Book Review

Summer Round-Up: Books What I Read While On Summer Vacation, Pt. 2

Part 1 of the Books What I Read While On Summer Vacation can be found here.

Mine Till Midnight by Lisa Kleypas (Historical Romance – European), St. Martin’s 2007
Grade: B
I went on quite the Lisa Kleypas roll this summer, and immersed myself, yea verily, in her ocean of fluffy romance goodness. Cam is a bit of a rarity for a Kleypas hero: more sunny-natured than not, and refreshingly angst-free, despite his half-gypsy, half-Irish background. Her heroine is a bit more of a standard model: enterprising young woman with impecunious family consisting of two adorable sisters, one difficult brother intent on self-destruction and one sort-of adopted Gypsy brother-ish/guardian-ish person who clearly has the hots for one of the sisters. (Set sequel-baiters to “Stun.”) Amelia attempts to resist Cam because he’s clearly Not Right For Her. Cam pursues her with raffish glee. You know the drill.

Despite the predictability, the chemistry between Cam and Amelia is engaging, and Amelia’s conflicts with her older brother and his self-destructive tendencies are handled with a somewhat more realistic edge than I’ve come to expect in most romances. (Incidentally, the reason for his self-destructiveness is kind hilarious, but I was charmed enough by the story that I went along for the ride.) In all, solidly readable, distracting fun.

Seduce Me at Sunrise by Lisa Kleypas (Historical Romance – European), St. Martin’s 2008
Grade: C
The chemistry between Winnifred, Amelia’s younger sister, and Kev, the sullen Gypsy whom the Hathaways’ father had rescued from a brutal beating when Kev was in his early teens, was intriguing enough that I looked forward to reading their story when I finished Mine Till Midnight. Unfortunately, Seduce Me at Sunrise was rather lackluster. Kev is a rather typical brooding hero who has issues about wrecking Winnifred’s frail blonde purity with his filthy, filthy lust, even as he obsesses about her so much, I want to sit him down and give him happy pills. Dude has a serotonin problem on his hands. No, seriously. Think about every cheese-tastic Richard Marx love song you’ve ever heard, combine it with “Every Breath You Take,” then add a healthy dose of martyr syndrome. Win, on the other hand, is somewhat more believable: she’s been through a serious illness that doctors think have weakened her permanently, but she’s determined to live as full a life as she can, which means pursuing her health and Kev with equal zealousness. What she sees in Kev, though, I’m not entirely sure. Throw in an ending so neat and so improbable, unicorns practically shot rainbows out their asses, and this book falls solidly into the dreaded Meh Zone: a dimension not only of schlock and cheese, but of improbable coincidence; a journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are limited only by the place where your willing suspension of disbelief is hung till dead.

The Shining by Stephen King (Horror), Pocket 2001
Grade: A-
If you don’t know what The Shining is about, I’m not sure what to say to you, other than to commend you on your uncanny ability to evade Western pop culture. Everybody knows this is the Stephen King novel about the evil Overlook hotel in the Colorado Rockies and the family that’s snowed in there for the winter, right? C’mon: Red rum! Red rum! Cute little Danny, with his Phenomenal Cosmic Powers. The dad, Jack, who goes batshit crazy and rampages around the hotel with a mallet. Etc.

I read this book when I was about twelve or thirteen years old, and it really stuck with me. I mean, to this day, I get a bit jumpy when pulling back the shower curtain from around a bath tub. Anyway, I decided it was time for me to get reacquainted with it during the Best Time Ever to read about an old, creepy hotel: during the RWA National Conference, while staying at the Marriott in Washington D.C., which is full of elaborate molding and carpets writhing with patterns. Re-reading it as an adult was an interesting experience: I got a lot more out of the book, with an especial appreciation for Jack’s capacity for self-delusion, and it was interesting to dissect what worked for me and what didn’t, both as a kid and as an adult.

The book is a bit creaky in places—I’m very fond of King’s voice, but sometimes it gets a bit too cocky, even for me—but it’s a truly compelling read. It’s not just the horror of the hotel that drives the book forward (though there are plenty of scary moments, both over-the-top and subtly creepy, like the bath tub thing, and the topiary, and the thing in the playground, and the fire extinguisher on the second floor); besides the supernatural aspects, The Shining presents eerily real snapshots of abuse and addiction cycles. Jack Torrance’s meltdown is all the more scary because he’s such a sympathetic monster, and because his weaknesses are so human. One of my favorite horror novels of all time.

