Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Sinclair's Finders Keepers, Obama vs. Clinton, P90X

So I read the first 50 pages or so of Linnea Sinclair's FINDERS KEEPERS and I just couldn't continue any further. The book intrigued me because I thought romance in a scifi setting might be good, but alas, no. FINDERS KEEPERS contains way too many references to the hero's perfect beauty, good-looks, and muscled frame. It's actually worse than historical romances in detailing the hero's perfection from the heroine's eyes while chronicling the heroine's "spitfire" personality from the hero's side (because we all know all good-looking men have had enough of pretty, air-headed and devious women; all three qualities linked in women of course). There's a lot of repetitive introspection and fancy names to make it seem like a legitimate science fiction universe. There's also an empire exhibiting the obligatory hierarchal society common to historical romances. Wouldn't want the heroine to marry anyone other than the gorgeous hunk born into his wealth and societal rank, right? Having read some good science fiction, the world-building in this one conveys a rather pedestrian, amateur feel. The repeated devotion to glorifying the hero's appearance as sexual eye candy for the female readership and yet notably avoiding the word beautiful or even attractive to describe the heroine from the lusty hero's eyes sealed the coffin on this one for me. Short-sighted of me? Maybe, but I contend the book itself warrants, at best, a short-sighted look.

As the Democratic primary winds down, I got a good chuckle from this well-crafted video featuring Hillary as Darth Vader, Bill Clinton as the Emperor, and Obama as Luke Skywalker: The Empire Strikes Barack. Granted you'll probably appreciate the video more if you're an Obama supporter, but the scenes pieced together hints at a clever author with too much time on his or her hands. I'm personally convinced that no matter who wins Democratic primary, the candidate will lose to McCain in November. No amount of time and "getting-to-know-Obama" will convince Hillary's embittered base to vote for Obama. As I mentioned before, history has shown that whenever the democratic party is this divided, the party loses the general election. McCain appeals to me while the incompetent Democratic party just plain annoys me. Their system of super delegates and proportionally awarding delegates hasn't made the process more democratic!

On a final note, I'm on Day 14 of Tony Horton's P90X fitness program. I really do like the variety of challenging routines and work-outs. You will get out what you put in, and with goals in mind, anything is possible. So far so good, although I'm a little bit disappointed at my lack of progress in the pull-ups department despite pushing myself hard (can still only do about 3-4 front pull-ups before I use the resistance bands). It's still early though so I should give it some time. I have noticed I'm able to do more push-ups and lift heavier weights for more reps (from 25lbs to 35,40lbs). The "mother of P90x," plyometrics, continues to pose the biggest challenge and the Yoga X exercise is no easy walk in the park either. Thankfully, my legs are getting stronger as a result. I've decided to try the program's recovery drink and vitamins which complements the work-outs. After trying the supplements for a week, I can't say I've noticed much improvement in my stamina however. Today is simply X-Stretch. Last week I followed up one hour of stretching with Ab Ripper but today I may just do the stretching alone. Then it's on to Week 3!

Monday, May 26, 2008

Welcome to Temptation, by Jennifer Cruise [1]

*/***** (1/5)

Jennifer Cruise's WELCOME TO TEMPTATION contains way too much estrogen for my tastes. I thought the book defined what it means to write a lot of words without an inkling of substance: it's episodic, melodramatic, and it's bloated nonsense. A lot of contemporary romance novelists write about Small Town America where everybody knows everybody and this one is no different. Similar to the innocence of a girl losing her virginity in historical romance, I suspect the contemporary romance genre enjoys stretching "innocent", conservative principles in Small Town America. The inane frippery in this one really knows no bounds. There's way too many characters (presumably setting up other novels), the plotting dulls, the pacing sags, the settings are empty, and worst of all, the leads lacked substance and chemistry. Although I can't say I liked McCarthy's HEIRESS FOR HIRE (*), lord that was heaven compared to this estrogen-pumped frivolity. Now I have to say the ending saved this novel from being rated a zero and Sophie reciprocates a little bit, but just not enough. For book containing some language, Cruise ignores the love scenes with the exception of Phin servicing Sophie orally in the beginning. For the rest of the book: "And one hour later...," or "The morning after..." Again, I found the passion and chemistry in McCarthy's HEIRESS FOR HIRE superior. I also found WELCOME TO TEMPTATION mundane and predictable: a mayoral election is on the horizon with Phin's chief rival Stephen Garvey hounding his every move, Sophie, her sister Amy crash into town (literally) to shoot a rather raunchy film starring the beautiful Clea, more people show up out of the woodwork including: Clea's jerk husband Zane, Sophie's hot brother Davy (for a future novel), and the porn movie producer Leo. There's a death, Sophie and her sister's bawdy version of the film scandalizes Temptation, OH, and lest we forget, love triumphs in the end.

