Godchild volume 1, demented manga by Kaori Yuki. The first panel is more cracktastic than entire multi-volume runs of some series.

Narration from the first panel: "Perhaps to ease his lonely soul, Cain starts collecting dangerous poisons. While living with Riff, his manservant since childhood, half-sister Mary Weather-- daughter of his father by a maid-- and Oscar, who wants to wed Mary, Cain meets Dr. Jizabel Disraeli, an assassin of the secret organization 'Delilah.' He wants to rip out Cain's eyes to add to his collection."

Barking mad Gothic horror, made even weirder by the tone-deaf English translation (that should be Merriweather and Jezabel), full of over-the-top horror, Gothic Victoriana, Lewis Carroll allusions, mad killers who wear rabbit masks impregnated with exotic hallucinogens, and disturbing sexual undertones and overtones such as a half-naked pubescent Cain writhing in his sheets, saying to his sexy valet/butler/true love Riff, "I didn't want that guy helping me dress."

Volume 2 contains the Parrot of Doom.

ES (Eternal Sabbath) volume 3, manga by Fuyumi Soryo. Gorgeous, spooky, and smart manga about a young man who can enter the minds of others, and the woman scientist who gets entangled with him. This volume is especially creepy, with great use of white space and silence to induce a sense of paranoia and tension. I continue to be very engaged by the main characters.

The Empty Empire, volume 1, manga by Naoe Kita. From page one: "Beyond the year 2500 AD, he appeared to unite the world: the Emperor Idea."

The telekinetic amnesiac clone of the dead (or is he?!!!) Emperor Idea escapes and is found by an ass-kicking young woman and a strange scientist who looks a lot like Hakkai. There is a sexy butler/valet, and a missing body, and two missing eyes from different people. Everyone's heads are strangely bulbous, and I laughed every time someone referred to Idea, but the characters were growing on me by the end of the volume.

Thud, by Terry Pratchett. Very funny, very smart. Vimes tries to stop Ankh-Morpork from exploding via ethnic tension between the dwarves and the trolls, and also to meet the equal challenge of getting home every night at 6:00 PM to read "Where's My Cow?" to his son. I particularly liked the bits with Mr. Shine. And the Gooseberry. And the girls' night out. And the guy who's supposed to audit the Watch. And I continue to love Vimes.

What the Lady Wants, by Jennifer Crusie. Early romantic comedy, slight but funny. My favorites of her earlier books are still Getting Rid of Bradley (the green hair!) and Manhunting (the terrible fates that befall every man the heroine meets).

Niccolo Rising, by Dorothy Dunnett. I only just started this, but it already makes more sense than A Game of Kings.
Godchild volume 1, demented manga by Kaori Yuki. The first panel is more cracktastic than entire multi-volume runs of some series.

Narration from the first panel: "Perhaps to ease his lonely soul, Cain starts collecting dangerous poisons. While living with Riff, his manservant since childhood, half-sister Mary Weather-- daughter of his father by a maid-- and Oscar, who wants to wed Mary, Cain meets Dr. Jizabel Disraeli, an assassin of the secret organization 'Delilah.' He wants to rip out Cain's eyes to add to his collection."

Barking mad Gothic horror, made even weirder by the tone-deaf English translation (that should be Merriweather and Jezabel), full of over-the-top horror, Gothic Victoriana, Lewis Carroll allusions, mad killers who wear rabbit masks impregnated with exotic hallucinogens, and disturbing sexual undertones and overtones such as a half-naked pubescent Cain writhing in his sheets, saying to his sexy valet/butler/true love Riff, "I didn't want that guy helping me dress."

Volume 2 contains the Parrot of Doom.

ES (Eternal Sabbath) volume 3, manga by Fuyumi Soryo. Gorgeous, spooky, and smart manga about a young man who can enter the minds of others, and the woman scientist who gets entangled with him. This volume is especially creepy, with great use of white space and silence to induce a sense of paranoia and tension. I continue to be very engaged by the main characters.