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach (Non-Fiction), W.W. Norton 2004
Grade: B+
This is the most charming book I’ve ever read about cadavers. (It’s also the only book I’ve read about cadavers, but that’s petty quibbling.) If you’re a sucker for micro-histories told with a light and informative touch, you’ll almost definitely enjoy this look into the use, abuse, disposal and treatment of corpses, from the grave-robbers of old, to modern cannibalism, to burial traditions, to the medical uses of corpses (both for research and learning and as, uh, medicine—see, for example, human mummy confection). You’ll find out exactly what happens to a body when it dies and decomposes, and how cadavers help improve car safety and solve the mysteries of airplane crashes.

Stiff also features one of my favorite analogies of all time in its introduction:

The way I see it, being dead is not terribly far off from being on a cruise ship. Most of your time is spent lying on your back. The brain has shut down. The flesh begins to soften. Nothing much new happens, and nothing is expected of you.

What this book lacked was depth and cohesiveness; the presence of both would’ve easily catapulted this into A territory (the way corpses are occasionally catapulted into windshields during crash testing). It’s fun and funny and tremendously engaging, but when I finished it, I felt it was more a collection of vignettes connected by a common theme than an actual book. Still, I highly recommend it, especially if you have a decently strong stomach and are curious about the multifarious fates of our bodies when we have shuffled off our mortal coils, rung down the curtain and joined the choir invisible.

We3 by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely (Graphic Novel – Science Fiction), Vertigo 2005
Grade: A-
A word of warning: do not read this book if animal mistreatment is a trigger issue for you.

Another word of warning: If you do decide to read this, you will cry. Like a little bitch. Not small, sniffly, discreet tears, either; I’m talking big-ass, snot running down your face, outright bawling and boo-hooing sorts of tears. Make sure you have a huge box of tissues handy when you crack this open, because seriously: crying. Like a bitch.

Here’s the premise: the Department of Defense has commissioned the creation of animal-robot hybrids (think pets with pimped-out mecha suits grafted onto their bodies) for military applications—mostly for weapons assembly, and as weapons themselves. The primary weapons team is known as We3, comprising of a dog, a cat and a rabbit with different attack and weapons specialties. However, when a senator orders their “decommission,” the scientist in charge of their creation and training decides to release them instead, and what follows is both incredibly violent and incredibly heart-wrenching, as the animals try to find a home while battling the entire United States armed forces.

The writing is great, but the art is truly spectacular. Quitely does fascinating things with paneling and story flow. He doesn’t bother to pull any punches with the violent scenes, which contrasts interestingly with the bright, almost cheerful color palette. He also does great things with the main characters, capturing a wide range of expressiveness through facial expressions and body language. This is probably one of my favorite graphic novels of all time, and if you’re willing to give something different a shot, and if you’re prepared to cry (like. a. little. bitch), you’ll be rewarded with one of the most touching, articulate and interesting stories to come out of the comics world in a long, long time.

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Liz_Story says:

    Okay, because Mine Till Midnight is on the front page, I’m just gonna go ahead and self pimp the comic strip I drew about it

    Which you can find here

    I’m enjoying the bundle reviews! Though I don’t think I’ll bother reading Seduce Me at Sunrise.

  2. 2
    Liz_Story says:

    Look at me fail at coding!  Comic is here: http://redtenko.deviantart.com/art/HS-Mine-Till-Midnight-109727508

    able84—or not able to use basic message board functions

  3. 3
    Lynz says:

    Huh. We3 sounds vaguely like Gunslinger Girl but with animals instead of young girls, a different setting, and colour. Great, my TBR pile just grew again, dammit.

  4. 4
    DS says:

    I listened to Stiff on CD (read by Shelly Frasier) and quite liked it—have to agree that it has no great depth, but Roach has an eye for the grotesque.  I just downloaded Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife as part of a 3 books for 2 credits deal on Audible.com.  There’s another one called Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex that sounds intriguing.

    I also loved The Shining and was forever disappointed that the topiary were not in the movie—well not the same way they were in the book.

  5. 5
    Diatryma says:

    Seduce Me at Sunrise was the first Kleypas I read, having recognized her name from Beyond Heaving Bosoms.  Then I basically read backward until I was out of books.  Some of her books have problems, but hey, fluffy and fun.  I do wish she’d shown the meeting between Kev, Cam, Westcliff, and Long-Lost Granddad.  That would have been much more interesting than an epilogue with a baby in it.

  6. 6
    katiebabs says:

    I absolutely loved Cam and Amelia! It was great to see the Hathaway siblings interact with each other and that they all love and care for one another. When Cam “kidnaps” Amelia in the middle of the night to make her his bride, I was cheering. Mine Till Midnight is one Kleypas book I can read over and over again. I did enjoy Kev and Win’s story but not as much as Cam and Amelia’s. There seem to be something a bit lacking even though Kev’s undying love and devotion for Win is wonderful.

