A Literary Black Friday at the Galleria

The reputation of The Galleria precedes itself, n’est-ce-pas? As a ginormous high-end retail complex in an upscale mixed-use development in downtown Houston it is not only the 7th largest mall in the country but is generally known as The Place for the hoity-toity of Houston to shop.

I first heard of it in a romance novel, Paradise by Judith McNaught. The heroine is opening a branch of her family’s department store at The Galleria and I got a strong sense of the demographics of the people who would go there and what the surrounding area of shops was like. Whoever said romance novels were fluff?! I know all the landmarks and even street names in Savannah, Charleston, and Galway, Ireland even though I’ve never been to any of them, just to name a few.

The other association I had about The Galleria was that out of the big cities in Texas, one was the one with The Galleria and one wasn’t. But then, quelle horreur! Someone went and built a SECOND Galleria in Texas! The nerve! How will us outsiders ever tell the difference between Dallas and Houston again?! When I found this out my brain just shut down, this was too much for me to handle.

 So when I was in Houston over Thanksgiving what was I to do but go to The Galleria (always capitalize the The, obvi) on Black Friday? So off we went, 8 of us piling into hubby’s aunt’s Ford Expedition truck like a clown car, but fitting in perfectly with all the other monsters on the road.

I don’t think I need to tell you what a zoo this place was. The mall was beautiful, shiny, and was selling anything you could possibly want. But I could hardly wedge myself into any store and I simply cannot shop in a stressful environment.

But hark, what yonder shining beacon is that ahead of me? The sea of Texans parted briefly and I glimpsed a quieter store front with actual space in the aisles. I marched forward with purpose, hardly daring to believe what my eyes were catching snippets of: a two-story Borders with someone handing out 50% off coupons in front!

I need to purchase a t-shirt that reads:

I went to The Galleria on Black Friday and all I got were five books

Meanwhile the rest of hubby’s family (himself included) met back at the clown car bags galore, while my stack of books was met with narrow-eyed suspicion. Especially when I had to admit they were all romance novels. Yes I was blushing as I revealed this.

But I am still so pleased with my purchases. It was an AWESOME plane ride home to DC, let me tell you!

All of these books I have been searching for what feels like forEVAR and a day. Because I just started J. D. Robb’s In Death series I am constantly on the look out for the earlier books in the series. The DC area bookstores (and libraries too, for that matter) are very scarce on the first 15 or so books. So when I saw them I had to snap them up immediately!

Secondly I have wanted Joanna Bourne’s two books since I first heard of them a few months ago. These were released in 2008 but for some reason the EIGHT bookstores in my city haven’t had it. So *snap* there I went again, snatching them right up.

And Angels’ Blood, ooooh you rascal you! I have desired your pages for many a moon now. The library teased me by saying it was “on the shelf” for weeks on end, only to have a status change to “lost,” leaving my lust unsatisfied. So for $7.99? *Snap*! Into the bag you go!

The only books this magical Galleria bookstore didn’t have were Meljean Brook’s The Guardians series. I haven’t read any of the first 7 in the series and I only ever see the 8th, and most recent release, in the bookstores. Sigh, I think I’m going to have to order some of these, which plays havoc with my preference for “immediate gratification” in my book buying. Getting them in the mail just isn’t the same as snatching them up into my hot little lusty hands right away!

All in all a very successful trip, now we’ll have to see how many of these I devour immediately when I should really be saving them for my upcoming Christmas holidays!

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Library Loot: stocked up for travel

Remember back in the day when you used to rent moves from a brick and mortar store? (I just felt like using that phrase for some reason, sorta lame) So many Fridays in high school would find me with my girlfriends or my sister scoping out the local Blockbuster and inevitably we would run into other people we knew doing the same. And equally inevitably by Friday evening ALL THE GOOD MOVIES would be taken.

You gotta stock up in advance. Nowadays Netflix, OnDemand, and tv movie channels provide instantaneous options that never run out of stock. However I was recently reminded of this irritating phenomenon that used to happen to me right when I needed my weekend entertainment the most…

Before holidays I think I may have anecdotal evidence from my own browsing that the same thing happens at my library.

We have two little, round, turny, rotating shelf things of mass market romance paperbacks and when I went yesterday they were more empty than usual. I guessed that many people had the same idea as myself and were borrowing more at a time in preparation for hours of travel reading.

