Monday, July 28, 2014

Club Shadowlands by Cherise Sinclair

As you may or may not know, I'm writing a BDSM romance of my own, and my awesome beta, Lynxie, suggested CLUB SHADOWLANDS as an example of an author doing the BDSM genre right.

Jessica, the MC, encounters Club Shadowlands by accident when her car gets stalled on a dark and rainy night. If that sounds cliche, it kind of is. She takes shelter at the club nearby, and the sexy manager gives her a set of clean clothing after toweling her off rather invasively. He informs her that it's a private club and gives her a thick packet of rules, which he tells her to read. If she doesn't want to abide by them, she can wait in the corridor with the bouncer.  As Jessica explores the club, she quickly discovers that it has a rather interesting theme. BDSM. Dun, dun, dun.

Master Z, owner and participant, cannot get enough of Jessica's curvy bod. He knows that if she gives him the chance, she'll be the perfect submissive. But he wants her to come to him freely, even if that means giving her the chance to run away screaming lol.

What follows is a night of bacchanalia that wouldn't be out of place in ancient Rome. People get whipped, spanked. There's simulated rape (although Jessica and Z do not participate). There's medical erotica, including a staged gynecological/breast exam. There's exhibitionism, voyeurism. Sinclair manages to incorporate a whole bunch of different subsets of BDSM sex, talking about what's typical, what's not, and how it all is fair game as long as the adults are consenting and abide by CSS.

(Consensual, safe, sane.)

The writing is much better than I was expecting. No typos. A little cheesy and over-the-top in parts, but the sex scenes more than made up for it. I didn't really like Jessica's character. Her reluctance didn't bother me--I thought her hesitance and shyness were quite well done--but the fact that she kept kicking people, and attacking people in defense of the women being "attacked" was a little silly and dumb, although the reasons behind this were later explained. It was also annoying to have a small, big-boobed, curvy heroine whining about how "ugly" and "fat" she was.

As a 5'9" woman, I have little patience with tiny people who whine about being found unattractive to men. There are tons of men who won't even consider dating a tall woman, no matter how attractive she is, just because she's tall. And if you're tall and curvy, you can pretty much forget about it.

But again, that's kind of a personal peeve. Similarly, I had to suspend my disbelief when Master Z was portrayed as a mind-reader. It got to the point where I was wondering if there was a supernatural element to this book--psychic? vampire? Nope. He is a psychologist. Buddy, I hate to say it, but being a psychologist does not make you a psychic. So that annoyed me as well.

Still, CLUB SHADOWLANDS is a great book for those who want to know more about the BDSM scene. I found it very informative, and loved the way the participants were described. There are some bad eggs who participate, but they usually aren't welcomed by the group (and are often disbarred from clubs). Most people who participate in the BDSM scene are just ordinary people looking for a way to kick back and blow off steam with their favorite kind of sex. Which happens to be BDSM.

I would consider reading other books in this series.

3 to 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Second Sight by Amanda Quick

SECOND SIGHT was a disappointment.

It is an urban fantasy set in Victorian England, which sounded amazing when I heard about it. I was hoping for a fun installment of costume fiction, a la Gail Carriger's SOULLESS.

Venetia is a professional photographer and spinster. Realizing that she is doomed to be on the marriage shelf, she decides to seduce her employer, Gabriel. They have chemistry-less sex.

Gabriel is a psychic and a member of the enigmatic Arcane Society. In the prologue, he and his brother unearth the tomb of one of their ancestors and discover his alchemical secrets.

The book employs the use of various tropes, like a pseudo-marriage, the secret of eternal life, cross-dressing women disguising themselves as men, and numerous other foils.

I found the book to be almost intolerably boring and the lack of chemistry stood out like a can of coke in a case of sprite. There was nothing to keep the story moving and reading turned into a chore. I bought a bunch of Quick's historical fiction because I had been told that they were good, so I am really hoping that SECOND SIGHT is not representative of the quality of her other books.

1 to 1.5 out of 5 stars.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Auteur: Book One - Presidents Day by Rick Spears

Picture FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS but with an AMERICAN PSYCHO/QUENTIN TARANTINO bent. Maybe with a Rob Zombie soundtrack. If that sounds appealing to you, pick up this book. You'll probably enjoy it. If you're looking for something that doesn't resemble a "bad trip", look elsewhere.

Nathan T. Rex is a film producer. He used to move in the highest circles but his last film was an overbudgeted flop, and all of Hollywood is moving in to pick at his career's wizened corpse after his fall from grace.

Rex is determined not to fail, though, and with a little help from his friends (and a shit-ton of drugs), he decides he's going to make an epic film about a presidential serial killer. And who better to act as star and consultant in said film than an actual serial killer?

THE AUTEUR had some interesting ideas but I was not really fond of the story or the way it was told. I'm not a fan of violence, especially splatterpunk. I feel like if people have to die in a comic book (or even a regular book) there ought to be a reason, and that reason should not begin and end with "Because."

