Not renowned for the strength of her knicker elastic

I got Any Given Doomsday by Lori Handeland as a free ARC from St Martin’s Press (they have a programme for such things if anyone is interested).  And then, whaddyaknow, apparently I also scored it as a  LibraryThing Early Reviewer.  Am I a lucky bunny, or what? Clearly, on both counts the description of the book was a little misleading, because I am fairly sure I have never, ever said to anyone, under any circumstances ‘Send me your supernatural soft porn.’

So, anyone out there missing their Laurel K Hamilton? Have I got a book for you! Elizabeth Phoenix, psychic ex-cop and now bartender finds out in short order: that there are demons, that her first lover is a demon-killer (and is half-vampire), and that she’s just inherited the mantle of high seeress of the ‘federation’ of demon killers from her brutally murdered adoptive mother, Ruthie. Elizabeth needs to get up to speed quick on this whole seer thing because the bad guys are massing for the final battle. Well, when aren’t they in this kind of literature? Fortunately, Ruthie went straight to Heaven and therefore can appear to Elizabeth in dreams, to give her guidance.

Now, with all that going on you’d think it might be possible to put together a reasonably interesting story. And it might be, except for the fact that you’re forgetting about the soft porn elements. And so, what we actually have is a plot that is tendentiously strung together between pages of descriptions of erect nipples and ecstatic arching and shuddering. Where Hamilton specialises in ratcheting up the “will they, won’t they” sexual tension for entire books, there is no such question with regard to Elizabeth. Damn straight she will. Then she’ll whinge a bit about the fact that her Native American shape-shifting mentor first drugged her, then only screwed her for the greater good so that she would be ‘open’ (yup) to the full range of her powers. But she’ll get over that quickly enough so that by the next night she’s begging for more. And this despite the fact that the man has a tattoo of a snake on his penis, which you’d think would be enough to send anyone running, at least as soon as they’d stopped laughing.

Then it’s onto the half-vampire former lover, who has now gone to the dark side, turned by an old Italian vampire who is also his father. A fairly feeble resistance and she’s back on her back, attempting to draw Jimmy to the light by reminding him of all the meaningful sex they had as teenagers, before he dumped her and then some years later, developed the fangs and the blood lust. It fails, she’s a sex slave for a few  (thankfully undocumented) weeks, and when she manages to escape and save Jimmy, the first thing she does is sleep with him again. To help him get over his guilt at half-killing her and entirely debasing her.

Oh yes, it also turns out that Elizabeth’s gift as a seer is that she’s an empath; handily, if (ha!)/when she sleeps with someone, she also takes on their powers. ‘Never sleep with one of the bad guys, Elizabeth!’ warns snake man. I reckon that’ll happen in about book 3 of the franchise.

Now in actual fact, if what people want to read is endless pages of circumlocution about sexual acts, with occasional use of the word ‘fuck’ for shock value, then that is their prerogative and I won’t judge. What really annoyed me about Elizabeth is that she’s 25 going on 17; never got over Jimmy dumping her all those years ago; and is clearly so messed up that when she says ‘No’ she means ‘Well, if you’re sure I don’t have a choice, oh go on then.’  Sorry, but the pseudo-rape fantasy just doesn’t work for me. Also, she is less a character and more a collection of glib one-liners that don’t add up to anything substantial. I’d add quotes, but really, I’m not typing that stuff out.

The positive side is that this book only occupied two train journeys and half a wet lunch hour.

Different sorts of reading

In case anyone doesn’t know, Penguin are giving away the first chapter of a load of new books as ‘tasters’. The chapters are available as PDFs, so may be downloaded to a computer, Blackberry or iPhone. One could even print them out and read the old-fashioned way, were one so inclined.

