-One plucky, down-on-her-heels heroine making a new start? Check. Betts Winston dropped out of law school and slunk home to help her grandmother run her country cooking school. Why she dropped out is never explained, but it's implied that Betts just wasn't fulfilled as a law student and only found peace and meaning when she came home to find herself in tiny Broken Rope, Missouri. Fulfillment is the go-to excuse for these cozies when the author needs to explain why Our Hero(ine) decides to leave the big city and settle in a town that time forgot. It's more glamorous than admitting that the plot mule to which our narrative wagon is hitched for the next three hundred pages was an incredible dullard who couldn't hack their chosen career path and washed out after a semester-and-a-half to live with their disappointed parents, who aren't even getting rent out of the deal.

In this case, Betts is the school's resident gofer, though she tries to dress it up by saying she's her grandmother's assistant. Assistant. Uh huh. She stocks shelves, cleans, and does some half-assed shopping, and even those arduous duties fall by the wayside as she "investigates" the mystery at hand. However will her seventy-eight-year-old grandmother--who does all of the actual teaching and student evals--survive without her incalculable contributions?

-One cantankerous secondary character designed to act as an anchor and/or font of homespun wisdom to be spouted forth when the heroine gets insufferably boring? Check, and boy, does this character get a workout, because Betts is bland as institutional gruel. Gram, a.ka Missouri Winston, a.k.a Miz is Betts' crusty, septuagenerian grandmother who runs the cooking school. She's set in her ways and feisty and, according to Betts anyway, the best cook EVER. We'll just have to take her word for it, though, because the only time we see her cook, she sets a chicken breast on fire and nearly burns down the kitchen when she doesn't immediately call the fire department. But totally the best cook. The best.

Because this is a cozy mystery and we have to have a reason for Our Heroine to get involved in the plot and take center stage, Gram is arrested for murder when her friend, Everett turns up dead in the school supply closet. Thus, it's up to Betts to don the cape and save the day. Oh, goody.

-One hunky love interest for which Betts can pine? Check. As a bonus, the hunky love interest is Betts' first love, Cliff Sebastian, The One Who Got Away, and he's also the new deputy, which means he'll be shoehorned into the plot at every opportunity and thereby produce ample grist for Betts' overworked and unceasing angst and self-pity mill, whose machinery should be smoking from gross overuse thirty pages in but somehow chugs along for another two hundred and thirty. You lucky reader, you.

On his own, Cliff would be a good character, a bit one-note, maybe, but this is a cozy mystery, not Othello and one note can make a delightful ditty in skilled hands. Alas for us, Cliff isn't allowed to exist or act beyond Betts' petulant pining or the lens through which she sees him. Despite the fact that Betts left him, and that ten years have elapsed since their last contact, Betts pouts like a preteen when she learns that poor Cliff had the audacity to build a life for himself without her in it. He's married? OH, NOES! HOW CAN SHE CONTINUE TO LIVE IN THE SAME TOWN WITH HIM WHEN HER HEART HAS BEEN POISONED BY THIS KNOWLEDGE!!! He might've had children? OH, GOD, THE SELFISH, UNRELENTING CRUELTY OF IT. WHAT HAS HER LIFE BECOME?

Bear in mind that Betts is thirty years old and has dated several men since their doomed love affair. But never mind that. Somehow, the fact that Cliff moved on with his life is a horrible betrayal. Apparently, Betts, a grown woman ostensibly living in the really world, honestly believed that the man she cast aside in pursuit of her dreams all those years ago would wait for her. This isn't inference, by the by. She says this to her brother at one point(we'll get to him later). And she believes it. I just-

Look, I'm all about the One Twu Wub trope. I've written it. It's emotional catnip for me, and I don't blame anyone who eats it up with a double-fisted spoon. But I've never seen a lovelorn character resent the object of their desire for daring to have a life once they were pushed aside. Yet here we see it on full display and without apology. A grown woman acts like a ten-year-old eno queen at the merest hint that her lost love isn't drinking his life away without her lurve to nourish his languishing soul. It's jarring and repulsive, and as relieved as I was when it was revealed that Cliff was divorced, and that the little girl in his company was his niece, I was also angry because that meant Betts' creepy, inappropriate mooning and stropping was going to be rewarded.