Also, the main character was such a misogynist that I just couldn't reach any sort of rapport with him. He was a sleazy scumbag of a character who said some evil things about women, and when he attempts to get the serial killer off the murder charges he basically said that they were so stupid and slutty that they deserved to be killed because the serial killer was doing the world a favor.

1 to 1.5 out of 5 stars.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Excess All Areas: A Lighthearted Look at the Demands and Idiosyncrasies of Rock Icons on Tour by Susan Richmond

EXCESS ALL AREAS is basically a compendium of riders submitted by bands and performing artists. A rider is a set of demands that a performer puts forth to a venue as a condition for their willingness to perform. Failure to meet these demands sometimes means that the performer will refuse to perform (and the venue will still have to pay the fees--ugh).

Most of the requests are pretty straight forward. Towels, food of all kinds--everything ranging from spam to brie. Lots of alcohol. Coffee. Tea. Vitamin supplements. Honey. Things you would expect. Some of the artists allowed for a buy-out--if the venue did not wish to provide food, they would provide a certain amount of cash for the artists to buy food for themselves.

I suppose this would be good if you are a die-hard fan of these bands, and are interested in finding out what their favorites kinds of food, alcohol, and bottled waters are. They get very specific.

And then there are the weird requests. Like, Elton John practically demanded an entire living room to be moved back stage (couch, love seat, endtable, and a tea service) so he could take tea. The Eels, at one point, wanted a stuffed Furby and a stuffed Teletubby toy. Goldfrapp asked for a riding crop and/or whip, plus glittery eyelashes in any color except blue. Hal wanted a life-sized Frank Carson cardboard cutout. James Brown wanted an electric golf cart.

Then there are some artists who seem to expect a bit more bang for their buck. For example, Placebo requested a pack of lubricated condoms. They were one-upped by Stereophonics, who asked for "12 extra-large propholactics, 1 local strippergram, 1 hedge trimmer."

Some of the requests were cute and tongue-in-cheek. Amy Winehouse wanted a sign to hang on her door that said "Only Big Boys Can Enter." The Bloodhound Gang wanted "a local magnet of interested" (that's sweet). Yo La Tengo wanted "dressing room walls covered in previous bands' graffiti and drawings of penises (minimum 4), full-color assortment of permanent markers for, oh, no reason." (I see what they did there.) Westlife wanted "dog/band's own Labrador, shot glasses, chess set, 2 inflatable sumo outfits."

The Electric Six's request was pretty disturbing. They wanted a gun (.38 special) with six rounds of .38 ammo. What, exactly, are they planning on doing with that?
I think EXCESS ALL AREAS is interesting from an anthropological approach; it's like looking at all these sociocultural clues that give you an idea of what the band members are like, where they came from, what their background maybe was. It got a bit boring, reading all those lists, though. Most of them were pretty ordinary. There's only so many shopping lists you can read before it gets old, right?

2 out of 5 stars.

The Witch And Other Tales Re-Told by Jean Thompson

Part of the fun about Netgalley is that it's like a box of chocolates. There's the old fallbacks that you know you're going to like (dark chocolate, in my case). Then there's the weird stuff that you try for the hell of it (lemon curd filled chocolate) and you find out you really do not have a taste for it at all. And the weird stuff you try out of curiosity (red pepper chocolate) and you find that you really like it, even though a lot of people might not. Scattered around throughout these extremes are the meh chocolates. Plain milk chocolate, or cherry chocolate truffles.

THE WITCH was a meh truffle for me. I enjoyed it a lot, but the stories were uneven in quality and I did not enjoy them all equally. (Sadly.) I really like what Jean Thompson did with her short stories. Each one is a realistic and modern-day retelling of classic fairytales, ranging from the familiar (Cinderella) to the more obscure (Bluebeard).

Some of these stories will throw people through the loop. Not me. I guessed all eight. I'm a stinker like that. But then hey, I have been reading fairytales since I was five or six years old. One of my favorite childhood books was an anthology of Grim, Anderson, Aesop, and various other stories, all preserved in their morbid entirety. (That may be why I have the reputation as the twisted writer I am now.)

I think my favorite stories in the mix were the first and the last, retellings of Hansel and Gretel and Beauty and the Beast, respectively. I liked the retelling of H&G with the foster care system. I thought that was a clever touch, and the story was good--sinister, with relatable characters, and not too over-the-top. I did think the tale lacked closure, however. I wanted to find out what happened to the "witch."

The last story, which was called "Prince", I believe, was probably the sweetest story. It is also interesting, because it has that ambiguous magic realism that is also seen in LIFE OF PI and Pan's Labryinth. How you choose to interpret the story can really change about how you feel the characters' story will end. It is the only story that is really like this, that might actually contain magic.