The Empty Empire, volume 1, manga by Naoe Kita. From page one: "Beyond the year 2500 AD, he appeared to unite the world: the Emperor Idea."

The telekinetic amnesiac clone of the dead (or is he?!!!) Emperor Idea escapes and is found by an ass-kicking young woman and a strange scientist who looks a lot like Hakkai. There is a sexy butler/valet, and a missing body, and two missing eyes from different people. Everyone's heads are strangely bulbous, and I laughed every time someone referred to Idea, but the characters were growing on me by the end of the volume.

Thud, by Terry Pratchett. Very funny, very smart. Vimes tries to stop Ankh-Morpork from exploding via ethnic tension between the dwarves and the trolls, and also to meet the equal challenge of getting home every night at 6:00 PM to read "Where's My Cow?" to his son. I particularly liked the bits with Mr. Shine. And the Gooseberry. And the girls' night out. And the guy who's supposed to audit the Watch. And I continue to love Vimes.

What the Lady Wants, by Jennifer Crusie. Early romantic comedy, slight but funny. My favorites of her earlier books are still Getting Rid of Bradley (the green hair!) and Manhunting (the terrible fates that befall every man the heroine meets).

Niccolo Rising, by Dorothy Dunnett. I only just started this, but it already makes more sense than A Game of Kings.
Prince of Tennis, by Takeshi Konomi.

A sports manga about a kid tennis prodigy, which I read because I'm trying to get a feel for sports manga. This one started off with moderate promise, but ended up boring me so much that I didn't finish it. It reminded me that I have no inherent interest in tennis, and have only ever followed the sport because I was intrigued by the personalities of the players: Martina Navratilova, Venus and Serena Williams, Steffi Graf, and many more, not to mention the huge crush I had on Michael Chang when I was in high school. Let's just say that the characters here did not interest me to that extent, or at all, really. Does this series improve after the first volume? Is the anime better? If neither of the above, why the huge fandom?

Bet Me, by Jennifer Crusie.

A typically charming and funny romance by an author with great appeal to people who don't usually like romances, as proven by the sight of my Dad happily engrossed in Welcome to Temptation this weekend. Through a series of misunderstandings, Min, a cautious and voluptuous actuary with a nightmare of a mother, believes that Cal, a businessman and ladies' man whose entire immediate family is a nightmare, has bet Min's ex-boyfriend that he can sleep with her within a month. She needs a date for her sister's wedding to a complete loser, so she decides to date him, not sleep with him, and dump him immediately after the wedding.

Needless to say, though neither of them started out with good will toward each other, they end up not only discovering massive sexual chemistry and major compatibility, but also help fix each other's psychological hang-ups. Min is a big woman whose mother is always nagging her to lose weight, while Cal likes her exactly as she is and coaxes her to go ahead and embrace life's gluttonous pleasures, and if she can't squeeze into a size six, to just buy a sexy dress in the proper size. This made me very happy.
Prince of Tennis, by Takeshi Konomi.

A sports manga about a kid tennis prodigy, which I read because I'm trying to get a feel for sports manga. This one started off with moderate promise, but ended up boring me so much that I didn't finish it. It reminded me that I have no inherent interest in tennis, and have only ever followed the sport because I was intrigued by the personalities of the players: Martina Navratilova, Venus and Serena Williams, Steffi Graf, and many more, not to mention the huge crush I had on Michael Chang when I was in high school. Let's just say that the characters here did not interest me to that extent, or at all, really. Does this series improve after the first volume? Is the anime better? If neither of the above, why the huge fandom?

Bet Me, by Jennifer Crusie.

