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Tuesday, June 20, 2017

When a Fairy Tale is Good... and When it Isn't

Sometimes, you really need a slice or three of your favorite pizza. (Go on, admit it.) Other times, nothing but a bowl of decadent ice cream (you know, the good stuff) can quench that craving you feel. And often, only the thought of a stiff drink at the end of a long day can put things to rights in your world.

When it comes to books, though, what is an equivalent treat/reward, when you're feeling sort of done in, when you're effectively "toast"? Something not too heady, too erudite, clearly; if your goal is escapism and guilty pleasure, you’re not exactly gonna pull out the Dostoyevsky or Hawthorne, are you?

No, for me that sort of release—the polar opposite of a trying day—is generally going to involve a fantasy… and one on the more effervescent, playful end of the spectrum rather than the elaborately-built-out-worlds end, because if it’s escapism I’m after, I really don’t wanna be tasked with thinking too hard.

So, over the past month or so, I’ve found myself flipping through two such lighthearted little bits of frivolity, in between other books and, you know, life. One turned out to be exactly what I needed; the other… eh, not so much.

And here’s the kicker: both were by the same author... with rather different results. I present, W.R. Gingell’s Masque and Spindle.

* ~ * ~ * 

The description of Masque hooked me from the start: “Beauty met the Beast and there was… bloody murder?”. (Major points for adapting a fairy tale; what could possibly be more escapist than that?)

Better yet, though, the book followed through on its promise. Lady Isabella Farrah is the perfect heroine for this sort of piece—beautiful, charming, spunky, ever-so-witty, and (conveniently, for the plot, natch) an “old maid” (at the advanced age of 28, gasp!). While her younger siblings are at home or off doing other things, she is acting as her politician-father’s aide while they’re in the capitol city seeing to political business. When, during the course of an evening at a big party, she stumbles into a murder scene—the victim being one of her friends, no less-- she finds a new/secondary purpose for herself: to (help) solve the murder.

The only problem with that? The man tasked with solving it—one Lord Pecus (Commander of the Watch, as well as rich, eligible, and suitably-mysterious bachelor)—has no desire to have her help. At all.

What follows is, of course, somewhat predictable… but who reads fairy tales (light fantasies, etc.) expecting to be gobsmacked, anyway? (Certainly not about the final outcome.) But it’s an utterly-delicious ride from those first pages to reach the end of the story, full of little twists, plenty of humor, a good sense of place, and a host of very well-drawn supporting characters.

Spindle, on the other hand, provided me with very little of what I had found so utterly fun and absorbing in the previous book.

Oh, it started off with some promise; where Masque was clearly a riff on “Beauty and the Beast”, Spindle took on “Sleeping Beauty” (which, in and of itself, was certainly fine). The problem, though, is that Spindle almost entirely lacked in great (or even, particularly good) characters.

Polyhymnia (thankfully, “Poly” for short) is the long-hidden princess who’s been slumbering away whilst under a sleeping curse… which is finally, after many decades, broken by one Luck, a—erm—rather lucky enchanter. The surprise for Luck? Poly insists she isn’t a princess. (Of course, she also insists she has no magic in her, which is clearly not the case.)

Now, it’s certainly no shock that these two are destined (by the author, if not by the reader’s common sense) to wind up together. But, as just intimated, that’s sort of an issue, here… chiefly, because neither of the two main characters acquits her-/himself in a particularly interesting manner, nor do they have any discernible chemistry. Like, none at all.

In fact, the only character in Spindle I actually found myself enjoying was a dog who… well, is more than he appears. (And even the novelty of that wore off after a time.)

Additionally, if I were editing Spindle, I could easily (and would joyfully!) have hacked off a good third of it, and suggested it be offered up as a novella rather than a full-length work. (It still wouldn’t have been aces, but removing so much sheer drudgery—page after page, chapter after chapter—of nothing of any interest or import happening, would at least have tightened up the story and made it considerably better.)

As it stands, though, I was so weary of a whole lotta nothingness that when the end was in sight—and the few things that were going to happened actually did—that I had a hard time caring.

