Sunday, July 31, 2011

Jennifer Cruise's Tell Me Lies -- okay... Your book was ahh mazin

Well she asked for a lie... in truth, this book was just sorta "meh" for me.

Hi Readers!

I didn't forget aboutcha - just been stuck in the whirlpool of seemingly endless wedding planning! But I thought I would throw out a wee post here to keep in touch.

Tell Me Lies by Jennifer Cruise is basically the story Maddie Faraday, a woman who living in the town of Frog Point, thinking she has the perfect (albeit boring) life till she finds out her husband is embezzling funds from the family construction business... and possibly cheating on her with one, maybe two women. Around the same time,  another guy she hasn't seen since high school (also happens to be the guy she lost her virginity to) comes back into town as her marriage seems to be falling apart - and apparently he's aged very nicely.

Lots of plot points that you'd find in your average Dateline special - embezzlement, murder, possible kidnapping, town gossip, ill-timed romance... and of course a secret deposit box discovered too late.  Maddie finds her husband has been stashing money all over the place - his golf back, her car, her deposit box - but the mystery is is it him or is someone setting him up? All Maddie knows is she's found passports and flight tickets for Rio de Janiero (sooo cliche!). Even if he is innocent of the embezzlement, let's say, he does something else that I have no tolerance for that instantly makes any such guy an automatic permanent loser. 

Sugarloaf Mountain, Guanabara Bay
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Maddie self medicates her woes with brownies and sex -- not with her slimy schemer of a husband btw --  (don't know too many problems that combo won't fix or at least distract you enough to forget for awhile ;-) )

I think my biggest problem with this book was that everything felt so cliche and overused to me - it was a story I've read or seen on tv dozens of times before (in one form or another). That and Cruise's weird insistence on using the word "underpants" when talking about seducing men in these novels! Sorry but that word couldn't be less sexy for me - I instantly get images of Depends packages! Ugh!

So here ya go readers --- go splurge on some non-underpants ...

Keep reading... even if it's bad... always tell yourself the next one's bound to be better and it will be... eventually :-P

Soo in my humble opinion -- not so good book, but great apropo song! (You're welcome for the blast from the past)...

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Who Are You "Crazy" About? ;)

Shortly after huffing off the South Pacific snoozer, I picked up a couple books off my shelf that my mom asked me to read a couple years ago -- she sends me books when there is something related to me or something that reminds her of me. Once it was a book that was merely based in Camp Pendleton Marine Base where I was born, this time it was an animal lover character who was an art teacher trying to put together a production of Into The Woods (a play where all the familiar fairy tales are thrown together and mixed up so that Snow White is mingling with Prince Charming, Cinderella gets mixed up with the Bad Wolf.. that sort of thing...)... well, I played the Evil Stepmother in my high school's production of Into The Woods and when I was a kid, I had aspirations of being a vet (what girl didn't at some time, right?).

Crazy For You by Jennifer Cruise at first glance seems like one of those fluffy beach reads, and it mostly is but surprisingly it also features a dark element in the form of a  super creepy control-freak, stalker of an ex-boyfriend, and even that I could relate to (though I doubt this was what my mom wanted to remind me of lol)!

Jennifer Cruise

Wonder if she was inspired by this song at all?
Madonna - Crazy For You

So what's it about? : Quinn McKenzie (does every chick book have those kind of names??) is a high school art teacher living the perfect life everyone else wants her to lead. Quinn has always been the safe, reliable daughter to her parents while her sister Zoe is the wild-child searching for passion and LIFE. Quinn also has what at first seems to be the perfect man to everyone - he never raises his voice, always keeps her gas tank filled up, makes all her meals, etc. He also happens to be the star citizen of the town, being the coach that took the local team to multiple championships. Cruise even goes so far as to describe him as a "6'5 Viking", so yeah, at first you say, "Way to go Quinn!" Then comes Katie! Katie is a stray mutt Quinn takes in -- and decides to name Katie -- much to Bill the Viking's displeasure.

