Thursday, May 27, 2010

A Jetlagged, Prickly Pear of a Kitty

So. I'm back home safe and sound (as of last night, about 10:45 p.m.) from my most-recent Big Adventure (to the Pacific Northwest), only to find myself thrown most unceremoniously back into the fray, as it were. Did "life" have the basic decency to grant me a little reprieve, kinda letting me ease back into the groove? Um, no. [Cue crazed/maniacal laughter.] Not even close.

Paperwork is stacked up several inches high. A half-dozen orders were waiting for me to pack and ship. (As in today, chop-chop, whatdoyoumeanyouhave "jetlag"?!?) More taxes are due. (Taxes are always due.) Payroll is past due. I don't think I'm actually behind on any bills... but I better check; it's just tempting fate to say that I'm all caught up, you know?

To top it all off, my house is a wreck. One man and one cat, left to their own devices for a measly 5 days, can wreak utter and absolute havoc on what was previously a more-or-less clean abode. I am appalled, but this is good to know, I suppose, for future reference. If, say, I were to win the lottery between now and my next solo trip, I'd totally plan on hiring the Merry Maids to come by and tidy up a bit (a lot) before my plane touched down.

Of course, that would require buying a lottery ticket or two (thousand), bare minimum. Huh. So now I'm faced with a new (unexpected) quandary; do I really wanna go there--to the strange and foreign world of Lotto and Powerball and the hopeful folks who pick their numbers and scratch their tickets religiously every week--all for the sake of having a snowflake's chance of winning Big Money, or do I just heave a series of gusty sighs and clean my damn house?

Well, I'd rather throw away my hard-earned moola on something more substantial and satisfying than "hope" any day, so I'm going with Door Number 2, TYVM.  Guess when it comes down to it, it's pretty much like doing anything else, in'nit? Knuckle down and do the deed... all while singing songs in my head--loudly, badly--about bringing home some turkey bacon and nuking it in the microwave...

Yep. 'Cause I'm a WOOOOOO--MUN. Now back the heck up and hear me roar.