So I joined the (perhaps imaginary?) fray and grabbed my own large stack. Am I a candidate for Bedlam or does anyone else do this?

Regardless, I’m super happy with what I got and am trying to decide what to read first:

I’m diving in headfirst and am greatly looking forward to many hours of reading at airport gates and on the plane! We’re in the great Lonestar state visiting hubby’s extended family who ended up here for work. Definitely excited for the nicer weather, though I don’t think anything could quite live up to our first trip to Texas earlier this year. Hope you all have a very Happy Thanksgiving!

Library Loot is a weekly meme hosted by Eva and Marg.

Not Quite A Husband, by Sherry Thomas

  • Title: Not Quite a Husband 
  • Author: Sherry Thomas
  • Published: May 2009
  • Pages: 352 mass market paperback
  • Standalone or series: Standalone, has a few characters from previous novel, but not the current, nor related to any prior, Heroes or Heroines.
  • Source: Library romance section, recommended by many on my earlier post when another Sherry Thomas book caught my eye.

When KatiD commented on my post recommending this book I emailed her to expound upon my distaste of “estranged couple” romance stories. In a word? BO-RING! I never really liked them to begin with, and got a little burned out after I glommed so many of the Desperate Duchesses books by Eloisa James where almost all featured a married couple in a strained, separated, or all together faux marriage.

Hey Kati? You were right! I’m eating my words.

Summary:

Their marriage lasted only slightly longer than the honeymoon – to no one’s surprise, not even Bryony Asquith’s. A man as talented, handsome, and sought after by society as Leo Marsden couldn’t possibly want to spend his entire life with a woman who rebelled against propriety by becoming a doctor. Why, then, three years after their annulment and half a world away, does he track her down at her clinic in the remotest corner of India?

Leo has no reason to think Bryony could ever forgive him for the way he treated her, but he won’t rest until he’s delivered an urgent message from her sister – and fulfilled his duty by escorting her safely back to England. But as they risk their lives for each other on the journey home, will the biggest danger be the treacherous war around them – or their rekindling passion?

I still don’t like that trope, but hooo boy did I love Not Quite a Husband! Sherry Thomas is an exquisite writer, her prose was so beautiful to me. I found myself rereading passages to cherish the imagery and elegance therein. Here is a passage that stood out to me as Leo and Bryony (LOVE her name!) are getting to know each other again as they travel through India:

“And you, how have you been?” he asked, as if it were an afterthought.

Outwardly, other than [the streak of white in] her hair, she had not changed much. She was still more or less the same cool, aloof woman who garnered more respect than affection. On the inside, however, it had been impossible to return to the person she used to be.

She’d been content. She had not wanted to marry. Nor had she much interest in the largely empty rituals of Society. Medicine was a demanding god and she a busy acolyte in its vast temple.

Then he had come into her life. And it was as if she’d been struck by lightning. Or a team of archeologists  had dug up the familiar scenes of her mind to reveal a large, ancient warren of unmet hunger and frustrated hope.

Those types of turns of phrase where liberally sprinkled throughout the novel which is what really did it for me. The same deftness in writing was brought to characterizing both Leo and Bryony. With his childhood yearning for Bryony, his neighbor who he always admired since he was a toddler, his paternity issues, his mathematical genius, and his perception of Bryony’s coldness towards others, thinking she only cares for them in a clinical way to study from a doctor’s point of view. And with her few years of happiness as a child, brief memories before her joyful step-mother passed away, neglect from her father, her profession and personal disinterest in society separating her from others, upon meeting adult Leo her instantaneous infatuation growing to love so quickly that she proposed, hoping he would be the one to recapture the halcyon days she had last enjoyed only as a 6-year-old.

But Leo did a Very Bad Thing the week before they were to be married. He didn’t know that Bryony knew what he did, he didn’t know why the weeks of burning bliss during their engagement turned to cold ashes upon their marriage. And here, my friends, is where “estranged couple” stories get tricky. The REASON for the separation and change of heart has to be forgivable, but it has to be grave enough to warrant years of alienation. It’s a tough balance. The one I hate the most is The Big Mis. That misunderstanding that ANY teeny tiny communication could have fixed. But here we have a Very Bad Thing.

