27 September, 2012

Review: Haven by Kay Hooper

Let's face it, the Bishop / SCU series is played out. I think Hooper knows it too, which explains why Haven reads like a reboot. From the cover art to the content, the series is positioned as light horror / suspense instead of light paranormal romantic suspense. I kind of enjoyed Haven, it was an easy read. There was some third wall stuff going on when one character remarks that they seem to spend a surprising amount of time in small towns with sordid serial killer secrets at their heart. (As a city girl I've never found small towns anything but forebodingly creepy but I too must acknowledge the concept is getting tiresome.)

There's something unfinished about Haven, a feeling that it's still in progress. When you get to the final pages Hooper offers a cast of characters listing abilities and earlier book appearances. Except the previous book appearances are listed for only one character. This is the sort of meticulous (non) attention to detail that sends Haven skidding off the rails for me. Don't get me wrong, I'm glad the TSTL characters are, um, TSTL and therefore die. I appreciate Hooper trying to set up something fresh with her popular paranormal FBI crew but it feels a little Friends of Superdog to me. I don't want to cut back and forth between characters I've liked to establish that these characters belong with them. If the romantic element is removed then I want to read about core characters solving crimes. Develop their lives, move them forward. Don't relegate them to side roles where they act concerned and offer explanatory speeches to new readers. (This is what derailed Iris Johansen's Eve Duncan series long before the atrocity of Bonnie.)

Haven has twin sisters who aren't twins. They're just identical siblings. One is the light, one is the dark, both are low level psychics with something very bad in their past. I found the hidden event completely plausible but everything stemming from it irritatingly absurd. (Without spoiling the book, we will just say my buy in on that aspect was 0%.) There's a bad guy preying on the town and with only three main male characters figuring out who it is isn't exactly a challenge. Your choices are Red Herring or Absurdly Easy To Spot. What isn't clear is why AETS is the freak he is. Either Hooper is planning on breaking out her undying evil force plot from an earlier book (I dearly hope not) or she forgot that most suspense books end up giving the killer's motivations. Generally, it goes beyond I Hate Chicks. Sure, not always. Most of the time, though.

So, there's no romance. There's no suspense. There is light horror and a body count, plus a large dose of victimized girls in abject terror. The psychics are pretty useless, except when they need a sudden burst moving the plot along. The complacency of AETS is inexplicable, as is his agitation when the missing sister returns home. There's no payoff in the long lost family angle either. Emma greets Jesse back like she went out for milk but had to go to the store across town. There's no heat in Haven, not of anger or of love. It's a smooth ride to the finish, enjoyable and easily forgotten. As a library read, a waiting room book or a beach burner it's fine. Haven is truly average. Which makes me sad. I like Kay Hooper. I like her way with paranormals. I wish she'd either get over this series or rethink the light horror focus. I am bone tired of reading about mutilated women, I need something else to hang my hat on if we're going to insist on writing about them.

26 September, 2012

Things You Should Listen To: The Devil You Know by Rickie Lee Jones

The first CD I ever bought (not the first item of music, that would take us back to LP's and 45's) was Rickie Lee Jones' The Magazine. I didn't have a CD player. I didn't even have the hope of having a CD player. When the compact disc hit it was an artificially expensive format requiring a serious investment in hardware. This was an aspirational purchase. It was a promise to myself that someday I would be the type of girl who'd listen to Rickie Lee Jones on expensive stereo equipment. (As it happened, I gained access to a CD player that very week. I never looked back.)

I can't make you love Rickie Lee Jones. I recognize that she is forever associated with slouched hats and doomed affairs in the hearts and minds of many. Having followed her entire career believe me when I say The Devil You Know is among her best work. This is a covers album. It's also a fairly predictable and shop worn selection - her answer (perhaps) to Rod Stewart's American Songbook. It's a different side of Rickie. There's a gravity to her voice which brings Billie Holliday to mind. She's weary. The girl has grown into herself. There's a moment in The Weight where she makes a sound, just a bit of an Ahh. Within that addition you can hear a resigned fatigue. The sort you quickly stifle before it drowns you. Give her a chance to win you over. For a moment, be the girl who listens to Rickie Lee Jones on outrageously expensive sound equipment.

(What I really want now is a duet between Rickie Lee Jones and Victoria Williams. File that in my dreams next to Joe Jackson recording with Perry Farrell.)

