Gillian Key: The Hateread – Key to Conspiracy, Chapter 5

Whoa, we are already 24% of the way through this book. Or, put another way, only 24%, and the book has already blown its plot wad messily and unsatisfactorily on your face.

You’re welcome.

So Aleksei just hung up the brain phone and Gillian is having a minor crisis about her feelings for him. This chapter begins…completely differently. I have no idea where they are or how they got there, but they’re confronted with the two detectives who swooped in at the last minute in the last book for no other reason than to be an obstruction. Why? Who the fuck knows. But apparently the detectives, McNeill and Jardin (she’s French, this becomes important in a bit)  are going to keep them in London until Gillian answers questions about Tanis’s kidnapping and the dead prostitutes.

Helmut Gerhardt, Gillian’s psychologist/empath mentor, is also apparently in London and wants her on a  “Field Operation” (capitalization hers). Oh hey, did you know that England is also a Country and not a country? The random capitalization of non-proper nouns is driving me crazy.

PS, Jardin is a shifter and McNeill has fey blood. I don’t think I knew either of these things from the last book, but apparently I’m supposed to.

Gillian is now a “small, predatory beast: beautiful and deadlier than the two Scotland Yard pros could imagine.”

the lady doth protest too much

If you have to constantly make your case for why your protagonist is awesome, you’re doing it wrong. I guess it’s not enough that every character in the book gives Gillian a tongue bath, but the author has to do the same at every turn. She’s tiny and blond and awesome, you guys. TINY AND BLOND AND AWESOME.

So Gillian answers questions, but she honestly doesn’t know anything about who abducted Tanis (uh, did the author forget about Jack, or for that matter, Dracula? Okay…). Oh, apparently she does remember them, except she “had no proof that Dracula was directly involved with their abduction other than the word of Jack the Ripper, it wasn’t a credible enough lead to pass along.”

what jennifer lawrence

This is really important information. Regardless of whether Jack is a liar or not, I think it’s a reasonable goddamn assumption that Dracula was in on it somehow, especially given that, as we’ve been told several times, Dracula is starting a vampire turf war. You’d think it would be wise to at least fill them in, given that there is an obvious danger of regular humans getting caught in the crossfire.

She also claims she doesn’t know where Jack et. all took Tanis, except they fucking found him there and rescued him omg. I know she and Kimber were spirited there unconscious, but they managed to leave and get back to London. How can she not at least extrapolate where the place is?

There’s a couple of paragraphs here that indicates that Gillian isn’t being as cooperative as she could because she doesn’t like McNeill.

George Takei: You are a douchebag.

You petty, irresponsible fuckwad. I mean, what does it say about this whole universe when the protagonist is enough of a dickbutt to withhold potentially life-saving information just because…because reasons. This is not the first time she has lied for no goddamn reason.

And I repeat: this is the protagonist.

Gillian has a ladies’ room conversation with Claire Jardin in which it’s revealed that Claire is an inherited shifter, meaning it runs in her family, and her family sees their animal as a family totem. This is actually kind of interesting. Claire is a cheetah shifter, which, she helpfully points out, means that her family comes from Africa. (Not any specific region or country in Africa, mind you, just…Africa.)

So, like…is she black? I went back to check, but the only descriptions I’m finding of her is “a very slender leggy woman with blond-frosted hair” with a “classic profile.”

Forgive me if that screams “white” to me, considering the population of his fucking series is lousy with white people other than the one Latino vampire who’s gone crazy, plus Maeti and Kimber, who are both reassuringly pale.

Oh, what do you know, I’m right. Apparently her family immigrated to Africa (wherever) a while back, then they moved back to France a couple generations back.

Indigenous.

you keep using that word

Indigenous means that something originated in a certain place. Like, they’ve always been there. It doesn’t mean “oh, they’ve been there a while.”

It would be so much more interesting if her family were actually indigenous, but they came from colonized Francophone Africa, hence the name, and emigrated to France later on. I love nuanced family history.

But of course we know “nuanced” is the very very last adjective I’d ascribe to these books.

Also, Gillian informs us that Daedalus is also an inherited shifter whose “Minotaur Line traced back to ancient Crete.” Uh, what? She just found out kind of shifter Daedalus was. Methinks the author confuseth her knowledge with the protagonist’s knowledge.

Gillian apologizes for asking such a personal question (I had no idea it was considered a personal question) but “I like you and wanted to get to know you better.” The tone of that whole statement is kind of flirty, especially when we read that “her pheromones [shift],” but apparently it’s not. Sad, Claire is already nicer than Count Sex Behemoth.

The pheromones thing has something to do with Claire’s realization that, “My God, you really are a natural empath!”

HEY GUYS HEY DID YOU KNOW SHE’S A NATURAL EMPATH DID YOU DID YOU

Claire is astonished at Gillian’s powerful empathy blah blah, and Gillian and Jenna have some awkward “as you know Bob” banter. This seems to have been shoehorned into the narrative regularly to illustrate that Jenna, who we basically know nothing about, is Gillian’s BFF. Claire is pleased by their “obvious friendship and camaraderie.”

Did I mention that up until this bathroom talk, Gillian has shown zero interest in Claire whatsoever as a person?

Anyway, they go back out to McNeill, and it’s mentioned, for the second time, that he’s blond. What is with Gryphon and blonds? Gillian, Pavel, McNeill, Kimber, and at least half of the tertiary characters we’ve met have been blond. Blond hair is a recessive trait, yo.

(As you’ve probably gathered by now, I can get a little pedantic about science, but seriously, these are the things an author and editor really need to think about.)

They get in the car, and McNeill is just rigid with disapproval and discomfort of everyone and everything. He’s forced to sit next to Pavel, but he’s also right next to the door, which is apparently a bad thing? If I didn’t like werewolves, I’d be grateful to be right next to the door.