A typically charming and funny romance by an author with great appeal to people who don't usually like romances, as proven by the sight of my Dad happily engrossed in Welcome to Temptation this weekend. Through a series of misunderstandings, Min, a cautious and voluptuous actuary with a nightmare of a mother, believes that Cal, a businessman and ladies' man whose entire immediate family is a nightmare, has bet Min's ex-boyfriend that he can sleep with her within a month. She needs a date for her sister's wedding to a complete loser, so she decides to date him, not sleep with him, and dump him immediately after the wedding.

Needless to say, though neither of them started out with good will toward each other, they end up not only discovering massive sexual chemistry and major compatibility, but also help fix each other's psychological hang-ups. Min is a big woman whose mother is always nagging her to lose weight, while Cal likes her exactly as she is and coaxes her to go ahead and embrace life's gluttonous pleasures, and if she can't squeeze into a size six, to just buy a sexy dress in the proper size. This made me very happy.
On a side note, I got my Dad and step-mother hooked on Jennifer Crusie by slipping them FAKING IT and saying, "It's a mystery-comedy about a family of art forgers." My step-mother likes mysteries, my Dad collects art, and they both like comedy, so I figured that would sell them. When they both praised it and asked for more, I gave them FAST WOMEN, then WELCOME TO TEMPTATION. I'm wonder if they'll ever figure out that Crusie is really a romance writer, and if they'll care if they do.

GETTING RID OF BRADLEY is similar in some respects to CRAZY FOR YOU, in that both involve a woman who wants to break out of her boring life and a man who's stalking her. I liked the former better; the tone is lighter overall, even when it comes to dark elements, and it's set up from the beginning as a playful romantic comedy with elements of mystery and suspense, rather than a romantic comedy with unwelcome intrusions of creepy reality.

High school physics teacher Lucy Savage is getting divorced from her husband Bradley. He's stood her up at divorce court, her sister is bossing her around, and she hates her newly blonde hair. When someone shoots at her and she mistakes the cop who pushes her out of the way for a mugger and beats him up, it actually improves her day. Next thing she knows, she's being stalked by a mysterious person, who may be her Bradley or the Bradley the cop is looking for (they may or may not be the same Bradley) so naturally, the cop has to move in with her and her three dogs (one of whom has invented a dog joke) and her ever-mutating hair. To guard and protect her, of course.

This book cracked me up. If you want to learn how to use repetition for comic effect, study it. If you want to be cheered up, just read and be cheered. I was particularly gratified to find a Crusie heroine who knows self-defense, even if it's not always directed at the correct parties. The police work is less than plausible and the sex scene is generic (Crusie got much better at writing them later on) but generally the book made me very happy.

In FLOWERS FROM THE STORM, the Duke of Jervaux, who is a rake and a mathematical genius, is called out for a duel for having an affair with a married woman. But before anyone can fire, he has a stroke and collapses. He wakes up in an asylum. He's unable to speak, understand spoken language, or read and write words, though his mathematical abilities are intact. Unfortunately, at that time no one understands what's happened to him and they think he's insane. Enter Maddy, whose blind mathematician father was in a mathematics society with Jervaulx. Maddy and her father are Quakers, and she gets a message from God that she needs to rescue Jervaux, who she realizes is not insane, but only unable to communicate. (The mad chemistry between them has nothing to do with it, she tells herself, because he is a man of the world and if she gets involved with him, the Quakers will disown her.)

The first third or so of the book, before Jervaulx starts to recover, contain some fascinating attempts at writing from the point of view of someone who has lost language. Kinsale does a good job of conveying a state which is inherently impossible to portray in words. I liked the way both Jervaulx and Maddy had inner worlds which were intensely important to them, and also came from diametrically opposed backgrounds, and how difficult it was to communicate with each other because of it, and how comparatively easy it was for them to bridge the gap of his aphasia.

The main problem I had with the book was the pacing. Although I liked the characters and was engaged by their predicaments, there were a number of places where I found the book easy to put down, unlike, say, SHADOWHEART or THE SHADOW AND THE STAR or even MY SWEET FOLLY, all of which I was glued to from beginning to end.