And it is, of course. By the story's end, we learn that Cliff never really loved his wife and has been holding a torch for Betts for all these years. She's pettish, judgmental, stupid as a box of hair, and mercurial. What wouldn't crank up a guy's rheostat? Methinks that two years from now, Cliff will be headed across the county line in that patrol car of his to hide from the paranoid succubus who thinks he's flirting with every woman in town, and who wakes him up in the middle of the night in her room at her parents' house to nag him about why he doesn't taaalk to her. Just eat the gun, Cliff. It's faster.

-One quirky best friend? Check. His name is Jake, and he runs the town historical society, because they've got to have someone in these ideal-life fantasies with access to historical records. Jake is a convenient info-dump repository and sounding board, but has no personality beyond his utility to Betts as a prop for her distorted self-image as a a Good Person.

-One sibling designed to make the protagonist look better by comparison? Check. His name is Teddy. Betts describes him as the family flake and a rake, but I'd rather hang out with affable, flirtatious Teddy than Betts. At least Teddy doesn't think his paramours should never date against after a taste of that heady, incomparable Winston love. And for all her carping about Teddy's purported irresponsibility, he shows a remarkable knack for teaching and organization, and he's not the one who deserts their grandmother during the most important event in the school's calendar to play TBI Nancy Drew with a ghost in the old theater.

-One quaint locale? Check. It's called Broken Rope, Missouri, and it trades on its past as an Old West town as a tourist attraction wherein they run faux old-time saloons and stage gunfights. Everything is modern-day Mayberry in Broken Rope. Everyone knows everyone except when they don't, and since this is a visit to Shelton's own private, wistful Idaho where idiots solve mysteries by accident and get lauded as the hero, there's neither hide nor hair of chaw-chewing rednecks in diesel-spewing pickups with Confederate flags and gun racks in the back or of ratty trailers cum meth labs parked on the edge of some weed-choked lot.

-One dash of the supernatural? Check. Betts and her grandmother can see ghosts. Why? Because Shelton has books to sell. Because why not? Because some part of Shelton must've have realized how deathly dull Betts was and sought to spice up this plodding trudge of inanity with a pinch of the whimsical and otherworldly. Whatever the reason, she gives us Jerome Cowbender, the ghost of an outlaw, who turns out to be the true hero of the piece. Since he isn't the author's avatar, however, he'll fade into eternity and leave Betts to bask in the credit.

-One mystery? Check. As previously mentioned, Everett ends up dead in Gram's supply closet. Turns out he was searching for the treasure of Jerome Cowbender as a lark and half-heartedly searching for a daughter he'd given up for adoption years ago. Unfortunately for him, someone else was looking for it and did him in. So imaginative, I know, but if that doesn't twinkle your toes, we get the tragic tale of Jerome Cowbender, who only became an outlaw to support his love and their unborn child. He had cancer, you see, and wanted to provide for an unwed mother before he carked it and shuffled off this mortal coil. But the sheriff was a better shot and plugged him in the back as he rode out of town with his loot. Woe.

Bonus angst: Shortly after the birth of their love child, Cowbender's lover dies of a broken neck after a fall through a trapdoor during her contortionist's act, and the child is raised by relatives. WOE!!!

I've read worse, but I'm in no rush to read more.
If there's a personal silver lining to Donald Trump's election, it's that now that my fellow Americans have confirmed my suspicion that they consider me worthless and worth less because I am crippled and poor, and that nothing will ever change those assumptions, I am free to do whatever I damn well please. After all, if they're going to judge me and find me wanting before I open my mouth, why shouldn't I write truckloads of angst and porn or angsty porn? Why not slavefic or siblingcest or threesomes or dubcon? Why not twisted emotional dynamics? If I'm irrelevant, I might as well enjoy myself before I'm left to starve by those oh-so-compassionate conservatives?

