Harlequin Books Can Lick My Ass

Warning: Fictional description of a woman being raped (not super graphic).

For most people, the Harlequin imprint evokes the classic tattered bodice-ripper books you find in a free box or see at the drug store. Maybe some of you even buy them (I am NOT judging you). I am not anti-emotional porn. Hell, some people I really admire have even read Twilight.

I have my own escapist genre that I enjoy: the hard-boiled detective novel. The more shady the dame is, the more desperate the private dick is, and the more ridiculous the old-thymey slang is, the happier I am. Last fall, when I was feeling pretty hard luck myself, I ripped through a ton of Mickey Spillane and anything else I could get my hands on. It was nice to read on the bus and during my breaks when I was making barely more than minimum wage.

Recently I was at the drug store and I had to wait quite a while for a prescription, so I strolled over to the book rack, which always makes me laugh. Bio of scandalous person of the month, romance novel, stale airport-type fiction…and…what’s this? Something good on the shelf? It looked like an old old detective novel with the original cover painting. I had to pick it up. You Never Know with Women, the cover read. I read the blurb, which promised a caper, some double crossing, and a foxy dame. There was also a note about how Harlequin was celebrating their sixtieth anniversary by reissuing some of their early titles. Neat, I thought. Sold.

For the next couple of days I enjoyed it, and read bits of it on the bus or while dinner was in the oven. The detective was a clever guy who had seen a lot and was about to cash it in when someone made him a cherry offer to rob a safe. The story the detective was given about the contents of the safe and other details was totally fishy and our man knew it. I love a deal that is sour from the get-go–how will he get out of the noose and get away with the cash?

There was another hitch–he sprung the dame who was involved in the caper as well. She was a cutthroat, smoking-hot stripper. Eventually they went on the lam and hid out at a hotel suite. The characters had kissed consensually earlier in the book. Oho sexy tiems ahoy, I thought. Alas, this is where the needle ripped off the record.

“Don’t go shrill on me sweetheart,” I said.  “I’m not interested in business anymore tonight.  I want a little fun.”

“You’re not getting it from me like this!” she said through her clenched teeth and tried to break my hold, but she wasn’t the only one with steel in her wrists. “Let me go!” she went on furiously. “I’ll scream!”

“Go ahead,” I said, gripping her arms. “What’s a scream or two in this joint? Someone’s always screaming here, it’s part of the set up. Scream as much as you like, if you want to.”

“Let me go–damn you!”

She wrenched an arm free and I collected a punch in the jaw that jerked my head back. She kicked my shin and thumped my sore neck with her clenched fist, but she didn’t scream and her wriggling only seemed to bring her body closer to mine.

I’d been punched around plenty during the past twenty-four hours. I was supposed to be a tough guy, but up to now everyone had been using me as a door scraper. It was about time something went my way.

“This is how it is,” I said, leaning over her. “We’ve been suckers long enough. Now it’s our turn, Blue Eyes, to get what we want. This is what I want and I hope you’ll like it.”

“You beast!” she panted, struggling up and closer still.

I grabbed her shoulders. She tried to bite, but she didn’t try very hard. After a while her arms slid around my neck and she held on like she was scared of losing me. Her lips parted against mine. Her eyes were shining like two blue stars.

Like I said, women are funny animals.

This was a solid third in. So that happened, I told myself. Huh. This book was written in 1949. It is sixty years old, an artifact of another time in pop culture. Does it have historical value as an intact manuscript? Is it ever okay to depict people being forced into sex against their will? How old does a book or movie have to be to make this okay? Should Harlequin have edited this part of the book, which I’m sure they could have done quite handily with a ghost writer, into consensual sex? Does this mesh with other detective novels I’ve read from this time? No. In Spillane’s Mike Hammer stories grown women who are not “trash” or whores seem quite interested in knocking boots with him, with no consequences except for, I hope, orgasms, and bacon the next day. (True story. I think it is cute when Mike Hammer plays house with these women and they have little fry-ups the next morning before he goes off to shake down stool pigeons.)

In the end, that scene was the boner killer, right there. I read on to the next day, where she woke up and recoiled from him, and he locked her into the suite for the day “for her own good,” as she threw vases at his head. I had lost all faith in the protagonist and could not go on. I put the book down.

It’s more interesting to me that she is set up as a “bad girl”–she earns her living stripping and grifting. She talks tough and moves fast–she passionately kisses the protagonist the very first time they meet. As this bad girl character, she could have carte blanche to strip off and get jiggy with the detective. But she doesn’t want him–not then, not like that anyway, and maybe not at all. What was the point of this? Is he more sympathetic because he raped a “bad girl”? Why not just have her consent, as an author in this mindset? It is a puzzle.

