Wednesday, October 8, 2014

REVIEW: Real by Katy Evans (2013)

Welcome to another edition of "Sometimes I read the new shit..."

When I turn off my filter and turn into an unapologetic snarky jerk, I get more "likes" on Goodreads. Some would say that's sad and unprofessional and whatever, but I'm not in the business of being professional. If you've chanced across this blog before, you'll have quickly noticed that I am simply another asshole with an opinion on the internet.

I wouldn't have it any other way, honestly.

Anyway, this one currently has 88 likes. The sequel, Mine, has 86. These two reviews exhausted me when I wrote them. In fact, after composing the Mine review, I lost my reviewing mojo and still haven't really recovered. All this brilliance I've posted in the last 24 hours is playing catch-up from the past year plus of being a slacker at blog maintenance.

This book was the first deep wound. Mine was the killing stroke. But there's a happy ending for me occasionally delving into the New Adult Shit. I decided to embrace the madness if it's shamelessly trashy enough. There's one author who delivers on that.

But before getting ahead of myself, this crapburger.

REVIEW: Slave of Passion by Katherine Tobias (1978)

★1/2

The wide-open promise of a book that has no ratings or reviews on Goodreads....the optimism is boundless...and then it all bites you on the ass with sharp incisors of disappointment.

If any book needed a bit more flesh on its bones, it's this one. There was plenty of potential here, but the author simply didn't go the distance to making the book really soar - or at least be teeth-sinkingly meaty. Which is a real shame since both female protagonists were pretty kickass with spines of steel. They deserved a better story.

The Plot:
Ravena is the daughter of an Ashanti slave and a slave she slept with the night before he died on the gallows. When her mother dies at her birth, Ravena is immediately adopted as a toy doll by the bratty plantation owner's daughter and they - along with the brat's cousin Jonathan - grow up together. Ravena and Jonathan fall in love - or what Ravena hopes is love - but Jonathan falls down on that BIG TIME in later years. Ravena finds love again, but she's not destined for anything resembling long-lived happiness. When fortunes take a turn for the worse on the plantation, Ravena decides she's going to go balls to the wall and ditch her lousy existance as a slave for good.

Thoughts:
Tobias' heart seems like it was in the right place, but she's no writer. First, the plot is bare bones and jumps and leaps around by months and years, making the characters' growth go in fits and spurts, the changes in which get glossed over with a few words of explanation. So much telling. A chapter ends and by the start of the next one, three years have gone by and So-and-So has either died or turned into a complete asshole.

Also, Tobias has notes on those 3x5s and she's going to use them. Historical nuggets and observations are dumped in the middle of the narrative by an omniscient narrator who preaches historical context like woah. The parenthetical explanation of how the War of 1812 began and ended was the worst example of a maddening tendency. When a factoid got awkwardly tossed into the flow of things, I felt like I was reading a Beverly Jenkins romance. Except, to Tobias' credit, her two heroines were more interesting than anything Jenkins has ever written.

The ending is left on a hugely uncertain, rushed note, which was disappointing. I'm kinda at a loss to know just what Tobias intended with her novel. The didactic parts read like a book for young adults. The rape is definitely for adult eyes. The rest of the odd writing could be anything.

It fell short, which bums me out because that's some dramatic font on the cover.

REVIEW: A Different Flame by Marjorie Bitker (1976)

★1/2

SPOILERS LURK AHEAD....

What was good about this? Well, it took me 14 freakin' days to read it, and yet I never wanted to bail on it. So even if it didn't exactly hook me and blow me away with riveting awesomeness and a case of the hyper-fuzzies, at least it kept me engaged in a way that was a rung above "Meh. 'tevs." However, I still wanted to bundle up all the characters and take them out to the wood chipper.

The story opens with semi-famous doctor/scientist Elizabeth receiving a letter from Tony Westfall, an urgent plea for her to come because something Terrible and Tragic is happening. Her reaction is that even though she's now a Free Woman Out From Under His Spell, she calls off her long-awaited vacation from the university science lab and rushes to his side. Because that's what strong professional women do.

As she trots off to the Westfall manse, there's an extended flashback of how Things Came To Be. Tony is an ex-dorm roommate of Elizabeth's dad and a controversial socially-conscious poet, and the 30-something dazzles the socks off a 12-year old Elizabeth. For the next 10 years, she never talks to him again, but she stalks his every move and poem in the newspapers and finally manages to finagle another meeting by having him lecture to her Poetry Club in college. She has it all imagined out how their meeting will go (he will be bowled over by her poetical genius when he peruses her portfolio, natch), but instead she becomes a huge third wheel when Tony slaps eyes on her fey, too-delicate-for-this-world roommate Lilias. Tony gives her poems a "Well, ain't those cute but they suck" and then proceeds to drool all over Miss Oriental Mysticism Poseur.