I finished the last two stories in The Corn Maiden.. I'm ambivalent. They were superbly written, and many times, I found myself stopping to admire a certain sentence or flash of imagery. Oates has the remarkable ability to create lush sentences with an economy of words, and her images are so simple, yet so apt. In "Holes in the Head," I was struck by her comparison of a flap of plastic trash bag poking out of a trunk to the black of a woman's silk slip. So simple and so beautiful, and so macabre, given the gruesome context.

And yet, for all the incongruous beauty of the portraits she paints, I was often irritated by the self-satisfaction wafting from the pages. The protagonist of "Helping Hands" made my skin crawl. Helene the grieving widow, so sympathetic at the outset, when she's muddling through the days after her husband's death, gradually reveals herself to be a rich, oblivious misery tourist who sees Nicolas, the disabled veteran, not as a person in his own right, but a reclamation project to be molded and polished into a companion to serve her purposes, a charity project to make her feel better about herself. She seems to have a condescending disability fetish, though to be fair to the character, I suspect that's Oates bleeding into her work; disability as alien Other is a pervasive theme in her work, as is her intrusive obsession with the U.S.' myriad wars during the past twenty-five years. This latter hobbyhorse is so inexpertly shoehorned into the events of "Holes in the Head" as to be obnoxious.

But I digress. Helene is your typically self-involved rich widow, but Nicolas Zelinski, the veteran she so desperately wants to improve, is an antiwar activist's dream of patchwork stereotypes. A vet with PTSD, maimed limbs, alcoholism, and no future prospects. Neither of them is appealing, and both boast repugnant moral failings. I'm still not sure precisely where my sympathies are supposed to fall. With Helene, the spoiled widow who reassures herself she's not racist as she nervously eyes the black veteran who comes with Nicolas on a house call, but immediately blames him when she enters the bathroom they've both used and finds it in disarray? Or Nicolas, the vet who might've gone on living a pedestrian life if she hadn't persisted in being a savior he didn't want? In the end, she opts to make Nicolas a terrible bogeyman who comes in the night to do unconscionable things, like as not in an attempt to pontificate on how war makes monsters of us all and blah, blah, blah. The moralizing was crass and swamped the story, which petered to a squalid conclusion and said a great deal of nothing.

Overall, a solid collection, and I can't recommend "The Corn Maiden" enough, but Oates trips over her soapbox more than once in the later stories.
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Still cold, cold, cold for my neck of the woods. I can only weep at the thought of my next utility bill.

I'm still reading The Corn Maiden by Joyce Carol Oates. None of the other stories has packed the wallop of the titular entry. "No One Knows My Name" was similarly disturbing, but there was a whiff of gratuitous, histrionic tragedy to it that blunted its early promise. I was relieved that the mechanism of the tragedy wasn't what I expected, but the tragedy itself was so viscerally uncomfortable that I wanted to close the book long before I reached the conclusion. I didn't want to see what my bones knew was coming.

"Beersheba" was tepid LIT2200 banality for me. I don't really care what happens to a sexist, self-pitying child molester.

"Fossil Figures" interested me because of its dark, dysfunctional disabled/non-disabled twin dynamic. There was more ugly truth in it than I suspect most people would care to admit, and I identified with Edward to an alarming degree, hunched in his wheelchair in his lonely house, scribbling his art and reaching out now and then with the tenebrous, ephemeral fingers of the Internet. And the juxtaposed imagery of the twins in utero and in final repose was an elegant, haunting touch.

"The Death Cup" was a disappointment. What I thought to be a tale of justice as a dish best served cold fell apart at the climax when the virtuous twin has a few quaffs of scotch, decides his asswipe scamming, philandering, abusive, rapist and thief of a brother had the right idea after all, and wonders why he ever spent a minute giving a shit about anyone else when it never did him any good. After all, his obscenely rich uncle left them equal amounts in his will. What good is being good if you're not rewarded for it? Alas, before the good twin can put his new outlook into practice, he smashes his late uncle's Rolls into a semi and tumbles off the highway, consigning himself and his brother to a fiery fate. Oh, huzzah. Goodness and hope corrupted.