Was what Leo did forgivable? I think so, he explains his reasoning pretty well, and his guilt and repentance help make up for it too. Bryony is also given plenty of page time on her decision-making process to forgive or not, how she deals with this new information, how Leo respects her and reacts to her throughout the process worked as well. And of course they were put in a life or death situation in India, being chased by armed tribesman into a besieged British fort, sustaining injuries and fighting for days. So that certainly sped along their reconciliation.

What I appreciate most about this is both Leo and Bryony recognized that these external forces were influencing their relationship and knew they had more healing to do, and needed to continue to figure things out outside of that harrowing situation. It was very smart of them, and as a reader I was glad that the “oh noes we might die tomorrow!” wasn’t used as a plot device to make them live happily ever after right away.

I did wish that some threads were a bit more fleshed out, like Leo comes down with malarial fever, which has recurring symptoms that can occur at any time, but after his initial bout with it he seems cured. And Leo’s relationship with his father, god-father, and brothers I wanted to see more of. Also I would have loved to see some Bryony’s time at medical school and the reactions to her profession since it was still unusual for there to be women in medicine at that time. I don’t know if this is because I was enjoying the book so much and wanted more more more, or if these were issues that really should have been addressed.

I still am not a huge fan of separated couples finding love again because it has to be handled just right for me. Call me the Goldilocks of divorce romance novels I guess! But Sherry Thomas sure can write a fabulous book, so I’m looked forward to her 2010 release more than ever!

A- for me and highly recommended.

Gift ideas for the bibliophile in your life

Granted it was because of my birthday, and winning a contest, but I recently received some GREAT  bookish gifts. Although I am against starting Christmas too early (I’m looking at you – retailers of America) I do ADORE the holiday season, so why not jump on the bandwagon of all other advertisers and give y’all some gift ideas?

#1 The first was a present from one of my best friends, actually she was featured in my birthday post – Emily of the shoe fetish!

Do you prop your book open with one hand when you’re reading? Thumb and pinky inside the pages, three other fingers supporting the spine? Does your pinky get tired of holding open those hundreds of pages until you get closer to the end? Mine does! This is my preferred way of holding the book, usually in my left hand, and usually it gets cold, but its the best way to hold it! Well Emily found this nifty little plastic thing you put on your thumb to hold the book open, its sorta hard to explain, luckily a picture’s worth a thousand words!

in use...see what it looks like not in use?

I don’t know where she got hers, but my google search turned this place up as one of the first links*. I like it, but am still getting used to it.

#2 My bestest bestie who lives in NYC thoughtfully sent me a fabulous bookish stamp for my birthday! She got it from Three Designing Women** and it’s a self inking stamp that says “From The Personal Library Of” in a pretty design. I guess it should go on the inside of the front cover? I thought maybe on the title page, what do you think?

#3 Last, but not least I was lucky enough to win a hand-made bookmark from Laura of I’m Booking It! Thanks so much Laura, it’s gorgeous! Much prettier than the dirty receipts dug out of my purse that I usually use. I even put a cough-drop wrapper in a book last week to hold my place, ugh. So I’m not saying bombard her with gift requests ;) But a pretty bookmark with a special charm would be a great gift for any lusty reader!

So there are a few suggestions to get your mind going…if you already have Christmas on the brain like some of us!

*Not an endorsement!

**Not an endorsement, but I really like it!

A Reliable Wife, Robert Goolrick

  • Title: A Reliable Wifegoolrick
  • Author: Robert Goolrick
  • Pages: Hardcover 291
  • Published: March 2009, Algonquin Books
  • Why did I read this book: It was on the end cap of my library’s New Release section and the title sounded vaguely familiar. NOTE TO SELF: stop picking up books with no research!

Set in 1909 Wisconsin the story opens in soon-to-be-familiar detailed and deeply moving writing style with a lonely man waiting on a cold platform for a train to beat the incoming blizzard. Ralph Truitt is waiting for the “reliable wife” for whom he advertised. Despite being the tycoon of his small Wisconsin town with business dealings reaching nationwide we learn that because of his lost family, no social interaction with anyone in the town, how they whisper about him, his loneliness and his desires, and a secret reason to unfold later…all led him to advertize and accept the responding letter of Catherine Land to be his new wife.

