June 21st, 2014

Complaining about _Shadow Woman_

I knew this was likely, but it's been fun for the first half. This romantic suspense novel, however, is rapidly falling apart. The viewpoint character is some sort of brainwashed ex-government agent, and yet she thinks a big floppy hat and sunglasses are not adequate for beating facial recognition. Ha!

"Public transportation would be under surveillance. Considering the number of cameras in the Metro, her hat and sunglasses wouldn't be a sufficient disguise. Bus? Maybe. That was a possibility. She could pay cash and hope she could change her appearance enough not to raise any alarm." Hint, Lizzy: you're in DC. Wear hijab. "But still, the idea gave her the heebie-jeebies." Yeah, not enough adrenaline involved in veiling and riding the bus to Ohio. "Her car -- which wasn't a safe option anyway, obviously -- was out of the picture. And she couldn't very well walk out of D.C."

Oh for fuck's sake. DC proper is tiny. Even _I_ could walk out of DC, in a few hours. This is a woman who supposedly used to run 30K at a time. DC metro is, obvs, bigger, but just go steal a bike sweetie. Put on a bike helmet, and I can almost guarantee that helmet and a pair of sunglasses is all you need to defeat any camera out there. (R. knows that bike helmets are involved in some of the test images, and facial rec has trouble with bike helmets. And I don't mean motorcycle helmets.) On a bike, you can get 50 miles out, and from there, anything is possible.

Instead, she contemplates hot wiring a car. She does know this isn't going to work with a modern car, but imagines she could somehow find "something older, maybe with a really kick-ass engine: a gas guzzler, an engine that roared. Why did that thought give her a bit of a thrill?" Because that is the thought of Linda Howard, not Lizette Henry or Lizzy whoever. And Howington was born in 1950, a member of a cohort that thinks muscle cars are cool. Lizzy is in her 30s, max, probably born well after 1980 and she doesn't think that way. This kind of thing happens in Jayne Ann Krentz novels, too. It is very frustrating. A muscle car being driven like a bat out of hell in the DC area is Not Subtle. This is Not an Escape Plan.

A couple paragraphs later, she "used her one towel to dry both her body and her hair". This is something worth pointing out, apparently. Which reminds me of another novel I read a long while back, possibly by Howard (maybe my sister remembers?) involving a woman with a big suitcase that carried, among other things, a tent, and a guy who crashed a plane with her and the suitcase into a pocket canyon in order to find out what she was hiding in the suitcase. While there, she contaminates the only water source, and nearly dies attempting to climb the canyon walls. Howard's books are awesomely fun -- except when they are just weirdly screwy.

ETA: She cuts the spark plug wires on a motorcycle to disable it. The person on the cycle apparently thinks he would need "tools" to fix this? (I don't really know anything about this, but you say a wire gets cut, I immediately think electrical tape and splice and you are good to go.) She does eventually buy a bicycle, so that's progress. I'm a little confused about why she thinks she needs to go all the way to Charlottesville to get on a bus? Also, I'm confused why she doesn't call a taxi or hire a car service or whatever. They usually take cash and she had a stolen phone for a while.

Oh geez:

"He was impressed by her thinking. No ID was required to buy a bicycle, no registration to worry about, she had enough cash on her to afford one, and she wouldn't have to worry about driving a stolen car or hitchhiking and being picked up by a nutcase."

Seriously, given the training she is supposed to have? I have difficulty imagining the nutcase that would present her with a problem. She's not a muscle-free teenaged girl. "And who would think to look for her on a bicycle?" Er. "She'd surprised even him. That was part of the fluidity of her thinking, because absolutely no one would expect her to escape on a bicycle. With a helmet and sunglasses on, she'd also have a damn good disguise. No one would look twice at her."

Here's hoping our _actual_ special ops agents are better at their job than Xavier.

_Otherwise Engaged_, Amanda Quick

No paranormal in this entry. The woman protagonist is in her mid 20s with a sister. The former had a compromised reputation event at age 19 (nothing happened, few details given); the latter married a psychotic guy who fortunately died and left her all his money and the house. While in the Caribbean, Our Heroine rescues Our Hero, who has been shot and heroically wants her to deliver a letter for him. Instead, she saves his life and gets him back onto the ship where they continue their journey. Back in London, rumors further compromise her reputation (this time with Our Hero) and as a result, she is targeted by a serial rapist/murderer known as the Bridegroom.

