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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. 

~GlamKitty  




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. 

~GlamKitty