Ra(w)R: Lady Chatterley’s Lover

Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence

Published first in 1928 in Italy, this book wasn’t published in the U.K. until 1960 (I would assume it was published around then in the U.S. as well). It took me a few weeks to read it, and it’s another example of how it just takes time to fall into the rhythms and patterns of the book, but it’s just so flippin’ beautiful.

Review:

This was part of my tour de history of romance novels- kicked off by Fifty Shades of Grey and continued by Fanny Hill.

Connie, the daughter of the upper-middle class intelligentsia, goes through her youth sure that art and politics are the end-all and be-all; she and her sister use their sex to manipulate men, but keep them at arm’s length. The connection is mental; physical connection is power, and Connie and her sister know how to use it.

Connie marries Clifford Chatterley, who sadly comes back from the war paralyzed from the waist down; this doesn’t do good things for them in the bedroom. Connie is bored; she and Clifford are not cut from the same bolt of cloth, and it shows. Their views on the changing social and economic climate of England don’t align, especially when it comes to what should be done with the failing coal mine at Wragby, their country home. The relationship between the two is disjointed and limited by their lack of emotional, intellectual, and sexual connections, and so Connie takes a lover.

Oliver Mellors is the Chatterley’s gamekeeper; he and Connie find their connection, but at a cost- he was sure that he would never be able to find physical satisfaction with a woman again after his ex-wife tormented him and she thought that physical connections  were worthless. Clearly the point of the book is that they are both wrong.

There are about a thousand more details to this book, but that’s kind of sort of the general gist of it. Connie needs more than intellectual stimulation to be happy; she has to be connected physically as well.

I really loved this book; the blush count wasn’t as high as it was when I read Fanny Hill (or Fifty Shades!), which was nice, but it’s very obvious why it was so controversial when it was published. Definitely some unprintable words; and we dare to suggest that relationships might be more than intellectual! Heavens!

Is this a romance novel? No. I don’t really think so. Romance novels have a hero, a heroine, a problem, a solution, and sexytimes. This book has more- it’s a commentary on the changing structure of England, it’s a commentary on what is love (baby don’t hurt me), it’s a commentary on how money changes people and how they interact and what a fustercluck that can be. It’s a commentary on sex and it’s role in the world, which is clearly ALWAYS a giant mess. It’s a commentary on communism even.

I highly recommend this book; it’s terribly romantic and the words are beautiful and if I ever got a card with a bit of Lady  Chatterley’s Lover written inside I’d be very impressed. Go read it!

Some of my favorite quotes:

Sex and a cocktail: they both lasted about as long, had the same effect, and amounted to about the same thing. 

But it was a truth that killed.

At the top of the hill they rested, and Connie was glad to let go. She had had fugitive dreams of friendship between these two men: one her husband, the other the father of her child. Now she saw the screaming absurdity of her dreams. The two males were as hostile as fire and water. They mutually exterminated one another. And she realized for the first time what a queer subtle thing hate is.

(sorry I don’t have any page numbers; my kindle copy only gives me locations)

Ra(w)R: Rogue

Rogue by Mark Sullivan

Release date: Oct 2, 2012

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press

Difficulty: nada

Time to completion: two days

Stars: 8 of 10

Review:

This is the first book in a new action-secret agent-mystery-adventure series by Mark Sullivan, who apparently has written stuff with James Patterson (none of which I’ve ever read). Robin Monarch, he of a shady, seedy, mysterious past, works for the CIA and one night in the middle of a grab and go, the assumed target of which is the Al-Qaeda archives (!!!- shout out! [uhm, to the idea of how important archives are!]), he peaces out and quits his job. What’d he see? What was he NOT supposed to see? And what’s going to happen now?!

