Ancient Vampire

I’m a big fan of Z. A. Maxfield and have read a number of her books including St. Nachos, Drawn Together, The Long Way Home and others. Her books generally fall right into my favorite genre, m/m contemporary, and she’s a wonderful writer with what i’ve heard appropriately described as a “lyrical” style. (Plus, we share a locale, both being from behind the Orange curtain.) A few months ago, i bought an unusual book from Maxfield called Notturno, a paranormal, m/m erotic romance. I was kind of swamped with vampires at the time (see Charlaine Harris and J. R. Ward), so i didn’t read the book until last week. I was floored. What a wonderful book.

Notturno, published in 2009 (I told you my recommendations wouldn’t be up to date) tells the story of the relationship between an ancient Italian vampire and a contemporary collector and expert in antique erotica. The plot revolves around an erotic journal that the modern man, Adin, wants to collect and the vampire, Donte, who actually wrote the journal, wants to get back. The journal is important in the story since the reader gets to see pages of it describing the love of Donte and his beloved, Auselmo, during the Renaissance era. While these extractions from the journal slow down the story the reader really doesn’t care because Maxfield’s very lyrical style is so perfectly suited to the period.
The real success of the book is that the author brings to life two great loves — that of the Renaissance lovers and that of Donte and Adin. While Donte is a terrific character, the most perfectly drawn creation of the book is, unexpectedly, the human, Adin. He has such a clear voice — irreverant, courageous, deep-thinking and a plain old wise-ass. You love Adin and consequently understand why Donte does too (unlike so many vampire stories where it’s hard to figure what the hell the vampire ever sees in the human.)
Even in a body of very enjoyable work, Notturno stands out as one of Maxfield’s very best efforts. Give it a try if you haven’t already.

All Right

The Kids Are All Right is a great film that everyone should see. This isn’t a review of the movie. Instead, it’s just a few words to say that the director/writer, Lisa Cholodenko, has brilliantly shown that a family structure that sounds exotic on paper — two lesbian moms with a boy and girl teenager born one each to the moms by the same sperm donor–is, in fact, the exact model of any American family. She shows that marriages and families of every kind experience exactly the same hardships, challenges, love and caring. She shows how completely we’re all alike.

In a week when hate mongers are picketing outside concerts by Adam Lambert and Lady Gaga with signs that say “God Hates Fags” and many other equally ignorant slurs of human depravity, it’s a welcome relief to see a film that shines with truth. Find it, see it. You’ll be glad.

Gaga for — Who else?

I don’t write about girls on this blog much. After all, it’s mostly for girls. But i really want to say a few words about Lady Gaga. (Just for eye candy, i’m also posting a picture of Adam, sometimes called the male Gaga.)

Now, i realize by the time someone my age knows something exists, it’s no longer the latest thing. So apologies to those of you who are really cool. But i saw Gaga on the Today Show last week and was blown away. I know she was seriously toned down from her usual performances (like Adam on Ellen or Oprah), but she still knocked all sox off. It wasn’t the performance (which was great), it was the ENERGY!.
Starting with the old standard “Someone to Watch Over Me”, she put her very pretty voice on big display, but the sentiments were so un-Gaga. “There’s a somebody i’m longing to see. I hope that he turns out to be, someone to watch over me.” Then, seamless segue into “Bad Romance”. “I want your ugly, i want your disease, i want your everything as long as it’s free. I want your love.” What an incredible juxtaposition of old female values with new ones. And i don’t mean that in a derogatory way. Quite the contrary. What is long-term love really about that doesn’t include those moments of ugly and disease and horror and psycho? We’re only looking for someone to watch over us in romance novels.
In the middle of the concert it started to pour, and Gaga just kept singing. Drenched, she lay on the stage thanking New York and “her little monsters” that had been waiting for her in line for two days (she sent them water and pizza.) She thanked the underground clubs and the gay community. She thanked all the people who had “made her dreams come true”. It was a class act.
The world loves people who do things their own way. Gaga is not just outrageous, she’s talented. Her songs are memorable and often have something to say. Her singing is great. A friend who knows her says she’s a nice, appreciative person. She’s definitely come to forge some space in our minds. I love that.