Anyway, to annoy him, Gillian takes out a cigarette and starts to smoke. Did you remember that she was a smoker? I barely did, if only because in the first few chapters of Conflict, she manages to annoy me and Tanis both with her smoking. Man, if I started keeping track of all of the inconsistencies in this series, it would be a full-time job.

whatever

So McNeill and Claire take Gillian, Jenna, and the still-silent Pavel to Picadilly Square, where Gillian’s mentor, Helmut Gerhardt, is waiting for her. Apparently they’re heading to most haunted house in London, which Gillian is upset about because she’s a NATURAL EMPATH GUYS and haunted places are bad for empaths. Gillian bitches McNeill out for not warning her beforehand, and he acts like he has no clue why that’s important. He’s apparently read her file, which details her magical ability, but “I simply did not focus on that particular detail.”

trolling or stupid

Wouldn’t you suppose someone’s magical ability is more than just a minor detail to be glanced over? If he were being a dick to her because she was resistant to answering questions, that would make sense from a story perspective, but he’s supposed to be genuinely contrite when she expresses her upset, which I guess just means he’s a fucking idiot.

They get out and Helmut is there. Helmut, by the way, is another beautiful Aryan man. His “blue eyes [crinkle]” when she approaches, which gives me an unfortunate mental image:

california raisins

Hemlut calls her “schatzi,” which Professor Google tells me means “sweetie.” Only mildly creepy, considering he was Gillian’s teacher and is still her mentor and her boss, but I suppose I should really have learned not to expect professional propriety from these books, considering the way they started.

Gillian is Gillian and calls him a shithead, also in German. He is apparently the world’s worst prophet, because he says,

“One day, someone will not be flummoxed by your charms, my dear, and you will find yourself on the receiving end of a long overdue reprimand.”

I say the world’s worst because he’s predicting basically three quarters of the first book.

We’re informed that Helmut has “no trace of sexual interest” in Gillian, which I guess warrants a mention because every other male-identified creature in this universe has it bad for her tiny diminutive delicate petite blondness.

Helmut has a gaggle of “Spiritualist practitioners” who sound like fluffbunny Wiccans, and a group of nondescript grad students. What the grad students are studying or what they’re even doing there is beyond me. He tells them she’s there because her empathetic abilities aren’t limited to humans and that she can use them on supernatural people, ghosts included. We’re not told why this matters or why the fuck they’re here except to say, “I know most of you think you know why you’re here.”

why am I here?

WOULD YOU KINDLY FILL THE READER IN?

No?

Okay then.

Instead of telling us the fucking purpose behind this fucking scene, we’re given another patented self indulgent Gryphon history lecture, this time about the Black Plague. Apparently lots of people were buried around this house, blah blah, and then there’s this:

Ghosts are the product of the deepest, most primitive emotional responses in a Human being at the moment of death.

mildly interesting

I kinda like that idea even if it’s a bit cliche; at least it’s a half-hearted stab at world building. Don’t worry, that’s about as interesting as this gets.

There’s lost of ghost in this house for various reasons blah blah, Gillian is claustrophobic WHO CARES. Helmut says, “Now you all understand why we asked the esteemed Dr. Key to join us.”

um...i has question

Oh, wait, now we’re told, after two rounds of “So you guys know this already”: the owners of the building want it cleansed, and the Spiritualist-Wiccans are supposedly there to help the spirits move on. Apparently Gillian can let them know if anything really bad is coming.

So Gillian agrees and immediately removes her weapons.

what3

Why…is this necessary? We aren’t told. McNeill and Claire take Gillian’s weapons and are surprised to see them; apparently they are utterly incompetent and didn’t know she was still packing a gun, knife, and garrote. Pavel could smell them, but Claire, who is also a shifter, didn’t. Keystone Kops.

Gillian addresses the Spiritualist-Wiccans and the grad students, telling them she and her “staff,” meaning Pavel and Jenna, will go first. Nice, Gillian, nice. She opts out of calling them “friends” because…reasons.

And so now that she’s needlessly harangued these poor people, she’s ready to go inside. For reasons.

because of reasons

End of chapter.

30%. Almost one third of the way through the book.

What the fuck.

The complete lack of consistency and verisimilitude in these books is shameful. The prose is graceless and so are the characters, but this is basic shit, yo.

Tangentially related: I’ve read The Mists of Avalon several times. I loved it when I first read it in high school and occasionally went back to look it over again. The more I read it, the more wild inconsistencies and repetitiveness I noticed. For example, in one of the earlier chapters, the Merlin’s voice is compared to the tolling of a bell at least three times within as many pages, and IIRC, the same comparison is made of Viviane. Igraine’s alignment/relationship with spirituality also vacillates wildly, from “maybe I should try to be Christian” to “I’ll never ever be Christian” to “I’m super Christian” to “whatever, I was never Christian, I just pretended” throughout the book. There’s lots of stuff like that, and I always wondered how that made it past an editor. I mean, I guess if you’re a powerhouse like MZB, you can get away with “don’t touch my shit” clauses (I’m looking at you, LKH). The lack of editing in these books is really the fault of the publisher in any case, but especially in the case of a nobody like Gryphon, who obviously does not have her own editor.

big pile of shit

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Gillian Key: The Hateread – Key to Conspiracy, Chapter 4

Remember how everybody was like, “Everything’s cool, kids will be fine, we’re happy even though one of our teammates is fucked up in the head” at the end of last chapter? Well, now Gillian’s upset and concerned about shit. She calls Aleksei on the real phone this time and asks him to contact Dionysus for help with Luis, because apparently Luis is his of Dionysus’s line. Who knows why she can’t just call Dionysus herself. Aleksei wants her to ship Luis to Greece “as cargo, just as a precaution.” I’m not sure how having a potentially crazy vampire in the cargo hold where unsuspecting cargo handlers will stumble upon him is any better, but, you know.

There are also 30 missing kids unaccounted for, so some of the team can stay behind and search. There’s some rumors about corrupt cops being in on it. The author voice intrudes to tell us that while most cops are the good guys, some are bad guys and “If there were no crooked cops, there would be no need for Internal Affairs divisions in police departments.

thank you captain obvious! Here, take this kitty

Why, why, I ask you, aren’t we hearing more than a bare mention or two of these corrupt cops? This is ostensibly a mystery-based book, right? How about some actual mystery? But no, the interesting plot is sloughed over some more, and the remainder is summarized. More bad guys are caught and tried by a tribunal.

