Tag Archives: romance

Bullet

I’ve made a huge mistake.

Honestly, that would probably be the right place to stop the review, but I just want to complain more, I so do[1]. Spoilers for Bullet, an Anita Blake novel from maybe 2010?, are a free-for-all from here on in. I will mostly be describing the first half of the book, mainly because the second half goes off the rails and becomes all but indescribable.

Scene one: Anita and her main squeezes (so, like, four of them?) head off to an art school dance recital, partly to reintroduce the characters but mostly so Anita can get a dose of guilt from a four year old and his catty mother about how much sex she has, and with how many people.

Scene two: one of the four dudes I mentioned earlier is in a snit because another one of the four dudes I mentioned has been refusing to bang him, since Anita might not like that. They decide to have a six-way (another dude, who has been on the outs with Anita but who is important to the local power structure, showed up to help) to prove to the pissy guy that he is loved.

Scene three: No, wait, they were all compelled to have the six-way by a dead vampire progenitor who it turns out isn’t dead and wanted to use the lust sex magic to take over Anita’s body and live again. But they noticed in time and stopped them, hooray!

Scene four: Some werelion that is pissy Anita won’t pick him exclusively (instead of the two vampires, two wereleopards, and werewolf that made up 5/6 of scene two, not to mention the random other folk she does on the regular) shows up and has beaten some of his pride members nearly to death since he thought maybe she’d banged them too. She uses some of her sex magic to save them before they die, only a vampire who uses death magic has showed up remotely to make them eat each other instead, and in the process of using her sex magic against his death magic, we devolve into instant full on orgy, which nobody can remember when they wake up.

It is important to note that maybe 12 hours have passed so far.

Scene five: That one werelion is still pissy, and picks a fight that results in a lot of people getting hurt, and someone else dying (maybe one of those four people from the beginning?! oh noes), and Anita shoots him in the face so much that he cannot heal from it, what with his head being fully destroyed. Presumably it is this scene from which the title arises? I have no way of knowing.

Scene the second half of the book: Anita is numb from the horrors she has seen, which are apparently just scene five? I’m numb from the horrors I’ve seen too, which comprises maybe rather more of the book by volume. Anyway, the remainder of what happens, in no particular order, are that she exercises off her aggression / numbness[2], finds out about someone taking out an open assassination call on her and the main vampire and the werewolf, uses creepy necromancy powers to drain the lives of some volunteers to save someone else (which makes sense that she would gain a lot of power from that) and then uses inverse creepy necromancy powers to refill the lives of the people she had mostly drained (which makes her completely nonsensically filled up with even more power, instead of drained herself), finds out about a rotting vampire in Atlanta that has gone mad and started killing everyone, and bangs a lot of weretigers because that will be important to them having enough power later to defeat the progenitor vampire that was apparently supposed to be the plot of the book; only after 400 pages of various people negotiating poly relationships, the author realized the book was too large to get bogged down in plot resolution.

It is important to note that maybe 28 hours passed total, and certainly not more than 36. It is also important to note that I have aged five years from the life-draining powers of this book. I didn’t read the third Robin Hobb assassin book partly because Mary was behind (she’s very much not, anymore) and partly because I wasn’t sure I could take more misery.

Well, I am now looking forward to misery that the author intended to induce, since it will be a nice change of pace!

[1] I’ve complained about Ms. Hamilton’s authorial ticks at length, so I shan’t do so again, especially when there’s plenty else to worry about.
[2] Yes, both were a problem. Don’t look at me!

Passengers (2016)

It is functionally impossible to really talk about this movie without massive spoilers, because what the movie is actually about requires knowledge of character actions and motivations. This is… problematic, since spoilers suck. So, I’ll fill in the next paragraph with some kind of thumbnail thing, and put in a cut (that doesn’t work everywhere), and after that, you should probably have watched it first to go any further. Or, if you don’t care, that’s your lookout.

