Saturday, October 30, 2010

It's 12.42pm on October 31st...

I've read and reviewed 52 books, fourteen in the last two days (procrastinators unite! Later!).

I'm going to go have a celebratory lunch. We'll be celebrating two things, actually - completing the Cannonball and that the ITGeek is no longer a walking incubator of Whooping Cough.

On that note - vaccinate your kids. Please. This is a shitty, awful illness in adults, and given how terrifying it was to see my very fit husband cough until he couldn't breath, I can't even imagine how horrific it would be in babies.

CBRII (book 52): I shall wear Midnight, by Terry Pratchett

I started the cannonball read with Terry Pratchett's latest, so it seems only appropriate that I finish it, a year later, with his new latest.

I Shall Wear Midnight is the fourth of the Tiffany Aching books, the teenage witch of the Chalk with the love of words and the will of iron. It's written for 'young adults', but like all good books in that genre, it's really just a book written about young adults.

In I Shall Wear Midnight, we are introduced to the Cunning Man. Imagine if the attitudes of every Witchhunter became a kind of incorpreal entity, capable of slipping into people's minds ('poison goes where poison's welcome'). That's the Cunning Man. That's who Tiffany has to fight.

This one gets dark, hell, this one starts dark. But it ends light. Properly light, not the 'happily ever after' variety but the 'we're making it better, and there's a lot to be grateful for' variety. Like a lot of his later books, Pratchett is moving away from the farcial satire and towards human-driven humourous satire. It's still showing us what's wrong with ourselves, but it's tempered with the notion that we have the glorious capacity to make it right.

And if you can achieve that with the help of some foul-mouthed 'friends', all the better.

CBRII (book 51) My Lurid Past by Lauren Henderson

Juliet Cooper is in Food PR (again with the strange jobs), and she's very good at it. After getting her heart broken by her loving but gambling addicted ex-boyfriend, she's been bed hopping for the last four years. But lately, she's been finding that it's all getting to be the same.

Her best friends are Gillian, who's miserably trying to rebuild a sexless marriage and Mel, a dominatrix. Neither of them are entirely helpful. Gillian only wishes she has Juliet's problem, while Mel declares, with a mixture of mockery and triumph 'You're burnt out.'

This book starts out as Sex in the British City, and the cocaine, BDSM, and endless cocktails come dangerously close to that kind of shallowness that says more about the author's desire to be controversial than the characters themselves.
It's particularly obvious in how the men are treated and portrayed. For much of the book, they're objects, something to fuck, or complain that you're not fucking. It's even more extreme in Mel's case. It's the trick of turning sexism in the opposite direction and calling it feminism, regularly used by women who still have a lot to learn.

But towards the end of the book, we get a hint that perhaps Henderson, and through her, Juliet, is beginning to grow a clue. A few men step forward and reveal a glimps of their humanity.
But ultimately, for a book all about men and relationships, it only scrapes the surface of the truth of both: that men and women are human, complex, emotional and a continuous work-in progress, and a healthy relationship can only exist when everyone involves respects that.

CBRII (book 50): I, Claudia by Marilyn Todd

This book is set in Ancient Rome. The characters wear tunics, make sacrifices to various gods and watch the Gladiators. There's some references to the politics of the time, and the various invasions the Roman Empire were enacting. Instead of saying 'Jesus!' the characters say 'Jupiter!'.

And that's about it, really, in terms of Ancient Rome

Claudia Seferius is an ex-stripper who married up, and speaks like a modern Londoner. It's all 'Sod off,' this and 'Get to it, girl!' that. She's got a gambling problem, which she's paying off with a bit of dominatrix work on the side. Unfortunately, her clients keep getting murdered, and now a hot investigating officer is digging around. Marcus also talks like a Brit, albeit, a more professional one.

This is Ancient Rome as imagined by your local High School's theatre group.

But if you can ignore the bizarre blend of ancient and modern, it's a very enjoyable book. Claudia is, without apology, a manipulative, vindictive, arrogant, self-absorbed bitch. Even when she does something decent, like ensuring a young boy is kept away from her pedophilic husband-in-name-only, she's a bitch about it, just throwing him out of the house. She decides to teach her maid about contraception only because she's good at her job and Claudia is 'damned if she was going to lose this gem to childbed fever'. She's a screaming medley of faults and more luck than she deserves

Read this one in the bath with a glass of wine after a really shitty day. Or, you know, if you're really close to finishing a cannonball and need a good fast read.

