R6. In the Flesh by Livia Dare

In The Flesh (Sapphire, Book 1)Pages: 308

Pairing: concubine and crown prince
First Sentence: "Is he dead, Your Highness?"
Climax: She dragged him with her into orgasm, yanking him under. He succumbed with an exultant shout of masculine triumph. (And that's just one example. -M.R.)

How do you improve the Star Wars universe? Easy: get rid of Jar Jar Binks. How do you improve the Star Trek universe? Still easy: take Wesley Crusher off the bridge of the Enterprise-D.

Okay then, try this: how do you improve the Dune universe? I don't think I can come up with a way, actually. This may have something to do with the fact that the only thing I want more than to be in Star Fleet is to be a Bene Gesserit, but whatever.

But while I may not be able to improve Dune, Livia Dare... thought she could? Her solution: the Butlerian Jihad never happened. And then go into graphic detail about all of the sex.

Completely by accident (I didn't think they'd have a book this dirty at the public library), In the Flesh turned out to be erotica rather than a romnov. However, I'm reviewing it anyway, because one of these wretched books finally lived up to its cover illustration.

I imagine that Livia Dare (aka Sylvia Day) got her start writing adult fanfiction for all three sf universes mentioned above. I imagine that she got fed up with the constraints of canon, threw her favourite bits of all three into a potion and extracted the universe in which this book is set.

So, we have light-sabre style weapons and flying bike thingies, transporters, healing chambers, a Sensual Arts school, a desert planet, and cheap stillsuit knock-offs. There're also benevolent, probably AI computer "Guardians." But thanks to all the technology, people have had the opportunity to appreciate "sensual" things? I don't even know.

The plot is of course completely irrelevant because it exists solely to justify or as a means to the sex, which makes up probably 75% of the book. I'll tell you about it anyway.

Sapphire is the king of Sari's favourite concubine. Since he won't bang anyone but her, the jealous queen of Sari convinces him to send Sapphire away, because the heir to the throne needs to be conceived naturally. Conveniently, Wulfric, Crown Prince of D'Ashier, is available nearby and nearly dead, so when the king sets Sapphire up with her own palace, the queen arranges for Wulf to be one of Sapphire's attendants, hoping he'll kill her.

I should add that Sari and D'Ashier are at war, so Wulf and Sapphire's love is of course a forbidden one.

Look, all I can say is that they bang a whole bunch of times, and end up loving each other, and, yes, getting married. There are mercenaries and fighting and political machinations, but mostly there's just fucking. Which gets really really repetitive.

Besides the sex surfeit, the dialogue is totally ridiculous, going from formality to crudity with pretty much no rhyme or reason. There's also a really weird disconnect that comes from Sapphire thinking of herself as Sapphire, and Wulf thinking of her by her real name, Katie Erikson.

The one interesting thing I noticed was that instead of the "him protecting her, her realizing she needs someone" thing that's happened in all the other romnovs, in this case, the primary concern for both of them is to protect the other.

Anyway, probably the least disappointing romnov so far, even just because picking out the origin of various different techs was amusing.

She wanted to be pissed at him, not creaming all over his hand.

Her dark eyes paused briefly on each of the women surrounding the pool, all of whom eyed her back with curiosity and/or suspicion.

Wulf stood. "It isn't like that."
Anders went still. His gaze narrowed. "Think with your other brain. She's leverage and a hot fuck. Don't lose sight of who she is."
Wulf couldn't lose sight of it. Her history made her into the woman she was. A woman he respected and found fascinating.

"Shh," he soothed, his hands molding her curves into him. "Yes, you should have asked. But then you're menstruating, which seems to mess with women's minds."

Sapphire smiled. "I look like hell."
"You look like heaven."

95. Under the Net by Iris Murdoch

Under the NetYear Published: 1954
Pages: 286

First sentence: When I saw Finn waiting for me at the corner of the street I knew at once that something had gone wrong.

I'm not too sure where to start with this one. Maybe that it's the first (last?) book on The List written by a woman?

I guess just the typical main character introduction will have to suffice. James Donaghue, called "Jake" in that bizarre old-timey nicknaming convention that turns "John" into "Jack," is a thirty-something Londoner. He has a moderate case of small man syndrome and does translation and writing to earn his living. He also has "shattered nerves," though I'm not entirely sure what that means, except that it gives a good explanation for why he does certain things.