An argument can be made that the virtuous twin got wasted in order to have the guts to kill his brother, but it doesn't read like a man plucking up his courage and deliberately ramming a big rig. Rather, it reads like a nervous prig tossing off the fetters of morality, only to mistakenly stamp on the wrong pedal. Alastor was too much for timid Lyle to overcome. He surrendered, only for fate to claim them both. In a way, it was a mirror image of "Fossil Figures" and it might've had greater impact for me if it hadn't followed on its heels.

Two stories remain. I wonder how they'll shake out.
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Woke up to a winter wonderland. Snow on the ground, on the cars, on the barren branches of trees. The black of the street is a startling contrast to the soft, pristine whiteness of the snow. Outside, it's drowsily beautiful as the sun sets and flakes skirl from the roofs to cover steps and ramps and cars. Inside, it's lazy and sloe-eyed and pottering. There's football on TV, and I'm nibbling York peppermint patties. The sheriff and the weather reports warn of frostbite and black ice, but they are far away, further than the cheap, prefab windows that separate the outside from the inside. They are there, and I am here, and for today, everything is all right.

I started The Corn Maiden and Other Nightmares by Joyce Carol Oates. I can't speak for the other five stories that I have yet to read, but "The Corn Maiden" is one of the creepiest stories I've read in a long time. There's no gore, no shocking revelation, no twist ending that casts previous events in a new and sinister light. It's just a steady, unsentimental look at the evil found in unexpected places and the grinding terror of a missing child. The prose itself is the story's strongest asset, a hypnotic fever dream from which you don't emerge until the nightmare is over, and when you do, the shift to more prosaic prose is jarring, as though you've just awakened from a terrible dream you're not sure you want to remember. It's brilliant and more effective than a dozen slavering lunatics rocking in filthy corners and muttering, dark, inscrutable prophecy.

The imagery is also incredibly potent. It's not garish or strident; on the contrary, it's understated, like dust settling into the collar of your blouse and drifting down your back, an itch you can't quite reach. The description of the Onigara Indian exhibit at the museum at the beginning of the story made my belly flutter with unease, though I could not have said why. It was lurid, but not through any fault of its own or any flaw of its creation. Rather, the luridness was imposed upon it by Jude and her alien, jaundiced. It was the first intimation that something was dreadfully wrong here, and wrong in a way that could not be righted.

Likewise with that single blackbird at the end. There was nothing wrong with the bird, bless it, but that closing convocation sent a finger of unease down my spine.
Guess which of these forecasts is for my area?

A)A light dusting of snow

or

B)Three to six inches of snow

The answer is: Both!

That's right. According to the alert issued for my area this morning, three to six inches of now is expected from Thursday through Saturday. However, if you read the full text of the alert, my area is only expected to receive a "light dusting" of less than an inch. So either we're going to get snowed in, or we'll get bupkus. Such incisive and accurate predictions are no doubt why meteorologists get paid the big bucks.


I finished Mariel of Redwall the other day. It was all right, but there's a disappointing sameness to the plot, and for all the story was called Mariel of Redwall, it spent precious little time with her after her introduction. In fact, most of its time was spent with Mother Mellus, Simeon, Dandin, Durry, Gabool, and Greypatch. Mariel merely served served as a narrative mechanism to set the story in motion, and then she was quietly sidelined.

Someone in the reviews said that they were uncomfortable with the glorification of "redemptive violence" in the series. I can only presume they meant "retributive violence" because there was no blood redemption on view. No baddie repented of their wrongs and went down in a blaze of glory defending the helpless. They stayed awful and made no apologies for it and died deserved deaths for their gleeful cruelty. I have no problem with this. In fact, I found it immensely satisfying and would like to see more of it in fiction.

Retributive violence is decried by those who say it sends a bad message to impressionable readers, but I disagree. Retributive violence in fiction is healthy and often the only justice the downtrodden characters are going to get. There's no Redwall justice system, no apparatus of state, no army, no police, no courts. They have to defend themselves and depend on the fundamental decency of others to help them. Gabool the Wild and his evil hordes weren't going to be dissuaded from their course by a wait-and-see approach. If the abbey denizens had thrown open their doors and invited Graypatch's besieging army inside for hugs and cocoa, they would've found themselves with swords buried in their bellies and yokes around their necks. Forbearance and willingness to negotiate are wonderful, but they aren't always applicable, and the wistful belief that they are is as dangerous and stupid a lesson as that of mindless, wanton violence. That belief is one of the myriad reasons the world finds itself in its present circumstances.