CBRII (book 48): Carnal Knowledge by Charles Hodgson

Sounds perverted, doesn’t it? Especially after the Double the Disturbing I just put you all through. But the rest of the title goes as follows:

A navel gazer’s dictionary of anatomy, etymology and trivia.

Ahh, so much better. This is a factual book about the origin of words related to the human body. Not at all embarrassing when you take it at work, and your co-worker asks where you left something and you say, without thinking, ‘I think it’s under the Carnal Knowledge book.’
I spent the first week I had this book at work absolutely slamming my co-workers with random facts about words related to the body. Although, there’s a lot I have learned from it. Among others:

– Look at your wrist. See the little bump on the outside edge of it? It’s actually not one bump, it’s the two ends of the ulna bone, one called the head and the other, more creatively, the ‘styloid process’. It depends on how you’re holding your wrist which part of the bone is protruding. However, there isn’t a word for the bump in the English language, Yangloa is a term used in Chinese acupuncture, and it’ll probably get you about a thousand points in scrabble.

Christina Hendricks is bathycolpian, that is, she has deep cleavage. Cleavage, for that matter, started out as a trade term used by the Motion Picture Association of America during a 1940’s freak out over how much boobs should be visible on screen (which all came about because the clothing in a British period film apparently showed way too much – according the Hodgson, the Brits weren’t affected because they’re all Legs men).

JK Rowling used a LOT of old words in her Harry Potter books. Dumbledore, for instance, is an old word for bumblebee, and Snape used to mean ‘to be hard upon’. My favourite is Quiddiative, which means ‘obscure and full of quirks’, rather like a certain game.

It turns out that when you have breast implants, while they’re settling in to their new home, there’s a lot of sloshing and gurgling sounds. One of the sounds is so unique that plastic surgeons have actually named it: bourdonnement, which was described as ‘a squeaking, rubbing, humming or vibrating sound that is so intimate that it is almost a feeling instead of a sound’. So, as it turns out, a rarely-mentioned side effect of implants is musical, vibrating boobs.

Winner of the longest word in the book award: Sternocleidomastoideus – that’s the muscle that runs from below your ear towards your chest, and it’s most visible when you turn your head to the side and tilt it back (and in really beefy body builders).

Most mammals need a bone to get a hard on. It’s called the baculum or the os penis, and according to Hodgson, you can buy the bones on the internet. He even provides a web address, which isn’t accurate anymore, so if you’re interested, head to and do a search. When I looked, the 24 inch walrus baculum was right next to the 1cm vervet monkey baculum, which is just mean.

The back of the knee is called the ham. It’s just one of those things I’ve always wanted to know.

Hodgson is witty and his knowledge is incredible. I will say though, it’s not really a book you can read in one sitting. It’s taken me weeks to get through it, not because I wasn’t entertained, but all the words blended together after a while. I found the best way was short bursts; then you can freak out everybody in the vicinity with the new words and factoids you’ve learnt.

CBRII (book 48): I capture the castle by Dodie Smith.

Cassandra and her family live in poverty in a run-down old castle they have a 40 year lease on. Her father wrote a celebrated novel, then, in a farcial turn of events, ended up in prison for three months. They moved to Belmotte and it's nearby castle shortly after, and, for some reason, her father has stopped writing. Cassandra's mother is dead, and her father remarried Topaz, a former artist's model.
In many ways, this is a strange halfling of a book. It's so influenced by other books - The love story throughout the book is really just a 1940's retelling of Pride and Prejudice, with a couple of twists. Cassandra's father wrote a very unique novel, and although you never learn much of what it contains, it influences all of their lives, particularly Cassandra's, who has obviously inherited her father's love of experimental writing (with both her shorthand, and the 'exercise' of journalling her life over six months).
Another thing I noticed was how well the characters are drawn. Topaz, for instance, could have been portrayed as the mad, dramatic stepmother, but instead, we get glimpses of a woman self-aware and selfless enough to deliberately hide her beauty for the sake of Rose. Thomas, Cassandra's younger brother, reveals unexpected intelligence - always there, but simply not noticed by Cassandra when she was absorbed by her relationship with Rose.
I know I'm too old to be the target audience, but I thoroughly enjoyed this book, regardless.

CBRII: Hell for Leather edition #2: Trashy Romance Novels!!