Our Heroine is a globetrotter with a book in the works, a travel guide for ladies. She is deeply concerned that the negative publicity will scupper her efforts to get published. Our Hero shows up and they devise a fake engagement and convince the guy from the Yard to let them help with the investigation. So the foursome (Our Hero, Our Heroine, her sister, and the Inspector/love interest for sis) poke around to identify the perpetrators of the attack on Our Hero (Russian foreign agents trying to get hold of a solar powered cannon, or at least the plans for same) and the identity of the Bridegroom. There's also a disgruntled ex-lover of Our Hero in the background. Everything ties up _very_ neatly. Throughout, Our Heroine deploys her tessen, a Japanese battle fan. This is pretty awesome and highly reminiscent of some of Tamora Pierce's books.

I read a lot of this author under her various names. This isn't a bad entry -- it has a couple of nerds getting together, which is always a good thing. Also, he tells her that sometimes she clanks, which is high realism, given all the stuff she carts around with her, and as a former occasional D&D player, I am all over the clanking.

_A Night to Surrender_, Tessa Dare

I went over to Smart Bitches to find some fun fiction. And I am so glad! This is the first entry in a Regency series set in Spindle Cover/Spinster Cove. In a small English coastal town, as the war with Napoleon continues in Spain, a young woman has set out to attract other girls and women who Don't Fit In, and to create a pleasant environment for them to Be Themselves. Her father is an eccentric inventor of weapons. The love interest arrives with a cousin and aide-de-camp (?) in town, with the goal to convince someone to let him go back to the war, despite significant ongoing problems from being shot in the leg.

Several things happen. Rycliff starts a militia. Dad prototypes another cannon. The women attempt to protect their Way of Life from the Men. The Men try to Have Some Fun. Antics ensue. There is a significant Medical Care of the Regency Era Was Awful theme. Oh, and they shoot on Thursdays. I did not believe the having sex in the sea scene. I've done things like this. Between the cold, the salt, and the lack of lube, yeah, no. Fortunately, Tessa Dare is not one of those authors who attempts to produce believable period dialogue. Even more fortunately, she _is_ an author who embeds consent deeply into all the sex scenes. Yay!

The tale takes a Dark Turn towards the end, but there is, obvs, an HEA and it is emotionally satisfying. I intend to read more in this series and probably other series by this author.

I read some samples

I tend to download sample chapters and then never read them. I thought I'd break this trend and try reading several. _Mercury Falls_ was too clever, and I didn't care for the depiction of the female protagonist (really, please, no one ever tell me again that no one could quite figure out how all those odd features added up to surprising beauty. I am _so tired of this_). And it wasn't very funny, but seemed to be trying very hard to be. _The Friday Society_ was a romp, but not very well written. It seemed about to get very angsty. _Libriomancer_ was well written and has a great McGuffin. Also, Jim Hines. I may eventually read the book, but it didn't grab me enough to convince me to read it immediately, and I instead spent several hours looking for trashy romance novels.

Reading the sample chapters was, as it always is when I can get myself to do it, a really interesting experience. I appreciate that authors, publishers and retailers make this possible. I've downloaded more; maybe I'll read them in a few days, instead of several months.

_Shadow Woman_, Linda Howard


I picked this up based on a positive review over on Smart Bitches and indeed, it is quite excellent. There are weak moments: facial recognition is taken entirely too seriously, and honestly there's just way too much concern about being tracked quickly on security cameras. The main character doesn't at any point entertain simple things like wearing hijab as a way of making it difficult/impossible for people to figure out where she's gone. She doesn't make any use of public transportation options. Even granting being overly concerned about cameras, she makes absolutely no effort to use any DC area bus system -- she goes all the way out to Charlottesville (well, she tries anyway) and steals cars rather than getting on a frickin' bus. She is worried about hitchhiking, which given her training makes zero sense. She wanders all over the place shopping, but it doesn't seem to occur to her that she could, in fact, just walk a dozen or so miles, get on a curbside bus (Megabus, say) and go wherever the hell she wants. Nor does she call for car service. It is mysterious. Given that she doesn't make any concerted effort to get rid of everything that might have been bugged, it sort of doesn't matter, but then the hero is really impressed when she buys a bike. *sigh* Honestly, I'd have been more impressed if she had stolen one. Also, if you're going any distance at all on a bike, a backpack is a bad choice.

So the middle of the book suffers from a whole lot of technical issues, and this is characteristic for the author -- it's a major contributor to me Not Reading Linda Howard very often. That said, large sections of the rest of the book are actually quite compelling. Howard doesn't get into much detail on the chemical brainwashing treatment to which Lizzy/Lizette was subjected. And that's _great_. I was really impressed by that. It's very hard to recognize that you should just assert the existence of something and build it into your world without explanation and I'm always impressed when people Just Do It. It is so much better than a bunch of hand-wavy, boring, pseudo scientific explanation.