Rat Dog Bad Dog by Jo Ann Henning
He thinks the dog will undoubtedly ruin the perfect life he's built for Quinn and himself. This makes me picture Bill to be something like Eustace from Courage, The Cowardly Dog

aaahh I miss that show = (

anyhooo.... Bill not accepting the dog leads Quinn to realize that "perfect guy" is really a control freak and she decides she'd prefer to live by herself with Katie than with Bill in the picture -- which is when Bill slowly but surely starts to go psssyycchooo. Yeah, I didn't not expect to find a character in such full blown stalker mode! This guy will not take "no" for an answer!

With Katie now in her life, Quinn realizes she doesn't want to play it safe with her life anymore, she wants passion and excitement like her sister Zoe finds. She wants to feel moments of irresponsibility. Katie ends up being the catalyst that brings a flood of other little changes into Quinn's life.

One change happens to be with Nick, Quinn's mechanic hottie of a best friend. Bummer is once Quinn makes herself a single lady again, Nick falls into the "should I or shouldn't I try to get her naked" dilemma that  I guess many guys with pretty female friends suddenly single have to work through at some point in their lives.     It's abundantly clear to the reader what they both want, but I guess for the sake of conflict and page count, there's a number of chapters dedicated to the "I don't want to ruin our friendship" routine. ( I can say from my experience that if you had a strong friendship before, odds are good it will be there after, even if the romantic thing doesn't work out - otherwise it probably wasn't as good a friendship as you thought. Sure there will probably be a period of awkwardness but it is possible to bounce back into a friendship and laugh about your venture into romance later).

Had to throw this into the mix - one of my favorite female vocalists
Adele - Crazy For You 
(completely different song from Madonna's, just same title, also fits nicely with the storyline of this book!)

There was just one little problem keeping Nick from being the perfect guy. He was a fan of boobies and girls he could make giggle... not so much of hanging around the next day. Avoided sleepovers like the plague. But if you were down to party between the hours of 5pm-10pm after he was off work and before he wanted to turn in before the next work day, then he was game!

So on one hand, Quinn is stuck with a crazy stalker ex who sits outside her new place and sabotages it while she's away so she'll see "how much she needs a man around to fix things", not to mention tries to kill her dog a number of times but insists it's out of love and concern for her. On the other, she's got a guy running hot and cold, between him saying "you're so hot, it drives me crazy" to "you're like a sister to me". WHAAA??? Those two feelings need never to combine lol. At least Nick is cool with the dog though! Poor dog got so mistreated by Bill, I wanted to mess up Bill. 

Rat Dog by Brian Kirwan
(click on name to see his website with more of his artwork)

Lots of entertaining stuff here. I don't normally get too excited with the chick lit but I do like the funny ones from time to time and this was definitely a good mix of light and dark - FYI Bill does get an amazing attitude adjustment from Quinn that is not to be missed. Guys, make sure your porch railings are firmly nailed down before you come home late for the umpteenth time or you talk smack about one of your ladies' best friends!

I'd recommend this one to animal lovers, survivors of crazy exes, or anyone looking for fun escapism for a bit!

Oh! and it's the first book I've seen in ages to actually use the word "dweeb" in dialogue between adults!

Nighttime by Sara Pulver
See Sara's Etsy store with more great art here!
And this last little bit is for my fella, who loves him some uber-cheeze... (whaddya think, hun - wedding music here? hehe)

Crazy For You - David Hasselhoff

Can't miss the live performance of this complete with hanging rainbows...

ahhh... good times

Okay.. another Cruise book next post... see ya soon!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Do Women Do It Better? : A Week of Lady Emperors!

