Tuesday, May 15, 2007

"The Haunted" Should Be Hunted Down...And Shot!

As Insane Clown Posse once said, "I'm back like scoliosis."

Did you miss me? Quit lying. You don't even know I'm here. If anyone does read this, please let me know. I'm starting to feel like I'm wasting my time. Oh, that's right, that's what I'm doing by reading these books.

Speaking of books, we have a real winner for today's posting. And, sorry, but I'm only scanning the front of the books from now on. Really, I mean, if you're interested in reading any of these (God help your poor soul!), the cover should sell you on them. What's behind the cool covers is gravy.

Today's gem is called The Haunted. Hmmm. There's puns to be had there, but this thing sucked most of the life right out of me. Not that it's bad. Well, it is. It sucks. But in a good way, kinda like that nerd who couldn't figure out what to do with his wang, but had overdeveloped lips from sucking on Mountain Dew bottles during those marathon role-playing fests. Ooh, too much information? Like there's anyone reading this. And, yes, I've slept with a couple of true nerds.

Forest (Run, Forest, run!) is Vietnam, fighting the VC, and he hasn't heard from his near-child bride Marcy (If you think that's best, Sir.) in nearly six months. So he asks his recluse sister, Jennifer, to check up on the wayward bride. She arrives at the house of Marcy's aunt and uncle, where she finds a bloated, catatonic Marcy and an evil uncle Horace.

Keeping up? Good. Doing better than I did. It seems Marcy has gone bonkers and her high-strung relatives are loading her down with sedatives to keep her under control until she can tell them what happened to drop kick her off the deep end. There are veiled threats and a creepy, stone-faced neighbor sneaking about. There are undertones of rape and various other types of abuse. There are boneheaded choices made. Oh, and it wouldn't be a gothic romance without the romance, right? It makes a shockingly out-of-place appearance in the last three pages. I kid you not.

The whole thing has the air of sleazy movie shot on a lunch-money budget, but, for some reason, I kept envisioning Bruce Willis as the menacing Uncle Horace. Get Tarantino to direct, and Bruce would be onboard for this cheese fest. But is it worth reading? Yeah. Definitely. It wasn't cluttered with romance. Tons of vague evil. And the whacked out Aunt Elna, well, you just have to read this thing to believe what she is like.
So, here's hoping that my next posting isn't as far inbetween. But you have to cut me some slack. I can't read this drivel ALL the time, even if I do love it. I had to recenter my literary tastes. But I'm back in the groove for trash once again.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Why Don't They Just Shut Up?

It's been a little while. Not that anyone's been missing me. But I find strange comfort in my ramblings here. Some day, when there are Net archeologists, my scribblings will be found and perhaps I'll be written about. Until then, it's just you and me, folks.

Up on the chopping block this time is a little novel called The Silence Of Herondale. Young woman failing at being much of anything (a role model!!) seeks employment as the nanny to a brilliant child author. Before we can even get past the introductions, someone is playing games with dear sweet Deborah as it would seem she is accused of stealing jewelry that she knows she did not steal.

Well, early intrigue and mystery gives way to alternating between the young charge, by the likely name of Careen, being vaguely ill and witty, literate chats amongst the characters. A car is tampered with and things that wouldn't frighten Nancy Drew abound. Apparently, the author felt the heroine should be a bit of a lame git.

Should you read this? Nah, this one is a skip unless you dig pointless plots. I mean, I pushed through it quickly enough, so if you find it and have nothing better to do, help yourself. But, unless you have become obsessed with landing gothics for the sake of owning them, go read some David Sedaris, or his sister Amy's new book on entertaining.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Shadows, Smoke and Mirrors

Once more into the gothic realm we wander. This time, our choice morsel is a "Queen-Size Gothic". Frankly, I have never crawled into anything "queen-size" other than a bed. Not that I'd badmouthing queen-sized women (have you ever heard of a man being "queen-size" except maybe the late Divine?), because I think I could stand to have some meat on my bones, but that is grounds for another posting elsewhere.

Shadow Of A Man takes to the fertile ground of the post-Civil War South as your proper young heroine leaves her Northern schooling to return to the family plantation now that her father is dead. But the poor girl can't seem to catch a break. On the riverboat taking her to the port nearest her home, some cad attempts to plonk her bustled ass into the paddle wheel. A handsome gent saves her at the last moment and...well, it doesn't take Norman Mailer to figure out where this is headed.