So, nuts to this, I say. I am not picking up any more of these. Harlequin, get your head out of your ass and tidy up these depictions of women being raped, or kill the reissues. This is a fucking sloppy disgrace.

Back to Page 73

Sepulchre! by Kate Mosse! Pages 73-251.

Where were we? Oatmeal pouts around 1891 Paris, and Cream of Wheat cavorts around 2007 Paris. There is a mystery that is not very mysterious. The book marginally improves, I will confess. Ad nauseam.

Go! Cream of Wheat continues to shutterbug her way around town. I had almost forgotten about the business with the tarot cards when I deigned to pick the book up again, but I should have known it wouldn’t be far behind, as the inside flaps feature illustrations of the critical cards in the fictional deck used in the book. Which, as I recall, was one of the things that enticed me into taking this book home in the first place, one aspect of the siren song of this book that led me to the literary rocks that I currently find myself mired in.

But wait! Zut alors! something is going on in the south of France. Suddenly, for the next chapter, we are taken to the estate that is the destination of both CoW and Oatmeal. There’s a British bloke there who seems to own the joint now that it’s all a hella historical hotel. There is some kind of funeral taking place there, involving the owner’s brother. The deceased’s son is there, and oh, he’s rakishly handsome and crap. Is this CoW’s Anatole, except probably not blood-related? Or maybe they are…CoW is going there to do a little research on her Debussy business, and other research on a long lost relative who had a picture taken in the town the estate is outside. Could this book be promising an incest double header? Suddenly I am imagining this book ending with everyone vomiting everywhere like in a modern movie as all the family ties and liaisons are revealed. But not me. I will be standing back slow clapping.

Can I tell you that next there are three chapters devoted to a tarot reading? THREE CHAPTERS? Of course CoW is skeptical, yet she chooses to spend her money this way anyhow. I think we are supposed to identify with her through this device, but it really just gave me a case of the “mehs.” When I am skeptical of something, I find it best to not spend my money on it. Especially since CoW is waiting for her book advance or some shit (do they still really do those for young, unpublished authors? I thought you had to cough up the doc first.). Much like Oatmeal was unable to convince us that she was spunky, intrepid, and headstrong, CoW is unable to convince the audience that she is sensible and scientific by bucking off her research and spending money she doesn’t have on something she doesn’t believe in.

In the end, she redeems herself somewhat by getting away with the reader’s tarot cards and “forgetting” to pay, due to being too disturbed by the veracity of the results. This just means that you are a credulous, easy mark, CoW. Also, that the author is using lame plot devices as the keystone of this very, very long novel. CoW claims to feel bad about “forgetting” to pay, but I cannot believe a word out of any of the characters’ mouths anymore.

Meanwhile, back in 1891, Anatole and Oatmeal prepare to flee Paris. I say flee, because Anatole seems determined to get out of town without leaving a trail indicating where they went. He keeps switching carriages and departs from a different train station than the one their carriage initially took them to. The reader begins to get the impression this is about more than debts, but what yet is unclear.

Blah blah traveling, blah blah mountains. I am a little shocked that the author did not see fit to describe the entire three-day journey, but maybe she hasn’t completely killed off her editor yet a la The Later Works of JK Rowling. The servants are dispatched to collect frere and soeur but the hoopty they usually ride in is broken so they have to hoof it to the estate. WELL I NEVER, Oatmeal bleats, and stamps her little boot again. They are taken into the back of the estate, which is kind of a hot mess compared to the front, and Oatmeal baaaaws loudly about the weirdness of the situation and how ghetto it all is. During this whinealogue, of course, enters Auntie Isolde, stage right. “Sup ingrate,” she says, but nicely.

Paris: DUN DUN DUNNN. Page 141: something vaguely interesting happens for the first time. The villain behind Anatole’s flight materializes in their Paris apartment, where their mother, who as you recall was on the barricades during the revolution (“When the beating of your HEAAART matches the beating of the DRUUUM…”) is tied up with piano wire or something. Victor Contstant, complete with a mustache that is sadly, not long enough to twirl, looms and attempts to squeeze information out of dear maman about Anatole’s whereabouts. Victor is prone to thinking of women in terms of “sluts” or “whores” and in his spare time enjoys cutting a bitch and menacing tiny street children. Dear maman, we know, is an actual toughie, because of the Revolution thing and because she carries on with Major Pompousass, some guy who supports her as a widow and all she has to do is listen to him bloviate and condescend. I left out the scenes with the two of them as a couple in the first recap, because I just couldn’t go there, but know that Major P. is the source of the lulzy “blackguard” quote. So we suspect that Victor won’t be able to get any real information out of her, but it will, of course, be a testament to how dangerous he is by what he attempts with maman.