25 September, 2012

Brian Kozicki 1965 - 2012

The Coolest Thing I Ever Gave Him

Brian Kozicki wasn't a woman-hating asshole.

Maybe that seems like a low bar, a gimmie in the hurdles of life. For a man in Brian's chosen profession, not being a woman-hating asshole was a goddamn miracle. (I shouldn't focus on that. Brian was so many things that not being misogynist is only a tiny part of the picture.) If he'd climbed mountains or bred pygmy goats you'd marvel at a life lived in pursuit of a passion. And Brian was deeply passionate about his interests. (But goats and mountains weren't among them.) He loved his family, his community and his chosen life. He was a passionate advocate of literacy. He was a man who believed the least among us had the same value as the most. He was a man who tried to live his values. Mostly, he succeeded.

To use a tired comparison, he was a bear of a man. Sentimental, loudly dressed, eager for a laugh or a good natured argument, Brian embraced people in all their diversity. He greeted his friends with huge hugs, then said goodbye the same way. He could be so full of cheer that it was impossible not to smile. (He wasn't always happy, none of us are.) Happiness was a goal he worked toward. Given a choice, he chose joy. If Brian couldn't fix his own problem, he'd work on yours. If you didn't have one, he'd tell you about someone else's so you could work on it together.

Most of the time, Brian picked up the check at meals. "It's a business expense." (It wasn't.) He always apologized after complaining, even when the problems were huge. He didn't want to bring you down, enough about him, back to you. I loved making him laugh. His face would light up when you surprised him. He welcomed people like he'd been waiting all year for just that exact person to walk in the door. Brian treated a five year old with a dollar the same way he treated a hipster with hundreds. He was as passionate an advocate for his wares as Steve Jobs was for Apple. "Just look at this!" he'd exclaim. "I'm going to give you this because you have to see it!" If you loved it, he'd beam. If you hated it, he'd be just as excited. At least you gave it a shot. That's what Brian always wanted, a shot. 

Brian owned a comic store. He owned a comic store in boom years, in bust years and in between years. His dream of a large multimedia arcade wasn't meant to be, but it would have been my favorite place ever. He once introduced me to Paul Lee by saying Paul would love me, when normal protocol is to treat the artist as the main event. I think, although I could be wrong, that it was Paul Lee who drew Brian into Batman as a bartender. It made sense. Brian loved to talk as much as he loved to listen. The counter was his natural habitat. He could talk me into any book, any restaurant, any person. When I'd get annoyed and write irritated letters to editors he'd call and offer me a book signing. Manchester's own, featured in a new tirade. 

There were three things Brian never got me to do. The first was disc golf. The second was work the shop. The third was joining him for SDCC. For years he tried to tempt me. (Did I want to have dinner with Mark Hamill?) He'd bring me signed things from Kevin Smith or Jason Mewes. "Look what you missed!" followed by "Look what you missed again!" and eventually "What's wrong with you!?!?!" He'd say "You should go. We'd have a great time. Kevin Smith would love you!" 

Brian died at 46. This is ridiculous. I am writing this a full month since his death but less than twelve hours since I found out he's gone.  The world needed Brian. It needed his enthusiasm. It needed his passion for education in whatever guise it came. When I first met Brian I saw or spoke to him several times a week. Then I moved away. Then I had kids. Then I had cancer. Then I had it again. Over the years a few times a week turned into a few times a year. Each time, each conversation, was one of laughter and joy. (Even the ones about chemo.) Listen, I know this was filled with cliches. This wasn't an original thought or an innovative page. This was a very long way to say something very small. 

I want you to meet my friend Brian. You'd really love him.

24 September, 2012

Review: Sweet Talk by Julie Garwood

I didn't utterly hate it, so there's that. If there is a literary equivalent of easy listening, this book is it. Snoozey McSnoozerson with a side of sleepytime. The writing is simplistic, the characters defy belief, the twists and turns of the plot are nonexistent. This is a bad guy. This is a bad guy too. Here's another bad guy over here. Here they are, all caught. Wait, that bad guy as well. You know what would have rocked this book and set the plot on fire? If our heroine Olivia had actually been wrong about something. Preferably the Ponzi scheme she was chasing down, but really, anything.