Passengers is, at the broadest level, the story of a colony ship headed outbound from Earth to new frontiers. At the next focus inward, it’s a story about hell and impossible choices. The next focus inward will have to go behind the cut.
Continue reading

Flirt

41gFgp0FhpLThree years between Anita Blake books this time. Oops, I guess? I should read things I like next, clearly. Anyway, Flirt was quite a bit better than its predecessor, despite having an equally inexplicable cover. (For one thing, the title actually makes sense.) But the main reason for this is how short it is. Hamilton did not have enough time to throw in the authorial tics that have made me twitch so much, more than once or twice a piece; and the plot doesn’t have time to get buried up its own ass. There is a pointless chapter early on that exists solely to be a mislead about what’s actually going on once the mystery murdery part kicks into gear in the second half, but otherwise: no wasted space. I am impressed.

But it really is a book mostly premised on flirting, which is bad enough if you’ve read the rest of these. It’s also a book in which Anita must once again regretfully use her vampiric sex magic to make some other were-animal fall helplessly in love with her, thus further complicating her life (just as if the enslaved guy doesn’t have, y’know, bigger problems). Pretty much par for the course.

If the huge moral event horizon she crossed (unrelated to mental enslavement, no less!) were going to pay off in future books, I think I’d be more interested in what comes next? Nonetheless, this is still one of only two good books I can remember in this series since it made that original hard left turn into awfulness. I’d give you links here, but I don’t want to dig through my past reviews finding them, as it would only waste that much more of my life than I’ve already burned through.

Y’know?

Skin Trade

51nHng3hYnLSee, I even sort of have a couple of things to say about Skin Trade, but then I think to myself, I could not begin to guess what the title actually means[1]. It has no bearing on anything I read, none at all.

And then I think, fuck it, how can anyone else possibly still care anymore? Even the good ones are so terrible.

So. Terrible.

[1] Also, the saw blades on the cover? Equally random and meaningless. Perhaps title and cover are a metaphor for what lies within. There’s a kind of sadistic irony in the fact that it would be impossible to comprehend such a literally superficial metaphor without having read the book.

Bellflower

You know that movie where everything goes wrong in the worst possible way, and it’s a really funny movie, so you call its genre black comedy? What do you call the genre when that happens, but it’s not even slightly funny, a little bit? Because Bellflower, named for the street on which its events take place, may be one of the grimmest movies I’ve ever seen. (I rule this not a spoiler, even though it’s the kind of movie you should go in knowing as little as possible about, because of how the first minute or so of footage does nothing but show consequences that will be forthcoming.) On an eponymous street somewhere in what is probably the Valley part of Los Angeles, there are these two guys who are building a flamethrower (among other things) in order to be prepared for the inevitable post-apocalyptic future, in which they plan to wander the earth as, if you will, road warriors. And then they make friends with these girls, and then…. yeah, that’s about the point where I have to stop.

Don’t rule it out out of hand just because I said it was extremely grim. It is, don’t get me wrong, but you’ll be thinking about it (not its grimness, but the whole) for a long time after it’s over. Well, that’s not absolutely fair, most of my thoughts have been from a psychological angle, and if you don’t think those thoughts, I guess you possibly won’t be after all? Oh, I will say this one more thing, though: it is definitely not a date movie, regardless of how accurate my “romance” tag is.

Blood Noir

I’ve had a revelation. It may not be a new revelation, but I can only read books in this series so often without my brain turning to cottage cheese, so forgive me if I’ve lost track of the various ones over the years. No, see, my revelation is about the true irritant of this series. It’s that every now and again, if I can manage to scrape enough of the crap off the pages, there’s something like a decent storyline buried in there. I mean, yes, she’s been padding things with the hypersexed “relationship” plots for a long time now, and that squeezes out all but about usually 30 pages of story. But okay, that’s the book she’s writing, and if it wasn’t for the sheer gall of the packaging, I think I’d have gotten bored and moved on a long time ago. So I can accept that for what it is, it’s not the crap I’m referring to.