A seriously hot but dangerous fellow hounds her every step, doing his best to woo her as well as prize the family property from her grasp. She resists, deciding to return the plantation to its former grand state. But one day, while nosing around in New Orleans, she swears that man walking away from her is her father. Is she going mad? Is it a plot by our devious dark hottie? Will anyone die just to spice things up?

There are the usual balls and cotillions, women in large dresses sweeping up and down winding staircases, men pulling said women to their firmly muscled chests and a dark secret that could shatter the lives of our heroine and hero. Okay, that last bit was melodramatic, which this book never is. Really. No, my nose isn't growing longer. Quick, look over there.

Good for what it is, but it isn't much. I can see this as a costume drama on Lifetime Network. Not that I'd see it on there. If they don't have Judith Light chewing up the scenery, I can't bear to watch that channel. Like they referred to it on Family Guy: "Lifetime--Television for idiots".

I'll try to find one with some serious mental qualities next time. Until then, I'll keep trying to live life according to the ideals of the gothic heroines. Now if only I could find a hunky guy with a firm chest to cleave to.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Sea Foam And B.S.

One of the things that attract me to the gothic romances is the fact a number of them read like loony movies. Villians, heroes, damsels, all sorts of crap being thrown at you. Fun stuff.

Today's choice is like a cheese-ball flick straight out of the Fifties, when they could still churn out movies on a nickel budget and expect a reasonable return on the investment. The Hungry Sea is not only structured like a Grade-Z flick, but it is written like one as well. I mean, the copyright is for Arcadia House, which was publishing firm, so in spite of the fact Leslie Ames has her name on the cover, it is a good bet that this was a piece of fluff ground out by an in-house writer to fill the backstock for that month. (Holy crap, what the hell did I just write? Don't trust my opinions; I'm just pulling this stuff out of my butt.)

The story, well, it's a mess. Ann runs away from a bad situation to start fresh by working with a doctor to compile his notes into a book. Before she can even get to the doctor's house, she ends up in a bar where she is warned by a handsome stranger (God, where are these guys when I go into a bar?) that working with the doctor is sure to cause problems. Well, of course the doctor is creepy, like one of the freaky scientists from Jonny Quest. And then there is the weird female assistant and the pale young girl who clings to the new helper.

The doctor's wife died under unusual circumstances. The handsome stranger turns out to be related to the doctor. Boats crash, the ocean surges, and breasts heave. And let's not forget the weird experiments in the lab. Could our plucky heroine become one of them?

Dig this little paragraph:

"Adele is dead," I interrupted. I explained how she had been gulped by the sea.

Okay. "Gulped"? I'm at a loss for words here, but you can see what I meant about this things is written as cheesy as the the story itself is.

And it just ends. I won't tell you how, in case you find yourself trapped in some Outback shack waiting to be butchered and have only this book to read. But the characters talk you to death to vaguely wrap up the loose ends, and then it stops. Like the writer just decided they had hit the required word count and didn't want to put in that extra effort to actually END the stupid thing.

Needless to say, I loved it. It made me smile for a week, and EVERYBODY got to hear about this during that week. Lost a lot of street cred. Well, I never had any to begin with, but....

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Aimless Rambling

I am amazed at how hard it is to find gothics in used bookstores. Actually, it is quite depressing. The town where I live -- phrrrrpppptttttttt!!!!!!!!!! Zilch. Nada. And eBay? Oh, my god, forget it. The folks charge more for shipping than they do for the item itself. Theft is one word I could use to describe that behavior, but I'm not cause people are big whiny babies who want to claim offense when you even look in their direction. Waa waa waa!!!

So, you'll notice there is no artwork with this posting. Sorry to disappoint. Well, not that I'm disappointing anyone except myself. No one reads this blog. Who cares? You want political commentary, look elsewhere. Who wants to spend all their time keeping up with that insanity any way? Okay, I will go so far as to say that everyone pointing fingers at whatever political party is opposite them in this whole Foley scandal does not get it. We are talking the violation of young folks, even if it is an IM. I get a pervvy IM, and I block them. Still, we're talking about Foley, a person who was supposed to be a role model and hopefully hold himself to a higher standard. Well, he was probably holding himself, and that's all. It doesn't matter what party is doing what for whatever reason. Worry about the pages who put up with this crap. THAT is where the concern should be. Of course, as Confucius supposedly said, "When a finger points at the Moon, an imbecile looks at the finger." Quit looking at the finger, politicians!!!!!!!!!!

