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Erin's bookshelf: read

Private Pleasures
Vampyres of Hollywood
HellFire
Religio Duplex: How the Enlightenment Reinvented Egyptian Religion
Four: A Divergent Collection
Fated
Mighty Dads
Cuffed, Tied, and Satisfied: A Kinky Guide to the Best Sex Ever
Heatstroke: Nature in an Age of Global Warming
Big Little Man: In Search of My Asian Self
The Casual Vacancy
Middlemarch
Middlemarch
Midnight Crossroad
Play Him Again
Just My Typo: From
This Star Won't Go Out: The Life and Words of Esther Grace Earl
Reasons My Kid Is Crying
Crave
Christianophobia: A Faith Under Attack


Erin O'Riordan's favorite books »

Friday, April 10, 2015

'The Last American Vampire' by Seth Grahame-Smith

The Last American Vampire
(Mom, since you haven't read the book yet, do not read my review. It may contain spoilers and unduly influence your opinion.)

The Last American Vampire by Seth Grahame-Smith

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

(Heads up: I'm going to use "they" as a singular, gender-neutral pronoun.) I enjoyed Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, but this sequel much less so. I don't understand the plot. What is A. Grander VIII's motivation for doing all the awful things they do? I can't enthusiastically endorse a book in which the villain's actions are so nonsensical.

Seth Grahame-Smith's consistent insensitivity to the female half of the species continues to baffle and irk me. It's not only his refusal to join us in the 21st century and, in the voices of his narrators, use the inclusive word "humankind" rather than the outdated, gender-biased "mankind." On the "Facts" page that proceeds the title page in this first edition, in the voice of his narrator - not, mind you, a character from an earlier century - Grahame-Smith uses "mankind" twice in three paragraphs.

It's also a return on Grahame-Smith's part to the "I used to love her, but I had to kill her" theme I so detested in his screenplay of the Tim Burton/Johnny Depp/Helena Bonham Carter travesty Dark Shadows. "But she was a witch!" and "But she was an evil vampire!" may be acceptable excuses for violence against fictional women, but such scenes are not the least bit entertaining in a world where real violence against real women is a disturbing constant.

I really enjoyed Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, but Seth Grahame-Smith disappoints me as often as he impresses me. I did like the footnote in which Emily Dickinson's reclusiveness is explained by her being a lesbian or bisexual/pansexual vampire. Alas, the women in Grahame-Smith's fiction since Elizabeth Bennet have all been footnotes, plot devices to be used at the service of the male characters' plotlines and then violently disposed of when no longer necessary. If Grahame-Smith's next book is titled Emily Dickinson: Pansexual Vampire, I'll probably read it. Otherwise, I think I'll be done with his casually sexist, anachronistic ass. I read for fun, not to be made to feel as if my entire gender is disposable.

Judging from his photo on the inside back cover, Seth Grahame-Smith is a fairly good-looking guy. He will not, however, be one of my Hanukkah Hotties, because he is a nice-very-nice Jewish boy.

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I checked this book out from my local library and was not obligated to read or review it any way.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

A Fantastic Voyage: 'A Wind in the Door' by Madeleine L'Engle (Time Quintet #2)


FYI, this post is going to mention Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy, including a key plot point in the third book. If you don't wish to have His Dark Materials spoiled, please come back and read this post after you finish The Amber Spyglass. I'm also going to be sharing a spoiler from the third book in the Time Quintet.

A Wind in the Door is the second book in Madeleine L'Engle's Time Quintet. It continues the story of Meg and Charles Wallace Murry, begun in A Wrinkle in Time. AWIT was first published in 1962, and AWITD first appeared in 1973. I listened to this book on CD, performed by Jennifer Ehle (of Pride and Prejudice fame).

Titular Allusion: The unusual title comes from Le Morte D'Arthur. Sir Thomas Malory's 1485 compilation of tales of Arthurian legend is written in English even older and stranger than Shakespeare and the King James Bible. (The KJV is currently 404 years old, but Le Morte D'Arthur is more than 100 years older.)