One would think that Elizabeth would grow out of this kind of infatuation with such a bucket of cold water tossed in her face. However...

REVIEW: Magnolia Landing by Jessica Manning (1986)


★1/2

You know what ruined this?


If you're one of those who adore antics by tots exploring the mysteries of life in a world of adults, then it probably wouldn't bug you in the slightest. But whenever I saw the names Denis, Fleur and Blanche, I cringed and wondered what twee shit was in store.

The scenes with them were so jarring, considering what surrounds them. The adult storylines include rape, voodoo, physical and mental abuse, murder, suicide, and more - so when our trio of intrepid rugrats barge in every so often to solve the mystery of "The Ghost of Magnolia's Landing" with their Hardy Boys box-top Sleuth Kit, it really harshed my lolzy trash factor buzz. (And the mystery resolution was crap, just in case you were wondering.)

Barring that, the adult-centric plot kept me entertained, even if it veered off into Sloppy Pacing land occasionally. I think the main fault was that there were too many characters. TONS. I can name three that had no bearing on the main plot whatsoever. Get rid of their asses and, even if it would have diminished the trash factor (violet-plaited pubes, namely), the story wouldn't have swerved all over the road like it did.

REVIEW: Woman Patient by Jim Layne (1965)



Dr. Richard "Dick" Grant is a specialist in female internal medicine. Maybe his goals were noble when he embarked on his career but when the book opens, he's already in a downward spiral of administering to some of his more chronic patients with his tumescent asklepian rod. His wife Elaine is fed up with his bed-bouncing and wants to have it out with Dick's latest succubus, Mabel, who calls him at all hours of the night with phony emergency calls. But Elaine soon falls into the sack with Mabel's stepson, randy 17-year old Arthur, and then finds herself fending off the advances of pater Parks. Meanwhile, Dick has his hands full with the breasts of his poverty-stricken charity patient Maria and his Girl Friday nurse Phyllis.

High density smut, but not in the jackoff porn style. I actually got into the story, in between all the earthquake and volcano climaxes and boob-squeezing. How would it all end? Would our troubled couple finally reconcile?? Believe it or not, I wanted to find out.

It's always interesting to see the different styles of vintage erotica and how the story survives or suffers. This one was pretty successful, though not high art in any way, shape, or erectile form. 

I'm still unsure if "Jim Layne" is male or female. The writing is such that it's a tough call.

REVIEW: Dynasty of Desire by Carol Carmichael (1984)



Spoilers ahoy but, really, folks...I'm doing y'all a favor.

I have looked into the writing abyss, and the writing abyss looked back at me. O__o

It didn't take me long to realize that "Carol Carmichael" (she/he of the lone author credit and, after having read it, no wonder) had a style with which I was very familiar. Peering through the misty veil of time, back to the year when Norman Schwarzkopf and The Scud Stud were the wartime pinups of the day, I wrote reams of Carmichaelesque prose in spiral notebooks. And I thought it was fucking brilliant.

Every word was gold! Every mundane thought and action of no importance was absolutely vital to the story! I loved my characters and thought everything they said or did was absofuckinglutely fascinating. Conversations that had no point and no end were no problem! They were my characters talking! That was the whole point.

I think you get the idea, and I believe any teenager who ever decided to write has been there. It's part of the writing process. Get all the crap out of your system so that you can focus on what is really important in your story and about your characters. Even if you aren't aware of the process at the time, you recognize its worth later. Anywho, someone decided this Grade A candidate for The Dusty Editorial Slush Pile was a winner, and so we have a brick of blah with a rather acceptable cover. It's not gorgeous (the bearded dude ruins the great giant floaty heads effect), but it's way more than the story deserves.

Ulysses Cade comes back from the Civil War with only one leg. For the record, that's the only historical context you're going to get, and it's all over before the end of Chapter 1. For the next 530 pages, the only way you know this is a historical is because people ride horses and drive buggies. It's the wallpaperiest wallpaper I've read in ages.

REVIEW: Falconhurst Fancy by Kyle & Lance (1966)


★1/2

Oh goody goody! It's another Falconhurst book!



I picked this up in a perverted fit of pique after some Random Person on the Internet posted a comment that I was basically a horrible person for reading this genre and giving it the name of "plantation porn" because it was "romanticizing rape."

Not to get defensive or anything, but:
1) I'll read what I like;
2) I'll call it what I like;
3) exploitative pulp has a long literary tradition of infinite variety and dubious taste; and
4) Go Away.