Oh, yeah, did you guys remember they still had the documentary crew with them? Because I didn’t either. Have they been around this whole time?

Gillian wants to execute the people who were involved in the trafficking, and she says so in the tribunal. (PS, still summarizing; none of this is an actual scene.) Daedalus tries to be diplomatic about the sentence for the perpetrators, but having heard Gillian’s suggestion, the townspeople gathered outside are all riled up to kill the perpetrators.

nice going asshole

This is exactly why Gillian sucks as an investigator, a special forces operative, and a person. She displays absolutely, positively zero forethought for the consequences of her reactionary behavior or her stupid comments, and then she merrily skips away like “lol that was fun.” Trocar assures her that he’ll take care of the perpetrators for her, and she’s happy about it. I’m sure this is exactly what will happen, because heaven forbid we have any conflict or nuance about how perpetrators are sentenced.

There’s some really squicky shit about how pedophiles are the “world’s lowest life-form as far as she was concerned” and “the kids were safe but people were going to pay.” So, basically, people who were involved in human trafficking, whatever their roles or interests in the deal, are pedophiles, and pedophiles 100% deserve death even if they have never touched a child.

unpopular opinion puffin

Unpopular opinion time. A pedophile, by definition, is someone who is sexually attracted to children. Pedophilia does not in any way assume or suggest that someone has acted on those attractions. Someone who sexually abuses a child (by whatever definition) is a child molester. NOT THE SAME THING. Saying someone who is sexually attracted to children (not something they can help) deserves to die is exactly the kind of harmful stigma that keeps those people from seeking any kind of mental health support. I think most of us cringe at the idea of someone enjoying the thought of sex with a young child, but should we advocate policing or execution just for thoughts or fantasies?

I think we can all agree that the answer is no.

And I also hope we can agree that there are worse people in the world than people who fantasize about sex with children. Like, I don’t know, people who actually molest children. Or people who do actual physical or mental harm to others.

But summary execution in spite of actual lawful sentencing is apparently what the good guys are supposed to do in this world, so it’s all good.

Anyway, Kimber and Daedalus are going to stay behind and do…whatever. It’s also revealed that some of the kids are paranormal. That’s an interesting tidbit, though I don’t know why we’re just now hearing this, and I definitely don’t know why it matters.

bored man looking up away from the camera

There’s more shit about the media. This could be so interesting! But that would require a different book with a different author. Instead what we get is a summary of what the media reported, including the names of everyone involved, as if we don’t fucking know that already.

Daedalus and Gillian have a really awkward conversation when they’re alone where Daedalus admits they’re not really friends but hugs her and is clearly into her anyway. He starts grabby-handing her

FUCK NOT THIS AGAIN

She tries to “make it easy on both of them,” but he gets butthurt because he thinks she doesn’t want to fuck him because he’s a minotaur. She says that’s not true. She “[doesn’t] want any part of a romance with him, but she [doesn’t] want to hurt him either

rage-rage-l

And she goes on to say he’s a really good guy and everything, but they’re just not a good fit blah blah. Just once, just fucking once, I want to see a female character not try to be nice when turning down a guy who’s not only being fucking creepy but breaking every code of conduct regarding fraternization and relationships between commanding officers and their subordinates. Just tell him NO, for fuck’s sake, without stroking his ego dick and feeling the need to validate and reassure him.

Thank god the conversation turns to something else, which is equally fucked up but in a slightly different way. Daedalus says “you get to go back to Romania if that’s what you want, as a civilian,” or “you could agree to be on call for me during this Turf War until we get things straightened out a bit more.”

At first I thought this was a stupidly obvious choice when you put it that way, but Daedalus points out that she would have the resources of the Marines and the paranormal psychologists and whatnot. It’s a shitty dangling carrot, which makes me hate Daedalus a little, but since he’s already established as a shithead, at least it’s consistent.

And, wonder of wonders, Gillian agrees without pitching a hissy.

PS, Daedalus calls her “pumpkin.” If they had a relationship that didn’t revolve around him being a manipulative asshole and a creep, I would find this endearing.

Trocar has Elfy Shit to Do, so he bails on Gillian too, leaving Pavel and Jenna, who I think has had exactly five lines between the two books, to accompany Gillian back to Romania.

You know, I had a character like Jenna in my first book. He followed one of the major characters around and occasionally said shit, but he actually had zero relevance to the plot.

And I took him out. Because that’s what you’re supposed to do.

Whatever.

And apparently Luis is just being flown back by his lonesome to Dionysus and we’ll probably never hear from him again, because Gryphon is the master of plot cockblocking.

one person talking and another looking bored

Guess which one I am.

Gillian ruminates over Aleksei on the way back. She wants to fuck him but she’s being commitment-phobic. Though I really can’t blame her, considering Aleksei has been a consummate dickbag to her from day one.

get out while you can

The pilot of the helicopter that’s taking Gillian, Pavel, and Jenna back to Romania tells her they’re being diverted to Moscow, she wants to land in Iceland, he says it’s too far, and we’re treated to a description of this particular helicopter and the fact that she knows they can make it to Reykjavik after all.

All of that apparently means nothing because he’s flying her to Moscow anyway. She’s pissed and Jenna assures her Aleksei will be fine. She gets shirty with Jenna because “Who said anything about Aleksei?”

There’s a patented Gryphon Head Hop here, which makes the following conversation really confusing because of the lack of speech attributions. Gillian tells Jenna not to start anything, Jenna says she’s not starting anything and makes a stupid “changing the subject” comment, then the next piece of dialogue is, “And how are you going to start things up with Tanis when we get back? Straight to the slab for some bite and tickle?” The small blonde’s dander was up.

