At the Back Fence Issue #283

November 5, 2007 

From the Desk of Laurie Likes Books:


A few months ago my facial cleanser stopped being as effective as it had been, and when I opened a new bottle of my moisturizer a couple of weeks later, I realized it had been reformulated. Just like that, a system I’d used for three years no longer worked and I was in the market for some new skin care. So I did what I tend to do these days: asked friends what they used, and did intense Internet research to decide precisely what to try next for my skin care “issues”. The first system I settled on was so harsh that I ended up giving it to my daughter, on whom it works so wonderfully that she’s currently on her second order of it. What to do next? Why, more research, of course, followed by a trip this weekend to either Ulta, Sephora, or Bath and Body Works. When I told my husband I just couldn’t decide, he said, “Just pick something…if it doesn’t work, try something else.” “But,” I argued, “This stuff is pretty expensive. I don’t want to spend $50 on a starter kit and have to toss it in a few days.” I was desperate, though, and after not having been out of the house for more than a week because of a particularly horrendous bout of bronchitis, I badly needed to get out of the house. In the end I decided to try a kit by Patricia Wexler, a high-end New York dermatologist I’d read about for years. I’d actually eyed this kit the last time we’d been at Bath and Body Works buying shower gel. BTW, so far so good on the kit. My skin feels marvelous this morning, but we’ll have to see how it fares as the day progresses.

The reason I get bronchitis is that, unlike normal people who suffer from acid reflux – and get heartburn as a result – I cough. the physical act of coughing causes acid to rise, leading to more coughing and more acid as part of a vicious cycle. Now I know why I’ve not gotten a normal cold since the 7th grade. Anyway, the antibiotics and Codeine cough syrup my doctor had me on at the start of last week just weren’t cutting it; on Friday it was on to the really strong stuff; the $10-per-pill antibiotics and Vicodin cough syrup. This new cough syrup is so strong my doctor has forbidden me from driving while I’m on it, which is 24-hours a day.

Earlier during last week, the bronchitis and the Codeine left me so groggy that all I did was drowse in bed, going in and out of sleep. While this new medicine is stronger, I’m not as sleepy, so I decided if nothing else, I could get some reading in. Since I’ve stuck with my “I’m not buying new books for a while” promise for a fairly long time, I went browsing in my personal library instead.

First up was a Silhouette Special Edition from 2006 by Teresa Southwick, an author who’d previously written a couple of really nice Westerns (Winter Bride and Blackstone’s Bride) and another fine SSE (Midnight, Moonlight, and Miracles). But because she’d also written two horrible Silhouette Romances (Shotgun Vows and With a Little TLC) – although I think it’s more likely that I didn’t like them because I find the line is very immature – and a very “I hate you…let’s go to bed!” Western (Reckless River), I’m not sure why I’d bought At the Millionaire’s Request last year. All I can say is that I’m glad I did.

At the Millionaire’s Request is the romance between a powerful and handsome man whose son stopped talking after receiving a traumatic brain injury. In his attempt to hire the best speech therapist, he comes across a woman who no longer does speech therapy; after her son was killed in an accident, her pain was such that she no longer felt able to get close enough to a child to effectively help him. But after being saddled with her dead husband’s gambling debts and facing the possibility that she may lose the house she lives in with her mother and aunt, it’s an offer she can’t refuse. Although the premise screams “romance novel”, the book nonetheless moved me. The relationships – between the hero and his son, his son and the heroine, the heroine and her mom, and between the hero and heroine, all worked. I’m a sucker for single father stories, and this one was touching enough that I cried more than once while reading. It’s unfortunate that I can find no other SSE’s by this author, but if she does write another, you can be sure I’ll pick it up.

Next up from my library? Jillian Hunter’s The Sinful Nights of a Nobleman. I’ve long been a Jillian Hunter reader, but glom-reading her Boscastle books is not a good idea, so it had been several months since I’d read in the series. Had I read the Amazon reviews, I probably would have re-shelved this one. Instead, I got into bed with it and read it cover to cover.

The hero in The Sinful Nights of a Nobleman once refused to play along with the heroine’s father as a possible suitor for her. When they meet again at a house party years later, she is about to receive a proposal from another man and he is set to rendezvous with a luscious widow. But a faked set of letters leaves the two in a very compromising position…and forced to marry. This is another traditional European Historical premise we’ve read dozens of times before, but Hunter writes with such aplomb and brings this delightful couple together so wonderfully that I didn’t care a bit that I was reading yet again about a hero who tries to ignore the wife he cannot wait to bed each night while she tries to find some way to convince him to share all of his life with her. As for the appearance of other Boscastles throughout the book, well, some authors use family members to their advantage while for others, family members can be an annoying interference and/or overshadow the leads. For me Hunter has always been one of the former, the end result being that by the time I close her books, I look forward to the next…but properly paced out, of course.

