November 2, 2014

Books of the Week:

  • Hidden, Benedict Jacka
  • The Winter Long, Seanan McGuire
  • Undead and Unwary, MaryJanice Davidson
  • Dear Daughter, Elizabeth Little

A jackpot of good reading this past couple of weeks, with only a couple of discards. I am always excited to get a new Benedict Jacka, because his protagonist Alex Varus is such a complex character, and thus seems all the more real. Alex wants to survive, and he wants to be a better wizard and man; but those sometimes seem mutually exclusive goals, and there in lies the struggle that keeps Alex moving. Hidden, in which Alex helps a former apprentice who is engaged in the same struggle, is just as exciting as the first book in the series, a hard act to maintain.

Since I’m also a huge fan of Seanan McGuire, it was great to be able to read The Winter Long back to back with Hidden. McGuire just keeps inventing fresh and credible perils for her hero, October Daye. A character we though long dead makes a reappearance in The Winter Long, and Toby’s romance with the King of the Cats, Tybalt, grows deeper and more serious . . . if only Toby can survive. When you’re a designated Hero, as Toby is, action is the order of the Daye. Sorry, I couldn’t resist . . . .

Just when you think MJD has done everything she can do with her Betsy, she thinks of something new. Betsy, Queen of the Vampires, is begged by her half-sister Laura, Satan’s daughter, to help in the running of Hell. Everyone but Betsy sees the problems with this arrangement. But Betsy finally answers the call of duty, and finds that things really aren’t what they seem, even in hell. Between the dead mice and pricey vodka in the freezer, Mark’s need to keep his brain occupied, Sinclair’s new ability to play in the daylight, and best friend Jessica’s vanishing baby twins, Betsy has her hands (and head) full.

Elizabeth Little’s debut crime novel, Dear Daughter, has some scathing things to say about the nature of celebrity, but mostly it’s a great crime story. Janie Jenkins, young and just out of jail due to a mishandling of evidence in her case, was convicted at 16 of killing her mother. Painted black than black by the media, misunderstood or misinterpreted by almost everyone, Janie is certainly no saint; but she also didn’t kill her mother. Probably. Her quest is to find out who did. But that leads Janie back into her mother’s past, and she comes to know her mother far better in death than she did in life. At first (I confess) I found Janie repellent, but I was also compelled to keep on reading, and I was very glad I did.

Blog:

“Reality” television, of course, isn’t “real.” If it’s not scripted, it’s at least manipulated a bit. Common sense and observation will tell you that. I used to be quite the snob about reality television, and I’m still a little proud that I’ve never watched an episode of “Survivor” or “Naked and Afraid.” I tell myself that with so much real privation and lack of basic resources in the world, it’s stupid to watch created situations in which people have placed themselves voluntarily.

But I’ve discovered there’s a niche of viewing that appeals to me: watching people with ability doing something that I could never do. I love “Chopped,” though I might literally throw up my hands and scream if I had to open one of the famous baskets and prepare a dish from its contents. I LOVE “Project Runway,” though I’m not fashionable, could not wear any of the clothes, and can barely sew on a button. That’s why it seems miraculous to me when designers can produce a wearable garment in 24 hours.  I can’t miss an episode of “Life Below Zero,” in which Alaskans live on what they can glean from the land, often at great peril. (Though I suddenly realized last season that the cameramen would save them, right?) I like “Househunters” and “Househunters International” because I just like to look at houses, and seeing how people live in other countries is interesting.

The only reality show with which I’ve had personal experience was “Halloween Wars” in 2014. I was delighted to be invited to be a guest judge on one episode. I’d never seen the show, but I watched an episode before I left for Los Angeles, so I knew what to expect, more or less. Here’s where the common sense comes in: the contestants are rehearsed on where to line up, prompted to shout encouraging things to each other, and sometimes are told the same “new” information several times to get a good shot of their reactions. This is not a shocking revelation. Their skills are still called into play in a very tense situation, since the result can have quite an impact on their livelihoods.

Since I have a bad habit of leaving on the television while I cook (I do know all the ingredients in advance and have more than twenty minutes, let me point out), I’ve seen some reality shows I’d never planned on watching. “Botched,” about plastic surgery gone wrong, which was stomach wrenching and fascinating at the same time, but not something I’d want to watch again. I admit I’ve watched episodes of “Toddlers and Tiaras” with much the same reaction. So those are off my radar.

What about you? Do you have a guilty pleasure in the thundering herd of “unscripted” television? Or do you deny that there’s any guilt involved?

Charlaine Harris