Let me explain. So, here’s Anita, and her good friend Jason is having a family crisis, and needs help, which is to say, a visit home with a girlfriend so everyone will stop calling him gay (which would not be as bad as all that, except he isn’t, so it’s annoying that nobody believes him). And she agrees to go, except they get caught up in (for once) human politics, and things quickly blow out of proportion, and all of that is before the vampires get involved. And sure, you could write a whole book about that, but our author cannot because she has to leave room for the porn scenes[1] and the random friend and/or stranger (but always at least one stranger, and always at least two people) that Anita will accidentally bind to herself metaphysically[2] in this particular book.

And my point is… well, it’s this. I’m not trying to say that the actual pornography and the implausibly repetitive growth of “power” and were-menagerie via sex don’t grate on my nerves. I’m not saying that the constant mentions of things tightening low in her stomach and what just does or doesn’t do it for this or that person don’t also grate after a while, but if I’m being honest with myself, all long-form authors eventually have turns of phrase that get old. I’m saying, reluctantly, that the kernel of mystery still remaining in most of these books would be enough to keep me going in the series; well, that combined with certain intangible benefits that I get from complaining about them, volume after volume. Except, well, the writing is getting objectively worse, by leaps and bounds. It’s not enough for people that she’s been friends with for a long time to have the same thought processes as she does. Well, no, that’s not true. As written, it’s easily bad enough.

“He looked like he was thinking about ponies. ‘I’m thinking about ponies!’ he suddenly declared inexplicably for no obvious reason besides the fact that all of us have exactly the same brains and the same voices, and I wanted to be sure you noticed that by showing how my thoughts and his words match up, for some reason even less explicably than the last thing that happened earlier in this sentence. And then we talked about how ponies make me angry (if Richard was the person who was talking earlier) or about how much common love we share for ponies (if anyone else was talking earlier) or about how I’m not sure sure that ponies should be involved in my sexual life, but they flat did it for him, so I would keep an open mind (if Nathaniel was talking earlier).”

But now it’s happening with perfect strangers, because writing more than one voice is really, really hard. Unless it says things in French sometimes, I guess. There was a literal, real, I’m not making this up even a little bit moment, wherein over a span of three pages, Anita makes a metaphorical leap about the situation feeling like the Twilight Zone, then a random new chick character makes a similar metaphorical leap about an unrelated situation feeling like the Twilight Zone. (Hold on, I’m nowhere near done yet.) Neither of these situations was in any way actually creepy or inexplicable or even subtly twisted, it was just the way people talk about things outside their experience. So these two different people make the connection to the Twilight Zone from two completely different experiences, and then, in the same three pages I mentioned earlier, Anita thinks to hrself about how she and this other chick are of diametrically opposed types that could never understand each other in any way.

Perhaps I’m being unfair. It could be that when the series ends, we’ll learn that she’s been captured via vampire magnetism for a dozen years or more and that all of these adventures are things her subconscious mind came up with while it had nothing better to do. That would justify almost every ridiculous thing that has happened, you know? Except Auggie the ancient master vampire that everyone has a ton of respect for and also they call him Auggie. Nothing will ever excuse that.

[1] No, seriously, at this point you could only film these books with a porn script, with the expectation that people would need to fast forward through maybe 15 minutes of plot to watch all of the sex in the maybe 70 or 80 minute movie. Seriously.
[2] And by “metaphysically bind to herself ” I mean have a non-puritanically excessive amount of sex with, which by fiat means they are tied together forever, and that is a twisty maze of passages through LKH’s psyche, all alike, if ever I saw such a maze.