Okay, so much for trying to live up to the gothic heroine's standard of ethics. I got really petty with a co-worker. She sits at her desk and eats most of the day. That's fine. But those first few chews of anything crunchy are always done open mouth. It is what my mom would call "chomping your food". I've been tolerating it for days and days, but it got to the point it was like a jack hammer on my head. I snapped. Well, as much as I'm able to snap. I prairie-dogged out of my work area and said, "For the love of all that keeps me from screaming, please close your mouth before you start chewing. Sorry if I'm being a bitch." She muttered, "Okay." She hasn't eaten anything at her desk since, which is fine for me, but she also hasn't said a single word to me. Oh well. She doesn't realize how close I came to pitching my coffee mug at her.

So, I'm dashing about in my snuggly long knitted cardigan the other day. I love the thing, found it in a Goodwill store and it didn't hardly smell. Anyway, now that it has gone from toasty to frigid, I live in the thing. I'm really prone to getting utterly lost in things, like reading. I'm in this bookstore (no names, please) looking through this book on the whole punk history. I'm enjoying the pictures and scanning the text. I felt like I was in the middle of a documentary. I vaguely notice my cardigan move, but I'm in the middle of what they like to call a power aisle, and there are people zipping around me, stirring up a healthy breeze and all, so I don't give it much thought. Then I felt something touch my thigh and a warm breath near the hem of my skirt. I slamed my knees together and felt a rather satisfying smoosh. I looked down to see this little boy, maybe two or three if he was lucky, fall to the floor. He looked up at me, and I could see the eruption of screaming building. I dropped the book next to him and walked away as quickly as I could. I must have cleared three aisles before the scream hit, and I had to wince. It cut right through my head. Guilt maybe? Nah. I just wondered what I smooshed between my knees, and if the boneheaded parents of the junior perv would believe the bruising came from that big coffee-table book falling on his little pointed head.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Ah, Sweet Devil

Now that I've taken great pains to explain the reason for liking gothics, it is time to start introducing you to them, one book at a time.

We start with one of the more outlandish titles I've read. Lord Satan by Janet Louise Roberts (but whose copyright lists a name of "Louisa Bronte," which makes you wonder if she truly is related to those wacky sisters of old).

Most gothics deal with supernatural material, but like most episodes of "Scooby Doo," the truth is that people are either under the influence of something (drugs, poison, paint chips or massive guilt combined with a touch of crazy) or they are just plain up to no good. This novel, barely larger than a novella, actually offers up not just one devil but two. Well, technically, three, but that would be spoiling things if I explained.

You have your basic set up here. Beautiful, young, innocent girl, suddenly alone in the world, discovers she has a distant relative, in this case a cousin. She travels to his castle. He is handsome and brutal, and our chaste heroine doesn't understand why her underthings get damp when cousin Vincent whips and curses some poor servant. Before you can ignore the vague incest element (Oh, come on! We ARE talking about Victorian Europe here, for the love of God!!), our perky, sickeningly sweet character stumbles upon a Satanic mass with nude women and bloodletting. What has she gotten herself into?!? But she seems to forget the next day when her rugged cousin talks to her and wiggles his eyebrows at her.

Soon she is falling for this lout and trying to change his ways. Still fairly typical of this sort of thing. Oh, I forgot to mention Vincent's dearly departed mommy keeps popping up to chat with our heroine about how to run the house and how to remove ring around the collar. Toss in slaughtered girls on the moors, rumors about Vincent's status amongst the townspeople, Vincent's growing love for his dear cousin and the admission he is half-devil.

Hang on. Did you just say, Vincent is a half-devil? Yup. A real cinder of the old block because Daddy was a full-blooded devil. No, really, you aren't misreading this. Devils. Magic powers. Chats with Satan. Cavorting with denizens of the Underworld. Yes, a devil.

And now this dirty devil wants to marry our poor sweet God-fearing girl.

This could be a sitcom. The scenes in which the Devil Daddy comes to have dinner with his half-breed son and his blonde squeeze are loopy and funnier than they were meant to be. The catch phrase could be "Vincent! You got some damning to explain."

Okay, I'll let up. Is this any good? Well, at 159 pages, there isn't enough time to find a lot to bitch about. It moves fast enough. And it almost seems like the story is nearly beside the point because the author obviously liked the characters, and she almost lets them overpower the story. Our plucky heroine maintains her sense of purpose and shows her loyalty and devotion by the time you reach the end, so she doesn't leave a completely bad taste in your mouth.