"They go low, we go high" is a laudable sentiment, but it is not, alas, a sure formula for victory. Sometimes an asshole just needs a kick in the face.
And so a new year begins. Hang on, fingers and toes. That's all anyone can do. Hang on and help each other.

A piece of siding blew off our house last night, so the neighbor came down this morning to fix it. Just in time, too, because it's scheduled to rain today and tomorrow.

I watched some Tales From the Darkside last night. For those unfamiliar with this trove of '80s spookery, it was Tales From the Crypt for network TV. Man, do the effects seem dated now, but I'm sure they were top-notch back then. Most of the episodes so far have been hokey and full of clunky moralizing and trite social commentary about the alienation of modern society(this was in 1984, mind), and if you want a laugh, have a gander at "Mookie and Pookie", a tale of the wondrous potential of some newfangled technology called computers. Looking at those boxy antiques and listening to the characters rhapsodize over their incredible power was quaintly hilarious. If only they could see what those machines would achieve a scant thirty-two years later.

"Slippage" was a tedious, preachy snorefest about alienation.

Some were pretty good, though. "Trick or Treat" was hokey, but the avenging witch was surprisingly effective, and I was glad to see the nasty, pettily cruel old Mr. Hackles get his comeuppance.

The crown jewel of Disc One, however, was the final episode, entitled, "In the Closet." An innocent young grad student takes a room on the third floor of a veterinary professor, Dr. Frenner. It's not long before she hears what she thinks is a rat skittering inside the closet the doctor swears can't be opened. Alas, it's not a rat, but something so much worse.

I'm reading Mariel of Redwall. It's Redwall #4, and while fun, a certain sameness is beginning to emerge. The abbey is always assailed by marauding baddies, and there is always a lone and unlikely hero joined by a band of stalwart friends on an epic quest. We'll see how far into the series I can get before boredom sets in.
I tried reading Thr3e by Ted Dekker. I had no idea it was a God-Squadder mystery when I picked it up. Still, I decided to give a whirl. Maybe Dekker was talented; maybe his religious beliefs would be relatively unobtrusive and not affect the story proper.

Ha. Ha. Ha ha. The writing was bad, so very, awfully bad. Stilted, unbelievable dialogue no human being would ever say. Terrible characterization delivered in the the kludgy, self-conscious style of a middle-schooler writing his first super-keen story. Constant, ill-timed mentions of God and His wisdom. Clumsy, intro-level musings on the nature of sin delivered via unrealistic discussions between a seminary student and his twinkling, paternal dean. Oh, and the main character is not only a marvelous, intuitive student who impresses everyone around him, but he's also Innocent with a capital I.

And the good guys are all Christians. All of them. The women all dress modestly and think chaste thoughts, and the men are all manly men men who exude confidence, intelligence, and nobility like Aqua Velva.

The bad guy puts ice cubes on his eyeballs.

I threw in the towel when the modest yet driven FBI agent took one look at the mild-mannered Hero and decided she must protect him from the bad guy to preserve his meek, virtuous innocence. After she left, the godly hero revealed that he'd never had much luck with women because they'd never really seen him and blah, blah, blah, wounded dove bloo bloo bloo, and I hurled the book into the charity-bin tote under my table and started Michael Chabon's The Yiddish Policemen's Union instead.

The best part about that joke of a thriller? It won awards for Christian fiction. Of course it did.

Tomorrow, I will write Priest porn to balance the universe.
One thousand five hundred and thirty-seven words today.