So yeah, I liked this collection of short stories. I was impressed by the author's ability to write a wide variety of POVs, spanning different ages, genders, and socioeconomic classes. Another reviewer expressed incredulity that all eight tales were written by the same person. They are quite different, and don't blend together the way some anthologies do. Which is good.

I would definitely read more by this author.

3 to 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Hella Nation: Looking for Happy Meals in Kandahar, Rocking the Side Pipe,Wingnut's War Against the GAP, and Other Adventures with the Totally Lost Tribes of America by Evan Wright

I feel like this book ought to win award for having one of the longest titles ever. The best way to describe HELLA NATION is that old song by The Doors: "People Are Strange."

Since "hella" is a nor-cal thing (shut up, L.A. people. Stop laughing at us for saying this. You have the Valley, and they came up with hella worse slang, so suck it--and gag me with a spoon while you're at it, you grody bunch of pukeatronics) I kind of figured that this was going to be an expose on Californian subculture. Because there is a lot. You could write an entire book on San Francisco, Santa Cruz, and Santa Barbara. And probably two books on Los Angeles.

Instead, HELLA NATION pans the U.S. in a weird collection of Gonzo journalism. Evan Wright covers all sorts of weird "lost tribes" of America like:

☮ American soldiers stationed abroad in Afghanistan.
☮ Post-punk skateboarders in the style of Tony Hawk, but considerably more boozy.
☮ A commune of Neo-Nazis.
☮ Presa canarios gone wild...and the behind-the-scenes of the investigation.
☮ Porn stars, including a sad story about a woman who contracted HIV when she was penetrated without a condom in a gang-bang video.
☮ Motley Crue, on tour!
Taxi-dance halls.
☮ The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).
☮ An insider's account of the rise and fall of the Internet Entertainment Group (IEG) headed by Seth Warshavsky.

Some of the stories were sad. Some were shocking. Some were hella weird.

I really liked Wright's style of journalism. He gave the stories a personal touch without overpowering the narrative with personal commentary or navel-gazing--always a hazard when writing books like these. It's really cool how he managed to find all these people and get them to tell their story. I would definitely read more of Evan Wright's books.

4 to 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Gaijin by Remittance Girl

We tend to romanticize the exotic. When people think of Japan, they think of reed flutes, koi ponds, tea ceremonies, and cute anime girls in sailor outfits talking and giggling about boys. And while Japan does have some of those things, there is a darker side to it, as there are to all cultures. Jennifer, a westerner living abroad in Japan and working as a bar hostess, discovers this the hard way when she unwittingly insults a member of the Yakuza.

Shindo is a member of the Yakuza, the Japanese mafia, and has gone to  great lengths to make Jennifer pay for the insult that caused him to lose face at his favorite restaurant. When Jennifer wakes, she finds that she has been pierced against her will, and is immediately brutalized and raped.

Will she ever be able to escape the clutches of his obsession?

I should point out that GAIJIN is non-con, and does not sugar coat the horrible psychological and physical pain that Jennifer feels during her captivity.

She is just an ordinary young woman who was out of her depth and paid the cost for her ignorance in the worst way possible. She is a very sympathetic character, and my heart ached for her, especially at her lowest moments of hopelessness and despair. ***major trigger warnings***

The writing is surprisingly beautiful:

From just beneath his collarbone, over the entire surface of his chest, to the black band of fabric at his waist, was a garden, a zoo, a kaleidoscopic riot. Across one shoulder and down the right arm, almost to the elbow, flaming peony petals rippled against the wings of Luna moths. On the other side, fat gold carp swam over his bicep in a sea of waving blue-green pondweed. On his chest, a storm of cherry blossms engulfed a geisha, despite her parasol (18).

This really makes the tribal tattoos and roses of Jericho that run rampant in new adult seem gauche, does it not?

Also, penile fucking beading.

I actually knew about this already because I used to be super obsessed with Japan, and plunged the depths of bizarre pop culture trivia, and yeah. You probably shouldn't Google image this, but let's just say that the things the Yakuza do to their manly parts? That takes balls. Literally. Oh my God.

"Everything that is beautiful hurts" (18).

You got that fucking right.

"Is there a fate worse than death, Gaijin?" he asked, looking out over the snowy city. "Would you prefer to end your life this way, over the side of my balcony?" Gently, he drew the edges of her ruined dress apart, pulling it off her shoulders and letting it drop to the decking. "If you don't have enough courage, I can help you" (24).

And that ending was perfect. Even though it broke my heart, it was perfect.

"It would have made for a great legend. Shindo Shinobu died at the hands of his gaijin lover after excellent sex." He stroked her back with his fingers. "I would have liked that. That would have made me immortal" (58).

This book wrenched out my heart and made sashimi of it.

My one complaint is that it is quite expensive considering the length of the book, but the story is just unusual and compelling enough to make it almost worth it. However, I would like to see Remittance Girl write a full length novel. With all this crap getting papermilled, it would be great to see an indie author with actual talent write a full length book and then get the lauding she deserves.

4.5 out of 5 stars.