    The Shining is a masterpiece of literature. Talk about having a mind trip while you’re reading.

  7. 7
    caligi says:

    I loved, loved We3 despite it being a full bucket of sad.

  8. 8
    Suze says:

    My new favourite non-fiction author is Malcolm Gladwell.  I listened to Outliers on the interminable drive to the Big City this summer, and it BLEW. my. mind.  I’m glomming his tragically short backlist.

  9. 9
    Travis Brand says:

    I own all three of those Mary Roach books. Stiff is the best, IMO, with Bonk running a close second. Spook wasn’t quite as good, but they’re all three very fun.

  10. 10
    Ann Bruce says:

    Read We3 years and years ago and I loved, loved, loved it.  Morrison, Quitely…two of the best in the biz so they couldn’t go wrong.

    (Okay, there is a best in the biz currently going very wrong: Frank Miller.)

  11. 11
    Jennifer says:

    Is it wrong of me to admit I only know The Shining because of The Simpson’s?

  12. 12
    Gram says:

    Love Mary Roach and have read all so far…
    Lisa Kleypas grew up in MA so I feel obligated to read all of her books.
    air48 – too many books!

  13. 13
    Juli says:

    Is this Cam from

    The Devil in Winter

    ?  I’m glad to hear he got his own book, he deserved a little better than the quickie in the cellar he got there.

  14. 14
    Karen says:

    I made the mistake of reading most of The Shining late at night by myself. Then I had nightmares about my own father chasing me around The Overlook trying to kill me. Freaky! The dead child/ghost in the playground stalking Danny remains the most terrifying scene in fiction I’ve ever read. Truly a great, great horror novel.

  15. 15
    Zyfsv says:

    Hi Candy, After reading your description of We3, I was intrigued & finished it in one sitting. I don’t know if I should thank you or make you buy me a new box of Kleenex (still sniffling & snarffeling with tears). I can’t remember the last time a story haunted me like this one. Good reminder how powerful it can be when it is done right. Thank you! (I think….)

  16. 16
    mingqi says:

    @Gram.  Same here!  She’s also an alum of my college so I read them too.  I haven’t gotten to Seduce me at Sunrise yet.  I hope i’ll like it.  Mine Til Midnight was a good read for me, but I was still disappointed because I expected a lot more from Lisa Kleypas.  I’m not that interested in Kev and Winnifred’s romance, but Winnifred sounds like a likable and admirable heroine.  I’m really waiting for the kleptomaniac sister’s book and the older brother’s book.

  17. 17
    mingqi says:

    all the underlining is distracting…i wonder if this will fix it

    testing testing..

  18. 18
    MelB says:

    I loved Stiff. It had me saying “wow” a few dozen times along with “No Way” and You’re kidding.” I also recommend Magnificent Corpses: Searching Through Europe for St. Peter’s Head, St. Claire’s Heart, etc. by Anneli Rufus. It’s part travelogue, part history lesson about the creepy Catholic tradition of building churches complete with a saint’s body part.

  19. 19
    DianeN says:

    Seems to me that Mary Roach’s Bonk really should be reviewed by one of the SBs. I mean, bonking is really what it’s all about here, right?

  20. 20
    HaloKun says:

    Absolutely LOVED WE3, read it awhile back (I have a thing for Grant Morrisson, though).  I heard they are making this into an animated movie, which makes me weep.  People should just buy the freakin’ book!  It’s fantastic, and like Candy says emotional.  Thank you for reviewing this I hope everyone goes and gets it!

  21. 21
    Lisa richards says:

    I just added WE3 to my shopping cart, now I must get it home and read it without my daughter in law (who has 4 buns) and my daughter ( a dog and a cat) seeing me reading it. Also added an extra large box of tissues.

  22. 22
    Liza Daly says:

    I’ve read all these books! (I would’ve thought I was the only human who could make this claim).

    We3 is awesome.

  23. 23
    SonomaLass says:

    Think about every cheese-tastic Richard Marx love song you’ve ever heard, combine it with “Every Breath You Take,” then add a healthy dose of martyr syndrome.

    This.  Is full of win.

  24. 24
    Kathleen says:

    Oh god, We3.  I read it over at my boyfriend’s and loved it, LOVED it, but then I spent a good fifteen minutes sobbing into his pet bunny’s fur (while the bunny looked vaguely puzzled and annoyed), and then went home and did the same exact thing to my long-suffering cat.  That book destroys me.

  25. 25
    pissed off one says:

    Ha ha ha! I knew what the shinning is about from the Simpsons…well, groundskeepr Willie more like. Anyway, glad to see you again after so long, Candy! You are THE best! Tee hee!

  26. 26
    my free cams says:

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