In this volume, Charles Wallace - age 6 - is terribly ill. It's bad enough he's so much smarter than the other first graders and they beat him up because of his unusual-for-his-age interest in mitochondria and farandolae. (L'Engle invented farandolae, organisms so tiny they live inside mitochondria, and named them after a type of European folk dance.) Even worse, his mother - who is a microbiologist - suspects something is wrong with Charles Wallace's mitochondria. He's pale, exhausted, and beginning to have trouble breathing.

But is he hallucinating? Meg suspects her youngest brother may be when he claims to have seen dragons in the twins' vegetable garden. He's not exactly wrong, it turns out. What he mistakes for "a drive of dragons" is actually Proginoskes, a cherubim. Yes, "cherubim" is a plural noun (masculine plural, to be exact, since Hebrew is a gendered language), but Proginoskes is "practically plural." He only materializes for the sake of the humans, but in his material form he appears as a swirl of wings, eyes, smoke, and flame.


According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, the word "cherubim" is borrowed from the Assyrian word for "to be near." It implies the cherubim are the order of angels who are near the throne of God - God's "bodyguards," one might say. L'Engle's description of a cherubim is based, in part, on the tenth chapter of the Biblical book of Ezekiel. She leaves out the strange wheels-within-wheels the prophet saw, and the prophet's description of the angels as having four beastly faces.

According to Wikipedia, Proginoskes is Greek for "foreknowledge."

Proginoskes, Meg, and Meg's sort-of boyfriend/friend who is a boy Calvin O'Keefe are cosmically selected to be members of a class that must pass three tests and intervene to save Charles Wallace -and, possibly, the universe. To do so, they must go inside one of Charles Wallace's mitochondria and meet one of the farandola. The farandola, called Sporos, is much chagrined to be partnered with Calvin. Sporos considers Earthlings beneath him.

His pride is one of the reasons why Sporos is vulnerable to attack by the Echthroi (Greek for "enemy"). These awful creatures seek to destroy, or un-Name, all of creation. Proginoskes calls them fallen angels.

Fallen angels is just another name for demons. In this novel, they even possess Mr. Jenkins, who used to be the principal of Meg's high school and is now the principal of Charles Wallace's grade school. Calvin being called upon to fight demons is all the more reason for young!Jared Padalecki to portray him, in my imagination.

You can't tell me this isn't Calvin O'Keefe. Doesn't he look like a demon fighter? http://thatwritererinoriordan.tumblr.com/post/114668118490/jared-padalecki-at-seventeen-magazine-re-look#notes
I can't help it: I'm in love with the slow, innocent way Meg Murry and Calvin O'Keefe are falling in love. It reminds me of how [SPOILER ALERT] Lyra and Will fall in love in The Amber Spyglass. BUT I'm certain Calvin and Meg have a much, much happier ending. I mean, I already know that in the third book, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, they're married and she's expecting their first child. I should add that the third book is set 10 years after A Wind in the Door.


I enjoyed this book much, much more than I thought I would. Now I'm excited to read the next book. I wish my library had it on CD, but it only has it on tape. I do happen to own the paperback, though.

Know who else is a cherubim? Castiel (whose name means "shield of God"). When he's not using the body of Jimmy Novak as a vessel, I imagine, Castiel also looks like a drive of dragons, a great throbbing cloud of fire and flapping wings and winking eyes. As Meg Murry learns, cherubim are inherently lovable. It's no wonder Dean Winchester is so strongly bonded to Cas.

Jimmy Novak may be a dead guy - I mean, I don't really know because I don't watch Supernatural - but he makes a very pretty vessel. Apparently one time Dean kicked Castiel out of the house. http://thatwritererinoriordan.tumblr.com/post/114171542335

Friday, March 27, 2015

Audio Book Review: 'Grave Sight' by Charlaine Harris


My last audio book for my commute to and from my corporate day job was Grave Sight by Charlaine Harris. This is the first book in the Harper Connelly series. Harper is the book's heroine. After being hit by a lightning strike as a child, Harper developed the ability to locate dead bodies. She feels a kind of sixth sense, a buzzing sensation, when she's near a corpse, and she gets a vision of how the deceased came to be deceased.


