Helliconia Spring, by Brian Aldiss. Science fiction classic with amazing worldbuilding, in a world where each season lasts for hundreds of years. Also relentlessly gross and grim, with characters who didn't engage me at all. Gave up.

Yet I feel strangely cheered that a brilliant man like Brian Aldiss can commit a sentence - not meant to be funny - like Something in his hollow belly went whang at the thought.

Even the best of us sometimes write "Something went whang."

Into the Night, by Suzanne Brockmann. I had somehow missed reading this installment of her Troubleshooters Navy SEALs series. Sadly, it was the worst one. Mike Muldoon has no personality - he's young, hot, likes older women, and... uh... that's basically it. White House staffer Joan DaCosta is incredibly annoying. There are stupid misunderstandings galore, plus yet another ridiculous romantic obstacle impossible to take seriously: Horrors! This completely perfect man is younger than me! Also, virtually nothing happens in the entire book.

The subplots were way more interesting, but the WWII one (which I liked a lot) had little page time, and the doomed romance between Mary Lou and the sweet Arab guy ended incredibly depressingly, with him probably dying of injuries sustained in the action climax and everyone falsely believing that he was a terrorist. I wonder if this is resolved in a later book, and I just don't remember it because I didn't have the context that would have made it seem relevant. (I remember what happened to Mary Lou; I mean what happened to Ibrahim Rahman.)
I usually enjoy Brockmann's books a lot, but she can be uneven and has written a handful of stinkers. Unfortunately, this, an older book in her "Tall, Dark, and Dangerous" series, was one of them. It had the single least convincing romantic obstacle I've encountered in romance so far, and that's including Brockmann's own "Because I'm your boss... in this civilian temp job that you don't even need."

Navy SEAL Bobby Taylor, on leave after being wounded on a mission, is dispatched by his teammate and best buddy Wes to convince Wes's civilian little sister Colleen not to stupidly go to a war zone to try to rescue orphans. Wes, who comes across as creepily controlling AT BEST, is dead set against anyone dating his sister. Ever. Especially not Bobby, his best friend and a completely stand-up guy. If Bobby dates Colleen, Wes will feel terribly betrayed, punch him out, and never speak to him again. Colleen, by the way, is 23.

I gather that "no one is good enough for my little sister" is a known trope, though thankfully this is the first time I've encountered it so hopefully it's died the death. But it's a trope that only makes sense if the hero has an (undeserved) bad reputation or a shady past, so the brother has legitimate reasons for wanting to protect his sister from him. It makes NO SENSE if the hero is a completely great guy who is also the brother's best friend. Wes goes so berserk over the thought of Bobby dating his adult sister that it makes him seem creepy and batshit and possibly incestuous. (Luckily I read Wes's own romance first (it's much better) or I never would have picked it up.)

Then there's Bobby. He's a tough Navy SEAL, so why is he so cowed by his buddy's nutso fixation on nobody dating his sister? He's completely inconsistent, too, bouncing every five pages from kissing her to telling her he wants nothing to do with her because, horrors, Wes wouldn't approve. I can't believe I'm saying this, but I kept thinking, "Grow a pair!" But sadly, he mostly only manages to be assertive when forbidding Colleen to do anything dangerous.

And Colleen. I actually mostly liked Colleen. At least she knew what she wanted and went for it. Except that I wanted to back her belief that if Bobby was allowed to do dangerous things he believed in, so was she, but her orphans in the war zone mission actually did sound like a terrible idea. I also lost a lot of sympathy for her when the orphan she had meant to adopt was killed, and she was boinking Bobby about two hours later and thereafter mostly seemed to forget about the death of her nearly-a-daughter.

There's an accidentally hilarious climax where Wes appears, goes berserk upon finding out that Colleen is dating a man even though he doesn't know who it is and forbids her from dating whoever it is, finds out that it's Bobby, goes even more berserk, punches Bobby, declares that the reason Colleen shouldn't date Bobby is that Navy SEALs are never home, says she can date a military man as long as he's an officer (Bobby and Wes are enlisted), says it's terrible if she and Bobby are dating casually but it would be fine if they were married so they must MARRY IMMEDIATELY, then suddenly and for no reason decides it's fine if she dates Bobby. If I was Wes's commanding officer, I would have sent him for a mandatory psychological evaluation. Also drug testing.
rachelmanija: (Books: old)
( Apr. 10th, 2013 12:31 pm)
What I've read: Re-reads of "Liavek" and Agatha Christie.

What I didn't finish: Legend, by Marie Lu. YA dystopia, Type A: Moderately Controlling Government, Class Issues, Sorting Hat. (The government controls most things, but not at the level of your love life or shoelaces. The poor are brutally oppressed, and there is a rigged sorting system, in this case based on academic test scores.) This is a reasonably good example of its type. I am completely bored with the type.