Exactly as Penguin intended, I read the first chapter from the new Jane Green book, and then emailed it to Marcy. As I did so, I characterised the book as a ‘hangover read’, and this got me thinking about the various sorts of reading that I do. This classification has less to do with subject matter than the circumstances in which the reading is taking place. Most of the time it’s perfectly ordinary reading-as-default-activity, but there are some special circumstances:

To start with the aforementioned hangover read, which seems reasonably self-explanatory. In this situation I have a headache ranging from a slight throbbing behind my right eye to a full-blown kettledrum competition going on in my head. I am nauseous. I am sleepy. If we had TV, I would watch it, from a prone position. But we don’t, so I need a hangover read. This will be a light paperback (so that I can hold it lying down), of 200-300 pages duration. It will likely have a pastel cover, possibly with some embossed gold lettering going on. It will be so frothy and ephemeral that if I accidentally turn over two pages together, it won’t really matter. This confection will occupy a couple of hours in the early afternoon, just until I am well enough to progress from tea and biscuits to real food.

The guilt read. Oh god, oh god, I have read nothing but books with lilac covers for weeks, my brain is turning to mush and about to ooze out of my ears. Must consume some mental nutrition. Look at those volumes of Proust waiting for me! Look at The Lay of the Land! Turning my back resolutely on junk reading, I pluck a weightier tome from the shelves, very possibly a 19th century Penguin Classic that everyone else has read except me. With a slight air of martyrdom, I settle down to read it. Ten minutes later I am immersed, awed and swearing that never, ever again will I waste my time on inferior writers who have not yet Withstood the Test of Time.

Except in instances of comfort reading. It is Friday night, perhaps, and the week was a little trying for whatever reason. I have finally fled home with a strong desire to barricade the doors and not to talk to a single person until I have come back to terms with the human race. I very much want to lose myself completely in a world that is quite unlike the one that I inhabit on a daily basis. Children’s fiction comes in here, A Little Princess or Linnets and Valerians; Georgette Heyer is also infallibly cheering. There’s nothing like a starched cravat tied in a Waterfall and a pair of beautifully gleaming Hessians (champagne in the boot-blacking) to insulate me against Real Life.

The next fix read. Why did I start reading that series/trilogy/sequence of X novels when I know I’ll have to finish it? There are 17 more books to go. Well, I’ll just have to space them out a bit, intersperse them with other stuff. Oh, that one was really good, I wonder what happens next? Perhaps if I just have a quick look while I’m in the bookstore, then I’ll know what to look forward to after I finish reading ‘Serious Contemporary Fiction: A Novel’, which is what I’m actually going to buy. (Minutes pass.) Oh, bugger that novel, I’m going home with Richard Sharpe/Jack Aubrey. (Repeat until series is complete.)

The duty read. ‘We’re reading what for bookclub? I never wanted to read that, I hate that author and his entire family and the whole of that genre. I can’t believe I’ve got to read that. I’ll hate it, I know I will. It got terrible reviews and I once knew someone who read something similar by an author who is published by the same press and they didn’t like it. So that clinches it.’ In this situation, things can go either way. Either my presentiments will be true and I will indeed detest the chosen book (you, Arundhati Roy and your wretched ‘God of Small Things’); or my preconceptions will be blasted to atoms and I’ll be forced to confess that novels set during the American Civil War can in fact be quite tolerable. Well, it could happen. If I ever read any of them.

The emergency read. Imagine you are at Miami Airport. You were in Miami for one night, and in a moment of complete insanity, you only brought one book with you, which you finished the previous evening. Airports have bookstores, though, don’t they? Wrong, wrong, wrong. Miami Airport has a rack of curling, mass market paperbacks that are probably already equipped with sand. Most of them seem to be written by Clive Cussler. Walk away. To have no book is better than this. Walk back. Of course it isn’t, to have a book is better than no book. Scan the racks again. There! That one has a familiar title, wasn’t it made into a film? A pretty terrible film, actually, but the book is always better than the film. Alas, not when that book is ‘Patriot Games’ it isn’t…