Love and Other Drugs

The sad part of the whole story is that I really only went to see Love and Other Drugs because I’ve had a crush on Anne Hathaway since Ella Enchanted, and she was reported to be extremely hot in this film[1]. Instead of the romantic comedy I expected, I ended up watching a heartfelt, romantic struggle against the odds set against the backdrop of the late ’90s pharmaceutical boom. If it happened to be funny now and again, so is every movie and every real life situation, for that matter; this doesn’t make them comedies! Enough with the pigeonholing, Hollywood advertisers. But, anyway, where was I? Oh, right, the movie: Jake Gyllenhall plays a young rising star pharmaceutical representative, in the heady days of Prozac, Zoloft, and of course, Viagra. If you’ve ever seen one of these people out in the wild, you know they’re all sexy, driven young professionals who haves sales in their blood, and the only things that like more than money are alcohol and intercourse. So, he’s like that, and then he meets an early-onset Parkinson’s patient, Anne Hathaway, who sees right through him. They clash, and then they, um, clash, and then, you know, the romance part of the movie kicks off. And from there, all the characters worth paying attention to[2] evolve in relatable ways while telling a story that left me jealous, introspective, and a little moody, instead of riding on the high of naked Anne Hathaway. Which, seriously.

Probably, this is no more than I deserved.

[1] Well. That’s just not true. She’s extremely hot in every film, but she was reported to be naked in this one. Plus, the previews looked interesting; I mean, I have the internet if that was really my only goal.
[2] You might think I mean both of them, but I consistently enjoyed Hank Azaria and Oliver Platt, too. Good supporting cast, really!

Naamah’s Curse

Have I mentioned how frustrated I am by my inability to find the place on an Amazon product page where I can click that I own it and then rate it? It used to be invisible just from some browsers, but now it’s invisible from basically all of them[1] (unless it’s actually gone), and either way, I like them being able to take my ownership and tastes into account when recommending things, and how can they take them into account if they will not let me show said tastes and ownerships them?[2] Not, tragically, that I would be giving Naamah’s Curse a particularly high rating.

I mean, throughout the long life of the series, it has been exactly the kind of thing I go for. Travelogue fantasy in which the heroes go from place to place, exploring new cultures and solving new puzzles: I’ve been reading it since David Eddings first launched the quest for a blue rock, and despite intra-authorial repetitiveness and the increasingly rare inter-authorial ability to provide a unique new take on the genre, I’ve never not enjoyed myself. Which, lest you take me the wrong way, applies here too. It’s just getting harder to enjoy myself in this particular case when it feels less like travelogue fantasy and more like authorial insertion in order to decry the evils of fundamentalist Christianity and the Hindi caste system. Still, it’s not entirely bad by any means, and none of the bad parts were screed-like; the anvils were just a little too heavy as they landed upon my head, is all. Still, I think Moirin may go to America in the next book, and maybe that will be pretty cool?

[1] I have admittedly not checked Opera or, um, the text-based one whose name I forget.
[2] Oh LOL-cat constructed speech, why must you be so awkward to adapt to conversational English?

The Harlequin

Here is why The Harlequin was disappointing to me. It was neither tragically horrid (despite a fleeting mention of the worst-named vampire lord of all time, Auggie) nor blandly boring. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’ve got a complaint, big enough to fill a paragraph, and that’s enough for me to be satisfied that it wasn’t a complete waste of my time. But the thing is, it was actually kind of good. If Hamilton hadn’t done this to me once before, I might actually believe that the series could be in the midst of an upswing again. I mean, I did think the first several books were pretty okay. Still, I have good defenses now, and will not be tricked this time!