The temperatures have been dangerously frigid for most of the week, so we've been inside. This is occasionally tedious and claustrophobic, but most excellent for my reading and writing. After finishing Doctor Sleep, I started House of Evidence, a murder mystery by Viktor Arnar Ingolfsson. It's a dry, plodding slog in the early going, but some of that owes to the fact that it's been translated from the original Icelandic, so I'm going to stick with it for the sake of the intriguing underlying premise.
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laguera25: Dug from UP! (Default)
( Jan. 29th, 2014 09:58 pm)
Five thousand four hundred and sixty-three words this week.

I finally finished Doctor Sleep today. I enjoyed this blast from my nostalgic childhood past, but for all the story's insistence that the members of the True Knot were fearsome adversaries, they ultimately proved to be lackluster opponents for Daniel Torrance and the ueber-charged Abra. The climactic battle was rather sedate in comparison to all that had gone before, and its conclusion was rather abrupt.

I fell in love with the characters, however, especially kindly old Billy Freeman.

Worth a read, but not his best.
One thousand eight hundred and twelve words today.

Roomie and I have dug in for the bitter cold front. In my case, this means lots of reading and writing. No arithmetic, thank God. Despite my spectacular failures of the past two years, I have once again signed up for the Goodreads reading challenge with a goal of forty books. To that end, I resumed Doctor Sleep, which I started in November but put down with the distraction and stress of the holidays. As always, the characters are his strongest suit. The plot thus far has been a meandering, slow burn, but if he holds true to form, I expect it to sharpen its focus in the second act, and the payoff is usually worth the winding road it takes to get there. Top Hat is a creepy villain, but I'd be lying if I said she didn't bear a perverse resemblance to Rebecca Stanhope with her merciless and unrepentant sense of self-preservation.
I went to Walmart in hopes of getting my grubby mitts on a copy of The Hobbit EE, but they were sold out. I'll have to wait until the craze dies down. I did, however, find another shitty horror flick for my ever-expanding collection. I also bought a bag of dark chocolate peppermint bark. Yum.

I read Russian Disco in a single sitting. The translation was rough, and the tone was uneven. Some anecdotes, like "My Father", "My Wife When I'm Away From Home", and "The Girl With the Mouse in Her Hair" were hilarious, but others were either dull and pointless or patently absurd. I appreciated the glimpses of Berlin from a long-time inhabitant's perspective. It sounds like a fascinating place to visit, if nothing else, and Kaminer gave it a very eclectic, bohemian vibe.

Next up is Hercule Poirot: The Complete Short Stories by Agatha Christie. As the weather grows colder and less inviting for people with poor circulation and people begin their inexorable transformation into ravening assholes in the true spirit of the impending holiday season, holing up with my pile of books holds greater and greater appeal.
The bills are paid, the car has passed inspection and had the oil changed, and the registration has been renewed for another year. Now all we have to do is look forward to Thor: The Dark World on Friday and the series premiere of Almost Human on the 17th.

I finally finished Mayflower by Nathaniel Philbrick. It was a solid examination of the deterioration of Anglo-Native relations throughout the seventeenth century, but it was so didactic and soporific in places that it made me drowsy despite a full night's rest. It was also draining and horribly depressing to read about the systematic humiliation of Native people by self-righteous English settlers with God-fueled superiority complexes. "Sure, these people might have kept our grandparents from starving to death that first winter, but fuck 'em. We want their land, and besides, they're happy in their heathen godlessness. Burning them alive and selling them into slavery is therefore not only morally acceptable, but ordained by God! Yeehaw!" Follow that with butthurt grousing over the Natives' ingratitude and perfidy toward the blameless English, and it inspired a migraine and a throbbing, impotent fury.

Next on the pile is Russian Disco by Wladimir Kaminer, a gift from [personal profile] schwester_grimm. It's a collection of humorous anecdotes about life in Berlin in the 90s and should be a refreshing palate cleanser before I start either the collected Hercule Poirot stories or the next Temperance Brennan novel.

Oh, hey, LOTR cast reunion on Sleepy Hollow! Craig Parker has been a busy bee in American TV this year. It was delightful to see him as the snooty, cruel Ban Tarleton. He made that redcoat uniform look good. And Denethor rocked it as the sineater. They left it open for him to return, and I hope he does.
One thousand and twenty two words today.