Grave Sight (Harper Connelly, #1)Grave Sight by Charlaine Harris

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I was pleasantly surprised to be wrong about the identities of the murderers. My first inkling was that Harper's love interest, Deputy Hollis Boxleitner, would turn out to be the killer. But no, he's just a pleasant and slightly lonely blond-haired man in his 20s who, very tragically, lost his wife.

I was a bit disappointed when Harper didn't show any inclination to stay with Hollis, or at least see him again. But she's a young woman, only 24, and she and her brother/manager Tolliver live a nomadic lifestyle. I don't judge her for having a brief romance; I'm simply more used to romance novels, where the relationships are decidedly longer-term. I didn't enjoy this as much as the first Sookie Stackhouse book because it wasn't as romantic, but that's just a personal preference.

I'm not usually much of a mystery reader. I wouldn't have listened to The Cuckoo's Calling if it hadn't been written by J.K. Rowling. Also, audio book choices are somewhat more limited than paper and e-book choices. A lot of the bestsellers that make it into book-on-CD format aren't the ones that interest me. But I do love paranormal themes, which is what makes Charlaine Harris an author of choice to me.


This was a perfectly satisfactory story with an interesting heroine with an unusual ability. I don't know yet whether or not I'll finish this series, but I certainly enjoyed listening to this audio book.

I did have a bit of a hard time picturing Harper and Tolliver, though. He's supposed to be tall and pale, with straight black hair and a mustache. I keep thinking of the Guy Fawkes mask from V For Vendetta. Harper has short, curly black hair, but when I try to picture a Caucasian women with curly black hair I keep thinking of Mother Gothel from the Disney movie Tangled. It may be that I imagine more vividly when I'm physically reading that when I'm having the book narrated to me.

I checked this book out from my local public library and was not obligated to review it in any way. Next up, I'll be listening to A Wind in the Door by Madeleine L'Engle, read by Jennifer Ehle. I actually had no idea Ehle was American, because I remember her mainly as Elizabeth Bennet in the 1995 Pride and Prejudice, opposite Colin Firth. Her mother is English, which I suppose is why she can do a passable English accent. In any event, she makes a lovely audio book narrator of the sequel to A Wrinkle in Time.


I'll still be aggressively imagining Alexis-Bledel-as-Rory-Gilmore in the role of Meg Murry in my mind's eye.

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Tuesday, March 24, 2015

'Little Women and Me,' a Charming YA Fantasy


Little Women and MeLittle Women and Me by Lauren Baratz-Logsted

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Spoiler-Free Review

The premise is fun - a 21st-century high schooler suddenly finds herself inside the world of Louisa May Alcott's classic Little Women. The characters in the book take it for granted that Emily is the middle March sister, right between Beth and Jo. Emily takes it upon herself to save Beth from you-know-what, but she also takes it upon herself to put the moves on Laurie Laurence, since Jo isn't using him.

The whole book is clever, and the ending is especially satisfying. Tasked by her English teacher Mr. Ochocinco (tee hee) with changing one thing about her favorite book, Emily manages to alter the ending of 'Little Women' in a way that goes straight for the heart. A large twist near the end makes the premise even more fun and the ending all the more satisfactory.

I purchased this book with my own funds from Better World Books and was not obligated in any way to review it. My particular copy came from Keesler Air Force Base, located in Biloxi, Mississippi. I'm not affiliated with Better World Books in any way.


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Saturday, March 21, 2015

'Vanilla,' a #FemDom Erotic Romance by Megan Hart


VanillaVanilla by Megan Hart

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I really could not have enjoyed this book more. Bless Megan Hart for writing Elise, a fully-formed character so realistic she practically could have walked off the page and into the nearest ice cream parlor. Yes, she's a woman who enjoys femdom (female-dominant) sex. No, she is not a caricature based on male fantasy. She's a well-rounded person with a past and a future, with a family, with a complicated Jewish mother.

I happen to like reading femdom. A lot. I have a hard time identifying with submissive female protagonists, but I can easily imagine myself slipping into the shoes of a woman who's used to giving commands and being obeyed.