That was written exactly as it appears in the book. The dialogue starts on a new line, separate from Jenna’s comment, and given that we know “the small blonde” is code for Gillian, it sure seems like Gillian is making this comment about Tanis. Like, what? Jenna and Tanis know each other? But then the next comment makes it seem like Jenna said that.

halp my brain splode

Gillian is understandably upset by Jenna’s teasing, and Jenna does that “I’m just teasing” thing that means “please let me off for being an asshole.” Why would you set up your protagonists’ friends to be assholes? I do not trust Gryphon any longer (not that I ever did) to do this shit on purpose, so I can only assume Jenna is supposed to be a good friend.

Oh wait. Jenna comes around for another pass to reveal why Gillian is such a commitment-phobe: “You know, not everyone betrays feelings and confidences like your parents have, or makes you work for every scrap of acceptance.”

There are a thousand more graceful ways to incorporate this information. Two thousand. At least I can give her props for trying, but

yesterday

You would think it would have been a better idea to at least hint at this parental conflict in the first book, so I didn’t spend the whole damn time rolling my eyes and wondering what the fuck reason Gillian would have to be the way she is about relationships. I’m still rolling my eyes, but at least I can understand a little better.

Gillian and Jenna have some conversation about relationships that’s about as deep as the pond that’s forming in my parking lot because some idiot paved over the storm drain last week. (True story.) They do their pit-stop in Moscow, which has no plot significance other than to irritate Gillian at the delay at getting back to Aleksei, which she then has to winge over because that means they’re a couple and blah blah blah etc. etc.

The pilot comes over to ask Gillian to hang out in London to help with an investigation because “they need an empath of [her] caliber.” She’s a NATURAL empath, y’all. NATURAL.

all natural

You know how an “all natural” label on food means absolutely fuck all? That’s pretty much the case for Gillian. But apparently she’s managed to fool everyone. She calls Aleksei on the brain phone and there’s an eye-rolling moment where she acts like a stereotypical high school girl, overanalyzing his tone, his behavior, and the fact that he hung up the brain phone first.

Gross.

End of chapter.

I’ll make you another million bajillion dollar bet about who’s going to show up next.

jack-nightmare-before-christmas-29453651-960-639 jack sparrow jack card "Autism Is Awesomism" Benefit Concert With Jack Black and Stepha jack in the box 600_shining

Top surgery – one (calendar) month after

This last week (or so) has been a significant improvement over the last few. Despite having a busy week with faculty development ahead of school starting on Monday, I got through only a little more exhausted than I normally would be. The scabs are almost all gone, but a lot of the sensitivity and skin tightness remains. My range of motion is also sub-optimal. My GP agreed that physical therapy would help, so I’ll be starting that relatively soon. I know it will go away with time, but I’m impatient and I would like to be able to reach things on the top shelf without doing an awkward hop. I’m not short, but I feel like I have T-rex arms.

The spikes of nerve pain are less frequent, but the random itching is still there and is even more distracting than the pain. At the end of the day, I still have some swelling, especially under my arms, and some discomfort around the scars. When looking at my chest the other day, I was dismayed to find that although previously my left breast was noticeably larger, the right side of my chest was now larger.

…and then I realized I’m right-handed. The chest incisions followed my pec muscles exactly, so OF COURSE my right side looks bigger. Derp. I guess I’ll need to work my left side a little more as I get back into weight bearing exercise.

breathren, dost thou even hoist?

Anyway, so here’s an update picture.

photo (4)

See? Scabs are almost gone, except a little on the nipple grafts, which I’m trying not to mess with too much. That dark spot on my right arm is what remains of an epic bruise from surgery. There’s a little more redness around my ribs on the same side from the liposuction that’s almost gone, too.

Today I bought a bunch of new clothes. It was a huge surprise to be buying smalls (in men’s) as opposed to a large or extra large in women’s to accommodate tits. I spent an obscene amount of money on clothes, but it was something I’ve been needing to do for a long time, and I’m actually happy to put clothes on my body now, which is an entirely new experience.

That’s it for now. I have some thoughts percolating about other issues, but that will have to wait until my head isn’t crammed full of “holy fuck school starts on Monday and my shit isn’t ready” thoughts.

Gillian Key: The Hateread – Key to Conspiracy, Chapter 3

I will bet you a million bajillion dollars that the brownies save the team from this situation and Gillian will do absolutely fuck all. A million bajillion.

The chapter itself has a better opening line than I could have hoped for:

Pavel snarled, “Kill themowwwooooo!”

Because why not open with some lolz?

I hate onomatopoeia in written speech. Hate it. Just say someone screamed, don’t say “AAHHHHHH!” Especially since the next sentence begins with “His voice changed to a howl.” But I have to give it to Gryphon, she displays a singular talent for placing stupid lines at the exact point that makes them most ridiculous.

So Pavel pounces at the redheaded stranger, somebody shoots a gun but apparently doesn’t hit anybody, and everyone on Gillian’s team runs for cover, “Except Luis, who stood trembling in the open.” We’ve gotten little hints that something is wrong with him, but apparently he’s become that child in the disaster scene who’s standing there crying but nobody is paying attention.

Speaking of children, given that the team is there to, you know, rescue them, one wonders why they’re just leaving the poor little bastards to fend for themselves while the team dives for cover.

lower your expectations

The others grab Luis and Gillian is like wtf dude. He has some kind of fit, so,

Frantic with worry, not knowing what else to do to stop his apparent torment, Gillian punched him in the jaw with the side of her gun

a hammer and a screw

That is the perfect Gillian response. Friend in agony? PUNCH HIM!

And here come the brownies. They have the sense to try to get the kids to safety, because Team Shit-for-Brains didn’t think that was terribly important with guns being fired everywhere.

PS, where’s Daedalus? Who knows.

We’re informed that there are several different shifter types: “Wereleopards and Werelynxes and Werewolves, oh my!” according to Jenna. Gillian is “compartmentalizing her thoughts:

Shit! Guns! Kids! Post-traumatic stress disorder! Sexual abuse! Lycanthrope trauma! Guns! Brownies! Bullets! Shit!