 * ~ * ~ * 

Ms. Gingell definitely has some talent for this sort of tale, and—on the basis of Masque, alone—I’ll definitely look at some of her other works… but I’m going to need a while, because I simply couldn’t face the potential disappointment of finding I’d had the misfortune to latch onto something more like the dreary Spindle than like the delicious Masque, quite so soon. 


Thursday, June 8, 2017

Big Dreams and Even-Bigger Disappointments... That's Showbiz, Folks!

Los Angeles, California--What People (who don’t live there) Think It Is: Endless sun, beaches, surfing, skateboarding, movie and TV stars, glamourous shopping meccas, ostentatious wealth, kooks, vineyards, pot, egos, traffic, earthquakes, and big dreams.

Los Angeles, California--What It Really Is: All of the above… plus dust, smog, pedestrians, industry folks moonlighting in a lot of inglorious jobs (because they can’t make ends meet, otherwise), ratty apartments, ordinary people, fabulous diversity of foods, loneliness, and unfulfilled dreams. 

Prior to making the Golden State my home, I probably wouldn’t have come up with everything on the second list; you can’t really know a place unless you spend some time there… as author Robert Bryndza (writing with husband Jan Bryndza, this time) clearly did, going by the tale told in Lost in Crazytown.

Lost in Crazytown centers around Filip--a guy not unfamiliar in Hollywood… transplanted from somewhere else (in his case, London), trying to get over a recent breakup, youthful, gay, with dreams of making it big (as a celebrity stylist). 

Aside from having to leave everyone and everything he knows behind and moving thousands of miles to a place where he knows a total of one person, it seems like a sensible enough plan, right? Well, sure… until the plane touches down and he learns that his sole L.A. acquaintance isn’t picking him up at the airport, but is leaving the country at that very minute for a gig, tossing Filip the keys to an apartment and a rental car as they pass each other on the concourse. (It’s important to point out here that Filip’s first experience driving on the “wrong” side of a car—which must be returned the next day—and the “wrong” side of the road, will be in L.A. traffic, leaving LAX.) 

This situation is not remotely ideal. Nor, as it turns out, is much of anything else. From the eccentric gay couple (of the “have-wealth-but-lack-anything-remotely-resembling-good-taste” variety) with whom he eventually strikes up a sort of not-exactly-friendship (more out of necessity than anything else), to the fading B-list actress (desperately trying to cling to the last vestiges of her former fame) for whom he winds up working, Filip finds not a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow (or bottom of the Hollywood sign), but rather, frustration and disappointment at nearly every hairpin curve. 

Until, that is, he somehow manages to find himself, again… and discovers what he really wants—what really matters to him—in life. 

Robert Bryndza has become an author whose works I look for and anticipate before they come out. (The Erika Foster detective series keeps getting better and better, and his lighter works showcase witty comedic chops.) So, in addition to the obvious allure of reading about a fellow newbie in Tinseltown, it seemed a safe bet that Lost in Crazytown would provide some good fun, and I wasn’t disappointed. By turns amusing (sometimes even laugh-out-loud funny) and almost unbelievable (meaning, the situations he lays out are actually just the sorts of things that happen for reals, yo), I raced through this small tome, anxious to see how it all worked out… even as I was sad to say “buh-bye” to Filip (an imminently-likable protagonist). 

For anyone who has ever toyed with the idea of living around Hollywood (or pretty much anywhere in the vast L.A. metro), or just visiting (particularly if you’re of the mindset that everything is rosy out here), Lost in Crazytown is a great little read. 


Friday, April 28, 2017

(Fewer Than 13 Reasons) Why "13 Reasons Why" is Important

Although I finished watching Netflix’s “13 Reasons Why” more than a couple weeks ago, now, it’s taken me a little while to corral my thoughts. (Granted, I’ve been busy, but attributing the length of time to only that would be disingenuous; this was one of those series which struck a chord or three.)

[I should mention here that "13" is based on a Young Adult fiction book by Jay Asher under the same name, "Thirteen Reasons Why", which I have not yet read... but may well look into, after this.]

Initially I bypassed “13”, on purpose—not because I knew what the subject matter was (which I did), but because of an (unfounded) assumption that it was probably just another in a string of annoying, modern-teenagers-acting-out pieces (which, at my age, I’m SO OVER).