The political backstory is weak.


Fortunately, the political backstory is mostly relegated to the last quarter or less of the book and is run through very quickly, thus minimizing the pain of: the heroine used to look JUST LIKE the first lady, but no one knew the first lady until she was the first lady. Seems implausible to me, but I'm a news junkie, so I know what a lot of powerful people look and sound like -- and frequently discover that no one else remembers ever seeing them on TV so I guess believable. On the other hand, FLOTUS in the story is supposedly a member of a very famous political family. And yet still unknown in appearance? *shrug* The surname Thorndike. The idea that the President was selling military secrets to the Chinese for lots of money and FLOTUS was the go-between for the financial transaction. Just No. The idea that the group had clear cut evidence of treason at all. POTUS and FLOTUS confronting our heroine with a gun, instead of deploying someone else against her. Just, weird. Seriously weird.

To sum up: weak backstory. Big technical FAILS in the middle of the book. A really nice McGuffin with the chemical brainwashing. An enjoyable erotic/romantic relationship between the two main characters. Kind of claustrophobic -- everyone onstage is involved, with the exception of some people at WalMart and the drunk guy -- but that actually is a positive in some ways, because it helps contribute to the How Big Is This Conspiracy Anyway? feeling. I doubt I will reread it. I doubt I will go search out more Linda Howard. However, if I read very positive reviews of other books by this author, this won't stop me from trying another one of hers in the future.

HersheyPark Trip Report

On the 15th, we drove down to Hershey, PA. Along the way, we stopped for gas in NJ, and noticed we were in Pohatcong. This is entertaining, for genealogical reasons, but otherwise, it's just a White Castle and a Walmart.

Upon arrival, we checked in to Hersheypark Camping Resort, formerly Highmeadow Campground or something along those lines. We had rented a couple 1 bedroom deluxe (= includes a bathroom with a shower) cabins, one for us and one for my sister's family. They arrived shortly before us. My husband's aunt, who is also the minister who married us, came by to see us the first evening. She brought dinner: vegetarian lasagna, turkey tenderloin, a giant salad, fruit on some kind of angel food like cake, beverages, etc. Wow. Thank you! The cabins were clean and well stocked. We went swimming, however, the (unheated?) pools were kinda cold still. The bunkroom in the cabin had three single beds and one double; we never used the queen sized sofabed in the living area, altho A. did sleep on a kid-sized AeroBed out there.

The following three days we went into Hersheypark. T. and R. went on coasters. All of them. Repeatedly. A. and I did a lot of kiddie rides, and also the less scary flume ride, Coal Cracker. We also rode on the gondola ride, Sky View. There is one (1) dark ride, which is like Santa's Village Humbug or Disney's Buzz Lightyear and similar: a pretty simple ride vehicle with a couple light guns that you try to hit targets with. The theming involves Xtreme sports, and there is a team competition element (Team Chocolate vs. Team Peanut Butter). It is incoherent but fun.

Sit-down dining is limited to non-existent, but counter service options are pretty broad and the food quality was decent. Pricing is about what I expect from an amusement park. Unlike Disney, there are several hills in the park.

One coaster, Trailblazer (which I actually remember from my previous trip in 2000), was down the whole time, which was sort of a bummer. Their new-this-year kiddie coaster, Cocoa Cruiser, is a 3x through tiny coaster.

My sister's family went to ZooAmerica on the third day. They liked it.

On the second and third day, A. and I spent time in the waterpark/Boardwalk at Sandcastle Cove. We enjoyed that.

One of the nicest things about HersheyPark is the sheer number of kiddie rides. While obviously this is fundamentally a coaster park, you'd never know that if you were spending your days with a wee one, because you won't really run out of little kid stuff to do. There are also a lot of trees, so it is possible to mostly stay in shade if you are careful.

Because it is conveniently located (within a couple hours drive) of many of our relatives (mine and R.'s), we will likely come back to HersheyPark within a couple years, and we expect there will be even more fun things to do then, as they consistently upgrade the park.

My sister cooked dinner two nights; I cooked one night. We had breakfasts in as well but mostly had lunch in the park. Stores, including a mall, and fast food are conveniently located nearby (about a mile or two away). R. forgot to pack swim trunks and was able to buy two pair at the nearby mall quite quickly for a very reasonable price.