I really, really liked this. It was fast and exciting and I decided that finishing this book AND having a cup of coffee at 8.30 in the morning would be a really bad idea because I would have been just way too wound up. The front bit says “Jason Bourne meets Robin Hood” and then there’s another comparison somewhere that this is Bourne/Mission Impossible/James Bond, but I’ve never actually read the Bourne books, and I’ve seen MI and Bond and I guess they’re similar in that they’re secret agent spy dudes who are exotic and hot? But I think actually Robin Monarch is a better secret agent man that James Bond, because he is much better at hand to hand combat (personal pet peeve of mine) and I think he thinks on a different level, and over the course of the book you understand his background and personal history more than James Bond’s.

This one comes out in October, it’s quick, it’s fun, it’s an adrenaline kick, and I really liked it!

 

Ra(w)R: The Bright Forever by Lee Martin

The Bright Forever: A Novel by Lee Martin

Published May 3, 2005 by Shaye Areheart books

Allie stats:

Difficulty: just your average fiction novel

Time to Completion: a day (started it in the morning on my way to Solstice in Times Square, while I was waiting, the ride home, and at lunch)

Stars: many stars. Stars may be too happy for this book.

Review:

One summer evening, Katie Mackey takes off for the library to return her almost-overdue books. She doesn’t come home. This is the story of the after, during, and before of her disappearance. On one level, it’s a crime novel- solve the mystery, find out who “did it.” On a completely separate, spiritual level, Martin asks us to reconsider the difference between who did it, and who is responsible. The question is uncomfortable, the answer is unbearable.

The story is told through multiple points of view, mostly after the fact, but sometimes not. Time isn’t important, just the fact that things happen. I mean, you’re given the date and whatever, but as people tell their stories, time slowly unravels, to where the only thing that matters is that something happened and it made waves or ripples or just barely disturbed the surface of this little town in Indiana during the first week of July sometime in the 1960s. By going through multiple points of view, it becomes abundantly obvious that there is no such thing as “the truth.” There simply isn’t. There can’t be. No one person has the power to say that “this is true and this isn’t.” There are things that happened and things that didn’t; events happen or they don’t. But I think this book shows that the “truth” we want to attach to events is too complicated for such a little word. There’s so much more than meets the eye or the ear or the hand and reconciling ourselves to this mystifying aspect of life is borderline impossible.

This is a really gorgeous, uncomfortable book. The center of the plot is every parent’s worst nightmare, in multiple respects, and I applaud Lee Martin for writing this book- there is more than one reviewer on Amazon who didn’t like the book because of the subject. By the time I reached the end I was more than aware of how strange I felt, but it forced me to stop and feel, and that doesn’t happen everyday.

Ra(w)R: Fanny Hill, Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure

Fanny Hill: Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure by John Cleland

Published in two pieces: Nov 21, 1748 and February 1749 [side note: I’m kind of loving that it was published on my birthday (granted, 240 years before, but the feeling is the same). But have no fear parental units, no plans of following in the illustrious Fanny Hill’s footsteps.]

Published in the U.S.: 1963! Huzzah for obscenity laws!

Publisher: According to wikipedia, Fanny Hill was published by the Fenton Brothers, who were arrested a year after publication for “corrupting the King’s subjects.”  While you’re on the wikipedia page, I highly recommend the extract from the book. Just so you can get a taste.

Genre: Erotica

Allie stats:

Time to completion: a week

Difficulty: so much with the blushing. and words that died out two hundred years ago.

Stars: ahh. See the rating scale for Shades of Grey here.

Review:

You can’t really review a book that’s over 250 years old. What’s the point? It’s not going anywhere.