Elise isn't perfect, but she is a likable protagonist. She's still grieving over the loss of her previous relationship with "George." They called each other "George" and "Lenny" in a teasing reference to Of Mice and Men. See, Ben Linus - Elise can quote Steinbeck too. And I bet she wouldn't mess up and say Ernest Hemingway fought in the Spanish Civil War.

Sadly, Supernatural does not come up again after the excerpt I quoted here. I wanted to know more about how Elise is the Sam and her boss/friend Alex is the Dean.

After her bad heartbreak with George, she's chagrined to find her heart is slipping into the hands of Niall, a "vanilla" guy who doesn't really understand femdom. He's seen too much bad porn.

But this book is NOT bad porn. It's beautifully written, demonstrating once again that good sex writing is just plain good writing, period. You may count me as a Megan Hart fan now.

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a review through Amazon Vine.

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Megan Hart's Vanilla Author Song List

Megan Hart's Vanilla Author Song List by Erin O'Riordan on Grooveshark

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

'The Cuckoo's Calling' by #JKRowling Writing as Robert Galbraith


I loved this audiobook, so I'm as surprised as you are that I simply don't have very much more to say about it, other than what I covered in my March 1st post. Just a few talking points, then:

- The title, of course, comes from a poem by Christina Rossetti called "The Dirge." I haven't read much of Rossetti. I'm slightly more familiar with her notorious uncle, John William Polidori.

- I said Rowling has a casual familiarity with 400 years of British literature, but she also makes at least passing reference to American literature in this volume. A poem by Walt Whitman is mentioned. During the episode in which he learns of his ex-fiance's engagement and has too much to drink, Cormoran Strike reveals himself to have something in common with Robert E. Lee Prewitt in From Here to Eternity. Namely, both were boxers in their respective armies. Also, Strike is very, very drunk, as Prew so often gets in the War Trilogy.

Physically, Strike is described as a large, lumbering man with curly hair - less Montgomery Clift as Prew in From Here to Eternity, more John C. Reilly as John Storm in The Thin Red Line.

- Apart from Cormoran, Robin, and Lula herself, I think my favorite character is Guy Somé. First of all, it's hilarious that he gave himself a professional name that's a faux-Frenchified version of "some guy." Second of all, being gay, he had no sexual interest in Lula, yet he still loved her very, very much in a platonic way. I love their friendship. I hope he shows up again in The Silkworm.

But I really hope that in a future short story or drabble based on her Harry Potter characters, J.K. Rowling has one of them wear a Guy Somé design. I'd love to see Draco Malfoy in a studded hoodie. Astoria Greengrass can wear it when he's not home.

- Vashti is a great name for a high-end clothes shop. You may remember Queen Vashti of Persia from the Biblical book of Esther. When her drunken husband orders her to appear before him and his rowdy, drunken friends, Vashti refuses. She has sometimes been thought of as haughty and self-important in Jewish tradition, but to feminists it simply seems as if she valued her own worth over her husband's senseless "command." Vashti's reward is to be replaced by the more submissive Esther, much in the same way Lilith is replaced by the more submissive Eve.

- Nothing ever explained how Lula got that scar on her arm, so I'm just going to have to assume "from Voldemort" is the correct answer.

- Headcanon: Lula Landry and Fred Weasley are dating in heaven.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Who Were the Ancient Celts?

Public domain image
(I wrote this in 2011. It originally appeared on a history website that is now defunct.)

Although the Celtic peoples were a large and influential society during the classical period of ancient European history, their lack of a written language makes their culture somewhat difficult to define and describe. The Celtic tribes never had a common leader and may never have spoken a unified language. Ancient place-names considered to be in the Celtic language were also used by non-Celtic tribes, making it seem likely that the language was never linked to one distinct ethnic or national group.

In the 8th-7th centuries BCE, approximately the time of the founding of the city of Rome, the Celts are believed to have moved into the British Isles. Their territory expanded far beyond England and Ireland, though. It included parts of modern Turkey at the easternmost, much of Central Europe north of the Alps and Balkans, the Rhine Valley, much of modern France and Spain, and the whole of England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales.