But as she steps off the train she is not what he expected, not the woman in the photo, and her surprising beauty is dangerous to him. He agrees to discuss it at home, but after a near fatal accident in the blizzard puts him under her immediate care they get to know each other and Catherine is in his home to stay. But for what reason? While Ralph’s back story of inheriting his father’s business enterprises, his wastrel youth spent in erotic debauchery abroad, change of lifestyle upon falling in love with a young Italian girl from a noble family, and then her and their daughter’s death is shared up front – Catherine remains a mystery. It slowly becomes apparent however that she came for more reasons that just to wed him in rural, snow-bound Wisconsin.

As you may be able to tell this book is mainly character driven but it also has a sub-plot of finding a missing person and a few attempted murders – actually all the sub-plot points are tied to Ralph’s family and Catherine’s lover, so it all circles back to the characters. There was much examination of the motivations of human beings to act the way they do, what shapes them? What drives them? What comforts them? And Ralph and Catherine were both obsessed with how people went “crazy” with multiple examples for local news and stories world-wide:

Every week the papers were filled with the barn burnings, the arsenic taken, the babies drowned in wells to keep their names a secret, to keep their fathers away from them, to keep them from knowing the craziness of love. To send them home to the holiness of God. He read these stories aloud to Catherine at night, after supper, and she would invent stories about the sad women and the deranged men.

It was sort of sick how many times they talked about people chopping off their hands because the “devil was in it” or shooting their wife while drunk. But that was part of them overall theme, telling the stories of the protagonists, telling the stories of secondary characters, telling the stories of the townsfolk who went crazy.

In fact, the book summarised itself perfectly right at the very end (it was very obvious it was coming, sort of like an 8th grade paper where you had to start building up towards your conclusion). This is NOT A SPOILER even though this quote takes place on page 281 out of 291 total. I just wish I had known what this book was about before I read it. As much as the summaries said it was a “dark tale” and Catherine had a nefarious purpose is responding to Ralph’s ad, I just didn’t know that was going to be the whole POINT. So here is how the book wraps itself up:

But there was no use. There was no point. It was just a story. It was just a story of people, of Ralph and Emilia and Antonio and Catherine and the mothers and the fathers who had died, too soon or late, of people who had hurt one another as much as people can do, who had been selfish and not wise, and had become trapped inside the bitter walls of memories they wished they had never had…

It was a story of people who hurt themselves, who wreck their own lives and then go on to wreck the lives of those around them, who cannot be helped or assuaged by love or kindness or luck or charm, who forget kindness, the feeling and practice of it, and how it can save even the worst, most misshapen life from despair.

It was just a story about despair.

So um yeah, not my usual lusty reading fare! This is what I get for trying to mix up my reading with some “literary fiction.” I find that any of those book club-y type books (especially Oprah’s book club) do NOT work for me. I find that many of them “try too hard” to make statements and be full of commentary on the human psyche, or too full of symbolism and want to be popular for making a point instead of telling a satisfying story.

And that was what happened here, the characters were so twisted it seemed like it was done on purpose, to wring a reaction out of the reader and also too much of a statement of the “badness” of human beings. There were no “good” characters to be found in the entire cast of secondary characters either. And I did not find Catherine redeemable in the least and Ralph’s last decision in the closing scene* about how to deal with her was not explained AT ALL it just ended. When Catherine started doing really bad things I started skimming, it was unreadable to me, it disgusted me, and even if that was the point, to examine how disgusting and horrible we can be to each other that’s why I watch the news. Not read a book.

So this is entirely based on my personal preferences, of course since this is a “lit fic book club” type book I am a very small voice in a crowd of many who adored it. If anything I wrote this review to myself to say, “Hey self? Be careful how you pick books!”

I must say that the prose was very evocative (I think that’s the word I wanted?), it was moving and detailed. It was beautiful. I felt the emotions of the characters, Catherine’s guilt, pain and love; Ralph’s sexual hunger, need to buy expensive things; Antonio’s abandonment and loss of compassion. The description of the wintery landscape, the view from the windows, the luxurious clothes, the rising industrial cities of St. Louis and Chicago…all of it laid out in metaphors and rich descriptions. But (yes there is a but) at some points I also wondered if the prose itself was also trying too hard? Maybe I’m being too harsh and am biased against literary fiction because I think it tries too hard in general to be the next Catcher in the Rye or To Kill a Mockingbird. But sometimes I felt the detailed descriptions were trying too hard to be “quotable” in a way, like how many adjectives and analogies can be fit into one paragraph about snow?