Victor monologues in his head about how his former lover left him and later took up with Anatole, after which Anatole and nameless lover realize that Victor has a permanent case of the Mondays so they fake her death. But Victor sees her walking around Paris later.

PROTIP: After faking one’s death, leave town.

In the end, Victor kills dear maman, does the horizontal EWWYUCK Are You For Real? with her corpse, and frames Major Pompousass for the crime. YAAAAY! I mean, boo, no, even Major P. doesn’t deserve that framing. Being a blowhard is criminal, but technically not a crime, if you know what I mean.

At the estate, Oatmeal reads creepy historical ghost stories about the estate and nearby town and country, helpfully provided by Anatole. You can just see him chuckling to himself. I know life in the country can be dull, but why set up little miss wild imagination here with something that is going to make her peep her petticoats? Ah yes, it keeps the plot moving along with the tarot cards and such. Perhaps it’s just that Anatole is distracted being with his aunt whom he has never met, and yet seems overly familiar with…his blonde, young, attractive aunt who is described as looking like the woman on the inside of the cover on “The Lovers” tarot card with a young man with dark hair, alongside a tarot card with a young woman with long copper curls who looks like Oatmeal’s description.

[I think a lot of what you get out of a book depends on where you’re at, of course. How clever you are, how versed you are in the particular conventions of a genre, if you have read the author’s previous work. Ideally, if there is a mystery afoot, I like the author to be a couple of steps ahead of me, sprinkling hintlets here, foreshadowing there, a couple of red herrings for fun. You want the unfolding and the ending to be credible, to make sense. There are books on the other side of Sepulchre that are so dense you are tripping over yourself and in the end you say, “So the Vicar did it. Who is the Vicar?” So for one I think the illustrations hurt the book, because they confirm what you sense may be true. I don’t think I am a fricking genius by any stretch, nor am I a mystery reader, but I think I may be too smart for this book. C’est la vie, dude. If people are smart enough to craft a whole novel, though, I have to wonder how they can write airport novels. Do people set out to write airport novels? It is a mystery. Also, I want nachos or ramen SO badly. Or maybe just a salt lick.]

So, after recovering from another concussion from yet another plot anvil, we move back to 2007. Cream of Wheat shows up in town, just in time for the funeral, and checks in at the hotel, and gets the key to DUN DUN DUN AGAIN Oatmeal’s room.

The only thing of note in these final passages before page 251, imo, is 1. That CoW meets the deceased’s son, Hal, in the bar of the hotel, and they start with the googie eyes immediately. If this will stop the walking around and describing every park bench, sign post, and every picture taken I am for this liaison. However, I am suspicious that CoW will retain the ability to be boring even in the presence of a handsome man. 2. Word of dear maman’s death does not reach the estate because Anatole covered their tracks so well, and the children are wondering why they haven’t heard. 3. Oatmeal reads the original owner’s account of messing with evil spirits and the tarot at the sepulchre which is on the land somewhere nearby. It sounds like a bunch of hilarz Victorian first-person mumbo-jumbo, which it is, with demons clawing at backs and blood running down the walls and other scenic crap like that. Oatmeal takes off and checks out the sepulcre for herself and it’s pretty much as creepy and groady as described and she ends up fleeing like a ninny. Oatmeal drunkenly brings all this hooey up at a dinner party they throw at the estate to the man who wrote the first ghost/history story and it turns out he’s all psychic and crap because he refers to Anatole and Auntie as “your brother and his wife and unborn child” (or maybe he just looked at the illustrations too). Oatmeal’s all BACK UP THE PHONE, HOSS but she’s all disorderly and then the party ends!

NEXT UP! The word “judder” is used for the 5,000th time! The Da Vinci Code and DC tour is referenced yet again! Are these bad signs? Of course they are! Stay tuned.

Breakin’ News: Can I Sit With You, Too? Is Available

You may remember a few months ago when I got published in Can I Sit With You? and did readings here and in California and NPR did a story and we all became millionaires with Kleenex boxes on our hands. Oh, wait, not the last part, since the book raises money for charity, but let’s keep the Kleenex box part of the scenario.