This post is slightly belated, and was pushed over for my July 4th post but that doesn't mean it's any less special =)

So, my last book post was about Shan Sa's The Girl Who Played Go. This post, I am following up with Shan Sa's Empress, a fictionalized account of the life of Empress Wu Zeitan, a.k.a. "Heavenlight". The story has to be fictionalized mostly because as far as hard facts, only bits and pieces are known about the real woman, mainly due to the fact that one of her many power-hungry sons forced her to abdicate her throne, handing it over to him when she was in her seventies. He later had nearly any mention of her wiped from China's history.  A little more on that later...

Chiang Ping, China (once known as Long Peace)
the native land of Empress Wu before she entered the Forbidden City

Louyang, a province Empress Wu once ruled over

Louyang monastery

This woman, Wu, amazed me with how she was able to come from nothing, just happen to have a chance acquaintance with someone close to the Emperor, be inducted into the Forbidden City,  rise through the ranks of such an elite society and become such a powerful politician and respected ruler in her own right! Empress Wu came from very meager beginnings from an impoverished country family (who actually had a respected bloodline, just no wealth to it). She by chance happened to meet a political advisor to the Emperor when she was a child, who became charmed with her youthful curiosity and intelligence. She was recommended for entrance into the Forbidden City at the age of 13,  became accepted and entered at age 14. Her position was technically that of a low-ranking concubine but her official title was Talented One Wu. As far as the novel describes, Wu was never taken to the Emperor for sexual favors (perhaps because she was considered one of the less physically attractive concubines in court) but was instead invited into the Emperor's presence after he became impressed with her show of intelligence. 

Aerial view of the Forbidden City, home to Emperor of China

Forbidden City

When Wu was nearly out of her teen years, the Emperor died, leaving the thrown to a trusted son who actually didn't want the throne. As fate would have it, this son had been friends with Wu for years (the two of them being close in age) and had secretly been in love with her for some time. Through normal court rituals, the new emperor had been married years before (I think when he was 15-16 yrs old) and already had an Empress but he was still offering Wu the throne and anything else he could think of - even monogamy, which was an unheard-of practice for emperors in that day! Wu was interested but knew the stink it would stir up. Plus, there seemed to be a stigma attached to her technically being a concubine (even if this was never physically fulfilled) of the last emperor. She felt it would shame the new emperor for him to publicly show attention to his father's "sloppy seconds" in a way. Her solution is her joining a Buddhist monastery as a nun for 3 years, telling the Emperor that should he come for her in 3 years, her soul would be considered pure and no one could speak bad of him taking her back into the Forbidden City.

Wu goes through with her plan, and much to her surprise, at the end of three years, the emperor does come for her and asks her to return to the Forbidden City, his attitude being "to hell with what the Empress says!". Taking it one step further, he takes the liberty of impregnating Wu, and then saying, in so many words, "well, now you have to come back, you got a royal in there!" 

Wu and her emperor love return to the Forbidden City and set her up as the royal favorite (aka - back to being a concubine!) until after so many years some sneaky court shenanigans come to throw the emperor's wife and her lady in waiting off the throne, out of court and into the Cold Palace (by description it seems like this might have been the Chinese version of the Tower of London - lots of torture, starvation, and 'ooh oops they died while imprisoned' kind of stuff). Once Wu is made Empress Wu and gets involved in Chinese politics, she finds that this man she married is actually a pretty ineffective leader on his own. He admitted to never wanting the throne and apparently over the years never developed any interest other than for the ladies. That's right... Wu married a playa! (remember what I said about the monogamy thing back then... )

Alyssa Chia (Jia Jing Wen) as Empress Wu

Ru Yue Ling Kong
The Shadow of Empress Wu (2007)
Is anyone else reminded of Padmé Amidala?
 (Natalie Portman's character in the Star Wars prequel trilogy)