I’m really glad I was wrong. And, I’m glad that curiosity (fate?) led me to push the “play” button on my remote one night, when searching for something to watch while I worked out.

For anyone who doesn’t know—and this is not a spoiler—“13” is about the suicide of a 17-year-old girl (“Hannah”)… all the events which inexorably led to her last and (very) final act, the parts that other people played (and, interestingly, how they were viewing the same events and circumstances), and—of course—the repercussions which followed.

One interesting choice the writer(s) made was Hannah’s use of audio cassette tapes (yeah, as in “the 1980s are calling, and want their mix tapes back”) to convey her thought processes to everyone she left behind, post mortem. (This actually didn’t ring true for me, since she wasn’t a Luddite; she used her cell phone—exactly as most of us do, and as the other kids in the story did [with great effect regarding several key plot points, no less]—all the time, throughout the series, which would’ve made recording digitally—both audio AND video—way more likely. Still, the tapes and boomboxes were a little blast from the past for Gen Xers [and earlier], so a nifty plot contrivance, at least.)

And sure, the teens were—in some ways—just as annoying as I expected… but much more importantly, they were just as I remembered… and that, to an adult (especially one who doesn’t have any children) is where this series really shines: in its ability to put you right back in the middle of your own high school career, feeling Every Little Thing—whether it be a joy or a slight—so very, very deeply.

It seems that things—people, in particular—haven’t really changed, despite the aforementioned Gen Xers' (and beyond) insistence that “kids these days”… know nothing, have no clue what “it” was like, etc. High-school girls are shown to still be catty, fickle, and often cruel to/about each other, and their male counterparts are depicted as over-sexed, cocky, and way too into their own statuses to be aware that anyone else even has feelings. (See? Just like when I was younger, and no doubt, when you were, as well.)

Well… at least the “popular” kids still regularly exhibit such traits. The less-popular—from the misfits to the brains to the “just-plain-different”—have their own things (although typically not quite as hurtful to others, by sheer dint of understanding what it feels like to be slighted, and trying a little harder not to do so). The point is, ALL of them are dealing with their own STUFF… and, just like the adults we run into every day—friends in real life, people we know on Facebook, or strangers in the news—not everyone deals with his/her stuff successfully.

What “13” really got right, to me, then, is that concept: every single person is affected by all sorts of things… but each individual’s reactions to the same/similar things may be vastly different… so different, in fact, that we may not have any inkling that someone else is going down the tubes, circling the drain, or ready to pull the plug. (Just how many sayings with negative connotations having to do with water are there, anyway??)

Did “13” successfully take me back? Hell, yes, it did. And were they comfortable, those memories? Some, sure… but there were plenty that were anything but pleasant, too. I even shed a few tears (though not, I suspect, where the writers expected me to).

As for the overarching “lessons”—in what my admittedly-jaded self longs to refer to as a “glorified, thirteen-episode-after-school special” (which again, is something Gen Xers will get)— what of them? Was anything solved, were there any brilliant pieces of new wisdom that came through? Well, no. Teenagers will, it’s no great stretch to assume, likely always be some combination of cruel and unthinking to each other (and don’t even go into how they are with adults; anyone who is no longer a teen remembers what a mess all of that was). And technology and social media—which have only increased the scope of how such damages can be done—are surely not going away, ever, so there’s that, too.

In the end, the best we can do, I think, is probably not all that different from what our parents and other adults tried to do, back whenever… Pay attention. Be aware. Ask questions. Have uncomfortable conversations. Set boundaries and enforce rules. Be compassionate. And hold onto a hell of a lot of hope, because when one person does slip through the cracks? It creates a hole we are all left trying to figure out how to fill… which is, when you think about it, really just as it should be.


Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Librarians Only WISH Their Jobs Could Be So Fascinating...

The Masked Library is the second in author Genevieve Cogman's "Invisible Library" series, and certainly has much to recommend it as a follow-up to the first in the series, The Invisible Library. We continue following the activities of Irene, a young (but not too-young) librarian, which... well, let's refresh a bit first, shall we?