I have, hidden in the back of a cupboard, an entire box of trashy romance novels. I discovered in my first year of uni that they were an excellent form of relaxation during exam times. As I’ve said before, reading chills me out, but when I’m cramming, the last thing I need is to be caught up in some intricate plot. At those times, I needed throw-away fiction, and these cheap romance novels were exactly that.

The books have gathered dust for a while (I’d give them to a friend of mine who’s a stay at home mum, but she sits at the chaste kiss end of the spectrum and these books... don't sit there). I’ve forgotten about most of them. But because I was in catch-up mode, and I’m a glutton for punishment (and because some varieties of cheesy stupidity are just too good to keep to yourself), I decided to drag out two of them and re-read them for the CBRII.

Double the Pleasure by Julie Elizabeth Leto.

Oookay. Here’s the premise. Grey and Zane Masterson are twins. Grey is the responsible conservative one who runs the family business, a newspaper. Zane is the carefree party-animal who does, well, not much. Invests in real estate, mostly.

Grey, despite the buttoned-down exterior, is actually a raging pervert, which, because this is a romance novel, means he has sex in limos. Unfortunately for him, the last woman he had sex with was Tila Tequila, and now she’s written a book about it. Okay, it wasn’t Tila Tequila. I once tried to read her Twitter feed. There’s no way she could write a book. Hmm… Imagine Tila Tequila and give her an IQ above 100, okay? That’s who Grey slept with.

He’s also having trouble with a saboteur at the newspaper, and some wack-job stalker who showed up in a Gorilla costume and tried to seduce him. Let me repeat that: she tried to turn him on while dressed as Barney Banana.

The man has problems. The man needs a break. Enter Zane, who offers to switch places with him. To give this bizarre idea some legitimacy, Zane took a private detective course (that he’s not used since) so he’s somehow qualified to hunt down the saboteur and deal with the stalker. Grey is so rattled by strip-teasing gorillas that he agrees, and to Zane’s only request: that Grey looks in on his friend Reina Price, an ‘erotic jewellery designer’ (hey, remember when people were nurses and teachers?). Reina’s having some trouble with break-ins.

Reina is Sensual, But Won’t Let Any Man Near Her Heart. But although she never felt anything for Zane, she gets a severe case of Amazon between the Thighs for Grey. She’s currently remaking a bunch of jewellery originally created by il Gio, who’s basically the Maquis de Sade crossed with a jewellery maker. Unfortunately, somebody keeps breaking in to steal the jewels.

Grey and Reina play with the jewellery, and it turns out that all Reina needed to get through her emotional barriers was some good old-fashioned gold-encrusted bondage. Oh, and il Gio’s descendent is her long-lost father. And her mother is the one who’s been stealing from her. Of course, with Grey’s love, it’s all sorted out and they live happily ever after.

This book is exactly what it promises to be: a sexy romance novel. There’s a decent plot (for the genre), the characters are likable, and the sex scenes are the right side of kinky. So, points to you, Julie Elizabeth Leto.

Double the Thrill, by Susan Kearney.

Toni’s getting married to a Senator! Except she doesn’t want to marry the Senator. Toni also has three sisters, who each have deep and complex character traits like ‘wears pink’ or ‘student environment protestor’. Unfortunately, she can’t turn down Senator Birdstrum, because he’s going to employ her dad (and just out of curiosity, does the American Government actually have a House Committee on Ways and Means? Because that sounds a lot like something invented in a desperate attempt to get the kids interested in the family budget. ‘I call to order the first meeting of the Draper House Committee on Ways and Means… Sally, pay attention’).

The only solution is to have a scandal. A sex scandal. Of course. This is Romance Novel Law #4 (the first three concern length of penis, silkiness of hair and frequency of simultaneous orgasms): Always Choose the Stupid Idea. And, of course, her victim, sorry, suitor, will be Grey Masterson. Even though she’s never met the man, Toni decides they’re going to have fun. ‘Lots of fun. Hot, sweaty fun.’ I, on the other hand, suspect that if you decide a complete stranger’s idea of fun is YOU, you’re standing on one of the earlier steps to becoming a Scary Fucking Stalker.