Please check out some of these other reviews as my thoughts are so influenced by my personal opinions:

*SPOILER ALERT for those who care about happy endings…

Yes this has a happy ending for Catherine and Ralph, but it was not satisfactory because it was completely not explained how forgiveness was possible or how anyone had changed. And everyone was so TWISTED and awful I didn’t care about them.

End Spoiler.

Friday Finds (Nov 13)

friday_finds_buttonWhat great books did you hear about/discover this past week? Share with us at FRIDAY FINDS! Hosted by Miz B at Should Be Reading.

This was a good week for me catching up on reading blog posts and I was all over the twitterverse getting great recommendations and book discussions! So even though this is my first post this week at least I have some great finds to show for it!

AngelsbloodAngel’s Blood by Nalini Singh: I just finished the most recent book in her Psy/Changeling series this week and was depressed that it was over and I have to wait for the next one to come out. AND THEN I found out Ms. Singh started this new Guild Hunter series in March 2009.  It’s set in an alternate Manhattan about a feisty vampire hunter and a dangerously seductive archangel. There’s no way I could say no to that!

kushiels_careyKushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey: I’ve been on a paranormal/sci-fi/fantasy reading kick (see above find!) recently and when I saw this post on Smart Bitches, Trashy Books with the most recommended book in that genre being Kushiel’s Dart I knew I had to try it. First published in 2001 it’s set in an alternate universe modeled after medieval Earth. We follow protagonist Phedre as she is abandoned by her parents to indentured servitude, learning the arts of pleasure and pain with a larger political arc and hints of adventure in her future.

 

Resurection.mechResurrection, by Tucker Malarkey: This was recommended on twitter by S. Krishna as I had a hankering for an adventurous archaeological find story, a la King Tut’s Tomb or National Treasure type thing. From summary: ” Set in Egypt just after WWII, the novel fictionalizes the discovery of the Gnostic gospels, early Christian writings whose explosive intimations.”

Have a happy weekend y’all!

Old Journal Entry redux

We’ll be back to our regularly scheduled lusty reading program next week (I have something special in mind) but just for fun (pourquoi pas?) I’m typing up my last handwritten abroad journal entry before I switched to typing them in my now deceased laptop. This chronicles my first exposure what are now commonly known as hipsters, and how innocent I was of the possibility of it spreading to the US 6 years later…

26.9.03

Now is the time to broaden my horizons, make my own opinions about other cultures, and be une étudiant du monde. Unfortunately for the past month I have very carefully deduced that the typical stereotype of a Frenchman from my childhood cartoons is a fact.

I’ve only seen streets populated with very skinny French with fly-away hair, sipping coffee, flicking cigarettes, in tapered, tight jeans, scarf wound around the neck, and for girls usually trailing a fringe (what is so frightening is now i live amongst these people in DC! i had no clue of the impending hipster fashion doom in the US!), plus the ever-present baguette or two poking out of a satchel.

I have not mentioned the most important part of this picture. No French person is complete without their rickety bicycle, circa WWII. It is no joke, the streets of Strasie are molested by bread toting, scarf wearing, thin people ringing their bicycle bells like maniacs while avoiding les petits chiens and their merde. (oh the dog shit, it was EVERYWHERE, they never ever picked it up.)

The bells, upon closer observation in many near run ins with these 40-year-old bikes, are completely unnecessary. Bikes are apparently handed down 3 or 4 generations, and the older and uglier the more desired as they are less likely to be stolen. Therefore the maniacal bells should be obsolete as you can hear the rickety-paint-peeling things bearing down on you from 50 metres away. (oh la la, so fancy with my metric measurements and british spelling!) The clanking of the rusty chain and rattling of the mud guards are a dead giveaway to leap into the cobblestone streets to avoid a sharp jab of semi-stale baguette and a scarf-fringe in the face as the stereotype sails by, solemnly smoking a cigarette.

___________

I ended up getting hit badly once and another time borrowed my 18 year-old host bro’s crappy ancient bike (painted pink because that was the least popular color of stolen bikes) which I broke when my NON tapered jeans got stuck in the rusted chain. Every day was an adventure, let me tell you!

Now I’m off to travel to Mobile, Alabama for the first time for a friend’s wedding. But what I’m secretly most looking forward to on the trip? Reading the next three books in Nalini Singh’s Psy/Changeling series that I bought all at once last week! Have a great weekend, y’all!