I'm not sure if I can get into the plot at all though, not because it's particularly messy, but because it's sort of amorphous. I'll say at least that it all gets started when Jake returns home to London from Paris, where he got some new novels to translate. He and his servant/companion Peter O'Finney (aka Finn) have been kicked out of their place of residence in Magdalen's (aka Madge's) attic. Jake and Finn go to stay with a philosopher friend until they can find somewhere else to live, and things escalate from there.

The title has some kind of metaphorical significance that's mentioned pretty early on, but it obviously didn't impress me much because I have absolutely no memory of what it was.

Anyway, Under the Net is a good book, it just didn't really captivate me. It meandered, and simmered, and in that way it was a pretty accurate slice of life type of thing. There's a clear sense that this is just one episode in Jake's life, a pretty important one, but certainly not the only one, and not the only one involving these particular people. There is some of that miniscule universe impression you often find in fiction where the only people the protagonist knows are the people in the story, but Jake is a well-realized character who doesn't simply cease to exist at the end of the novel.

So yeah. Not exactly a waste of time, but it didn't really blow me away, either.

There's nothing like a woman's doing you an injury for making her incensed against you. I know myself how exasperating it is of other people to put themselves in positions where you have to injure them.

"I hear you are in a kettle of fish," he said, raising his voice somewhat above the din.

In my experience the spider is the smallest creature whose gaze can be felt.

By now I had just sufficient whiskey in me not to care much one way or the other.

I was really rather of Finn's opinion that one Alsatian dog looks much like another; but then there are some people who can distinguish day-old chicks and Chinamen. (Yeah, you read that right. Good God. -M.R.)

After the dignity of silence and absence, the vulgarity of speech.

"Things don't matter as much as you think."

Rating: 2/3 (meh)

In Which I Address My Faithful Readers

Hello to the highly intelligent and ultra sexy people who've been reading my blog faithfully. I'm fairly certain I talk to all of you in person on a fairly regular basis, but let's just pretend that other people read this blog, too, okay?

A few days ago I realized I'd reviewed ten whole books, and thought I'd do a quick post to be all, "Hey dudes, I'm still alive, it's not just the internet posting up reviews!" And I'm still saying that. Also, does anyone have any suggestions/feedback or what have you? "Be smarter" or "be funnier" don't count, because I can't do either of those things.

Anyway, that's all I was planning to say. Apparently the universe has been conspiring this week to get me a job, and so all of a sudden I have one. This is good for me and probably bad for the blog. So now I also have to say sorry in advance in case I end up having to post only once every couple of weeks, or whatever.

But we'll see how it goes!

R5. The Single Dad's Virgin Wife by Susan Crosby

(So I've sort of belatedly realized my hypocrisy in accusing William Styron of name-dropping and then name-dropping Fyodor Dostoyevsky in the same review. On that note, let's just be clear that I've never read any of his other books, and all of the symbolism that's supposedly in The Brothers Karamazov was totally lost on me. And now, some smut. -M.R.)

The Single Dad's Virgin Wife (Silhouette Special Edition)Pages: 212

Pairing: glorified nanny and "businessman"
First Sentence: Tricia McBride came to a quick stop a few feet from the interview room of At Your Service, a prestigious Sacramento domestic-and-clerical-help agency.
Climax: Then his body went rigid, moved more urgently, more rhythmically, and he followed her into the incredible oblivion that suspended time and sustained life.

My standards are obviously dropping rapidly, because I didn't think this book was that bad. After the crushing disappointment of Highland Rebel and fucking Because of a Boy, which I'm still angry about, this book wasn't that bad. In comparison with, say, The Postman Always Rings Twice, this book was terrible.

This time around, the main character is Tricia McBride, who goes to work as a teacher to Noah Falcon's two sets of identical twins: Ashley, Zoe, Adam, and Zach. I am not making up those names, although to be fair lots of real twins have dumb names. Noah, by the way, is a filthy rich widower. I'll spare you the really boring details, and just say that everyone loves Tricia, and Noah also thinks she has a great rack. The "tension" comes from a) the fact that Tricia is Noah's employee (woo harassment!), and b) the fact that her "dream job" is waiting for her in San Diego, so she's only going to be working for Noah for a little while.