So, editrixes Shannon and Jennifer have done it again and have released Can I Sit With You, Too?, which is packed full of even more stories of childhood craziness. Here is the official blurb:

Can I Sit With You Too? is the second collection of stories from the Can I Sit With You? project (www.canisitwithyou.org). These new tales represent an even wider range of schoolyard experiences, including best friend disappointments, new kid fears, harsh discrimination, living with disabilities, and emerging sexuality. By sharing moments from kindergarten through high school, these stories once again remind us that we are not alone: chances are, if it happened to you, it happened to someone else, too.

I think this would be a great holiday gift for say, someone you grew up with and have known forever, and have been through some of this gnarly stuff with, as well as an older kid or teen. Also features an introduction by Some Asshole.

Buy Can I Sit With You Too? Right Now!

Support independent publishing: buy this book on Lulu.

Book In Progress Review, Why Not

Page 73: In Which Our Heroine Starts Wondering About the Provenance of the Word Broccoli, and Has Heroes Finished Downloading Yet? A Portentous Sign.

Kate Mosse (no, not that junky stick insect one, but presumably not pronounced to rhyme with Bob Fosse), has gifted the world with the current doorstop I am reading, Sepulchre, as well as a previous book titled Labyrinth. I picked up Sepulchre because, hey, cool title, and a quick read of the flap told me that it was set in and during one of my favorite periods of art history, 1890s Fronce. And then apparently there is a mystery involved at some point involving an estate and crazy tarot cards and it was all sounding very Wuthering Heights-esque, which is good. I like some over the top Romantic freakout. Notice I said Romantic, not Romance.

It is important for you to know that I am actually a very forgiving reader. Oprah says to give a book fifty pages, and on that matter she is the boss of me. Everyone writes a little differently, and sometimes it takes me or them a while to warm up and start really getting into the story. But this starts corny and just gets worse from there.

Sepulchre flashes back and forth between the main character of the 1890s story, and the current day main character. I suppose at some point their stories will intersect, but they are both so dull it will be like someone rushing up to you VERY EXCITED that they have discovered this great new taste combination, oatmeal and Cream of Wheat.

Nineteenth-century Oatmeal, who is called Leonie, is a plucky, spirited, beautiful, self-possessed, curious seventeen-year-old who happens to resemble a Rossetti painting and lives upstairs from Achille Debussy, who, have you heard? has just started going by “Claude.” And so another author births another Mary Sue into this world. Oatmeal’s cher Maman was On The Barricades Throwin’ Shit (cue Les Miz soundtrack) It’s like watching paint dry. I mean, it’s like watching history happen!

Oatmeal’s brother, Anatole, seems a little more interesting. One of the first scenes unfolds at the opera house where some impolite motherfuckers start beating ass because the orchestra is playing Wagner. Don’t like Wagner? Stay home and nurse your consumption, then. Oatmeal gets ditched at the opera because Anatole was a no-show. Why was Anatole a no-show and then shifty about why he was late? Could it be that he, BFF of the soon-to-be-famous composer Debussy, was involved in the riots somehow? If these mysterious plot anvils are a sign of the deeping mysteriousness to come, then I will just have to stop right here and fuck off for some absinthe in sufficient quantity to forget passages like these:

But her looks were misleading. Oatmeal was determined rather than obedient, bold rather than modest, a girl of contemporary passions, not a demure damsel.

…Which is funny because not four pages later the riot starts and Oatmeal is stricken with fright, gets her dress caught on a floor bolt, does nothing to intervene when a pro-Wagnerian is stabbed to death mere feet away from her, and has to be carried out by her frere perdu. Where’s your bold now, Oatmeal? When you tell us one thing and show us another, the reader feels cheated.

So there are flowery passages like these, with a smattering of unnecessary high school level French a donkey could probably figure out. The first time Oatmeal opened her mouth, she spoke Fronch, and I immediately was all SACRE ROJO this could be an interesting literary device. [Aside: I am mixing my genres here but I have to say I enjoy Dexter when the cops slip into Spanish without subtitles. It seems very natural, and I don’t catch every word. This is something I also enjoyed about Firefly, the Chinese swears. I don’t need to be spoonfed to understand and enjoy the story.] I flipped ahead and saw that it was just second-year French mixed up with English. Suddenly I was imagining Brad Pitt stumbling his way through Interview with a Vampire, or Kevin Costner as Robin Hood: Alan Rickman What Are You Doing Here?