There's also a point at which Kinsale probably should have stopped adding new complications and reasons why Maddy and Jervaulx were doomed as a couple, because eventually I started to think that their relationship was just too difficult, that they didn't have enough in common and there were too many obstacles and too much Maddy especially had to give up, and that they would never be truly happy together. That mad chemistry had better keep cooking, or they will be in trouble a year or two after the end of the book.
On a side note, I got my Dad and step-mother hooked on Jennifer Crusie by slipping them FAKING IT and saying, "It's a mystery-comedy about a family of art forgers." My step-mother likes mysteries, my Dad collects art, and they both like comedy, so I figured that would sell them. When they both praised it and asked for more, I gave them FAST WOMEN, then WELCOME TO TEMPTATION. I'm wonder if they'll ever figure out that Crusie is really a romance writer, and if they'll care if they do.

GETTING RID OF BRADLEY is similar in some respects to CRAZY FOR YOU, in that both involve a woman who wants to break out of her boring life and a man who's stalking her. I liked the former better; the tone is lighter overall, even when it comes to dark elements, and it's set up from the beginning as a playful romantic comedy with elements of mystery and suspense, rather than a romantic comedy with unwelcome intrusions of creepy reality.

High school physics teacher Lucy Savage is getting divorced from her husband Bradley. He's stood her up at divorce court, her sister is bossing her around, and she hates her newly blonde hair. When someone shoots at her and she mistakes the cop who pushes her out of the way for a mugger and beats him up, it actually improves her day. Next thing she knows, she's being stalked by a mysterious person, who may be her Bradley or the Bradley the cop is looking for (they may or may not be the same Bradley) so naturally, the cop has to move in with her and her three dogs (one of whom has invented a dog joke) and her ever-mutating hair. To guard and protect her, of course.

This book cracked me up. If you want to learn how to use repetition for comic effect, study it. If you want to be cheered up, just read and be cheered. I was particularly gratified to find a Crusie heroine who knows self-defense, even if it's not always directed at the correct parties. The police work is less than plausible and the sex scene is generic (Crusie got much better at writing them later on) but generally the book made me very happy.

In FLOWERS FROM THE STORM, the Duke of Jervaux, who is a rake and a mathematical genius, is called out for a duel for having an affair with a married woman. But before anyone can fire, he has a stroke and collapses. He wakes up in an asylum. He's unable to speak, understand spoken language, or read and write words, though his mathematical abilities are intact. Unfortunately, at that time no one understands what's happened to him and they think he's insane. Enter Maddy, whose blind mathematician father was in a mathematics society with Jervaulx. Maddy and her father are Quakers, and she gets a message from God that she needs to rescue Jervaux, who she realizes is not insane, but only unable to communicate. (The mad chemistry between them has nothing to do with it, she tells herself, because he is a man of the world and if she gets involved with him, the Quakers will disown her.)

The first third or so of the book, before Jervaulx starts to recover, contain some fascinating attempts at writing from the point of view of someone who has lost language. Kinsale does a good job of conveying a state which is inherently impossible to portray in words. I liked the way both Jervaulx and Maddy had inner worlds which were intensely important to them, and also came from diametrically opposed backgrounds, and how difficult it was to communicate with each other because of it, and how comparatively easy it was for them to bridge the gap of his aphasia.

The main problem I had with the book was the pacing. Although I liked the characters and was engaged by their predicaments, there were a number of places where I found the book easy to put down, unlike, say, SHADOWHEART or THE SHADOW AND THE STAR or even MY SWEET FOLLY, all of which I was glued to from beginning to end.

There's also a point at which Kinsale probably should have stopped adding new complications and reasons why Maddy and Jervaulx were doomed as a couple, because eventually I started to think that their relationship was just too difficult, that they didn't have enough in common and there were too many obstacles and too much Maddy especially had to give up, and that they would never be truly happy together. That mad chemistry had better keep cooking, or they will be in trouble a year or two after the end of the book.
I have some good stuff to recommend today.