Sookie versus Trueblood

I’ve been a Sookie Stackhouse/Charlaine Harris fan for years so when True Blood came out i was so there, and i’ve watched every episode since then. One of my main reasons for being a fan of the show i will admit is lying in the bath tub to the right. I’m a fan of the Eric character in the books and have been looking forward to Alexander Skarsgard getting more involved in the series as Eric becomes more prominent in the plot. Those who don’t read the books may not realize that Eric actually becomes more important than Bill. The series doesn’t follow the books real slavishly and Stephen Moyer is likely popular (to say nothing of engaged to Anna Paquin) so perhaps they won’t let Eric dominate. Even at his current level of involvement, i keep wondering why they don’t give Skarsgard higher billing, but that’s a different story.

What i want to say is that i like the Sookie Stackhouse books more than i like True Blood. The tone is so very different. While Harris writes a couple of fairly dark series, interestingly the Sookie books are not really among them. Even the titles, Living Dead in Dallas, Dead in the Family, etc, reflect the lightish, tongue-in-cheek nature of the books. A lot of bad stuff happens. People get murdered in gruesome ways. But Harris doesn’t take you deep into the mind of the characters to experience their horror or revulsion. For example in Dead in the Family, Sookie is watching Eric drink a fairy’s blood (yes, fairies come later) and thinks He wasn’t holding back at all, and it was pretty gross. The gulping, the blood running down Colman’s neck, his glazed eyes. See, she’s describing some pretty dark stuff, but we don’t see her emotions. She goes on to say Eric is looking rosier by the minute. There’s always this slightly light quality to the writing, a little comic and satirical. The one exception in my view was the murder of Sookie’s grandmother early in the series that came as a big shock in the context of these books.
Cut to True Blood. What they have to show in the TV series is the action and they revel in it. At first, the very over-the-topness of the gore gave it a satirical quality that was fun. But now i feel it’s just getting dark for its own sake. And the darkness is unrelieved. Interestingly , a man commented on this to me recently saying there wasn’t enough relief from the unrelenting darkness. I agree. I got so tired of the sequences with Maryann at the end of last season I actually found myself fast-forwarding through some of the scenes. And i feel the same way about the scenes with Jessica in the current season. I think the director would do well to go back to the source and give us a bit more satire and a little less horror — but likely some of you won’t agree with me.
That said, my absolutely favorite thing about True Blood is the credits. The song, the production values, the vision of it make these among the finest credits i’ve ever seen. I never fast-forward through those. : )

Vampire Love

I have the edits on my book, Genetic Attraction, in the hands of readers and am waiting for comments back. Now, i could be working on edits of the prequel, but instead i—went to the movies. I love movies. They have always been one of my primary sources of relaxation since i was a kid. If there are films i like in theatres, i can easily see a movie a week and occasionally two. This weekend I saw Eclipse.

Funny that i love writing contemporary, but end up reading and watching so many vampires. I don’t like the really scary ones. (In a couple days i’m going to write some comments on CharlaineHarris’ Sookie Stackhouse books versus the much darker Trueblood .) All of the Twilight Saga falls into the not-very-scary category, but they still manage to be sexy. I wonder if Stephenie Meyer intended them to be quite as sexy as they are? No matter how honorable and upright she makes Edward, the threat of his “losing control” is very sexual. And no matter how adorable and “right for her” Jacob is, he really can’t compete with the danger of the vampire myth.
The movie is pretty darn good. The vampire war gives the plot structure, but the film is really about the significance of Bella’s choice to be a vampire. We finally face, as does she, the weight of such a choice. The wonderful valedictorian speech delivered by the character, Jessica, outlines the idea that young adulthood is for making mistakes and taking chances that you can’t make later in life. Bella has to wonder if she is giving up her choices.
We also spend more time with the very yummy vampire, Jasper, in this movie. Jackson Rathbone is a cutie and watching him come into his own is a treat. Another treat is a wonderful scene between Edward and Jacob in the tent where they compare what they can do for Bella. It’s worth seeing the film just to see this scene (no m/m fans, it’s not THAT kind of scene.)
If you don’t get Twilight or vampires, don’t see Eclipse. But if you do, run don’t walk to see all these pretty bloodsuckers on the big screen.