The earliest historical mentions of the Celts come from the ancient Greeks, in about 500 BCE. The Greeks described them as the westernmost people of Europe. Around 390 BCE, the Celts sacked Rome. The Greeks and Romans considered them barbarians, and they bedeviled a number of civilizations until about 279 BCE. The end of the classical period of Celtic culture came in the first century BCE, when the Romans under Julius Caesar conquered the British Isles and Germanic-speaking tribes attacked Celtic territory from the north. After that time, Celtic cultural traditions become heavily influenced by the Roman and Germanic cultures.

Creative Commons image by Georges Jansoone
Although Celts from different regions appear to have worshiped different gods and goddesses, there is some commonality in their religion. Their goddesses seem to have been associated with the running water of rivers and streams. They worshiped a horned god, sometimes known as Cernunnos, associated with deer and bulls. Other gods were represented with a wheel and with a cauldron.

The writers who lived as contemporaries of the ancient Celts all agreed their most sacred places were groves of trees, particularly oak trees where mistletoe grew. A class of priests called the Druids, or “knowers of the oak tree,” performed their rituals and sacrifices, among other secular functions. The Druids also memorized the Celts’ oral histories in the form of genealogies and epic poetry. By the time of the Roman invasion, the common Celtic people were still largely illiterate, but the Druids were able to read and write both their own language and Latin.

Archaeologists who study the early Celtic cultures of central Europe come to these conclusions about their culture:

*The men wore woolen kilts.
*They lived in square and round huts with thatched roofs.
*Most were cremated when they died and were placed in urns, which were then buried in neat rows. A few people, perhaps tribal chieftains or priests/priestesses, were buried in chariots, too flimsy for everyday use, suggesting the chariot was a religious symbol.
*They tended to be war-like, but apparently never attempted to build a large empire.
*They were an egalitarian society, without extremes of class or wealth.

Their later descendants, the ones known to the great Mediterranean civilizations of classical Europe, had the following characteristics:

*Less egalitarian than their ancestors, later Celtic peoples had a distinct class of nobles.
*Men wore gold, silver or bronze torque-style necklaces. Although these ornaments have not been found in the graves of women, Celtic goddesses are depicted wearing them.
*They kept bees, sheep, goats, cattle, and pigs. Wild boar seems to have been a favorite food.
*The common people drank milk, beer, and mead. Nobles might import wine.
*Although at one time they were noted for going into battle naked, the Celts invented chain-mail armor.
*They wore blue body paint for ceremonial occasions and sometimes in battle. The roots of this custom may lie in the belief among many Indo-European peoples that the gods’ veins were filled with a blue ethereal substance, called ichor by the Greeks. Painting one’s self with blue was a way of asking to be taken in by the gods in the event of death.

Public domain image
The Romans typically left alone the religious practices of conquered tribes, yet they were uncharacteristically hard on the Celtic cultural practices of the British Isles. In their historical writings, the Romans claimed they were repulsed by the practices of human sacrifice and beheading of enemies killed in battle. (The Celts believed a kind of magic resided in the head, even after death.) In fact, this suppression may have stemmed from Roman fear of the temporal power held by the Druids, whose secular power within Celtic society had steadily increased by the time of Caesar.

Today, the remaining outposts of Celtic language and culture lie primarily in western Ireland, the Scottish Highlands, Wales, the Brittany region of France, and the Cornwall region of England. These far corners of the Roman Empire were less tightly controlled than the empire’s more easily accessible lands.

Common characteristics of Celtic visual arts include:

*An emphasis on geometry, particularly the circle and the number three. Many Celtic myths and folk beliefs make reference to the number three.
*Natural forms, such as those of animals and leaves.
*The theme of metamorphosis, evidenced by images that can be interpreted in different ways when viewed from alternative angles.

Sources

“Celtic Britain (The Iron Age) c. 500 BC -60 AD” http://www.britainexpress.com/History/Celtic_Britain.htm



Discovery of Lost Worlds, edited by Joseph J. Thorndike, Jr. Simon and Schuster: New York.

Quest for the Past, edited by Ann Kramer and Lindy Newton. Reader’s Digest.

The Timetables of History: The New Third Revised Edition, by Bernard Grun. Simon and Schuster: New York.

The Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets, by Barbara G. Walker. Harper & Row, San Francisco