Olivia has cancer as a kid and meets three other girls in an experimental drug program that.... doesn't matter at all to any other aspect of the plot. The cancer exists just to show that her family is a bunch of bad guys except for the ones that aren't. Olivia is convinced, without any evidence, that her father runs a massive Ponzi scheme. She's rerouted her career into a field she thinks will help bring him down. Her aunt is convinced as well and urges Olivia forward as the Only One Who Can Do It. (Olivia has serious martyr issues.) Ok, what if Olivia had been wrong? What if Grayson (our hero) proved that Olivia's father was innocent and Olivia had simply transposed her justifiable resentment into criminal conspiracy? It's absolutely ok to despise parents that don't turn out to be mastermind criminals. Really.

But whatever, Olivia is never wrong. She's working on her dad's case, her day job at the FBI, and as an attorney for children caught up in the court system (although she doesn't go to court, she seems to mostly drive them to safe houses.) She gets shot three times and has sex a few days later, even though the surgery is touch and go. She taunts men with popsicles like she's a sexually abused tween and buys groceries for her shut in neighbors. She's rich as hell, so when she gets shot her aunt's staff comes to clean and restock her home while a personal chef caters weekly. Yet at the start of the book she's pinching pennies, skipping meals and worrying about her income. Olivia likes her men temporary and her sex whenever it's offered. Don't call her for a month? We're cool. Two weeks? Why worry about it. Olivia has no emotional needs at all. She's a giver, a pleaser, a servant to her serfs. I was really hoping they'd shoot Olivia in the head so a second heroine would appear. Look, she steps in to handle her lover's nephew's school bullying problem in a completely illegal and unlikely manner for no plot reason other than yet another example of her goodness. Come on. I don't care how many kids she works with in court, you don't walk into someone else's life and stitch their problems up in twenty seconds.

Grayson isn't much better. He's an FBI agent, single parent, home remodeling landlord, investor, investment type who is well known in the socialite circles. When it's revealed early on that Grayson knows Olivia's aunt no one asks how. Her aunt is surprised, she didn't know they were acquainted - and that's it. Olivia doesn't ask questions. The aunt doesn't ask questions. Grayson acts like a teenager with his first erection through most of the book, not the seasoned adult he's presented as. He does a lot of Ricky Ricardo posturing and has a miracle life where there is no paperwork involved. Grayson foils an attempted kidnapping and murder? It's all good. Let's hand the bad guys off to the team and hit the sheets. His work consists of taking a few phone calls and slapping the occasional cuff on. Wait, he can also engage in some low level police brutality with no complaints from any law enforcement and shoot people dead without having his gun held for an investigation period. Grayson is Olivia's perfect match in doing what he wants and being The Only One Who Can. Serving a time critical search in another state? Local can't get through those tricky old locks, but Grayson and his partner enjoy a good night's sleep then fly in to save the day in seconds!

Look, there's nothing objectionable about Sweet Talk. I didn't really want to DNF it at any point. It's a great read for a day you're sedated on cold meds and can't follow anything complicated. Turn the brain off and enjoy. It's unoffensive and smooth but it isn't good.

21 September, 2012

Review: Lord of Temptation by Lorraine Heath

Hated it. Hated it so much I had to stop 75 pages in and rant. Hated, hated, hated it. And I love Lorraine Heath. From any other author, Lord of Temptation would have hit the DNF pile without regret. From Lorraine Heath I had to struggle on in the belief that surely it would get better.

It did not.

Lord of Temptation is full of weary shortcuts that sketch in concepts  rather than paint portraits of real people. I didn't believe in any of these characters. Our hero is well detailed in my prior rant. He's a pirate captain and a lost lord and the sort of man who thinks of women as prey. Heath attempts to counter balance his creeptastic ways by having him passively take a few beatings and spend a lot of time thinking about what a creepier creep he'd be if not for our heroine's magically attracting ways. Our heroine is 85% social convention adherent and 15% sex positive adventurer. She's the sort of girl who can say things like "Look, I know I agreed to marry you, but five minutes ago I was banging that guy I told you I wasn't into like a shutter in a storm. Let's still get hitched, okay?" After she and her fiance work through that epic moment of truth and arrive on the morning of their wedding she asks him to stand up for her while she marries someone else.  Because it would be good for her reputation. Since I was desperate to like anyone in this novel, her refusal to be a consistent character (unless stunningly self absorbed was the object) irked me. Granted, her fiance doesn't love her but it's still all kinds of tacky from a woman who has already embarrassed the man half a dozen other ways.