What I'm reading now:

Beautiful Creatures, by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl. Bestselling YA contemporary fantasy about a boy whose small Southern town sucks, and then a beautiful magical girl shows up. The first person male narration makes this one a bit different, as does the Southern Gothic atmospheres. A bit. I'm not very far in, though - they've only just met.

Force of Nature (Troubleshooters, Book 11), by Suzanne Brockmann. Jules, the gay FBI agent, juggles his complicated love life while running an investigation of a crime lord; a second romantic/action plot involves the PI and his new hire who got hired by the crime lord and are double agents. Wisecracking, wire-tapping, and cameos by a yappy little rat-dog. I haven't liked Brockmann's most recent books, so it was nice to find an older one I hadn't read yet.

Clinician's Guide to PTSD: A Cognitive-Behavioral Approach

Theory and Practice of Group Psychotherapy, Fifth Edition

What I'm reading next:

Quicksilver, by R. J. Anderson. YA sf that's not a dystopia! Woo-hoo!

DW readers, there is a (not brain-safe, not work-safe) image of another book I mean to read on LJ - it wouldn't post here.

Please comment if you've read any or otherwise have opinions.
rachelmanija: (Book Fix)
( Nov. 11th, 2011 10:06 am)
To celebrate 11/11/11, I bring you brief notes on books which I read but, resignedly, realize I will never get around to writing up in full.

Glitter Rose, by Marianne de Pierres. A beautifully designed small hardcover from Twelfth Planet Press of connected short stories about a little Australian island, mostly populated by the decadent and desperate rich, which is infected by spores which mutate the population in strange, subtle ways. Wispy, atmospheric, delicate, like spare prose poems. A bit reminiscent of Lee Killough's Aventine stories, and, in themes but not style, of Tanith Lee. A World Fantasy Con giveaway.

Identity: Unknown (Tall, Dark and Dangerous), by Suzanne Brockmann. Amazon has Brockmann's short Navy SEAL romances listed quite cheaply, so I snagged a couple. Navy SEAL Mitchell Shaw is shot and hit over the head while deep undercover, and ends up amnesiac on a horse ranch and convinced that he's a hit man! This doesn't live up to its delicious premise, and suffers enormously from its short length. The romance starts too soon and seems way more about physical chemistry than real interaction, and the heroine seems like a nitwit to be convinced based solely on intuition that he's not a villain. There is missing plutonium that gets mentioned a few times, then forgotten. Read Frisco's Kid (Tall, Dark and Dangerous) or Harvard's Education (Tall, Dark and Dangerous) instead.

The Gift of Therapy , by Irwin Yalom. Brief notes and tips for new therapists, concentrating on the therapist-client relationship, the here-and-now (what's going on in the present moment during therapy), and dreams. Yalom is an existential therapist, and delves into the big questions about fear of death, existential anxiety, the meaning of life, etc. I got a lot out of this, and will undoubtedly refer back to it when I start seeing clients.

Crazy Like Us: The Globalization of the American Psyche, by Ethan Watters. How American concepts of mental illness and its treatment are exported worldwide, causing changes in how mental illness is perceived, manifests, and is treated. A mixed bag, but very much worth reading. Watters theorizes that symptoms of emotional distress manifest in a manner which one's culture recognizes as messages that something is wrong. In Freud's time, distressed people fainted and had mysterious physical symptoms, and that was culturally recognized as a signal of distress. In our time in the USA, those people would be more likely to complain solely of anxiety and depression.

Watters has some great and little-addressed points which are very much worth taking seriously. However, he has a bias toward the idea that Western therapy and psychiatric medication is overrated and often useless, that it should not be exported to other countries, and that looking at mental illness as biologically-based and treatable by biological means is at best only good for Americans (to whom it's at least culturally appropriate) and even then is stigmatizing.

To bolster these opinions, he makes extensive use of selective evidence. For example, he quotes people with mental illnesses who think that looking at it as a matter of brain chemistry is degrading and erasing, and then suggests that all people with mental illnesses feel that way and it's only the drug manufacturers and the medical establishment who think that the medical/chemical viewpoint can be empowering. This is flat-out untrue, as is his claim that no one ever manifested the current DSM-IV symptoms of PTSD before WWI. (It's true that earlier reports tended to be more somatic, but there are descriptions that do sound very similar to modern Western understandings of PTSD which go back at least to Shakespeare's time. It's a pretty well-researched area.) This makes me wonder how much other parts of the book are similarly carefully selected to make his point, and equally misleading. It's too bad, because his overall thesis has a lot of merit.

Note to commenters: If you want to discuss Watters' book or the ideas therein, please be aware that it's a hot-button topic, and be courteous and sensitive to the different experiences of others.
It is so fun being able to download books and carry them with me in a device which turns on instantly and is lighter than most paperbacks! I used to read sf where people had portable pocket libraries and be so envious. I am probably getting more enjoyment out of my Kindle than I would out of the much-mourned rocket cars.

