Thursday, January 28, 2010

CBR II: Dead until Dark by Charlaine Harris

I was hesitant to read this book.  See, it was given to me for my last birthday by a 30+ woman who loves Twilight, the only book I've had to stop reading out of disgust.  My concerns weren't helped when the aforementioned friend gushed about how 'hot' it was that the lead male said 'She is mine' about the lead female (at times like that, it's very hard not to point out the possible connection between opinions like that and her terrible track history with men).

So yeah, I went in with prejudices.  And a summer head cold, which, really, is just the virus world's way of laughing at us.  Bastards.  But I'd read a few reviews that basically said, 'this ain't Twilight', so I figured I had nothing to lose.

I really enjoyed it.  A lot more than I expected to.

Now, in case you're one of the five people left on earth who haven't heard of the series or its TV off-shoot, 'True Blood', Dead until Dark is the tale of Sookie Stackhouse, a telepathic waitress and her encounter with the vampire Bill.  And their hot sex.  And yeah, he does say 'she is mine', but with some of the vampires, that doesn't mean much.  And luckily, Sookie finds it about as attractive as I do.

Sookie is an interesting character.  She's got all the standard romance cliches: pretty, several hot guys want her, virgin and, very sheltered.  She is, of course, Plucky and has a Magic Power.

Yet half the town call her Crazy Sookie.  She gets wonderfully pissed off by men playing games with her.  She understands her limits, but there's a thread of determination and she will, if necessary, try to rip your testicles off and feed them to you.  Despite the fantasy premise and the cliches, she's quite believable.  

Bill the vampire, is also interesting, but I have to admit, I didn't entirely feel the romance.  Although he's eminently worthy of being loved, I couldn't help but feel that poor Sookie initially fell for him out of mix of loneliness and delight that she couldn't read his mind.  Like, here was the first man able to hide thoughts about moles on butts when they're together, and that was enough for her.  Don't get me wrong, girlfriend is sensible about dating the vampire, and makes it damn clear she's loyal to Bill (which I respect her for) but put it this way: Harris has already set up at least two other genuine contenders (one a shape shifter, the other a much more powerful vampire) and, should she go down the Anita Blake path, at least one fuck-buddy (and Charlaine, please, don't go down that path), and I'm just not convinced that Bill would actually win out.

Aside from that, a few little points/amusements that struck me while reading.  These are spoilery (for those five people)

- Another word for whinger in my part of the world is 'Sook'.  So I'm having my own personal issues about her name.  My inner five-year old is all 'whut?  Rah-ha!'

- Why the fuck did the vampire blood turn her hair lighter?  I get the skin and the feeling healthier and the general sexiness, but since when did vampire blood turn into L'oreal?  Hair is dead, and 'sides, this version of the mythology holds that Vamps are stuck the way they are when they change.  Also, what does it say about me that I'm pondering this?  Book full of shapeshifters and flying fanged guys and all other weird shit and I'm questioning on the hair?!?

-Bubba.  Hehehe.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go buy a few more of these books....

Monday, January 11, 2010

CBRII: The ABC murders by Agatha Christie

In recommending this story to your friends, please do not hint at anything that might spoil their pleasure in reading it

This is the request printed inside the book jacket of The ABC murders, and it tickles me.  I picture Ms Christie herself penning it, worried about the Spoilering of all her carefully crafted plot twists.  

I just can't refuse such a polite request.  So, I will limit my descriptions to only what is found above that little message on the book jacket.  A maniac is working their murderous way through the alphabet, starting with Mrs. Ascher of Andover, followed by Betty Barnard at Bexhill, then Sir Carmichael Clarke of Churston.  And, from the very beginning, Hercule Poirot is involved.

I seem to have developed a bit of a gift for chosing books by Christie with plots that have been rehashed in a dozen different ways.  This time, it's the 'hunt for the mad serial killer' done do death (pardon the pun) by everyone from Dean Kootz to CSI.

This time, however, it didn't spoil my enjoyment of the book. The ending delighted me, which is about as much I am willing to say. I've read less than half a dozen of Christie's books, mostly Poirots, and I've come to the conclusion that she's very clever in separating the styles of her two most famous creations, despite the fact that both examine the psychology of the killer rather than collecting physical evidence.  Miss Marple is an old woman full of stories; she operates on the idea that all humans behave the same way when influenced by the same motivations.  There's no unique little snowflakes in Miss Marples' world.   Poirot is sneakier; he's echoed, in many ways, in shows like the Mentalist or Criminal Minds.