Jennifer Crusie's FAST WOMEN was great. At least as good as FAKING IT and possibly better. It's a "sparring couple" story, with the romantic leads verbally jousting and falling in love with the one person willing to fight back. It's also a murder mystery, and while that's not the focus of the story it's a pretty decent one. But what makes the book is its large cast of vivid characters and their complex and developing relationships, its willingness to delve into serious emotional issues and dilemmas and treat them in depth but with a light touch, and some extremly funny dialogue. Even the _dishware_ is characterized. Bonus points for a can-you-do-this-in-genre-romance scene between Suze and Nell. It ultimately affirms the heterosexual norm, but all the same...

ULTRAVIOLET is a terrific six-hour British miniseries, perfect for anyone still jonesing for new episodes of the X-FILES from back when it was good. It's horror done in the style of a sophisticated cop show, with hardened police battling somewhat scientifically rationalized vampires. (The word "vampire" is never used.) It's classy, well-acted, extremely gripping, and frieghted with a disturbing moral ambiguity. (The satisfying ending has some open-ended plot elements which suggest a planned sequel which never materialized, but those aren't half as open-ended as the question of whether the heroes are doing the right thing.)

There's an American remake in the works which will undoubtedly reduce or soften the role of the woman scientist and make sure that we know who the good guys are. Available on DVD.
I gave up on TRICKSTER'S CHOICE. Aly was annoying and the plot didn't work. I'm sure I'll try it again when I'm in a more charitable frame of mind, for many of Tamora Pierce's books are wonderful.

Instead, I finished Jennifer Crusie's TELL ME LIES. This is a-- don't go away-- romance novel (sort of) and it's all words, no pictures, and features strictly straight couples who are not only not Japanese, but living in Frog Point, Ohio. But it does have something in common with GRAVITATION: it's funny, and it's not afraid to say that emotion is important. I think I only like plots which are primarily about a romance if they're also funny.

I first encountered Jennifer Crusie when I was playing the page 119 game in a supermarket. That's the one where you open a book to page 119 and read a random paragraph. I once played this with six randomly selected, identity-concealed paperbacks and the audience of a panel I was on at an sf convention. I had them critique a paragraph from page 119 (or 120, etc, if there was nothing on 119 without identifiable characteristics), then revealed the title and author. Their critiques were right on the mark, from their enjoyment of the smooth prose, subtle worldbuilding, and deft characterization in an extremely obscure scene from Ursula K. LeGuin's classic THE DISPOSSESSED, to their raucous mockery of a hideous Star Trek novel called THE PRICE OF THE PHOENIX.

Anyway, I was playing the page 119 game on a series of risible supermarket romances, then suddenly hit a page 119 that was good-- funny, smooth prose, believeable human characteristics. I looked again at the author: wait a sec, didn't Melymbrosia say Jennifer Crusie was terrific? The book was FAKING IT, a very funny novel about forgery, con men, love, and dysfunctional families, which employs many of the devices of screwball comedy to great effect, while sneaking in some darker undertones and a realistic bad sex scenes in which the heroine-- yes-- fakes it. With the hero. This is not what I expected from a romance novel.

I next read CRAZY FOR YOU, about a small-town woman whose life changes when she acquires a stray dog. It was enjoyable but not up to the level of FAKING IT. It had a fairly disturbing subplot which wasn't as well integrated into the lighter moments as was the case in TELL ME LIES, and it was frustrating that the heroine was always rescued by a man whenever there was any kind of physical danger.

TELL ME LIES is also about small-town life, but the heroine is a married woman in Frog Point, Ohio with a young daughter. Then she finds a pair of crotchless panties in her husband's car, her car gets totaled, and the man she lost her virginity to comes back to town. And that's just the beginning of her day. It's funny but not primarily a comedy. I don't want to give away too much as the plot takes some surprising turns, but it's mostly about small towns and secrets. I grew up in the Indian version of Frog Point, and Crusie has the dynamic down cold.