For those who have never encountered Fanny Hill, it’s the story of a young girl who at the tender age of 15 becomes a prostitute. It’s written as a series of letters from Fanny to an unnamed woman, seemingly of higher social status. She’s trying to explain herself and her decisions, and her own happy ending. Fanny ran away from home to London (“by repairing to London, in order to SEEK MY FORTUNE, a phrase which, by the bye, has ruined more adventurers of both sexes, from the country, than ever it made of advanced”) and was taken on, she thought, as a maid to a lady. The lady, it turns out, thought Fanny was a whore, tried to give her a client, whereupon Fanny fainted dead away and fell in to a fever. Upon discovery that Fanny was still *gasp* in a state of virginity, the lady schemes to sell her most precious jewel to the highest bidder, which she does. Blah blah blah, Fanny falls in love and runs away, her lover gets sent off by his father, and she’s heartbroken. She floats around for the rest of the book, mistress to this man, mistress to another, discovering the infinite variety and pleasure the act of love can bring. Eventually, she’s her own mistress and upon repairing to a house in the country, runs back into her love Charles, and they get married. Note that when the book ends, Fanny is 18 years old. EIGHTEEN YEARS OLD. ohmigod.

This book is, to my knowledge and understanding, one of the oldest, if not the original, erotic novel. And as such, has been banned over and over again. Obscenity laws must love this book. The number of different ways sex is described is magnificent. The number of ways John Cleland describes various body parts is breathtaking. I do stop to wonder- who was John Cleland and how did he reach these conclusions about what women like (or don’t like)? I don’t know, and I won’t try to speculate on his sex life, but I’m pretty sure it was active, to say the least.

It’s hard not to laugh while reading this. One, it is a legitimately funny book. Any book worth reading should be, in my mind, funny. At least once in a while. Two, as I said above, the number of metaphors and euphemisms written here are just beyond counting. I tried to find a list, but didn’t try very hard- the results aren’t shocking but I dare you to google “the number of ways sex is described in Fanny Hill” and try to come up with useful information. Most of them made me giggle, if not laugh loudly, generally in the middle of rush hour back to Queens.

For your reading pleasure, some of the more ridiculous bits. (and this is just a sampling. There are so, so many.)

I, struggling faintly, could not help feeling what I could not grasp, a column of the whitest ivory, beautifully streak’d with blue veins, and carrying, fully uncapt, a head of the liveliest vermillion: no horn could be harder or stiffer; yet no velvet more smooth or delicious to the touch.

Maybe this is what John Cleland thought women thought? Whatevs.

…as he introduc’d his plenipotentiary instrument into her…

Plen-i-po-ten-ti-ar-y. Adjective: invested with full power or authority, as a diplomatic agent; conferring or bestowing full power, as a commission; absolute or full, as power (via dictionary.com). Ok then.

In the mean time his machine, which was one of those sizes that slip in and out without being minded…

Harsh.

You probably get the picture by now. It should be a rather vivid one. At least, I thought it was pretty vivid. More vivid than today’s romance novels? Well, depends on who you ask. For what I read, hoo boy yeah. Compared to Fifty Shades? Well, maybe not so much. Better written to be sure; there may have been more sexytimes in Fifty Shades, but they were definitely more effective in Fanny Hill.

There were two things that stood out to me about Fanny Hill that showed how romance has NOT changed in three hundred years and it probably  never will. The description of female beauty was just as hackneyed and stereotypical and standardized as it is today. This is a personal issue I have that I will probably never get over. The second is marriage as happily-ever-after (HEA). I almost died when I realized that Fanny’s HEA was marrying her Charles. For the love of god, whyyyy does every romance novel end with marriage and a house and 2.5 kids and a dog? I thought this book would end with her taking charge of her destiny, running a half-way house for other 15 year old girls so they didn’t have to become whores or something but NO, she gets married. Augghhh. Frustrating to the max. How about an ending where the hero and the heroine just end up in the same city with steady jobs and a social schedule that allows them to go to free movies in the park during the work week? Is that asking too much? Because I really don’t think so.

Ra(w)R: Legacy of Tril Book One: Soulbound

Legacy of Tril Book One: Soulbound, by Heather Brewer

Tentative publishing date: July 2012

Publisher: Dial Books, a division of Penguin Publishing

Genre/target audience: YA fantasy, seventh grade and up

Allie stats:

Time to completion: two hours

Difficulty: none- but my tension was through the roof!