If I have a complaint about her work it's that sometimes it's a bit too 'stiff-upper-lip'.  The characters are believable, but they can be a bit dry.   The secondary characters can blend into the background, or one another, and you end up wondering if the Determined, Honest Brunette is the sister of the second murder victim, or is she the niece of the first?  Then again, that may have been my own fault - I read this book to fill in time while my car was being serviced, in a room with a TV blaring some inane morning television show clearly designed for retirees with low standards and stay-at-home mums or dads too broken by sleep deprivation to demand better viewing material.

Christie deserved her crown as High Queen of Mysteries.  If you haven't read this book, please do.  I recommend it highly, and I hope I haven't hinted at anything that might spoil your pleasure in reading it.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Random shit

Morgan is into violent affection.  His favourite way of saying 'I love you' is to launch all 6.5kg of himself head-first at your nose.  The ITGeek gets this a lot, especially when he's chilling on the couch and it's within two hours of Feeding Time.  Along with the usual cat behaviours of nuzzling, jaw-nibbling and testicle kneeding.

The ITGeek appears to be fighting back.  About ten minutes ago, I heard 'You're a super-affectionate bastard today, aren't you?  Well, let's see how you like it!'

Since then, it sounds like a WWF match is going on downstairs, performed by Care-bears, one of them mute.  

'Awww, you coming back for more, are you?'

'Didn't like that, did you, Furry Bum?' (yes, we call the cat Furry Bum.  He's a cat, he's not going to answer to 'Lord High Magnificence', so we might as well give him a really stupid nickname).

It's now turned into a lecture about why it's rude for Morgan to read over his shoulder.  And wave his tail in the ITGeek's face.  It's all, 'Move.  Your tail. Now.  Thank you.'

I love this man.  


My brain and I, we don't exactly get along when it comes to sleep.  I've suffered from insomnia for years.  I have the 'Brain won't turn off and let me fucking sleep' variety, and the 'Can't fucking STAY asleep' variety.  I'm also prone to some pretty horrific dreams.  Murder, fighting/running for my life, war, destruction of entire cities full of people and beatings are, unfortunately, fairly regular occurrences in my dreamscape.  I understand if you want to just back away now.  It's okay, you don't need to make an excuse about your kettle being on.

Regardless, if I sleep an entire night, without waking up once, I'm sick.  Or medicated, which is part of being sick, so I'm going to shut up now.

Most nights, I fall asleep fine, and, if I do wake up, I just fall right back into dream land pretty quickly.  I'm a lot better than I used to be, which I think is partly because I've learnt a few tricks to reduce the insomnia.  It's probably also because even nightmares can't beat the awesome relaxing powers of Snuggling the still-sleeping ITGeek, but he's a lot harder to share with everybody on the internet, so I'm going to stick with a few things I've learnt. 

So... tricks!  Just a heads-up, these are for the inexplicable insomnia.  If you're not getting any sleep because you've got a 6 month old, or you've got something playing on your mind, then these ideas may be completely useless.

Prevention is your best friend

I don't need to say this, but you know you need a regular bed time, right?  And to not take naps, because then you won't be able to sleep later?  Of course, if you've got baby-induced insomnia, sleep when you can.  Hell, sleep on that pile of laundry if you need to!  Just, uh, not when you're driving.  

Try to keep your bedroom just for sleeping (and sex!).  It's no coincidence that my worst insomnia occurred when I was living in a studio.  Put the computer, the exercise machine, maybe even the TV, in another room.   It's all about associations - you're trying to train your brain to realise that this place=sleep.  Do everything you can to make your bedroom restful.  If you can't move those distractions out, try tacking up a curtain around your bed - I've found that even a sheer curtain will help.  It also makes your bed look like you're either on safari, or a feudal ruler in the middle ages.  I say, go with it, preferably with appropriate headgear.

Make the room itself as restful as possible.  Reduce the 'elemental' distractions (I can handle noise, but I'm not a fan of light, so for me, it's blockout curtains and an eyemask within reach).  Have an adequate air flow.  Aim for bedding that keeps you comfortable, even when you've had to open a window to get fresh air.  This might mean you end up with a couple different sets of sheets/blankets/doonas.  If you're sharing a bed, this can be problematic, especially when one sleeper feels the heat or cool more than the other.  A friend's parents use two single doonas, so they can share a bed and still be comfortable, which is a great idea I may blatantly steal one day.