Sex (and Sleeplessness) in Seattle

Give me a great bunch of characters, and I’m willing to read about them doing nearly anything. Take, for example, the following characters... The pair of unexpectedly-harmless vampires--one, the metrosexual mentor (sort of a Nathan Lane-meets-Martha Stewart type); and the other, his innocent, boy-next-door protege who’s shy around girls. Then there’s the archdemon (a former angel who fell from grace, to you and I), who oversees all of the destined-for-the-Underworld residents in his area--just as cranky, imperious, and scary as you’d think (though ruining that image just a tad by dint of his quirky decision to go around looking like John Cusack’s identical twin). The still-in-divine-favor angel--who dresses in the very best Seattle grunge-wear, circa 1990, and (in a totally-unexpected twist) also happens to be the aforementioned archdemon’s BFF. A nephilim--the archdemon’s bastard child (the result of his fall-from-grace, as it happens), impossibly hunky but a touch, shall we say, prickly, who carries a very large chip on his sublimely-broad shoulder. A well-turned-out imp--who toils as a plastic surgeon by day and a supernatural pimp by night. The bookstore, where a regular human guy/wannabe-alt-rocker and his solidly-nice, normal sister work, blissfully unaware of any of the weirdness which touches their lives. The (also-normal, though not-so-blissfully unaware) best-selling thriller author, who has made the bookstore his second home. And, last but not least, the resident succubus--more than a thousand years old, a little gloomy, and doomed to an immortality of “sucking” the life force out of unsuspecting guys... while never able to enjoy a traditional relationship with a man again. Such are the inhabitants of Richelle Mead’s Seattle-based “Succubus” series--an undeniably likable mix of oddballs, misfits, and unusual beings, all a lot more sympathetic--and in the case of the supernaturals, more human--than you might expect.
Succubus Shadows, the fifth entry in Ms. Mead’s ongoing series, finds succubus Georgina Kincaid a trifle more morose than normal: her ex-boyfriend, author Seth Mortensen, is set to marry her best friend, fellow-bookstore employee, Maddie Sato. This wouldn’t be so bad, if only Georgina didn’t still carry a torch for Seth... and he, apparently, for her. But, Georgina is determined to take the high road--particularly since she can’t expect to ever have a “real” life with Seth--despite the fact that being around the “happy couple” is driving her crazy. (Of course, it’s REALLY hard to take any sort of higher road when Maddie--who knows nothing at all about Georgina and Seth’s past together--is busily cajoling her into helping pick out Maddie’s wedding dress. And the cake. And flowers. And, you know, into being a bridesmaid.) But aside from those few little details, it’s all quite cozy and happy. Really.
As if that weren’t enough, Georgina is trying to get used to her new roommate, the nephilim Roman (whom she also briefly dated, and who may--or may not--still want to kill her). That arrangement is, it comes as no great surprise, slightly awkward. Then there’s the annoying new succubus in town--supposedly on vacation in the Emerald City--who gets on Georgina’s (and pretty much everyone else’s) very last nerve. Oh, and did I mention the mysterious siren song Georgina keeps hearing at random moments? It’s an alluring melody which is inexorably trying to draw her into questionable (read, dangerous) situations... like stepping off her own balcony a few stories up, or walking mindlessly into the ocean. It’s a particularly worrisome problem, since none of Georgina’s superiors--not Roman, not Carter-the-angel, and not even Jerome, her archdemon boss--have a clue what could be causing said phenomenon to occur. (When something happens that neither an archdemon nor an angel has a handle on? Let’s just say it’s time to get worried...)
Succubus Shadows is full, as always, of all the delightfully-funny little things that happen in Georgina’s day-to-day life, whether it’s the antics of her two cats (and how much they love Roman but hate when Jerome stops by), or young vampire Cody’s crush on the new goth salesgirl at the bookstore (including elder vampire Peter’s “help” trying to turn Cody into a be-studded goth dude), or Georgina’s sexy succubus exploits with a horny neighbor (involving a single raincloud which soaks only Georgina). It plumbs the depths of deeper emotions, as well, though, as we see the pain and internal conflicts Georgina endures both in the present day and all throughout her very long past. 
It’s these two sides of her which so endears Georgina to me. She’s a bright, witty, loving woman, genuinely good (but for that deal made with the devil so long ago, selling her immortal soul to the “other” side), who tries valiantly to face the prospect of living for all eternity, knowing that she’ll witness the passing of so many mortal friends and loved ones... all while she, herself, is an instrument in shortening the lives so many others. 
I did get slightly weary midway through, however, of all the recounts of Georgina’s history. That isn’t so much a problem with the story as with my own impatience, though, in dying to see how Georgina would extricate herself from the mess she was in. Within the diabolical framework of the story, it’s essential that she relive those experiences; doing so holds the key to understanding what’s really going on.
There are six books planned in Ms. Mead’s Succubus series, and with only one book to go, I have to say that I have a pretty good idea of how she’s going to wrap it all up(particularly after seeing how this one ended). Still, each book has managed to hold me on the edge of my seat, by turns amused and enthralled--the kind of books I’ve set other books aside for, and ignored important tasks in order to race through in one day. And, while I’m left feeling vaguely melancholy by the ending of this book, I can still say unequivocally that it--like all the previous ones--is a very good ride. 
Rock on, Georgina (and company). And rock on, Ms. Mead. 
GlamKitty rating: 3.75 catnip mice (out of 5 possible)