Most of E. Nesbit's fantasy is available for free, including Five Children and It, The Phoenix and the Carpet, and The Story of the Amulet. Classic fantasy, still quite funny and readable, though attitudes about race, gender, class, and other political issues were in many ways typical for an English person writing in 1900. (In other ways she was quite radical, as she was a socialist and had an open marriage in 1880.) The Story of the Amulet, in particular, has some scenes of remarkable power and beauty. "We'll sail her straight for the Dragon Rocks."

There are a bunch of versions of the Mahabharata, though unfortunately I'm not familiar with most of the ones available on Kindle. I have to link Krishna Dharma's Mahabharata, though, because it has a highly indignant comment protesting the author's anti-Kaurava and pro-Pandava bias, noting, "I mean, I'm not saying the Pandavas weren't great, but come on! The Kauravas are villified to a point where it's annoying to read the tirades against them. For instance, we always hear "That sinful blind king and his foolish brain-dead evil horrible unintelligent demonic son Duryodhana will surely reap the consequences of their actions, surely destiny is all-powerful, it must all be arranged by providence." The comment was written by none other than Duryodhana! I had not realized that he had an Amazon account.

I also note Wren Journeymage (Wren Series), by Sherwood Smith, sequel to her Wren to the Rescue books, available only in e-book format. $4.99.

Sherwood has got quite a lot of books on Kindle, some only available as e-books, some simply good deals. For instance, her classic Crown Duel and A Posse of Princesses at $3.99, and a revised and polished re-launch of her space opera Exordium (with Dave Trowbridge), The Phoenix in Flight (Exordium), at $4.99.

While browsing Suzanne Brockmann's titles, I discovered this: When Tony Met Adam (Short Story). A new gay romance! I really admire her willingness to push the boundaries of the normally exclusively-straight genre romance market.

There are some nice deals ($4.90) on Rosemary Sutcliff titles I haven't read, Frontier Wolf, The Mark of the Horse Lord, and Knight's Fee. Has anyone read any of these? How are they?

Finally, Sarah Rees Brennan's The Demon's Surrender (Demon's Lexicon) is out! Though I plan to buy it in print.
Depressed after a career-ending injury, Navy SEAL Alan “Frisco” Francisco lurks in his upstairs apartment… until he gets his five-year-old niece dumped in his lap by his soon-to-be-detoxed sister, bringing about a meeting between him and his sweet, pacifist downstairs neighbor, teacher Mia Summerton.

This is a short category “Tall, Dark, and Dangerous” romance called Frisco’s Kid, but given that, there’s a fair amount of depth. Frisco’s journey from denial and depression to learning to deal with his disability was fairly realistic and had nothing to do with magical healing. (I should say – I personally found his emotions realistic, but I am not you, etc.)

The kid in question was also pretty believable, adorable but in the way that kids that age really are, not a supernaturally wise mini-adult. I am not usually much for romances with cute kids, but I was completely won over by bad-ass Frisco getting sucked into playing “Russian princess.” I was unenthused by Mia’s “OMG soldiers kill people” plot, which didn’t get the amount of in-depth exploration it would need to make it work, but the romance was sweet and hot. There’s a last-minute flurry of “OMG this will never work out” which was irritating and rushed, but didn’t ruin the book for me.

If this sounds like the sort of thing you would like, you probably will. If the very concept offends you, avoid. I enjoyed it quite a bit, but then it was right up my alley.
I enjoy Brockmann’s fat action-romances about Navy SEALs and FBI agents. I’ve only read a few of her slim category romances, but so far, with the exception of Harvard's Education, they’ve been much weaker. This one tips over into terrible. Unfortunately, even Brockmann’s bad books have the capability of making me turn pages, so I read the whole thing.

Single mom Jess rents out an apartment to mysterious tenant Rob – when a serial killer who matches his description is stalking women who look just like her! This functions as a decent work of romantic suspense with some genuine mystery as to who the real killer is. Since this isn’t a Gothic, it’s definitely not Rob. Though Brockmann momentarily had me going on that count until they slept together. In category romance, the heroine cannot have sex with the murderer during the course of the book.

What ruined the book was that the only factor arguing against Rob’s guilt was the genre convention that the hero of a romance novel cannot also be the villain. But since Jess doesn’t know she’s in a romance novel, when she is confronted with a mountain of evidence pointing to Rob’s guilt, Rob ends up on the run from an FBI manhunt, the FBI agents tell her for God’s sake to call them if she sees him, and she reacts by saying that he can’t possibly be guilty because her intuition says he’s innocent and then hides him from the cops, I couldn’t help hoping that he would turn out to be guilty and kill her.

There’s an explanation for Rob’s incredibly suspicious actions and all the physical evidence against him, but it’s a bit ridiculous. I was not even won over when Jess personally beat up and captured the real killer, which normally would be a big plus for me. I don’t usually say this, but the heroine of this book was truly too stupid to live.


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