Outside of the bedroom, look after yourself.  Start with exercise, even just a longish walk after dinner.  If that's not enough, meditation or yoga (I like the corpse pose - lie on your back, with your hands palm up at your side and your legs just far apart enough that, when you turn your feet inward, your toes touch.  Then put your feet in their natural position and just breathe.  Laziest yoga pose ever).  If you're the creative type, you might find that ignoring those urges can lead to insomnia, so feed your creativity demons regularly. Don't have caffeine less than 4 hours before bed, and don't have a heavy meal right before bed, either.  And yes, today, I am Princess Obvious.  

When the insomnia hits

If you've been staring at the ceiling for more than half an hour, and you're still not sleepy, get up.  Don't let your brain get used to the idea that your bed is a place to lie awake in.  Wrap yourself up so you're warm and do something simple and repetitive.  I do chores.  My personal favourites are folding laundry and washing dishes, which are quiet and oddly soothing.  Eventually, you'll feel tired enough to sleep, and even if you don't, at least you know you don't have to force yourself to do this shit tomorrow when you're suffering a sleep-deprivation hangover.

Alternatively, relocate your 'bed'.  This works best for the 'Can't turn brain off' type of insomnia.  After getting up and warm, try to go to sleep somewhere other than your bed.  I used to curl up on my parents recliner.  When I lived in that studio, even the couch on the other side of the room could do the trick.  After half an hour, I inevitably found that I was falling asleep.

Last night, however, the first time I'd fallen victim to this particular bitch since our new couches arrived, I discovered that, despite having an awesome two-seater recliner and a very comfy 3-seater, they are not options.  Oh, no.  Not with my cat taking swan-dives off my mid-section and waging a vicious war on any part of me that leaves the boundaries of the couch (hand, feet, dressing gown cord).  I also suspect that, regardless of insomnia, I'd have slept a lot better if I hadn't discovered the little bastard was having impromptu 2am dance parties on our dining room table.

So, where was I?  Oh yeah, sleep.

There are other things that are only effective in certain cases.  For instance, some TVs and monitors emit light at about the same frequency as sunlight, sending the message to our monkey-brains that it's daylight, so they should be awake.  That said, some people find TV or computers a relaxing distraction from the whole not-sleeping thing.  So it's strictly a personal choice.

Alcohol is another one.  Yes, it puts you to sleep, but when it wears off, you might find yourself awake again.  Sometimes, I decide it's worth the risk, but I strongly suggest never trying the 'Two Mersyndal washed down with Bailey's' trick.  I tried it only once (and, for those who don't know, Mersyndal is an over-the-counter migraine treatment) and for the entire next day, I was a groggy, brain-damaged mess and had to ban myself from driving.  

Also, some people like a pre-bed ritual.  I'd love to have one of those, but firstly, I seem to be allergic to being organised, and secondly, my inner pervert keeps deciding she'd rather be sexin' the ITGeek instead.


You do not fail at life if you've had to resort to meds to get some shut eye.  This little ScienceGeek has been there herself, and this is a judgement-free zone.    As a science-lover, though, I've got a couple of suggestions.

You MIGHT be able to take half a pill instead of a whole one, and still get sleep, without some of the nasty side effects.  CHECK WITH YOUR DOCTOR FIRST.  See how much emphasis I put on that sentence?  It's deserved.  Doctors love patients who help themselves, as long as said patient tells 'em about it.  As a VERY general rule, if you're taking a single whole tablet, and only sporadically (ie. when you need it, not everyday at 2pm or something) you should be able to cut down to half a tablet without too much problem. Regardless, please, just check with your doctor first.  

Which brings me to my favourite insomnia related trick...

Ever heard of Pavlov's dogs?  It's a fairly famous experiment about conditioning.  Dogs salivate when they smell food.  Pavlov tried ringing a bell when feeding his doggy test-subjects, and eventually, the dogs would salivate whenever they heard the bell, regardless of if food was there or not.