All of Crusie's novels that I've read so far, incidentally, have a dog as a character. The dog in TELL ME LIES isn't as well characterized as the memorably neurotic pooches in the other two. I'm guessing that Crusie likes dogs. All her books have had lots of good eating in them, which is nice to read about, and hot sex, which is also pleasant. Her sex scenes rely more on characterization and emotion than geographic detail "and then we did it on the floor/in a balloon/in the scoop-shovel of my Pa's tractor" for variety. This is good.

So far I'd rank them as 1) FAKING IT, 2)TELL ME LIES, 3) CRAZY FOR YOU. Which should I read next?
I gave up on TRICKSTER'S CHOICE. Aly was annoying and the plot didn't work. I'm sure I'll try it again when I'm in a more charitable frame of mind, for many of Tamora Pierce's books are wonderful.

Instead, I finished Jennifer Crusie's TELL ME LIES. This is a-- don't go away-- romance novel (sort of) and it's all words, no pictures, and features strictly straight couples who are not only not Japanese, but living in Frog Point, Ohio. But it does have something in common with GRAVITATION: it's funny, and it's not afraid to say that emotion is important. I think I only like plots which are primarily about a romance if they're also funny.

I first encountered Jennifer Crusie when I was playing the page 119 game in a supermarket. That's the one where you open a book to page 119 and read a random paragraph. I once played this with six randomly selected, identity-concealed paperbacks and the audience of a panel I was on at an sf convention. I had them critique a paragraph from page 119 (or 120, etc, if there was nothing on 119 without identifiable characteristics), then revealed the title and author. Their critiques were right on the mark, from their enjoyment of the smooth prose, subtle worldbuilding, and deft characterization in an extremely obscure scene from Ursula K. LeGuin's classic THE DISPOSSESSED, to their raucous mockery of a hideous Star Trek novel called THE PRICE OF THE PHOENIX.

Anyway, I was playing the page 119 game on a series of risible supermarket romances, then suddenly hit a page 119 that was good-- funny, smooth prose, believeable human characteristics. I looked again at the author: wait a sec, didn't Melymbrosia say Jennifer Crusie was terrific? The book was FAKING IT, a very funny novel about forgery, con men, love, and dysfunctional families, which employs many of the devices of screwball comedy to great effect, while sneaking in some darker undertones and a realistic bad sex scenes in which the heroine-- yes-- fakes it. With the hero. This is not what I expected from a romance novel.

I next read CRAZY FOR YOU, about a small-town woman whose life changes when she acquires a stray dog. It was enjoyable but not up to the level of FAKING IT. It had a fairly disturbing subplot which wasn't as well integrated into the lighter moments as was the case in TELL ME LIES, and it was frustrating that the heroine was always rescued by a man whenever there was any kind of physical danger.

TELL ME LIES is also about small-town life, but the heroine is a married woman in Frog Point, Ohio with a young daughter. Then she finds a pair of crotchless panties in her husband's car, her car gets totaled, and the man she lost her virginity to comes back to town. And that's just the beginning of her day. It's funny but not primarily a comedy. I don't want to give away too much as the plot takes some surprising turns, but it's mostly about small towns and secrets. I grew up in the Indian version of Frog Point, and Crusie has the dynamic down cold.

All of Crusie's novels that I've read so far, incidentally, have a dog as a character. The dog in TELL ME LIES isn't as well characterized as the memorably neurotic pooches in the other two. I'm guessing that Crusie likes dogs. All her books have had lots of good eating in them, which is nice to read about, and hot sex, which is also pleasant. Her sex scenes rely more on characterization and emotion than geographic detail "and then we did it on the floor/in a balloon/in the scoop-shovel of my Pa's tractor" for variety. This is good.

So far I'd rank them as 1) FAKING IT, 2)TELL ME LIES, 3) CRAZY FOR YOU. Which should I read next?
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