Verdict: Not as fun as a TMX ELmo, but good for a quick read.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

The End Of Definition

When I refer to "classic" gothics, I do not mean the seminal works by Walpole or Radcliffe. (Ah-HA! You thought I was an airhead who knows nothing about literature, didn't you?) And the volumes I intend to extoll the virtues of are not the near-literary cousins written by Wilkie Collins and the like. No, no, I mean to wallow happily in the formulaic deluge of titles that were so popular from the 50's through the mid-70's. They were pumped out with the intention of hitting the pressure points with equal parts of scares, hinted-at sex and good-natured violence.

Are the heroines smart? Not terribly. In fact, even when faced with clearly presented evidence, they often ignore warning signs and stumble directly into more trouble.

Are the stories and situations realistic? Well, in a general way, yes, but, mostly, no. I can't vouch for how women acted or felt they HAD to act in the early days before liberation began, so a woman cleaving to the firm chest of a man ruling her life sounds like so much bullshit to me. However, I have to benefit of being alive today and not back in 1837 or whenever.

Do they even attempt to present women in a positive light at all? Yes, definitely. Sure the heroine is occasionally saved by the big strong man, but she is usually the one who roots out the trouble and imperils herself to discover the mystery. Most, but not all, heroines in gothics tend to exhibit the finer qualities of virtue, honor, loyalty and persistance in the face of adversity. That's more empowering than reading about stupid chickie-chicks sleeping with their bosses, co-workers, emotionally-bankrupt guys while wondering why their lives are such utter shit. (Hello, Bridget Jones!! Braindead damn book that I, with total disgust, launched across the room while feeling insulted by it.)

I love gothics because I completely accept the level of silliness in which I am about to immerse myself. I don't read them to exorcise some inner demon. I don't look to them to answer any of life's questions. I don't expect to see myself or my peers reflected in the characters. Basically, its like watching an Adam Sandler movie, but without having to see him do his typical schtick that makes me want to throw up a little in my mouth.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

'Ere Now. What's All This, Then?

Given my stated dislike of romance novels, what I'm about to say might just sound like I'm contradicting myself.


(Here after, gothic romance novels shall be called "gothics," as opposed to "Gothics," meaning people who celebrate an alternative view of life)

Actually, the term "romance" in "gothic romance" is mostly not there except as a vague underlying motivation for the main character. Oh, and don't even get me started on the phrase "romantic suspense". It smacks of political correctness (even though it was used decades ago). Some things just cause me to have blind rages. That phrase and cell phones are two such things.

Why such love to a genre that has, in the last five-plus years, fallen prey to non-stop werewolf/vampire sex orgies? Not that you care (but if you are reading this, you must or you're damned nosy or bored), but I find the gothics to be like fairy floss (an old term for cotton candy) -- insubstantial, but delightful while it lasts. No reasonable person should ever approach a gothic with the thought that reality exists anywhere between the covers of the book, and that is THE liberating element. You accept, before reading, the chance for thrills and chills and nothing more. If the book fails even these low expectations, then you toss it aside and move on.

Most of the traditional gothics should be looked upon as print versions of either old Universal period horror films or, perhaps more accurately, the period horror films from Italy and Spain that seemed to flood theaters back in the 60's and 70's. They both have all the trappings of a fine gothic: remote locations, spooky castles or manors, elaborate clothes, sinister characters and an incredible lack of logic.

(Next time, I'll finish my little explanation justifying this blog. And another pretty picture as well.)

Monday, October 02, 2006

Nice To Meet You

Hi, I'm Rowena. Just your average book fiend with a purpose. Let's get started.

Even if it might be bad form, let me start by saying this: I hate romance novels. I'm not going to belittle the people who do read them, and I definitely won't badmouth the bulk of the people who write them. At least the readers are reading, and some of the writers make some serious money. Both can be VERY good things.

That being said, I base my dislike of the romance novel (Trust me when I say that this IS leading somewhere.) on the many I have read, from the Harlequin monthlies to the juicy thick "chick lit" types. (My general ambivalence to "chick lit" in general is a subject for another blog, which I won't take the time to create.) While the actual writing styles of of various romance authors can be very good, I find my main argument stems from the main character being mostly unrealistic. Actually, if I knew people who acted as stupidly as some of these "realistic" heroines do, I'd never invite them along for Drink Night. Bad choices are one thing, but compounding a known bad choice by continuing to make bad choices is neither insightful nor humorous. Going into further detail would alter this topic into a sociological discussion that has no place here. (Note To Self: Here's another idea for a blog I won't be developing.)

Suffice to say, most romance novels, in spite of their technical quality, paint unrealistic images of my gender, and I can't support that.

(Next time, I'll bore you with the whole point of this blog, AND I'll add some images, just to spice things up.)