Empress Wu began doing her husband's job behind the scenes, having him sign off on her decisions (almost makes me wonder if we ever had a First Lady that secretly ran the country for her husband lol). This continued until his death until she was elected as the first and only full power female emperor in Chinese history (different from just being Empress through marriage - she was actually considered the Emperor after her husband's death). Her husband officially left the throne to one of his son's but funny enough, he left it to the one son that didn't want it! So the son passed the buck to his mom. Guess her son wanted the privileges of court life without the actual work lol. Empress Wu had a number of other sons who were "chompin' at the bit" but she didn't feel any of them showed qualities of an effective leader so she continued to rule herself until well into her golden years when one of her sons, nearing his senior years himself, got tired of waiting and just threw her out of her throne, sending her off to some distant palace outside of the Forbidden City. Wu's response was essentially "I'm not sure how impressive it is - stealing your throne from a defenseless old woman." Wu was then forced to sit back and watch her son systematically destroy decades of her hard work in a matter of a few years. Her son was a bit bitter about having to wait so long to throw around his power, so he had his mother's name erased from historic scrolls, had her temples, shrines and monuments destroyed, and essentially tried to make himself and everyone around him forget she ever existed. Pretty cold-blooded, huh!

from the 1963 film Empress Wu

"Every woman in the Forbidden City -- beautiful or ugly, intelligent or foolish, refined or vulgar -- was fragrant dust. The whirlwind of history would carry them away, making no distinctions." 
Empress Chapter 4 pp86-87

Reading this book had me imagining a woman that must have had an amazing presence! She was quiet and as fair-minded as possible, but could be cold-blooded when she felt threatened (even having some of her own family executed simply to show she did not show favoritism when it came to upholding the law - wrong is wrong). She was not known for being a stellar beauty but clearly had magnetism, in a way that both men and women responded to. She loved using her feminine power but like any other woman was ever fearful of her body losing its allure. She worried about her weight, wrinkles, keeping up with the younger girls at court. Yet, at the same time she had a powerful lust for life and the afterlife, knowledge, just being a part of everything. She commissioned the building of a massive Buddha statue still in existence today, and climbed Mt. Song in her seventies!

"Why does the body shrivel and dry, when the soul, this fathomless voice, still longs to flourish? Why did anyone invent mirrors to glorify and assassinate women? Why should I, Emperor of the Zhou Dynasty, Master of the World, a Divinity on Earth, be obsessed with my ephemeral form? And why should I, who knew celestial beauty, still strive so desperately to look after my earthly face? Why should I choose this torture when I aspired to deliverance?"
Empress Chapter 13 pg 291

The Buddha Empress Wu had built for her people

Mt. Song
Right before her death, Empress Wu wrote her epitaph, spelling out what she wanted written on her royal monument. After her death, her son, the emperor, did not agree with what she wrote, but could not decide on any sort of wording himself, so her stone monument was famously left blank - something that can still be seen to this day (the only emperor in history to be left with this void after their death). 

Empress Wu's blank stone monument

Etchings on Empress Wu's sarcophogus

"Heroes are damned. No mortal conquers death." 
Empress Chapter 4 p 87

The story of Empress Wu reminded me of the struggles of Queen Elizabeth I, having to push past established gender roles, to go on to be one of the most effective leaders in history. While Elizabeth I had similarities, Empress Catherine of Russia's life was eerily parallel to Empress Wu of China! Both were married young to men they soon found to be puppet-leaders. They both took it upon themselves to rule their countries secretly until opportunity came about to rule as the officially accepted leader. They both had to face the disappointment of mothering children that were nowhere near being suitable to manage a country's throne.  If you like stories of powerful women, court intrigue, rising above the inconveniences that life places in front of you - the biographies of both these women are not to be missed. Not to mention the fact that Empress is just one of those books you want to live in simply because of Sa's stunning talent for creating environments!

By the way, I recently saw a pretty interesting documentary done by PBS called Catherine the Great

Also, though I don't think it is specifically attached to this documentary, there is a book I read that really parallels the sequence of events in this documentary, making it a good companion piece - the biography Great Catherine: The Life of Catherine The Great, Empress of Russia by historian Carolly Erickson.

Next post I'll be discussing some military / patriotic inspired reads in honor of the month's holiday. Stay tuned!