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
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
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
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
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.
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.