The point of the book, anyhow, is that vampire enforcers so secret and scary that big, powerful vampires like the ones Anita Blake hangs out with (and let’s not forget ’causes to be as powerful as they are’, by virtue of being a special necromancer with multiple strains of lycanthropy (none inconveniently active, though, as that would cause actual difficulties in her life, due to the many prejudices that abound) and also inexplicable vampiric powers that really don’t seem to benefit her much, just to act as an excuse for the author to throw lots of sex into the story without Anita feeling bad about herself (which I’ve probably already said any number of times by now in previous reviews) while giving the big, powerful vampires some of their power, which I believe is where we came into this parenthetical) are afraid to even mention that they exist have come to town to investigate a local vampire church that is not following the rules of how vampires work. Which is not a legal issue, just a traditional one; they have no lord to whom they all owe allegiance and whatnot, they are their own people. It’s a very American kind of thing, in its way. And of course, while these unnameable Harlequin are in town, they’ll want to see what’s up with the weird necromantic[1] lycanthropic vampiric entanglements that exist here in St. Louis but nowhere else. And that, of course, leads directly to the kind of danger that Anita Blake and her friends are uniquely qualified to shoot and/or (at least, more recently) fuck their way out of.

Except, you see, the sex is actually toned way back, both literally (which, whatever; I am neither particularly pro- nor anti- it for itself) as well as in terms of its plot relevance. Which is step one of how I am impressed with the upswing of the plot. It’s been… yeah, I don’t really know how many, nor do I care to go back and check at this point, but it’s been some number of books in which nothing happened except that Anita learned to control the way needing sex to keep herself alive (yes, literally) affects everything and everyone around her, during which twenty pages of an unrelated plot took place in the background. And that number was too high. So, definitely a nice change of pace, here. There’s still lots of relationshippy stuff, and not all of it of the romantic variety, but I’ve always been pretty okay with how Hamilton portrays her characters, so that’s alright. …although technically I’ve just perjured myself there. But let me catch up.

Decent plot, decent characters, improved percentage of sex fluff. Where, then, are my complaints? They are here! The lesser of them is that, Jesus, there are too many characters to keep track of! Maybe one of these times a ginormous and heretofore never mentioned threat, as seems to show up in more of these books than not, could handily kill off maybe a half- or a dozen characters that do not have speaking lines in more chapters than not? Just so random people can not walk-on soliloquize, and then vanish for another book or two. And I mean, even that wouldn’t be so bad[2], except that there Anita is, all first-person remembering who the person is, when she last had sex with him, and why she continues to care that he is alive. So I can’t even just pretend they’re random new people every time, like I might otherwise try to do. So, yeah, they need to die now, a lot of them. It is okay for her to go back to not knowing the names and penis sizes of her bodyguards now. All I’m saying.

But the bigger complaint was… okay, I’m going to delve into spoilers here. I don’t care enough to make a cut, but in the unlikely event that you do, I’m probably not going to make any further points from here, so you can stop reading now. Okay? Okay. So there’s this werewolf on-again off-again boyfriend of hers, Richard. And he’s been pissy for a good long time because she keeps having sex with more and more people and gaining more and more inexplicable powers, whereas all he ever wanted to be was a normal happy human. And he’s grown gradually more emotionally abusive toward her, which at first didn’t bother me because it started out as genuine confusion, not abuse, but the willful disregarding of anything she’s ever said to explain, which honestly may just be a symptom of how repetitive of an author Hamilton is but I will choose in this instance to take as evidence that he either started out abusive after all and it wasn’t obvious to me or else he got that way as he realized that there were never any consequences for it, has removed my small sympathy for his position. And now, he’s moved on to physically abusive, and I can’t tell if I should be crediting Hamilton with a subtle transition instead of the misogyny I’m seeing, but Anita again tells him it’s okay, more or less. I think you’d have to read the chapter or two to understand why it’s a fine line and I can’t actually be sure which is going on, but it looks more like physical abuse than sexual kicks to me. Anyway. He then piles on more emotional abuse, and eventually, at the climax of the confrontation with the Harlequin, the state of their relationship is a key component of the outcome of that battle.[3]