I think Gryphon accidentally included a page of her story notes and the editor forgot to take it out.

keystone kops

Gillian and the team gather for a formal portrait.

Now, I’m no expert at writing action scenes, god knows, but this is some Keystone Kops shit. There’s nothing more pitifully hilarious than an action hero type protagonist who acts like the scene is a game of Whack-a-Mole while everyone else either stands around off-camera or is killing someone, also off-camera. She decides to draw a gun, in a chaotic situation where it’s entirely possible she’ll hit a kid or one of her team members, and starts trying to shoot the bad guys, relying on dumb luck and the Plot Armor the good guys seem to be blessed with.

Trocar casts some spell to make the kids invisible, because apparently he has the fine control to cast a spell on 40 panicked kids while avoiding the bad guys but not enough smarts to know that making innocents invisible in a gun fight is not actually a good idea. A werebear attacks Gillian and there’s some awkward simultaneous actions that result in Jenna dragging Luis off and Gillian doing a get-away tango with the bear.

Then something roars and everybody freezes. Their enemies seem to be scared of whatever it is. The freezing only lasts for a second, and the bear, who is apparently Boris, keeps coming after Gillian. She thinks it’s a good idea to “fight him in the open with her silver blade, even though “her gun wasn’t having much effect against his sheer bulk.”

a poster of a man holding a hammer and saying, perhaps I'm the wrong tool for this job

I could break out some science, but I think it’s pretty clear why tiny woman with a gun is at least marginally better than tiny woman with a knife in the open. Oh, Gillian, you are so very special. She eventually decides to point both at Boris. At least she has her bases covered.

Then the roaring creature shows up. It’s apparently a minotaur, because why not cram some more pop culture mythological figures in there? This is starting to read like a Dresden Files style menagerie. Only less clever.

Dungeons and Dragons Monster Manual

Dead Beat, by Jim Butcher.

Oh. It’s Daedelus.

diagram of an ancient Greek deus ex machina machine

Apparently Daedalus has been sitting there with his thumb up his mythological Greek asshole, just chilling, while guns are fired and teammates and kids are in danger. So that’s were Gillian got it from.

Gillian finally decides to help with the kids and turns tail to run, but she spots Bullwinkle the moose and goes to help him. Aleksei calls her on the brain phone, because apparently he’s creeping on her all the time, and tells her, “Look directly at it, and let me try to help you.” HEAVEN FORBID Gillian can actually do something her own goddamn self.

Aleksei really doesn’t help at all, though, other than to tell her to be nice to it and lead it away from the fire. Don’t worry, though, because Pavel shows up next to help out. He snaps the chain and wanders off.

Team Shit-for-Brains has managed to bumble their way to success. Most of the bad guys are captured, and the kids are “Fine, I think.” Because the people they came to rescue are pretty much an afterthought.

Somebody asks about Luis, who says someone is controlling him and he wants them to kill him. He says, “I am a ‘plant.’

potted houseplant

DICTION IS IMPORTANT. I had to read the sentence twice to figure out that “plant” meant he’d been planted on the team by a bad guy. Why wouldn’t you say that instead?

Luis says, “Do not force me to kill my friends.” Wait, where did this revelation come from? Gillian is also completely panicked and saying she doesn’t know how to fight “this.” What is this, exactly, and why is she like this?

Beaker from the Muppets panicking

Trocar tries to knock him out or something, but he slashes his own throat with his nails. You know, having once had semi-long nails that would occasionally cut open my other fingers if I wasn’t careful, I can almost believe this, but that is a hilariously goth thing to do. Gillian is screaming, “No! No, he is not going to have you.”

WHO THE FUCK ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT??

I’m guessing at this point “he” is Dracula, but I’m not supposed to have to guess. The entire book thus far (16% now, btw) has been definitively not about Dracula, but now we’re supposed to make the mental connection straight back to the faceless villain we’ve never actually met?

So they’re all trying to save him, and Gillian says they should take him to Dionysus. I assume this is an excuse for her to run back to the vampires so they (and everyone else) can keep doing shit for her.

Gillian tells the brownies to take care of the kids and the prisoners, and the team gets ready to abandon the plot thread that seems like it was supposed to carry the book.

abandon thread

The narrative assures us that they’ve shut down the “ped ring,” however, so it’s fine that this particular plot is a limp dick.

The team wanders back to the village they were staying in, “exhausted but happy” despite their critically wounded teammate being carried like a sack of undead potatoes by Daedalus the minotaur. Bullwinkle is along for the ride, I guess.

End of chapter.

Now I’m wondering how the townspeople are going to react to seeing said giant Greek beast carrying said undead sack of potatoes when it’s shifters who were kidnapping their children. But I’m not going to hold my breath in hopes of any species tension or nuance.

We’re at 17% now, so I can assume this is a really short book. I’m pretty sure we ran out of plot after like Chapter 5 of the first book, anyway.

Personal story: when I was ten or so, I was trying to write a book that was basically a ripoff of the Redwall series. My 5th grade classroom had this set of postcards that had bits of information on all sorts of animal species. I used to go through them looking for cool animals to add to my story. When I got my hands on a friend’s D&D Monster Manual when I was about 13, I did the same thing for the melodramatic fantasy story I was writing then. I think every writer has the “sounds cool, I’ll do it!” impulse, and we all have piles of cool shit we want to include, especially those of us who write speculative fiction. That was just the early version of mine. But eventually, we have to mature and realize it’s not enough to cram more candy bar scenes or “witty” pop culture references or a menagerie of creatures into a story. There has to be some substance.

This shit is like the terrible kitchen sink brownie fudge caramel chocolate chip three kinds of ice cream whipped cream peanuts and sprinkles and a goddamn maraschino cherry sundae you’d get at a “family restaurant” in the Midwest. It sounds so amazingly terrible you have to order it, and then you can only swallow two bites, but then you have to slog your way through the other two pounds of pure refined sugar and preservative chemicals because your parents paid six bucks for it and goddamn it you will eat it without throwing up.