Does any Trekkie out there know of what the standard Starfleet uniforms are made in the AOS? While both Memory Alpha and Wikipedia have extensive articles on the subject, neither mentions the fabric used. It looks too shiny to be plain cotton and too thick and stretchy to be wool, and it's not spandex. It be polyester, I suppose, but I'd like to think that fashion has improved immensely since the days of highly-flammable children's pajamas and hideous leisure suits.

I'm plowing my way through Mayflower. It's a fine book and presents a relatively-evenhanded account of events from both sides, but the tone is uneven. While some parts are riveting, others are drier than desert hardpan(much like the Pilgrims, har har; God, what a joyless, hypocritical, thoroughly awful clutch of humanity, and yet, they're uncomfortable proof that we haven't changed much, because they sound eerily like the religious zealots of today, with their hatred, fear, blindness to their own sins and shortcomings, and incessant moralizing.). It's not the driest academic tome through which I have ever slogged, but it skews to the more didactic end of the literary spectrum.

The Thing(2011)--SPOILERS )
laguera25: Dug from UP! (Default)
( Sep. 26th, 2013 09:39 pm)
I bought a deskcycle at Walmart three days ago because I've always wanted a way to at least get the blood flowing and my heart pumping. It was twenty-five bucks, so I figured I had nothing to lose if it was a piece of crap. I've used it twice so far, and while I don't think it's going to transform me into a wheelchair-bound Jillian Michaels, it does get a good burn going in my upper arms. I actually break a sweat, which is a rarity for me, and I feel better after a session. I'm calmer and happier and have a sense of accomplishment, which is something I sorely need. Twenty minutes every other day is my limit right now, but I'm hoping to gradually increase both duration and frequency as I go.

In the book department, I'm currently reading Mayflower by Nathaniel Philbrick, an historical account of the Pilgrims' voyage to, and settlement of, America. It's not as immediately engaging as In the Heart of the Sea, his account of the shipwreck of the whale ship Essex and the enslavement of its crew, but so far, it's a remarkably even-handed account of the Pilgrims' virtues and foibles, and presents the Native tribes and their leadership in a far more sophisticated and politically-savvy light than in most books on the topic. Too often, the noble Natives are presented as helpless, hapless, passive victims of the bad old English settlers, and the settlers are moustache-twirling villains to a man. Not so here. Indeed, I'm fascinated by Massasoit, and by the idea that Squanto, that beloved, benevolent benefactor of childhood myth, might not have saved the starving settlers purely from the goodness of his heart.
One thousand and twenty-four words today.

While waiting for the dryers at the laundromat today, I finished my latest book, The Torso in the Town by Simon Brett. If you're looking for a book with dense prose and three dozen subplots, most of which will ultimately prove irrelevant in the big reveal, then give this book a pass. The prose was quite spartan and utilitarian and irrepressibly English, but this worked in the story's favor. It felt like someone was spinning the tale over pints and a plate at a pub, and the overall effect was cozy and comfortable, like slipping into a favorite tatty robe and sipping hot chocolate on the porch.

The central mystery wasn't terribly challenging or novel. It was a bit of light, frothy gossip-circle intrigue with just a whiff of sordid scandal to keep you reading. The two self-appointed investigators were Frick and Frack with a rack and menopausal woes, and though the cast of supporting characters were stock, most of them were surprisingly likeable and sympathetic, especially the hapless Roddy Hargreaves, the local sot and amenable barfly, and James Lister, the henpecked husband of the local society matron.

It was perfect light reading, and I'd definitely read others in the series.
One thousand and twenty-two words today.

I'm grinding my way through The Passage by Justin Cronin. I had high hopes for this one since Uncle Stevie and other reviewers have given it such ringing endorsements, but thus far, I am vastly underwhelmed. The plot is sluggish, and the prose is clunky and juvenile, a horror-adventure-secret government conspiracy meller written on wide-ruled paper by a tenth-grader riding out the doldrums of Saturday detention. It's relatively early yet, so maybe it will pick up once the primary plot thrusters are finally engaged.