In Cogman's well-constructed environment, there are actually multiple worlds (and alternate worlds) in existence, most of which have some level of magical powers present. (Think a sort-of-Steampunk-meets-magic place, as Irene's current base of operations is a Victorian London.) The fae and other magical folk, not-too surprisingly, can move between these worlds; regular humans can only do so with a little magical help. And then, there are the Librarians--normal-ish people who study, intern, and are eventually hired by great institutions known as Libraries--who can move between the worlds (along with being able to do a host of other useful things, when needed) by their use of a special Language (and generally, a proximity to books, if not an actual library). The Librarians' main purpose is to--ehem, acquire--rare books for the particular Library where each of them is employed... by whatever means necessary (and yes, you should draw your own conclusions from there).

In this outing, Irene isn't tasked with finding a book, but rather, takes off on her own when her apprentice--the (only-slightly-younger-than-herself) dragon, Kai--is abducted by a nefarious husband-&-wife fae duo and transported to another world (an alt-version of Victorian-era Venice, as it happens)... one in which his own powers (not to mention, that of his family) are very weak.

Cogman's descriptions--particularly as seen through her protagonist, Irene's, eyes--are sumptuous... but therein lies part of the problem, for me; the author tends to go on, a bit, leaving me to skim long passages while searching for the next thing (as in anything) to happen. Some of the scenes with multiple characters are much the same; after I, as the reader, had "gotten the point" in a scene, it would have behooved Cogman to pick up the pace, again, rather than belaboring said point(s). In other words, another pass of editing may well have tightened things up just enough to omit the definite lags I experienced. (Visuals can only carry one so far, before one wearies of a sight... no matter how breathtaking or fascinating that sight might be.)

Still--provided you're willing to put yourself through a bit of wading-&-skimming--I'm give this book a strong recommendation, on the basis that it's a competent continuation of an interesting, compelling series which sets itself apart from other Steampunk-ish/historical-urban-fantasy tales by sheer dint of originality.


Sunday, June 21, 2015

If You Could See Me Now, Daddy...

How much I have to thank you for, Daddy... today and always.

"Daddyback Ride" (circa a long time ago... :))

You passed along not only your passion for books to me, but also your love of movies and TV.

What would you have thought of all the iterations of James Bond since last you walked this mortal coil? Even the lesser ones would've left you grinning like a giddy kid, I'm sure. (Likewise with the Mission Impossible and Bourne franchises; it's hard to top spies, great action scenes, and thrilling car chases.)

You'd have loved "Hell on Wheels" as much as I do (even though it involves neither of your favorite western actors, John Wayne or Clint Eastwood).

That delicious mashup of space-opera, western, and action-adventure otherwise known as "Firefly"? The boxed set absolutely would have found its way into one of your birthday boxes... and you'd have been elated. 

The re-imagined "Battlestar Galactica"? Oh, yeah... you would've been all over that, without a doubt. (Of course, you also would've ADORED my very own Boomer, and he, you. :))

The Uncooperative Captain Boomer
And as for "Star Trek", well... let's just say you'd have been absolutely fascinated with the path it has taken over the years, and where it is--and more importantly, where I am--today. If only you could see me now, Daddy... you'd be smiling our trademark crooked grins from ear to ear. :)

So here's to you, Dad... and all those parts of you, whether great or small, that live on through me.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Mini-Reviews: A Roundup of Recent Reads, Part I

Okay, since this lack of blogging/reviewing stuff on my part has now reached proportions of epic ridiculousness--I mean, seriously... how long has it been?--I've decided to do something never done before (erm, by me), and commit to writing some itty-bitty little reviews of the things I've read since... well, since last I put fingers to keyboard here. Sound good? Righty-o, then... and away we go!

The Gods of Guilt (Michael Connelly)

Connelly's cool legal eagle, Mickey Haller (first seen in The Lincoln Lawyer, as the attorney who conducts a major part of his work from the backseat of a chauffeured Lincoln Continental), is back for another case, this one involving someone from his past--a former client he'd befriended along the way, who used to be a prostitute, before Mickey helped her find another life path... or so he thought. Turns out, the ex-pro was still active, and something he did may have just gotten her killed. It's when someone else dies--again, because of Mickey (at least, sort of)--that the story really gains its oomph, though, as we watch guilt eating away at a man struggling to cope with all the repercussions of his actions.   