PS, I had organic honey lavender ice cream with a waffle cone this evening, and it was delicious. And reasonably sized, thank you.

PPS, you owe me a million dollars. Maybe not a million bajillion, because the brownies were only half the deus ex machina.

Gillian Key: The Hateread – Key to Conspiracy, Chapter 2

So far we’ve had fucky pacing, inept worldbuilding, and lack of research. So, you know, Gillian Key standard. But so far, Gillian hasn’t made me want to kill her yet, which I consider an accomplishment on the author’s part.

I already forgot what they were supposed to be doing, which isn’t surprising either.

Oh, yeah, they were following the brownies to somewhere for reasons. Or something?

Here’s a nice sentence:

Thinking about the fact that the pedophiles they were searching for might be, or might have ties to, Lycanthropes of some kind, Gillian reached back and removed the twelve-inch knife from its spine sheath.

Strangely, though there are a lot of commas in that sentence, they’re all acceptable stylistically if not 100% correct grammatically. That aside, it’s constructed a little like the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. It’s supposed to do a fine job connecting two ideas, but it wiggles way too much.

Now, this unnecessary knife pulling might remind you of the last time she brandished it. I’m pretty sure it was a couple inches shorter at that point too, though still completely implausible. Out of curiosity, I hunted down a ruler. It reaches from the small of my back almost to the top of my shoulder blades. I’m 5’10”, and as we know, Gillian is tiny/diminutive/petite/pocket-sized. Assuming twelve inches means hilt to tip and not the length of the blade, the thing has got to be stabbing her in the back of the head. How the fuck does she even move around with it strapped to her back? Not to mention it would be a really awkward draw.

huge knife

“I keep it in my bra.”

The first smart part of the world building in this series, maybe ever, is the fact that “Most Lycanthropes outside of large metropolitan areas tended to settle in geographically compatible locations specific to their type–that way the Shift didn’t stand out as much.” I can’t help but wonder if this is a dig at LKH’s ridiculous piles of wolves-tigers-leopards-lions-swans-snakes-chinchillas.

Something roars, and despite the narrative basically telling us it’s a shifter, Pavel shows up to say exactly the same thing. Gillian tells him not to stand in front of them because “he was just as squishy as they were.” That’s…new and unexpected. I kinda like it because usually shifters are nigh indestructible in UF.

There’s apparently more than one shifter, and they’re having a conversation. Presumably these are the “pedophiles.” And somehow, despite being shifters, they neither hear nor smell the big group of supernaturals and the countless brownies hanging out nearby. Gillian can somehow see him quite clearly, too, but he somehow can’t see her.

holding coffee with toe

The ringleader has a moose shifter on a chain. I can kind of appreciate that there are shifters other than apex predators in this book, especially since moose are badasses when they want to be.

Oh wait, what? So the new shifters do see them, and they think Gillian’s team is helping them. Christ, these guys are idiots. A group of strange supernaturals, plus three humans, rolls up pointing weapons, and they think said group is there to help them?

special kind of idiot

Gillian’s team is all of a sudden afraid Gillian will lose her temper. Their fear is warranted, since she displays no anger management skills or impulse control whatsoever. You know, that’s some abusive relationship shit there. If your entire team, most of whom are objectively more badass than you are, live in fear of your temper, that is fucked up.

So the two shifters holding the moose captive are named

wat

WAT

Boris…

…and Natasha.

boris_and_natasha_by_albeesure-d501jt8

Holding a moose captive.

bullwinkle

what in the actual fuck

I…don’t know how to feel about this. I’m sure Gryphon thinks she’s being terribly clever here. Am I supposed to giggle? Appreciate her wit? Because I’m doing neither. It’s one thing to use Jack the Ripper and Oscar Wilde as celebrity supernaturals (which I hated anyway), but to use fucking cartoon characters? In a book that, ostensibly, we’re supposed to take seriously?

SERIOUSLY?

Well, book, you had potential for improvement over the first one, and you’ve squandered it 10% in. I hope you’re happy.

Gillian is pissed and wants to hurt them. She admonishes herself for thinking that way since she’s a psychologist, because apparently a psychologist should be completely zen all the time. “Still, she was a soldier right now, and a Special Ops Expert. Assassin. Executioner.

EXECUTIONER GET IT HAW HAW HAW

Dear Talia Gryphon, please extract your tongue from between LKH’s asscheeks. Thanks.

Boy, it’s early in the book for me to have rolled my eyes this much.

Boris and Natasha lead the team plus Bullwinkle toward the child trafficker camp, which is a compound that reminds Gillian of “a concentration camp.” Oh, don’t even fucking go there. You have to sell me real hard on your comparison to a fucking concentration camp, and two pages after introducing goddamn cartoon characters as bad guys is not the time. You cannot just throw shit out there for shock value. It’s like saying Jack the Ripper’s pile of bodies is comparable to the Rwandan genocide. Both are terrible, but you cannot compare one terrible thing to an objectively exponentially larger terrible thing just to tell me how bad it is.

fuck this fucking shit

f-minus

So the leader guy, who’s only identified by red hair, is also not the least bit suspicious, even though Gillian’s team is supposed to be escorting the kids…wherever…but don’t have a vehicle with them. He brings the kids out.

Gillian notices there are fewer kids here than were kidnapped, so she asks where they are. This turns out to be a fuck-up, because the order (from whoever the idiots think the team is working for) was only for this group of kids. The leader guy says he’ll “show you everything we have.”

Which means all their guns, which are now pointed at the team.

YES THANK YOU SOMEONE IS NOT AN IDIOT

End chapter.

Just when I thought this book was an improvement over the last one.

Gillian Key, the Hateread: Key to Conspiracy, Chapter 1

Well, here we are again. Before we even get started, I just want to point out the lolz on the cover:

key to conflict cover

You know when someone is yammering at you, but you really have to poop and you just sighted the bathroom, and you’re about to make a break for it? She looks like she’s about to shoot a motherfucker who’s between her and the toilet. And despite the intent expression, the eyes are completely dead and empty. I’d fault the artist here, but it’s so fitting for Gillian that I want to stand up and clap. Let’s not forget about the conspicuous quote from Talia Gryphon’s benefactor, too. Looks familiar, doesn’t it?