On Sunday, after buying my skin care kit, I insisted on one more stop before going back to bed: the bookstore. Even though I’d been having great luck in my library, not having bought any books in months left me in serious withdrawal. Without worrying about reviews – at AAR or elsewhere – I simply browsed for a good long while (until my husband said it was time to put me to bed). I picked up the new Christine Warren, the latest paperback in Laurell K. Hamilton’s Merry Gentry series (since I won’t buy her in hardcover, I’m always a year behind), the newest of Lora Leigh’s Breed series, and, because I’d so enjoyed the ARC of Marjorie Liu’s next Dirk and Steele book, I also bought up one of the previous books in that series as well. And then I went home and read LKH’s Mistral’s Kiss. Can I tell you how much I miss browsing? I don’t do it often, but every time I do, it’s like sitting down to a bowl of comfort food.

Anyone who’s read in the Merry Gentry series knows that it is erotic fantasy. But even though it’s loaded with sex, I don’t read it for its erotic properties. After all, Princess Meredith’s fertility will put her on the throne rather than the Queen’s unstable son, so having lots and lots of sex with her bodyguards (formerly royal gods) is a necessity to save the Unseelie realm from the madness of her cousin (as well as the damage done by his mother, the current Queen). The reason to read this series is to watch the author’s imagination at work. In each successive book, the reader has discovered, along with Meredith and her guards, that sex is bringing her into more of her power, is restoring power to these former gods, and bringing dead parts of their Unseelie world back to life.

LKH has created an entire world built upon sex, but not so the sex is titillating. Instead, sex is pure fertility here. The royals with whom Meredith has sex bring actual life to a dying world. While at times I think I’m pervy to be into this fertility groove, I can’t help but be fascinated to watch a once-dead faerie mound being brought back to life and a sodden swamp filled with bones of the dead transforming into a lake with wild Jack-in-the-Beanstock vines growing as a result of Meredith having sex with Abeloc, Mistral, and King Sholto.

Most readers I know have turned away from the Merry Gentry series, but not me. I can’t say that this was my favorite book in the series, but come next year when A Lick of Frost is released in paperback, I’ll be reading it. Given its title, as well as where this latest book left off, rather than focusing on a new guard, I’m hoping to see lots of Frost and Doyle, who have always been the two most intriguing of Meredith’s lovers.

Had I not followed my own instincts, I wouldn’t have bought either the Hunter or the LKH, and when I read a topic in the ATBF forum for last week’s column, I had an epiphany. Like some readers, I was more than a little surprised that the column didn’t inspire more comments, until I started reading the thread on how we as readers have become more selective as a result of sites like AAR. That’s indeed a good thing if it eliminates the buying and/or reading of crappy books, but are we also suffering from information overload that takes some of the fun out of reading – and the entire reading experience?

I try to stay current on most of the threads on our forums, and have a pretty good idea how many of you decide what to buy and/or read. There are discussions to be had, reviews to be read, and questions to be asked. It seems that as the years go by, readers go through increased machinations before actually buying a book – or even checking one out at the library.

As books have increased in price, more and more of us have become more cautious about buying any book. As the Internet has grown, that level of caution has only increased. Some people won’t read a book unless they know the spoilers up front so they “won’t make a mistake” in reading a certain plot point. Others, including myself, have had this experience; we’re reading a book and enjoying it until we read negative comments about it somewhere online and are unable to go back to the book and finish it.

It’s not just books, though. If you’re like me, you don’t go to a movie without having thoroughly checked it out online first. It’s one thing, I think, to gather a lot of information when dealing with significant sums of money, but, really, when was the last time you just walked into a bookstore and browsed? Instead of looking at what’s on sale, then checking out AAR’s review, the review on Blog X, and the discussion on our forums, when was the last time you simply walked into a bookstore and walked down the aisles, picking up books that grabbed your attention…and then bought one without knowing what others thought about it?

It’s very counterintuitive for me, as the person who runs a website devoted to providing readers with as much information as possible about books, to suggest that we have contributed to a lack of perspective, but so be it. The Internet has literally put the world at our fingertips, but so much so that we may become over-informed consumers as a result. Have we taken a good thing and, as human nature tends, gone beyond moderation into an excess? Do we now want to know so much before-hand that we are not only missing good books, but we’ve sucked some of the joy out of reading altogether? Are we suffering from too much information?

I have a suggestion, and based on my recent trip to the bookstore, I urge you to follow it. During this week, if it’s at all possible for you to physically go to a bookstore, please do. Wander up and down the aisles. Spend the afternoon delighting in what’s available – as you once did before the Internet became such a big part of your life. Remind yourself that at seven or eight dollars, buying a new book is still cheaper than going to the movies (cheaper still would be to buy at a UBS), and then, without hesitation, buy the book that most appeals to you. Sit down with it and read it, and report back here on your experience.

TTFN, as Tigger said to Winnie the Pooh,
Laurie Likes Books

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