To absolutely no one's surprise, Tricia ends up deciding not to take the San Diego job, which conveniently isn't available after all anyway. Oh, and Noah proposes. After like a month of them knowing each other.

Tricia is also a 34 year-old virgin, a fact that's treated as a big reveal during a steamy scene in Noah's home office, except that it's in the title. I guess that's so people with, um, virgin fantasies (?) can easily find the book on a shelf or something, but it totally ruins the surprise.

Given all of this, you might still be wondering why I say the book isn't that bad. There're a few reasons. First of all, it's nice and short, so my boredom wasn't prolonged unnecessarily. Second, it didn't take itself too seriously. Third, the kids are actually portrayed decently. Not well, by any means, but decently. I grasp at straws.

It does have a chronic case of convenient/ludicrous plot points. But seriously, as long as no one, including the author, takes it seriously, I don't mind.

Sometimes he even missed all the European travel he used to do.

"Nice," he said, looking around then focusing squarely on her. "Good bones. Great architecture."

There was a big difference between someone dying and someone leaving.
"But the end result's the same," she said, her breath fogging the window a little. She dragged a finger through it, then realized she'd drawn a heart with a crack down the middle.

96. Sophie's Choice by William Styron

Year Published: 1979
Pages: 515
First Sentence: In those days cheap apartments were almost impossible to find in Manhattan, so I had to move to Brooklyn.
Rating: 2/3 (meh)

Though certainly many of them are dead, and even more of them will never see this blog, I'd like to make an official announcement to the writers of the Top 100 books. Basically it's this: if you include a reference to Saskatchewan in your book, you're guaranteed a rating of at least 2/3. Please revise your work accordingly. The reason I mention this is that William Styron includes not one but two Saskatchereferences in Sophie's Choice, indicating what I can only refer to as an obsession with the province, and further proof of my theory that "Saskatoon, Saskatchewan" is at the very top of some standardized List of Exotic Place Names.

Anyway, as for the matter at hand, Sophie's Choice, it's the most questionable book on The List, being that William Styron was on the board that compiled it in the first place. I picture a bunch of old authors in a boardroom, tossing out book titles the same way Stingo, narrator of Sophie's Choice, does, in a way that would make someone like me look like a moron and feel like one, too. In any case, one of them, the youngest or the most doddering, asks, "What about Sophie's Choice?" and an embarrassed hush falls on the room. All eyes turn to Styron, who now protests, but doesn't blush. No one will insult him by taking the suggestion off the table, and so they all insist, and he continues to protest, but not too much--that is, not so much that they can actually turn the book down. And so Sophie's Choice appears in 96th place.

So that's what I pictured, and I have to say it's hard to take Styron seriously when his writing doesn't do anything to contradict that impression. It's summer of 1947, and 22 year-old Stingo, a Virginia native and aspiring novelist, loses his job as editor at McGraw Hill and goes to live in Brooklyn, supported by a bit of a windfall in the form of the proceeds of the sale of a black slave his family owned way back in the day. (Based on the author blurb at the back of the book, I have a hard time distinguishing Stingo from Styron himself.) In Brooklyn, Stingo meets Nathan and Sophie, the former being a highly volatile Jewish research biologist, and the latter a Polish immigrant with a number tattooed on her forearm. These two are basically headed to their doom, which Stingo relates along with his own tales of sexual exploits, writing, and so on.

While the story is well-constructed, my overwhelming impression of the book was basically "meh." Its chief fault is Styron's ponderous prose, which isn't exactly dense, but rather full of sentences to stumble over, at least for me. All the power and poignance of the story (and there's a lot of that, too, especially when you consider Sophie's titular choice), seems buried where it won't cut as sharply. I read The Brothers Karamazov a few years ago, and my interpretation of the "laceration" concept in that book has been hung up in my mind ever since. While reading Sophie's Choice, all I could think of was that it should've been full of lacerations, and it wasn't. Mostly what I'm saying is that it felt as though it took forever to read, and not in a good way.

"There, there," I said, or something equally awful.

She does most of the talking though I do my part and am able with a kind of studied unconcern to utter "my throbbing cock" once, aware even as I say it, incredibly excited, that it is the first so-called hard-core obscenity I have ever spoken in a woman's presence.

The most profound statement yet made about Auschwitz was not a statement at all, but a response.
The query: "At Auschwitz, tell me, where was God?"
And the answer: "Where was man?"