The squabbling and precious butthurt over Till's "midlife crisis" and alleged famewhoring with Sophia Thomalla are hilarious. As if he's the first aging rich guy to lament his fading youth and think with his dick.
One thousand and three words since last update. I think I've solved the quandary of how to transition from introspection to filthy sexytiems nao, and it won't take a second interstitial.

Cross Bones--SPOILERS )

My next book is Justin Cronin's The Passage, a dystopian, apocalyptic vampire tale. This one has been sitting on the pile for six or seven months. I should probably hold it until October, but it's been drawing my eye more and more often of late, so I acceded to my id's wishes.
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The Story He Meant to Write:

Daring, manly scientist relentlessly pursues prehistoric shark on an all-consuming vengeance quest after evil shark mistakes his noble, spunky brother-in-law for slightly-chewy apertif. Meanwhile his beautiful, feisty wife uncovers world-threatening plot by sociopathic mastermind. Both are imperiled by their brave stands, and their epic love endures many tests as they heroically save the day. Heroically.

The Story He Wrote: Weedy, emo navel-gazer wallows in self-pity and behaves like a spoiled teenage boy when confronted with past mistakes. Meanwhile, his average, drippy wife with the forethought capabilities of a rock blunders unsubtly around a multibillion-dollar undersea lab run by a deranged, Machiavellian hybrid of Svengali and Sir Hiss. The shark runs roughshod over the ostensible heroes while the more competent, interesting characters, who have been shunted aside in favor of this pair of unappealing nabobs, serve as chum for its gnashing maw. Jaws close. Everyone useful dies. The drippy nincompoops survive, aided by a ridiculous deus machina and the low-watt power of their insipid, uninspired love.

I spit at Steve Alten from Hell's heart and begrudge him the dollar I spent on this closing-sale travesty.
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Three thousand one hundred and three words since last update. Part II of BaBR is now underway. After rereading Part I, I realized that the good captain had mysteriously disappeared from sickbay without explanation, so I'll have to fix that this weekend. Nrrgh.

Today, I got groceries and paid a bill, and then I scraped enough cash from various gift cards to order a George Washington biography from Amazon.

I still haven't finished the Lincoln biography I started. The book is superb, by the by, and I highly recommend it; I've just been malingering because I'm nearing the end, and I know what's coming. It's ridiculous, I know. It's not like Lincoln isn't going to be assassinated if I just don't finish the book. That weighty tome isn't some time-traveling Portkey that can undo the past if the reader just has the fortitude to not finish the final ninety pages. But I've gotten attached to this portrait of him, and I don't want to watch such a decent man and consummate leader get his brains blown out by a lunatic pro-South zealot in search of a martyrdom fix.
Two thousand one hundred and fifty-seven words since last update.

I finished Point of Origin, Kay Scarpetta #9, last night. It was, to put it kindly, a joke. Scarpetta's overweening, smothering relationship with her adult niece, Lucy, squicks and infuriates me because it reminds me quite forcibly of my dysfunctional relationship with my controlling mother. Lucy has proven herself to be an overerachieving ATF agent, and yet, Scarpetta routinely attempts to dictate the course of her professional and personal life. Why? Because it makes her feel needed, and if Lucy doesn't obey, then she feels old, useless, and unneeded. Woe woe woe.

Oh, go fuck yourself running, Scarpetta, you arrogant, manipulative coozewaffle. Lucy is a grown woman who doesn't owe you a good goddamn, and whose life wouldn't be a constant shambles if you weren't an inexplicable magnet for every psychopath in the continental U.S.

And that funeral scene was the schmaltziest affair I've read outside of YA badfic.

For my next book, I initially selected a Robin Cook medical thriller, Foreign Body After a vivid description of India and a tense murder of a helpless patient in a hospital recovery room, I clapped my unsuspecting eyes on a sex scene so awful that it tainted everything that had come before, closed the book, and pulled another candidate from the stack. I'll grudgingly pick it up again when there are no other books in the house and the Amazon servers collapse in upon themselves.

So now I'm reading the Lincoln book I started last week and The Trench by Steve Alten. The latter is mediocre chum, but at least there are prehistoric sharks.
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