted it? Was I right or wrong when I reposted it? I honestly don't know, and my ingrained "right thing" meter didn't help at all. Damn...next thing you know, I'll be buying a lottery ticket.
TTFN, Laurie Likes Books
Changing Rooms is so much better than the American version (Trading Spaces) both in terms of concept and execution. The neighbors actually contribute much more in terms of ideas in the British show, and I like many of the final results - with the exception of most of the rooms designed by Oliver Heath, whom I believe is one granola bar short. Yesterday I watched two pretty terrific rooms that neither couple liked, which was a surprise. In general at least one couple likes the results. While I originally didn't care for LLB's designs, the more I watch, the more I like, chintz suit aside. I believe the best all-round designer has been Graham Wynne; the designer I've often disagreed with - aside from Oliver Heath - is Anna Ryder Richardson. I generally approve of the other designers. If you haven't seen this show, you should watch - it's better than Christopher Lowell and Lynette Jennings.
As for So Graham Norton, this show would never appear on a U.S. broadcast network because it is absolutely raunchy and bizarre. But the host is so tongue-in-cheek, mischevious, and out-and-out gay about it all that I end up screaming in laughter every time I tune in. Even my husband laughs out loud, particularly during the hysterical audience participation segments that start each show. You would not believe what he gets people to confess to about themselves; just last night a young man admitted he used to play a game as a teen wherein he'd...ah, take matters into his own hands, and call for his mother to come up to his room. He'd "win" if he finished transacting business before she came in. The audience and the host broke up, and the man's mother, sitting right next to him in the audience, cracked up as well. She apparently never knew this was going on quite literally under her nose.
What makes the show work is that there's a surprising lack of self-consciousness in the audience, the host...even the guests, whom Norton includes in some hilarious games and discussions. The guests vary from stars of 1980's American TV shows to popular English entertainers, and it's all in good, clean...make that good (only), fun.
Right before writing this blogging, I went to the BBCA's site for this show and played all the video clips; if you have RealPlayer, you can too. I haven't had this much fun since reading the entires in this year's Purple Prose Parody Contest.
TTFN, Laurie Likes Books
TV and Me
- Home and Garden (more for the home than the garden)
- E! (yes, I admit it I'm hooked on sickening Anne Nicole!)
- Comedy Central (Jon Stewart rules! Cartman farts!)
- MTV (until recently I've been a The Real World junkie even as I believe Ozzy's return can't live up to his family's first season; VH1's One Hit Wonders, hosted by the ubiquitous William Shatner is my new music channels' fave)
- A&E (and whatever channel is now running Law & Order re-runs; I'd include The Hallmark Channel, now running Northern Exposure, but their censoring of the show really turned me off)
- The History Channel
- History International
- Biography (but not for celebrity biographies)
- The Discovery Channel
- TV Land
- Nickelodeon (if they had all Cosby, all the time, I'd never tune out)
- The Disney Channel
- SciFi (did I ever tell you about the 12 6-hour tapes I made of the original Twilight Zone?)
That said, there are very few "sit down and watch" shows for me. I'm generally reading, writing, or otherwise puttering while the T.V.'s on. Given the ability of the modern American to "multi-task," I'm sure I'm not unique in being otherwise occupied while watching television.
Other than Everybody Loves Raymond, The King of Queens, Bernie Mac, The West Wing, Law and Order, Survivor (I think this will be the last season I watch), and E.R. (because my husband loves it), we don't regularly watch any prime time broadcast television anymore. To be sure, we enjoy The Simpsons, King of the Hill (I never watched until my daughter discovered these last two), Nightline, The David Letterman Show (the latter two rapidly being replaced by So Graham Norton on the BBCA), Conan O'Brien, and Saturday Night Live, but those are before or after prime time. (Those of you who grew up w/SNL, as I did, might want to look into Tom Shale's Live From New York; I ordered my copy today).
Just the other day my daughter wandered into our bedroom and joined me to watch Anne of Green Gables on some obscure satellite channel. While we watched she told me which scenes actually came from later books and which scenes weren't true to the books at all. Later that night, my husband and I watched HBO's Curb Your Enthusiasm, featuring perhaps the only human being more neurotic than Garry Shandling as Larry Sanders (I'm thrilled that his first season is now out on DVD - and it's true that this show never jumped the shark). When I recently read that the dialogue on Curb Your Enthusiasm is improvised, the show went up yet another notch in my estimation. And before going to bed, I tuned in to a late-night showing of the the Food Network's Good Eats. BTW, I am not our family's cook, but I still love watching cooking shows - while I can talk a good game about technique, it's lucky that my husband loves to cook or we'd go hungry in our house.
While most of our TV watching is of the "flipping" variety, there are certain shows we try never to miss, including The Sopranos, Sex and the City, Queer as Folk (another show I'm not exactly sure why we watch, but we do), The Chris Isaak Show, and Arli$$, the latter because my husband is the only human being on planet Earth to actually love it, something I've seen confirmed in any number of magazine articles.
Now back to where I started - the season opener for E.R.. I could have gone my whole life without seeing Dr. Romano's arm being sliced off by the blade of a helicopter. Really and truly. I find that show so incredibly depressing week after week that I only force myself to watch it because my husband watches it religiously. And so, at some point each Thursday between 9 and 10 p.m., I turn to my husband and ask, "Tell me again...why do we watch this show?"
TTFN, Laurie Likes Books