There's something we humans can take from Pavlov's puppies.  Our sense of smell has a direct, red-phone link to our brain.  That's why certain smells can revive memories more vividly than just sight.  During my pill-popping days, I got in the habit of burning aromatherapy oils in that half-hour while I was waiting for the meds to kick in (you could probably also use an old perfume, it doesn't really matter, as long as it smells).  I used a combination of oils, so the scent was unique enough that I wouldn't come across it while, say, shopping.  In my case, it was lavender, geranium and chamomile, 3 drops of the first two and four drops of the third, with water.  These oils are supposed to be good for relaxation, but if you already suffer low blood pressure, stay away from the lavender.  In your case, it only works if you consider 'fainting' the same as 'relaxing'.  

Regardless of what scent you use (and you can always dab them on your pillowcase, if you find the combination of sleeping pills and burning candles a little too close to stupid for your liking), only use this scent when you're falling asleep.  Eventually, you'll build a connection between the scent and feeling sleepy.  This won't send you to sleep (or the ITGeek would be burning it A LOT more often), but, years after my little imprinting exercise, I've found it still has the power to relax me.

Finally, and most importantly, acknowledge when you're in trouble.  Sleep is taken for granted, until you don't have it any more.  Then you realise just how incredibly vital it is.  Don't hold off on going to the professionals, because there are some out there who are much more professional than some woman with a blog.

That's it from me.  Now, for any insomniacs out there, what are your tips for surviving the war for sleep?  Just because we're sleep deprived doesn't mean we can't be sharing and caring!

CBRII: Undead and Unworthy by MaryJanice Davidson

Undead and Unworthy is the seventh book in a series about Betsy, the incredibly reluctant queen of the vampires.  It's also a marked turn-around in the nature of the series.

The basic premise of the series is this: On her 30th birthday, blonde, six-foot, ex-model Elizabeth Taylor (Betsy) is run over by a truck.  She wakes up a few days later as a vampire.  Not just any Vampire, however, she's the Queen, as prophesised in the book of the Dead, some sort of Vampire bible.  Which is, of course, written in blood by an insane Vampire and bound by human skin.  As part of the prophesy, the first man she has sex with after becoming a vampire is her Consort, the king who will rule at her side for a thousand years.  That king is Eric Sinclair, who *sigh* is tall, dark, incredibly good-looking, hung like a plow-horse and intelligently snobby. 

Tonight, ladies and gentlemen, the role of Mr Darcy will be played by a guy with fangs.

In the previous six books, Betsy discovered a half-sister who also happened to be the devil's daughter, saw dead people, met a bunch of werewolves, and her dad and hated stepmother died, leaving her the sole guardian of their baby son.  And, of course, after much yelling, she and Sinclair got married.

The previous books (which started with Undead and Unmarried, need I say more?) were the kind of popcorn flavoured fluff I was a little embarrassed to admit I liked.  I'd end up saying stuff like 'yeah, she's a vacuous, shoe-loving twit, but she knows it, and she's all scathing and mocking about vampire conventions!  Really!'

But in Unworthy, all those little things that irritated me come back to bite Betsy.  Hard.  People she cares for die, and that plural is not a typo.  It's difficult to describe the plot without giving away the plots of previous stories, but I'll do my best.  The stereotypically evil vampire Betsy defeated in the first book, Nostro (Betsy, during their first meeting, called him 'Nostril' and bitched about his cliched clothing choices.  This is why I stuck with these books for so long) was a fan of the same kind of experimentation as Nazi scientists.  He changed a bunch of people into vampires, then didn't feed them.  They went feral, happily ate animal blood, ran around on all fours, and disembowled anybody they came across.  All that fun stuff.  Betsy, despite managing to 'humanise' one of them, didn't think about the rest of them, regarding them like badly trained, undead puppies.  In Unworthy, they get their minds back and vow revenge.  Since Nostro's dead, they decide to target Betsy.

If the series continues along this path, I'm not going to be so sheepish about recommending it.   Davidson has been smart enough to recognise that the amusement of such an unlikely 'Queen' isn't enough to sustain the series forever, and that, no matter how hardcore her husband, any ruler who doesn't grow a brain and a pair of balls won't rule for long.  

I'd always put the Undead books into a similar category as a good romance novel.  Entertaining, but ultimately, forgetable.  Undead and Unworthy is not so forgetable, and I'm looking forward to seeing where Davidson is going to take Betsy (and us) next.