A week later, Zane is lounging around his Bad Boy Bachelor Pad, having a good laugh at his poor twin, who just got had a woman in a gorilla costume show up and try to do a strip show. Grey is freaked. Zane can’t understand why his brother didn’t ‘act like every other red-blooded American man and salivate at the sight of a woman stripping’. While Grey complains about a saboteur putting oil in the ink while Toni was dancing around in her monkey outfit, Zane indulges in some fantasies about the office strip show. Zane has obviously watched Planet of the Apes too many times. Either that, or he’s a Furrie.

Zane offers a solution that equals Toni’s ‘sex scandal’ idea for sheer stupidity: Swap places! There’s a bunch of emo shit about people never looking beneath the surface and discovering the Very Different Men Underneath. Eventually, Grey agrees to the Really Stupid Idea.

Toni, continuing her plan of Stalkeriffic Seduction, is making up her face so ‘her eyes looked big enough to capture her quarry’. I think she’s going to entice him along like that freaky fish in Finding Nemo.

Zane, pretending to be Grey, comes across Toni. He is intrigued. She has big eyes and sometimes, she’s furry. He saw a girl like that in the Japanese Porno he downloaded last night! She’s got sexy confidence. I don’t think they’d call it that in court, Zane.

At this point, the author loses her shit completely: She exuded a chemistry that would have overwhelmed a less experienced man. (Chloroform?)The impact of her arrival had him intrigued by her mysterious boldness and his curiosity about her motivations upped the stakes. (Is that Engrish?)

There’s some conversation reminiscent of drunkenly earnest college students, majoring in psychology and philosophy. There’s some dates and problems with the newspaper, and Toni finally tells Zane (whom she still thinks is Grey) that she wants a sex scandal. He’s happy to oblige, because writing an article on your sex life is the number one way to increase sales of your very conservative newspaper.

Then they board their private helicopter and head off to the Masterson’s private island. (He only wants you for your gorilla costume, Toni!) On the way, Zane gives Toni a lecture on the birds of the Louisiana and Mississippi shoreline, which makes about as much sense as anything else in this cluster-fuck.

Toni and Zane get on a horse. The same horse. They then proceed to fuck on the horse. Poor horse. As a side note, I’m fairly certain the logistics aren’t nearly as simple as they were made out to be, especially when Zane made that poor horse trot. Either that, or someone forgot to mention that Toni’s a midget.

Once they’ve done that, Toni wants to watch the sunrise. This is, apparently, the single most amazing thing any woman has ever wanted, in the history of ever. It is repeated three times. Add ‘sunrises’ to the list of things that give Zane a hard-on. He’s just a bundle of complexity, isn’t he? Next we’ll discover he likes pina coladas and kissing in the rain.

Toni and Zane eat breakfast on a trampoline. There’s some more drunken first-year student psycho-babble. Then they fuck on the trampoline, also like drunken first years.

Eventually, we reach my absolute favourite scene in any romance novel. Zane has a collection of ‘sexual art’ (ie fancy sex toys). Toni shows up at his place in lingerie. Zane takes her into the kitchen. He’s kissing her, caressing her, he’s… fiddling with the microwave and getting out the olive oil. Toni’s hot and very, very bothered (particularly by the microwave). Then Zane shows her what he’s been messing around with – a glass dildo. What follows is the best line ever written in the history of literature. Picture it – she’s naked and horny, he’s just dribbled olive oil all over the glass penis, and he looks at her and says

‘I used a microwave thermometer. The glass is heated perfectly to one hundred and ten degrees.’

You’re a dirty-talking bastard, Zane.

That, however, is just the start. They’re playing with the dildo, Toni is right on the edge of orgasm, and he opens the freezer. Turns out that the dildo is one of a pair, and he’s put the second one in the freezer. Fortunately, he doesn’t waste time talking about his freezer thermometer, he just plunges the ice-cold dildo into her.

The first time I read this book, that scene reminded me of people getting their tongues stuck to frozen poles. Hence, my reaction was not one of arousal.

Frankly, after a scene like that, everything else is a bit of a let-down. They track down the saboteur. Toni discovers Zane is not Grey (yep, the whole time they’ve been screwing on trampolines and horses, she thought he was his brother). She is understandably peeved and breaks up with him. But she’s miserable, and Zane is miserable. Eventually, Zane prints a picture of himself on the front page of the newspaper on bended knee, and the headline ‘Will you marry me, Toni?’ And Toni, who got completely freaked out when the Senator was doing the same thing, thinks this is just the most romantic thing ever, and promptly marries this man before she meets his parents. Or even the brother he was pretending to be for most of their relationship.

So… happy ending?