Stars: 7.5/10

Review:

This is the story of Kaya, a Healer, who exists in a world that is tormented by a hundred years’ war unknown to many of its inhabitants. Kaya’s parents are both Barrons, warriors trained to kill Graplars [evil beasties], but as a Healer, Kaya is forbidden by Protocol to learn to fight. At the training academy she has been sent to, she finds that this world she’s been forced into is even less, and even more, than she thought it was, and is determined to be able to defend herself and her loved ones. The question is, can she find someone to train her, and what will the consequences be if that happens?

I adored this book, zoomed through it, and now am dying at the fact that this is the first book in the series, and it hasn’t even been published yet. It isn’t a new story- a heroine, two heroes, conflict of interests, giving the finger to The Man- but it’s one of my favorite stories, and this world that has been created feels nice and new. It isn’t a sci-fi world, it’s a fantasy one- agrarian villages with dirt roads, but it isn’t the frustrating kind where it seems development has been held back on purpose. Describing the training academy’s library, the clothes they wear- I wasn’t frustrated by it, and that’s often a problem for me. Heather Brewer is a master as well at ratcheting up the tension. Sitting here on the plane I was super jumpy and kept fidgeting. Probably bugged the crap out of my seatmate, but what can you do?

Another thing I enjoyed was Kaya’s age. As a 23 year old, I don’t really have any right to read YA and claim it as my own, but choices in adult fantasy, I feel, can often require too much effort (Game of Thrones anyone?), so even though I roll my eyes at her petulance sometimes, connecting to a 17 year old isn’t a huge stretch. Ask me again next year how I feel about that.

So why not ten out of ten stars? The tension is there and the descriptions are there, but some of the writing falls flat a little bit, especially in Kaya’s inner monologue. Sure, it’s possible for a teenage girl (or any woman, I think) to be furious at someone one moment and down for canoodling the next, but at I’d appreciate a little more something on her part. I sometimes felt that the effort was made to express her thoughts, but the articulation was just a little short. And as for the rest of the stars, I mean, I am comparing this to Arthur and George, so just let it go.

All that being said, I can’t wait for the next book to come out, so much so that I curse picking up this ARC at ALA because I just want to hop off the plane and get the next one!

On the theme of two guys and one girl: why is that the go-to triangle compared to one guy and two girls? Is it because we’ll attack the girls for being petty or bitchy or catty? A girl who has to choose between two lovers is perhaps more desirable- her innocence at her indecision or fright at having to choose is appealing because in books these heroines are generally having to choose between two versions of love. Either will make her happy and give her a fulfilling life, but it isn’t possible for her to choose wrong. (Well, in a reader’s mind that could be up for debate, but the theory remains the same.)

We have loads of examples of these boy-girl-boy triangles: Gale-Katniss-Peeta [Hunger Games], Edward-Bella-Jacob [Twilight], Ethan-Isabel-Arkarian [Guardians of Time, by Marianne Curley- this one is a sort of], Darius-Kaya-Trayton [Legacy of Tril], Perris-Tally-David [Uglies series by Scott Westerfeld- this one is a sort of, but the point plays true], even Harry-Hermione-Ron [while not a romantic scenario, Hermione is put in between them more than once and forced to choose]. And those are just the ones I can think of at 35,000 feet cruising altitude. Five minutes on the internet would give me a list much longer than that, but I don’t think it’s necessary. I’m hard pressed to think of books that feature a girl-boy-girl triangle, and while I’m sure they exist, maybe me not being able to think of any off the top of my head is a good enough example of how they aren’t as prevalent. Perhaps it’s a target audience thing- this book (in fact, most of those books I listed, excepting Harry Potter and the Guardians of Time series) is told from a female point of view, and probably appeal to a female audience in general over a male one (but I think loads of boys would enjoy any of those books. Ok, maybe not Twilight).