And at this climax, her magic sex power is turning into magic love power, which is again a nice thing; but Richard, in his role as stand-in for the audience, is justifiably paranoid that as soon as he gets involved, letting his guard down and all you see, it will turn back into sex magic, and there he’ll be, trapped in the middle of yet another deus ex orgica. And she gets all pissed off because he doesn’t trust her to know what her magic is like, even though she actually hasn’t for books on end and also never got mad about any of the abuse, but apparently this is where the line is. So, anyway, still in his stand-in for the audience role, she lets him have it for not being willing to accept her for who she is, multiple live-in boyfriends, powerful sex magic and all. And the so-thinly veiled goal of this is to say, look audience-as-Richard, Anita has done nothing wrong and she’s a good person and you should maybe stop judging her so harshly now that I’ve done my part by at least remembering that the plot should exist as more than atrophied connective tissue for my sex magic scenes. So, give a working girl a break, huh? And at first I was pissed off in the way that people get when they’re going to be ashamed but they’re not ready to embrace that yet. Except, no, wait, I realized: I was never annoyed with Anita for being immoral, the way Richard-not-quite-as-audience-like-as-he-thought would have me believe of myself. I always would have been more okay with her if she had embraced her sex magic right off the bat instead of being so negative about it herself for so long. No, what bothered me was that the writing was so clearly designed to justify her shift from mystery-solving necromancer to… well, whatever she is now, when the fact is, it shouldn’t have needed justification in the first place. So for Anita-as-author to justify it to Richard-as-audience now, and try to excuse hundreds of pages of truly awful prose in the same gesture?

I guess I had a little bit more than one paragraph’s worth of anger after all! Which, in a mistaken way that I simultaneously acknowledge and disregard, makes me feel better about the book after all.

[1] A pun that, I assure you, I never grow tired of.
[2] Seriously, who am I really fooling here? This must be what Stockholm Syndrome feels like.
[3] Which should also be a thing in my complaints list all by itself[4], but I’ve pretty much just accepted that metaphysical confrontation is Hamilton’s shorthand for mixing relationship drama with plot drama and moved on, because at least it’s better than all the sex-as-plot that had previously been going on.
[4] While I’m speaking of stuff I forgot to complain about, Jesus, the repetition. I mean, yeah, plot repetition too, and I know I’ve said this in previous reviews, but how can you write, again and again and again, ‘He was wondering why I did that.’ “You’re wondering why I did that, aren’t you?” He looked ashamed, but nodded. “I was wondering why, actually.” “Here’s why I did that:” …and so on. And, okay, as offended as I am by my question above, a better question is, how can you fail to edit that out, again and again and again? Jesus!

Naamah’s Kiss

Jacqueline Carey returns to the world of Terre d’Ange in Naamah’s Kiss, set a century after the events of her previous books. The magically modified historical Europe has progressed into the 16th Century, with tales of a new world away west across the sea, but not-France seems content to rest upon her laurels as a center of love and decadence. Into this more superficial version of a country already obsessed with beauty and fame is thrust Moirin, a half-Alban[1] girl with a capital-d Destiny, descended from the same magical small folk that gave Prince Imriel such trouble during the previous trilogy. Of course, as the other half of her descent is a d’Angeline priest of Naamah, the goddess of Love, it can be no surprise that her parentage and uncivilized mien make her an instant success. Unfortunately, she spends the first two thirds of the book on that, laying groundwork for events in future unwritten books before actually engaging in the plot of this one.

On the bright side, once that plot gets a move on, it’s really quite pleasant, racing to the far corner of the world to rescue a not-Chinese princess from a demon. If you can leave aside the iffy pacing, the book has a lot of things to like. A circle of demon-summoners, ancient Ch’in wisdom, cliff-diving, an implausible amount of lipstick lesbianism, chases, escapes, true love… y’know. Stuff a sick kid would want his grandfather to read to him. But, okay, even if it’s clearly not that funny, it did feel like something out of a storybook. If that sounds ridiculous, take it as me having accepted the characters that thoroughly, by the end. Pacing issues or not, I care about these characters and want to know what happens to them next.

[1] not-England, don’t you know