Like previous entries in the series, Connelly excels in making the oh-so-imperfect Mickey a sympathetic and fascinating character, and gives his hero plenty of interesting foils to play off of, as well. Connelly consistently writes really good legal thrillers, and The Gods of Guilt is no exception. 

Carniepunk (multiple authors)  

Sometimes, you just have to read something because it doesn't necessarily interest you... and such was the case with Carniepunk, which I ended up reading solely because of the authors. (I have a deep and abiding dislike of all things "carnie", hence some major psyching up before buying the Kindle version and then, finally delving into it.) 

As is the case with pretty much all anthologies, the short stories therein were a mixed bag; some, I really enjoyed, others I could've taken or left, and a couple just didn't grab me at all. Overall, though, it's a fun mix of horror-with-some-supernatural-elements box of tricks, here, and with each tale being brief (and easy enough to skip entirely, if one really doesn't work for you), Carniepunk is a neat thing to have on hand when your reading time is severely limited, but you want something a little... different.

Rogues (multiple authors) 

Yep, you guessed it--Rogues is another collection of short stories, this time focussing on central characters who may all be considered "roguish" (think likably-naughty, irreverent, and typically irresistible) in behavior. With twenty-one stories to choose from, penned by a bevy of popular, well-regarded authors (many from the world of fantasy, but others, as well), it would be hard to miss with this one, right?

Sort of, yeah. While there were, again, a couple of pieces I just couldn't get into, and some that were basically "meh", enough captured my fancy that I can recommend this compilation. (The foreword by George R.R. Martin, alone, was worth the price of the whole kit-and-caboodle, for me--although surprisingly, I found his entry among the tales to be of the "meh" ilk. Go figure.)

You (Caroline Kepnes) 

One of the most surprising, utterly fascinating, and horrifying books I've read this year, You isn't quite like anything else I’ve ever come across... and to me, that's a very good thing. 

Kepnes' debut novel is a thriller for the modern age, centering on the dangers of what social media allows us to do, to control, and to know. It's also a classic tale of obsession, and the truly dark places a person obsessed can go. You is even--as improbable as it sounds--a love story (of the fractured fairy tales variety, but still)... and I couldn't help but root for Joe, the teller of the tale, in his pursuit of Beck, the woman of his dreams (or at least I rooted for him until it made me feel too squicky to do so... but honestly, you should be the judge of that). 

(As a sidenote, I should mention something really... interesting, about You: Kepnes has Joe relate the whole story as though he's telling it all to Beck--hence, the "you"--from beginning to end, in what is possibly one of the most original-slash-discomfiting choices an author has ever made.)

You gets my highest recommendation... provided you like to take walks on the dark side, because this one goes very, very dark... and I, for one, appreciated every minute of it.

The Martian (Andy Weir)

Wow, did I ever LOVE this book. Seriously.

A sci-fi tale wherein the antagonists are a planet and some really unfortunate circumstances, The Martian isn't about a little green (or any other color) alien, but about a man--a botanist doing a stint on a mission to Mars... who gets left behind, left for dead, even... on Mars. Alone.

You can't help but wonder what that would be like, of course. The stuff of nightmares, for sure. But Mark Watney refuses to give up, or to give in to the panic. Instead, he chooses to learn how to live, and how to make his time alone on the barren planet productive... even as he calculates (and recalculates) how long his food rations will last... and determines how much of a shortfall in that sustenance there will be, before another mission to Mars could possibly occur. 

Rather than populating his tale with monstrous aliens, Weir has fashioned the ultimate survival story with The Martian, pitting one man against seemingly-insurmountable odds in an immensely-compelling way. (The fact that Watney doesn't go stark-raving bonkers within the first week, as the magnitude of the situation he faces sets in, is a miracle, and would be reason enough to want desperately for him to succeed. The fact that he isn't a "real" astronaut--someone with a lifelong love of space, who pursued the stars as his life's passion--but is instead a sorta "regular" guy from a whole other field, just further endears him to me; this is a guy I can root for… and did, from the first to the last page of Weir’s book.)

There is nothing—not one single thing—I didn’t love about The Martian, so my recommendation is simply this: Read it.

So, there you go--a few things you may want to put on your list (because it's always good to have a list, right?). More capsule reviews to come...