Get Yourself Some Love

I’ve been a huge fan of J. R. Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood series practically from the beginning. She may have been on book 2 or 3 when i discovered them. And while i think Laurell K. Hamilton’s Jean Claude of the Anita Blake series is the best vampire ever set to paper (i like my vamps pretty and complex), i think the BDB is the best series of vampire stories yet created, probably even including the marvelous Charlaine Harris.

Like many people, i consider the third book in the BDB series, Lover Awakened, to be Ward’s finest effort. The brilliance of the series concept — that each book tells the story of one of the vampires and his search for love– allows Ward to really delve into the character of each of her heros. She isn’t bound by the need for a single, consistent point-of-view like Hamilton’s or Harris’ series are, ie Anita and Sookie. Consequently, the reader really gets involved with these heros and Zsadist, the central figure of Lover Awakened, is complicated, anguished, anti-heroic and still hugely relatable. His story is also compelling and the book stays completely focused on him so the reader is hooked. Butch’s story, Lover Revealed, is also terrific and Lover Unbound, because its about the fascinating brother, Vishous, held together well.
Now, before BDB fans pounce on me, let me quickly say that none of the BDB series are bad. Ward is an excellent writer and the world she has created is always involving. But, book 6, Lover Enshrined, showed the strain of trying to maintain the rich imagination and conflict of the series. The story of Phury spent way too much time in the world of the Scribe Virgin (the deity of the vampires) and much of it was, in my opinion, a metaphysical mess. Lover Avenged, book 7, also fell short of the excellence of some of the previous books, not because the story of Rehvenge wasn’t compelling, but because the book was almost equally divided between the story of Rehvenge finding his love and the backstory on John Matthew and his lover, Xhex. This took a lot of the impact away from the Rehvenge story because from the first time the John Matthew character appeared in an earlier book it was clear that both Ward and her readers loved him. Consequently, the part of Lover Avenged that concerns John Matthew so over-balances the story of Rehvenge it divides the focus and reduces the final impact of the book. The book seems transitional — which, in fact, it is.
Which brings me to the new book, Lover Mine. Yes, this is the story of John Matthew, the mute, orphaned vampire, and his impossible, fascinating, assassin lover, Xhex. This book puts Ward and the series right back on track. She clearly loves writing about this man — almost as much as she adores Zsadist and i like the book very nearly as much as book 3, high praise indeed. Every moment of the book is compelling. You will want to keep reading even as you don’t want it to end. Ward orchestrates this book beautifully, introducing several stories that seem unrelated until she weaves them together at the end. But she never loses focus on John Matthew and Xhex, even while the book introduces, or more accurately expands upon, a secondary plot involving the two friends of John Matthew, Blay and Qhinn. This subplot suggests that sometime soon Ward will be introducing her first m/m story to the BDB series and, of course, i’ll be at the head of the line to buy it.
I can’t explain the book in more detail because too much of the plot is dependent on the books that precede it. Yes, you will have to read all 8, but that is no hardship. The Black Dagger Brotherhood series really does cross genres. It’s paranormal but still very contemporary; it’s romance and action. The heros are brilliant and the villains are the slimiest and most evil. These books have something for everyone. If you haven’t yet indulged, start with Dark Lover today. And if you have, make sure you read Lover Mine very soon.