Key to Conflict cover quote

Even LKH is like,

Having ragged on the cover, though, I have to say that the first sentence is a substantial improvement over the last one:

The first sign of trouble came on the huge C-130 cargo transport plane.

It’s not stellar, but it establishes setting and tone, and the fact that there’s something militaryish going on. And it doesn’t say anything eye-rolling about G–

Oh wait. Next sentence.

It had been commissioned to carry Gillian Key, newly recalled United States Marine Corps Captain, Special Forces field operative, and clinical Paramortal psychologist, and her handpicked Re-Con Team from London to Northern Russia on a historic mission.

you're not that cute

Nice…plot info-dump? Having just written the second book in my series, I can vouch for the difficulty of trying to (re-)establish plot and character at the beginning of the second book, but you don’t toss it out like a big floppy fish in Pike Place Market. This one sentence just encapsulates the absolutely graceless way these books are written.

grammar time

What the fuck is with the capitalization in these books? “Paramortal” and “Re-Con Team” are not, as far as I can tell, proper nouns, meaning they aren’t the name of a specific thing. She also capitalizes species (Human, Vampire, Ghost) for no sensible reason. And let’s talk about the weird hyphen in the middle of “Re-Con.” “Recon” is short for “reconnaissance.” Unless you’re trying to con someone again (like, I don’t know, conning them into buying the second book), “re-con” makes absolutely no fucking sense.

So we’re at the third sentence now, which explains why this mission is “historic”: “because it was a very public but very necessary operation intended to bring positive public opinion to the Paramortal community at large.”

wait what

Now, I’m pretty sure Special Forces operations are not meant to be public, for one. Two, how the fuck is this supposed to bring positive public opinion to paramortal people (I cannot in good conscience capitalize that shit)? Why is that even needed? ALREADY I DO NOT UNDERSTAND

But I think I can be forgiven for not understanding, given that this book actually started in the last 2% of the last book.

Their actual assignment consisted of rescuing indigent, orphaned children from child traffickers after a major Russian earthquake.

I actually don’t hate this idea. A natural disaster can completely collapse every sociopolitical structure in the affected area, and opportunistic bad guys could roll in and snatch these kids. It seems like a decent idea for a stand-alone novel, or one that isn’t so intimately connected with the “plot” of the last one. But WHAT THE FUCK DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH DRACULA?! In the book, right up to the end, Dracula was lurking around, and in the last three chapters, Jack the Ripper popped up to do nothing in particular but kill some “tranny hookers.” (PS, I feel it necessary to point out that those were not my words.) So presumably, Big Bads are still out there, and they’re going to do something that is, on its face, completely unrelated.

What the fuck ever.

So there’s a journalist/documentary crew along for the ride. Two things immediately jump to mind:

what3

Again, this is a Special Forces operation. Even if we ignore the fact that Gillian’s cover has been blown like Ron Jeremy, Why the fuck would they agree to send in a documentary crew to something sensitive enough to warrant special forces?

Second, a Mass Effect reference:

Gillian is furious about this. Wow, am I actually starting the book agreeing with her? The book is sure to remind us that she is “diminutive,” “curvy,” “blonde,” and a “little fireball” as she tells her commanding officer, Daedelus Aristophenes (who the narrative calls “Daed”) she’s not having any of it. He is an absolute patronizing fuckwad and I hate him instantly, which gives me a strong suspicion that Gillian is going to end up fucking him. She actually has a good line here:

“I am about to be very insubordinate and on camera, sir.”

She then turns to tongue-lash the documentary crew, and they are very intimidated indeed, as there are “gasps, gulps, and [pale] faces” as she speaks. She basically threatens to kill any of them for taking pictures of the team or the rescued kids. “I will consider it a hostile action with an intent to thwart these special ops soldiers in the performance of their duties.” That…doesn’t actually sound so unreasonable? I could hope for some conflict between the necessity of keeping sensitive military information safe and the necessity of accountability to the Fourth/Fifth Estate, but I’m not going to hold my breath.

So we’re re-introduced to more characters and more plot, including “Jenna Blaisedemolition guru,” who we met in either the last chapter or the second-to-last in Key to Conflict, because why not add team members at the very end of a book?

why the fuck not

So they’re off to Russia. We’re assured again that Gillian has “natural empathy, [which] would be a help in the process of liberating any children they found.” Ew. The verb liberating gives me creepy imperialistic vibes. We’re also given a helpful definition of Stockholm syndrome that sounds like it was ripped directly from a Psychology 101 textbook. We’re informed that apparently Gillian can spot a lie, which is news to me after an entire book of occasionally hearing about her empathy.

Aleksei calls her up on the brain phone with his amazeballs telepathy, despite the fact that, again, he’s never demonstrated an ability to communicate with her that way before. Oh, apparently it’s “a side effect of him receiving her blood through the fang nick during the last kiss they shared.” This is a perfect example of the grab-ass world building in this series. Why does she just assume that’s the cause? Why isn’t she surprised? There are so many ways this could have been explained more effectively.

Anyway, Aleksei gives her a brain-hug, and she falls asleep.

Gillian, the “little blond powerhouse,” has the bright idea to pose as one of the documentary crew, which I have to give her credit for, though I wonder why nobody (like, I dunno, Daedelus) thought of this idea in the first place.

There’s some half-decent description of the earthquake aftermath, though it’s a little melodramatic. The earthquake is supposed to have knocked over trees and left “gashes in the countryside…like open wounds.”

Okay, so I’ve done some research about earthquakes for a book, so bear with me here. I feel like it’s reasonable to point out that the damage from earthquakes doesn’t actually come from the shaking itself. The ground doesn’t split open to the extent I think she means here; ground fissures can happen, but normally as a result of landslides and not the earthquake itself. Landslides, tsunamis, and building collapses kill. Earthquakes don’t. I mean, I hate to burst her description bubble, but there are many other ways to create drama in the description of a natural disaster than to use Hollywood as a source. It annoys the fuck out of me when authors can’t be bothered to do some basic research. Finding that one article took me approximately thirty seconds.