My nickname for the hero, The Pirate Stalker, was more apt than I could have predicted when I first applied it. He spends more time thinking about how he usually leaves women, how when he is done with them he just disposes of them, than he does the heroine. Sleeping with the heroine is high on his list. Not having the heroine change him is right up there too. This was the sort of book where the hero spends 90% of his time whining about how the heroine is trapping him with her magic vagina. She wants things he doesn't. In real life we call that irreconcilable differences. In Romanceland it often means they haven't sexxed their problems away yet. So they have at until they do. Compounding my inability to care about this shallow pond is the unrealistic sibling relationship. In the prior book three young boys escape certain death and vow to return for their revenge. They plan their return for ten years out (legally dead at seven, but never mind that). This book resumes events two years after the return. The three brothers are still emotionally estranged, if cordial. This leads Heath to write some truly ridiculous scenes. Tristan (the hero) barges into his brother's Rafe's office (after a two year gap) to demand information on the heroine. Rafe tells him he has a nephew and Tristan is like, ok, cool, so about my question? These men are so far apart that even the news of a child isn't transmitted between them but they can barge in and out of each other's homes without challenge? Later Tristan does almost the exact same thing to his other brother. "Hi, give me what I want. Ok, bye." Whose life works like that?

You can't even cheer on the side characters. The Pirate Stalker has his own stalker, a deluded young woman determined to chain him to her side on the basis of nothing. He refuses her to her face and continually shows preference to another. Of course she steps forward and claims he is her lover. Then, scant pages later, she sits in public, in society, openly, at his surprise wedding where she is easily subdued by a whisper. Her eyes open and she realizes she's been ignoring the man for her all along. Since said man is willing to move past years of deluded thinking and a false accusation of seduction, I suppose she's right. Mental, but right. This is the sort of shortcut plotting that passes for depth in Lord of Temptation. I'm fighting to give the book two stars when I do my Amazon review because there are truly worse books out there, I just don't think Lorraine Heath wrote them. If you're looking for escapist sexxy times 1978 flashback pirate pages, Lord of Temptation is for you. It was absolutely not for me.

15 September, 2012

On Disappearing Bloggers

Boxing Helena by meoskop
Much like this macabre garden decoration from the local elementary school, I feel quite separated from reading lately.  Last week, I didn't read a single page. It's not reviewing I've lost interest in. This month I've talked elsewhere about handbags, kitchen items, food, music and furniture. I've spoken about politics, social issues, popular television and my neighborhood. Shutting up isn't what happened. I even panned the most recent Bob Dylan album. If you know anything about reviewing music you know that Bob Dylan fans are super extra fervent and crazy. We will argue the most minute points until all semblance of sanity is lost. Saint Bob produces works of brilliance not fit for the likes of humanity and anything suggested to the contrary produces shaking tears of rage. It's kind of like, our thing. So this isn't about fear of reader response. 

I did quit GoodReads, and I did so with no regret at all. I don't want to be one of the reviewers who quits reading. (BTDT in the last massive wave of Be Nice and Sock Puppets for Everyone.) On the other hand, the climate right now sucks. It's not fun to talk about books and therefore it's not fun to buy them. I'm spending less. I'm accepting fewer ARCs. My book consumption is in free fall. I hesitate to review other items here very often because most people who read this blog (as opposed to half a dozen other blogs o'me) read it to talk about books. My narrow interest in film or music is something I can slip in here or there, not dump on you constantly. I get that. You get that. In each blog, it's place. Or something. We're losing focus.

First, there was The Book Of Shame. Then there was The Shameful Blog followed quickly by the Sicko Authors and the Lying Authors and the Authors of Malice Without Glee. The intent was to kill all reviews that weren't happy little Saint Bob fangirl moments of unsupported devotion. The side effect is I don't want to read anybody's effing book. It's silencing the 5 star reviews as much as it is the 1 star reviews. The Good Authors, the Careful Authors, the Hardworking Responsible Authors all get shafted while the Sockpuppets create frenzies of yarn across the internet. I need to figure out how to reattach my arms and do some work on the TBR.

Just to get it out of my system, the new Dylan album is going to go down as one of his worst. Tempest is self indulgent (even for Saint Bob) and tedious. It's Muddy Waters reduced to the lowest common denominator and speechified upon. It's not good. It's 13 minutes about the sinking of the fictionalized Titanic complete with love for Leo. (Yes, I get the whole allegorical nature of the piece. It's still a murky and numbing slog.) There are some truly wonderful lyrics hidden in the depths but you have to kill yourself to find them and I'm not willing to die for Saint Bob. I just don't think he'd come save me.