The Return of Inspector Lynley

Crack open an Elizabeth George book, and you can count on a few things. One, you might as well plan on devoting a couple of entire days to it--or spending at least a week leisurely wending your way through it--because the volume you’ve just sat down with will most assuredly be a hefty tome. Two, it will be such an intricately-plotted and intimately-personal tale that you’d swear you’re reading a combination of eyewitness and first-person accounts of actual events (rather than figments of a writer’s vivid and somewhat twisted imagination). And, third, you’ll get the pleasure of catching up with a sublimely-motley assortment of old friends (plus a handful of annoying acquaintances, the likes of which none of us seem able to escape) if you’re an old fan of her stories... or you’ll find the thrill of meeting them all for the very first time, if you’ve somehow never taken the plunge. 
George is actually something of an anomaly in her field; she’s an American author--not an ex-pat, either; she lives in Washington state--who writes British procedural mysteries. But really, to call her a “mystery” writer is to utterly miss two-thirds of what she manages to accomplish with her writing; George is a very fine novelist, whose work delves deeply within the hearts and minds of man--exposing the flaws, the twisted logic, the repressed feelings, the perverse pleasures, the secret desires, the hidden longings (as well as every other little oddball thing that makes us tick)--and showing why we make the choices that we do. To read her books is a lesson in the human psyche, and a primer on  how relationships do (and don’t) work.
The latest entry in her series (commonly known as “The Inspector Lynley Mysteries”) is This Body of Death, and it numbers either fifteen or sixteen (depending on whether or not you count one that is only very tangentially-related as part of the series or not). It’s a very good addition to a nearly-uniformly excellent body of work.
Let me lay down a bit of background for any newbies. The series revolves around a small group of detectives working for Scotland Yard, with Inspector Lynley as the nominal main focus Lynley is a very wealthy, very proper (as well as intelligent, witty, handsome, likable, and just plain decent) detective who also happens (somewhat perversely) to belong to the aristocracy. He wears Savile Row suits, has a butler, and drives a Bentley (or he did, before his partner wrecked it). So, no, he doesn’t “need” to work... but he does like to be challenged, and he wants to make a difference.
In a move reminiscent of The Odd Couple, his higher-ups long ago partnered him with his polar opposite: a dumpy (by her own admission) little woman from the wrong side of town, whose idea of fashion is baggy trousers paired with red high-tops, and who drives a beat-up Mini (that long ago saw its best decade) and rents a tiny little “apartment” not much bigger than a gardening shed. But, whatever Barbara Havers may lack in her sartorial choices or other lack of “polish”, she makes up for with her fine mind, dogged determination, and a genuinely kind heart. 
Although their pairing was initially done to spite them both--putting the popular fellow with the troublesome, mouthy (and distinctly not-popular) female--the two quickly developed a mutual respect, which has grown over the years into a real friendship. (Yes, they’re still opposites in many ways--including all the outward trappings--but their minds function as parts of the same, overall whole.) Theirs is a just a really neat partnership, devoid of any “will-they-or-won’t-they” flirting, and watching them play off each other is always great fun. (Plus, Barbara Havers is one of my favorite female characters of all time, incredibly “real” in her emotions and reactions. She is simply... wonderful.)
When This Body of Death picks up, a new candidate is trying out for the recently-vacated position of department chief, and luck of the draw sticks Isabelle Ardery with a real mess of a case to try to wow her superiors by solving: the mysterious murder of a young woman found stabbed in a mostly-forgotten old London cemetery. Quickly catching onto the fact that the members of her new team don’t trust her, Ardery pleads her case with Lynley, nearly begging him to return to the team. (He has been on compassionate leave these last several months following the shocking--and random--death of his wife, along with their unborn child.) Still not sure he’s “ready” to return, Lynley nonetheless acquiesces, returns on a trial basis.
His colleagues are relieved; they had been sorely missing his leadership, and have been unsettled by the revolving superintendents (as a new chief is sought following the passing of the previous one). Lynley settles in once more, albeit in a more subordinate position, with Ardery using him as her right-hand man as she tries to learn the ropes. 
The case takes members of the team all over London, searching first for the dead woman’s identity, and then--once that’s been established--for her old digs, habits, friends, and possible enemies. It also takes part of the team--the part including Barb Havers--to the New Forest, a rural area several hours remote from London, where ponies are allowed to run free, and many historic homes still have thatched roofs.
The various trails the team follows are confusing and conflicting. In London, there are ex-boyfriends (who are also boarding-house mates) to look at, as well as the elderly boarding-house owner (who also likes one of the exes) and a sham-psychic to consider. (That’s what Lynley is helping Ardery with... while she deals privately with the constant clashing with various members of her team, throughout the day, by way of airline bottles of vodka--and plenty of breath mints and gum--stashed in her handbag.) Meanwhile, in the New Forest, the dead woman’s brother and her best (though estranged) girlfriend have been worried about her, and an ex-not-quite-fiance (and his new girlfriend) have... not been worried about her. Throw in some ancient Roman coins, stolen ponies, rusty tools, a shady country police officer, and the dead woman’s car--still garaged at her ex’s--and all her clothes--left behind, now boxed up in the ex’s attic, and you’ve got the gist of the mess the team must unravel to see justice done. 
Another very interesting thing George has done with this book is to interweave (fictional) accounts of an absolutely horrifying crime, committed by three children. How she works that completely-separate storyline into the framework of the larger one is simply brilliant.
By the time you’ve reached the end of the book, most of the questions are answered, and some justice is, indeed, to be had. Things are hardly tied up with pretty little foofy bows, though; George writes with a (frequently) gut-wrenching sense of reality. People make decisions, and they all-too-often wind up hurting others. Sometimes intentionally, sometimes not; sometimes permanently. In the end, what is left are the people who must pick up the pieces and try to reassemble them into some sort of manageable entity, a new reality.
And that is something they nearly always do.
GlamKitty rating: 5 catnip mice (out of 5 possible)