I was going to leave the previous paragraph be, but I have to elaborate some, so you can understand the full measure of the fail. The precious and selective use of the French, the presentation of the nineteenth century to the modern American outsider…it’s jarring, and it keeps the reader out of the action. We don’t need to be told with regards to the history of a diagonal boulevard, “a nervous French king sought a safe and direct route to his evening’s entertainment.” WHAT? A FRENCH king you say? In France? Thanks for clearing that up. We get too much exposition by the way of wordy passages relating to history, while at the same time we seem to need to hit every nineteenth-century set piece (the gas lamps, the elbow-length silk gloves, “Don’t freaking call me Achille” Debussy), as well as every ninteenth-century attitude (“Of all the insolent, impertinent scoundrels,” he growled, leaning back in his chair. “Quite disgraceful. Who does the blackguard think he is, insulting you in such a manner.” LOL, blackguard).

After the opera fracas, the reader further discovers that Anatole has gambling debts, he gets his ass beat on the street by masked miscreants and seems to be generally in deep merde, and so has a reason to get out of Dodge for a while. HOW CONVENIENT, then, that a letter arrives from a distant tante inviting plucky, bold, impetuous Oatmeal to come and stay at her estate in the South of Fronce to which Oatmeal immediately stamps her petite chaussure and replies with “EEK, what if it sucks sooo bad?” Narrator, why are you trying to convince us that Oatmeal is something she’s not? Are you her PR or something? Anatole says, “Hells yes, I’ll go with you!” Why is Anatole not the star of this book?

And then it seems to be increasingly veering off into incest territory. Oatmeal obviously has a thing for her brother who is le bad-ass, and as she makes a list in her head of the reasons to go visit mysterious auntie of mysteriousness, she caps with “To have Anatole to myself.” So now I’m thinking, well, at least this is turning into good slash fiction. Oatmeal want a little cayenne in there? 10-4, whatever. I can read this in bed, unlike the Hobbit slash (JUST an example) on the internet. But I turn the page, and…

OH NOES, It’s October 2007, and there are more Mary Sues to trot out and torment the reader with! Meet Cream of Wheat (CoW), twenty-eight year old academic, genius, retired genius musician (“She wrapped her violin in its red silk cloth and put it away in the blue-velveteen-lined case. Loosened her valuable bows, clipped them in place in the lid. Put the block of golden rosin into its special compartment. Stood the case in the back of her closet and left it behind when she left Milwaukee and went off to college.”) Wrote more sentences without subjects to heighten the emotional impact and depth of CoW. Betrayed the reader repeatedly. Who then wandered off to do something else.

It is a bad sign when chapters on the 2007 side begin with “The rest of the afternoon went according to plans.” NO, NO, BORING! You’re doing it wrong. Throw someone off the bus FFS, or arrange another riot. There isn’t even an Anatole in 2007, skipping out of his bets and getting le beatdown. CoW has a supposedly deep and secret background of being abandonated by her mother…and then going on to have a perfect genius life after. Oh, I see. If you’re going to be all melodramacakes, then at least give us a Dickensian history to go with it. CoW is merely wandering boringly around Paris snapping pics of all the places that Debussy slept. CoW is going to write the most radical Debussy bio ever. There are descriptions of park benches. There are descriptions of hotel decor. This is a description of how you can feel robbed, even by a free library book. Oh, there is something about a tarot card lady “CALL ME NAO FOR YER FREE READIN” but I don’t care.

So when I fling the book aside to do something interesting, like play Progress Quest, CoW is about to go stay at the estate, now a five-star hotel, that Oatmeal was headed towards with the mysterious auntie and all. When worlds collide! The mystery endeepens, except OH YEAH, nothing has happened of real interest yet! Will I finish this book? Only if on the very next page rocks fall and everyone dies. Emerging from the rubble is the only survivor from the current narrative: Anatole, Le Bad-Ass!

Teal deer Version: Anne Rice in a Lincoln Child/Douglas Preston sandwich. DNW.

Got Britney Down My Pants and My Gin and Sprite

I have that old meme in my head today. That is really old, too. If that meme had a vagina, there would be mummy dust and Dead Sea Scrolls coming out of it.

DEAD to the C-Z scrollies REPRAZENT.

Ahem. The thing I really have is basil. Loads of it.


I went out and denuded a couple of bushes. I decided to go for the variety this year, so I have regular (unleaded), this wee kind that’s called fino verde or something, and Thai basil. Strudel jumped in and helped me pick, and she went for the Thai basil, which I was avoiding. She started plucking the purple flowers off the top. I suspect my pesto will have a slight licorice flavor as a result. I managed to fend off the helpful handfuls of mint and parsley that were also trying to befriend the basil.

Last month I found a pesto recipe for “lighter” pesto. Usually I find lighter irritating, but in this case it’s nice to have a creamier and less-oily pesto.


I also found a mongo zucchini from hell. Time for zukeyloaf!


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