Maybe another reason it’s boy-girl-boy is because the authors of the books I listed as examples are female (except Scott Westerfeld, he of the Uglies series). I’m totally projecting here, but if I were writing a book with a romance element in it, I’d do the same thing. Because it’s probably the most romantic thing I could think of, especially while I was writing about characters in high school. Or college. Or graduate school. Whatever. Or there could be as simple a reason as, “the plot just worked out better that way,” which is completely legitimate and probably the best reason of all of them.

Ra(w)R: Slaughterhouse-5

Slaughterhouse-Five or The Children’s Crusade: A Duty Dance with Death by Kurt Vonnegut

This was published in 1969. It took me a few days to read, and while it wasn’t difficult, I couldn’t speed read it like normal. I think this is because I was afraid to miss something.

8 out of 10 optometrists say this book is awesome.

Review:

This book was amazing. Completely whack, and I feel like just by reading it you get high, but amazing. It starts, I believe, with the author himself narrating, from his point of view. He tells us what the book is about, who it’s about, some of the stuff that is important, the first and last sentence of the book, why it’s named the way it is- basically if you have any questions, he answers them there. And then you read the book, which tells the tale of Billy Pilgrim, a sad sort of fellow who, like Kurt, had the misfortune of being present at the fire-bombing of Dresden in February of 1945. He also was abducted by aliens who exist in every moment of time that they exist, and he has come unstuck in time. Thus you experience everything out of order, just like Billy. The worst experience is probably the fire-bombing. The abduction is crappy too, but the only thing that is bad is that no one believes him (would you?).  Because of his un-stuck-in-time-ness, Billy knows when things are going to happen, and so do you. The book ends just like Kurt says it will end.

Mind-blowing. Navel contemplatingly deep. Hysterical. Terrifying.

I can’t believe I’ve never read anything by Kurt Vonnegut before, and I totally get why people would want to ban this book. You gotta think to read it, and that’s some dangerous shit man.

So it goes.

Ra(w)R: Arthur and George

Arthur and George by Julian Barnes

Published: 2006

Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf

Allie stats:

Difficulty: it was a real live novel folks; I actually had to read it.

Time to completion: about a week- a few days to get into in and then nonstop for about a day and a half, whenever I had the time.

Rating: twenty million stars out of 10. Yes, that many.

Review:

This beautiful book, recommended to me by a beloved friend of mine, is one of the best books I have ever read. It’s about two men- Arthur and George- and how their lives reflect the kind of men that they are in the world they are forced to live in. Neither is particularly happy with their respective world, but each forges a life that is a direct picture of his identity.

Arthur grows up in a not unhappy family situation, but a poor one, and resolves to rescue his mother and siblings one day by becoming very successful, which he does after training as a doctor, but finding his place as an author. George grows up the son of a vicar in the countryside, shy, but smart, and becomes a local solicitor. Possible spoiler, but one you’ll find out if you read the back cover of the book, so try very hard to avoid it if you want to be totally surprised. Otherwise, highlight this blank spot:

What we find out is that Arthur is Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, our very favorite mystery writer who invents the eternally famous Sherlock Holmes, who haunts him for the rest of his life. George is the son of a Parsee vicar and his Scottish wife, raising the question of prejudice and its place in turn of the century England. This book is based on a true story. But it is also a novel. It is a majestic, astonishingly well-researched story of these two men, drawing on newspaper articles, reports, letters, and the papers of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I found that bit out at the end, so I’m counting it as a spoiler. Also, I loved that the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle I made up in my mind while reading Sherlock Holmes seemed to coincide so well with the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle  of the book.

While life happens to both George and Arthur, George gets it harder and hits a rough spot, which eventually Arthur becomes involved in, and so goes the story.

The writing in this book is beyond words. I think it works against the author and the reader a little bit at the beginning, where it seems a bit slow, but later you come to realize that it must be that way because without those fifty pages, the book wouldn’t mean nearly as much as it does. It is so well researched that you can’t help but fall right into it and not even realize you haven’t come up for air for hours.

Go, read this book. Now, please.