The narrative does a decent job explaining the effects of the situation on the crew…for about half a second. Then it switches back to insisting that Gillian is Strong and Capable and She Can Handle This and She’s the Greatest Leader and Therapist Ever.

show don't tell

She actually has a moment of self-reflection in which she realizes she’s been struggling out of her element for a while and she’s glad to be back in it. “The person inside her who she’d been trying to come to terms with embraced it and reminded her that she was still herself despite everything.”

what1

No, I have no idea what “it” is, either. Every time I feel like there’s something decent going on in these books, Gryphon cockblocks me with something poorly and awkwardly written.

We stop to describe the wardrobe of every single member of the team, and then Daedelus briefs them on the “pedophile ring.” Wait. A pedophile is someone who desires sex with children. That is not the same thing as human trafficking. The kids might be going into the sex trade, yes, but they could also be used as slave labor or whatever.

I know, I know.

keep calm and don't expect too much

So the team intelligently spreads out to do “re-con” by networking with the magistrate and the townspeople and paranormal folks etc. etc. We don’t actually get to see any of that because it would be interesting, so we’re just told what they found: that “children were being intentionally stolen, most likely for nefarious purposes.”

Uh.

you don't say

While Daedelus is talking, Kimber asks Gillian what he is, and she responds, “Shifter of some kind, he’s never told me and I never asked.” What the fuck? You don’t know what kind of supernatural your commanding officer is? As familiar as she is with him, you’d think you’d know something that basic. Our Gillian, such a fine example of observation powers.

She then wonders why Aleksei can be in her mind when Tanis couldn’t, even though Tanis also had some of her blood. Aleksei info-dumps that he’s got superpowerz now, “dolcezza.” God, the fucking Italian words. Gillian asks Trocar if it’s possible to put up a “nullification field” that “might keep a Master Vampire from knowing he was a Master Vampire.” Trocar says yes, and they debate who could do such a thing. Aleksei requests that she come back soon blah blah Osiris gather information blah.

Halfway interesting, but I’m pretty sure we’re in the middle of a meeting still. Gillian tells everyone to “lock and load,” and they go out and do more shit. We’re reminded that Gillian is “a real psychologist,” so she hangs around helping people, because surely the Red Cross, who is also there, has absolutely no real psychologists on staff to help traumatized citizens. I get that she wants to help, but doesn’t she have military shit to do?

Gillian and Daedelus–who is still called “Daed,” because apparently typing the other four other letters gets tiresome–and an aid worker think someone in authority is helping the child traffickers steal kids, and there’s rumors that “a rogue Shifter [is] spearheading the operation.” I really wonder how they came to this conclusion so quickly. I don’t remember Daedelus saying much about supernatural people being involved in the whole mess. I really wish this realization hadn’t come about in the first chapter, too. It takes the wind out of the plot sails, and already there was more wind in those sails in the first 7% of this book than there was in the whole first book.

Gillian gripes that this is real complicated and even worse than anticipated and it’s hard “This has FUBAR written all over it.

Whambulance

Jesus fuck, for someone who’s supposed to be oh-so-competent and handling shit oh-so-well, she sure does throw her hands up quick.

Trocar shows up with a bunch of brownies (like the fairy kind) who want to help. Jenna makes fun of them like she’s a seven-year-old with no home training and not a goddamn special forces operative, and Kimber giggles too. Shame on you, Kimber. I kinda liked you.

So Ignacious, the brownie leader, summons an army of brownies. Gillian is “so diplomatic if made everyone’s teeth hurt.” Apparently the team is used to being assholes to get their way and just aren’t used to their dickwad leader being reasonable. They can be forgiven, since I’m kind of shocked at the 180 character change, too.

The brownies wander off, and Trocar tells Gillian Luis is acting weird, so don’t be alone with him. He and Gillian flirt in a completely inappropriate way for a commanding officer and her soldier. Daedelus quite reasonably tells them to stop, and Gillian returns back to her old self by being rude and telling him to “stuff it.”

Chapter ends.

I feel like Gryphon has stepped up her game here, just a little bit. There’s more potential in this book, and while I’m certain I’m going to be woefully disappointed, at least there’s some effort here. Of course, I’m saying that now. We’ll see how I feel in a few chapters.

PS, that was 9% of the book.

Top surgery – three weeks after

Mostly a physical update today. For those of you wondering, I’ll be getting back to Gillian Key within the next day or so.

Slowly, my mood is improving. Still not feeling happy awesome, but I’m less actively sad, which I’ll take. I’m trying to shift my sleep schedule a little earlier than it has been, since school/work starts on the 22nd, and next week I have some faculty stuff. So far it’s been kind of a struggle, and my body is resisting my attempts at regulating when it rests and how long. Normally, my sleep schedule isn’t much of a problem, but it’s been fucked since surgery. 

My range of motion has improved substantially since last week, and the bruising is a lot better as well. The scabs are slowly starting to feel not so stiff. The area between my collarbone and my incisions is still hypersensitive, though. Wearing a shirt stings sometimes and wearing a seatbelt feels like being punched repeatedly in the chest. I’m starting to realize what a difference all that boob fat made to the sensations I have in my chest. There’s nothing to pad, say, something bumping into my chest when I’m carrying it or a cat walking on my chest. I keep wondering if my chest is swollen, and then I realize I’m probably just feeling muscles I haven’t felt since I started growing tits at eleven or twelve.

photo (1)

This one in particular doesn’t walk so much as he stomps like a runway model.

I’ve also discovered I can’t wear most of my favorite t-shirts anymore, because they’re cut for people with tits and they hang on me weird now. Since I tend to wear v-neck, the neck ends up being very low, like low enough to show the incisions if I’m leaning forward. Looking forward to buying new clothes, though now I’m not sure how to dress my flat chest and big ass.

Here’s where TMI begins.

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