But I really have to thank my troll for pushing me to read the next installment in this grand saga of WTF because they are some of the best pulpy trash that's ever been written and this one had something extra that the previous three lacked: a central female protagonist. So Troll gets a cookie.

The burning question I had when I got started was: What does Lance Horner bring to the table this time? To my knowledge, Onstott died before it was finished, so his erstwhile collaborator stepped in and wrapped it up. What Horner did was make the finale a nail-biter right to the very last page.

It takes awhile for the book to catch up to the back cover description. There's no buying of a pure black stud from the Falconhurst breeding farm until the 75% mark. Until then, we get the patented leisurely Falconhurst drama of people holding apostrophe orgies with their dialogues, random petty bickering and sneaky intrigues, talk about what makes good slaves, people wandering back and forth between plantations on business or pleasure, etc. I'll be damned if I can explain how I've found this rather slow pacing and action so fascinating over the course of four books. I've given up. It's the Falconhurst mystique. If it grabs you once, it won't let go.

REVIEW: Cleopatra's Daughter by Andrea Ashton (1979)

★1/2

I kept my eye on this one for a long time before purchasing because it was HTF and pricey ($15 and over), so when I found a $5 copy, I jumped on it. Now you can get it for pennies. *sigh* It was still worth what I paid for it, though.

Even though this clocks in at 500 pages, the story itself is pretty slight. However, the writing is fluid with an easily digestible first-person narration so the pages fly by, even though the main character is a dolt that I wanted to throttle more often than not.

Cleopatra Selene is dragged to Rome in chains alongside her brother Ptolemy. Caesar Augustus displays them in his triumph but mercifully decides not to have them executed. Ptolemy is put into the care of Caesar's sister Octavia and Selene is given in marriage to the exiled Juba of Numidia as a kind of prize for good behavior. Since Selene is still very young, Juba won't touch her and takes a mistress from his own country. Unfortunately that leaves Selene to her own devices, and that means her driving ambition to reclaim Egypt puts her in the middle of political intrigue in which she is unknowingly the pawn, all the while thinking she's calling the shots.

Selene's a moron, but I couldn't hate her for it. She wasn't of great interest to either of her parents (Antony & Cleopatra) and she's got a real chip on her shoulder to prove her worth to her dead mother. That leads her to believe the wrong men and give her heart to those totally unworthy of it because the only thing she can see is the goal of wresting the Egyptian crown from Roman control. She's blind to everything else. Naturally she has happiness right in the palm of her hand with Juba, but she insists on throwing it away, spitting on it, and kicking it around any chance she gets. 

REVIEW: Texas Rapture by Jalynn Friends (1983)



Note: This review contains spoilers. But it's a rather crappy and dull Zebra, so unless you're diehard spoiler-avoidant, you can probably keep reading without losing a wink of sleep. :P

I can't get enough of The Big Misunderstanding. There's nothing I love more than a 450+ page book where the hero and heroine absolutely refuse to talk to each other or make flailing assumptions and the wrongest conclusions about the dumbest shit ever.

It makes for such a riveting read...in that I want to pound white-hot rivets into the characters' eyeballs. Or mine. YMMV.

Laura Karell comes home just in time for her dad to die and discover he's left her and her sister in debt. Logan Mack, the penis of this story, has shown up at the same time to see about taking over the Karell land in Texas that borders his spread. Luckily for him, it's insta-lurve between him and Laura and they fall into each others' arms when Laura's all grief-stricken and crap. He and the sisters head off to Texas.

Laura's got her Big Secret: her ex-fiance is one Clay Westmoreland. And Logan's got his Big Secret: his sister was married to Clay and during a fight between Clay & Logan, the sister got shot and killed. Despite being in a tiny-ass little town, Logan's secret (which everyone knows) doesn't make its way to Laura's ears at all in the months she's there semi-engaged to Logan. Not a single person comments to her about Logan's twagic guilt-ridden past.

REVIEW: Delta Flame by Marilyn Ross (1978)



There wasn't much to this story and it can be summed up thus:

Ellen Price comes to New Orleans with her father and sister for an engagement at a new theatre. Ellen catches the eye of Creole Philip Baudier, eventually marries him, and the marriage is haunted by his past wife and his current mistresses.

Rocks fall; everyone dies.

Well, almost.

WTF, Dan Ross? Where was the bodice ripping? Where was the goffick stuff?

At 448 pages, I was expecting a lot of craziness - or at least quite a bit - to make the plot rocket along at top speed, but it was slow and deathly dull for vast stretches. Dan barely gave me anything to sink my teeth into.