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Luck be a Lady (or two)... an Interview with author Deborah Coonts

Ahh, Las Vegas... a place unlike any other. The inescapable, mega-watt glitz of colorful lights blinking 24/7,  against a crazy, ever-present backdrop of electronic slot machine "music"... glamour, both ersatz and genuine, in the showy hotel facades with their exotic themes and lavish decor, and the exclusive designer shoppes tucked within their cavernous interiors... feather-and-glitter-clad cigarette girls and hostesses, rubbing elbows on the casino floors with cargo-shorts-and-flip-flops-wearing visitors and suit-wearing conventioneers... and all of it found every day of the year in a little desert oasis. Love it or hate it, it's something you've got to experience at least once.

Me, I love spending time there, for the sensory overload and feeling of escape. It isn't always feasible to go on a little road trip (or long plane ride, as the case may be) to indulge in all that is Vegas, though... which is why I enjoy Deborah Coonts' ongoing series set in Sin City, the "Lucky O'Toole Vegas Adventure" books. A little mystery, a little romance--and always a little over-the-top--her books are a fun, frothy bit of escapism (with a dash of behind-the-scenes reality thrown in).

I got the chance to interview Ms. Coonts earlier this month, before the release of her latest Lucky adventure--Lucky Catch--and we discussed her writing process, characters, and, of course, Vegas, itself.

GlamKittyWhat are the best/worst (or easiest/hardest) parts about writing Lucky?

Deborah CoontsThe beginning of the story is always the hardest for me. Where is the exact right place to begin? It’s not always as easy as it sounds. And finding that sweet spot (or not) can make a huge difference. Also, since I write each book as a stand-alone, I must introduce the setting, the characters, and, in a way, the whole story line as it affects the characters up to that point, in each story. I strive to introduce all of this in a unique and interesting way, which can be a challenge the more times I do it.

GKIf you could take one character from the Lucky series and spin her/him off into a new series of books, whom would it be?

DCOh, that’s easy. In fact, I had a spin-off in mind from almost the beginning. I would take Fredericka (Flash) Gordon, Lucky’s best friend and investigative reporter, as a spin-off character. Flash is as strong a personality as Lucky with her own unique voice and perspective. And she is not a corporate executive like Lucky so she can be a bit naughtier, a bit edgier, and get into darker, tighter spots. She’s into kinkier sex and bad boys, and sees the boundaries as a bit blurry on accession, which would be soooo much fun to write.  Although, I have to have a glass of wine (or two) when writing sex scenes as it is, so this could be problematic☺

GKIs there a character you now regret killing off? A story arc you wish you'd taken another way?

DCMy biggest regret so far, and I don’t have many, is that I didn’t quite envision Lucky as a series when I wrote the first book. In that story, I divulged a secret about Lucky’s parentage that I would’ve stretched out a bit. And I made the romance a bit too tidy. But, once the cat was out of the bag, I couldn’t stuff it back in, so no use worrying about it. And the romance? As romances are wont to do, has its rough patches going forward. Thankfully, I was smart enough not to killer the bad guy, a former lover of Lucky’s. He’s coming back…

GKIf Lucky's stories were being made into, say, a Netflix series, whom would you cast in the main roles, if it were up to you (and everyone said yes, money were no object, etc.)?

DCCameron Diaz as Lucky. Ashley Judd as Mona. Meryl Streep at Miss P. De Niro as the Big Boss. Hugh Hackman as Teddie (or anyone he want’s to play). That’s as far as I’ve gotten. Pretty much blew the casting budget, right☺ Hey, if you’re gonna dream, dream BIG!!!

GKIf you had to describe Vegas to someone who had never heard of it, how would you do so, in a couple (or few) sentences?

DCVegas: a city where anything is possible. A fantasy where the real world retreats, and dreams loom large. Where fun, no matter how you define it, is a priority. But like a mirage, it lasts only for a little while…. dissipating under the glare of the sun, the harsh light of reality, only to reappear after a bit to be enjoyed anew.

Lucky Catch will be released on August 26, and looks to be another fun romp. (Expect a review once I've had time to finish reading it, as always.) In the meantime, be sure to check out my other reviews and discussions of earlier Lucky escapades, here
And many thanks to Ms. Coonts for the chance to pick her brain a little! :)