The book presents the interaction between our heroine Sophie and hero Phin mostly from Sophie's cloying perspective. Predictably (for the romance genre) and much to my ire, our hero Phin notices Sophie's ordinary brown eyes, brown hair and lips ("devil's candy") while Sophie constantly swoons over Phin's classic beauty, incomparable height (the book meticulously notes how he's taller than his friend the police chief), broad shoulders, supple behind, and gorgeous good-looks. Phin is attracted to our ordinary heroine Sophie's mouth, he wants to kiss the skin between her neck and shoulders, but the book eschews Phin thinking of Sophie as beautiful or pretty. I don't get it. Why are heroes from romance novels forbidden from viewing the source of their attraction as hot while the heroines flushed over their heroes' perfect handsomeness, muscles, butt and height? You'd think these greedy romance heroines haven't seen a cute guy before. The plotting and pacing meanwhile pursues meandering, frivolous directions strife with insipid melodrama and soapy events. For example, Phin and Wes visit the Whipple farm to help fix up the place, Sophie makes sandwiches, Rachel helps paint the house, Sophie befriends a dog, more of Sophie antagonizing Phin, Sophie and Phin bantering (romance translation = Sophie being a bitch to Phin), etc., etc., etc. Phin gives Sophie the best oral sex she's ever had, Sophie calls her boyfriend Brandon to confess, Amy and Sophie gossip about Sophie's orgasms, Clea's husband Zane visits, they discuss the cherry wallpaper at the Whipple farm.

The book paints Sophie's character as the daughter of two scam artists, the product of a tough, possibly loveless childhood, independent and someone who takes care of herself, whether that's sexually or otherwise. So of course the book is about Phin going down on her and Sophie turning herself over to him. I was more and more annoyed the more I read this completely senseless farce of a book detailing Sophie's evolution into someone selfish in bed and acrimonious otherwise. The perfect combination every gorgeous, successful guy prizes, right? Let's not forget Sophie's killer ordinary brown hair and brown eyes. The perfectly gorgeous guy tolerates the rather bland heroine's cold shoulder and insulting demeanor while she enjoys him wanting to give her oral sex endlessly without the least bit of a desire to reciprocate on her end. Like so many other romances, the ordinary heroine acting cold and insulting while the handsome hero services her carnal desires (he goes down on her) constitutes what passes for "witty" and "romantic" in this genre. Following the night where Phin orally services Sophie (and leaves Phin right after she's satiated), Sophie continues to act bitchy and resentful the next day. While Phin defends Sophie when Zane calls her sexless, Sophie continues to act like Bitch Numero Uno around Phin all the while enjoying him wanting to go down her.

Phin's "best friend" Wes starts scolding Phin not to casually sleep around with a nice girl like Sophie. Despite the fact Wes has known Sophie for only a couple days. When Sophie's brother Davy gives Phin a hard time for their relationship and offers to beat up Phin, Davy is lovable and cute because he's protecting Sophie. When Phin's mother Liz gives Sophie a hard time, Liz of course is the "ice queen." All to show how awesome Sophie is personality-wise, and how everyone close to Phin (except his mother) show instant loyalty towards Sophie including Phin's daughter Dillie. I had to suffer through Sophie's constant barrage of girly thoughts highlighting how gorgeous Phin is and how hot he looks all the time (he's immaculately pristine 24/7). If Sophie isn't thinking it, either Sophie or her sister are saying it; for instance, when Sophie defends her relationship with Phin to his mother by mentioning again and again how gorgeous he is and that she's not after his money. Phin, on the other hand, is easily attracted to a grubby, ordinary Sophie no matter her bland condition (she was painting once and yet the book goes out of its way to note that Phin is attracted to her in spite of her rather grimy, plain looks). The book exhibits a knack for dismissing any balance in the romance and skewing the relationship into a one-sided affair: the sex scenes were consistently a one-way street (Phin always services Sophie's pleasure -- and no after Sophie's greedy, selfish participation in the sex, it will inevitably bore the guy no matter her reaction), Sophie's cloying perspective inundating readers with estrogen, and Phin symbolized the female readership's sexual eye candy while noting Sophie's rather bland looks and emphasizing her hard-knock childhood and personality in the process. This book clearly demonstrates how to write chick-lit at its best (or worst, depending on how you look at it).

Friday, May 16, 2008

Update on reading and p90x

My heightened traveling as of late restricts my spare time, so here's an update on the books I've been reading.

While I read Steven Erikson's desultory GARDENS OF THE MOON and Cruise's soapy-strictly-for-juvenile-girls WELCOME TO TEMPTATION, it was rejuvenating to re-read Hunter's RULES OF SEDUCTION (*****) and re-re-read STEALING HEAVEN (*****). I always seem to rely on Madeline Hunter to restore my faith in substantive romance. Have to say, didn't like RULES OF SEDUCTION as much second time around, but boy is STEALING HEAVEN special. The unique rivalry and passion between STEALING HEAVEN's leads in the midst of a compelling historical backdrop reinforces a very special reading experience.

So a colleague recently loaned me Tony Horton's P90X discs. Although I consider myself fit (I work out and lift daily no matter my traveling schedule), hearing (and seeing) my friend's experiences with the program enticed me. Now I'm only on Day 2 of the 90-day program, but holy shit, is this intense! They tagged the 'X' at the end of P90X for eXtreme, and they weren't kidding! I avoid cardio exercises and I usually don't work my legs, but today's 1-hour Plyometrics program (a bona fide cardio routine involving high-impact jump training) really exposed my weak legs. Now before Day 1, I had done the Ab Ripper X twice and Shoulders and Arms already just get a feel for the routines and they didn't disappoint. The videos show you how to proceed if you're just starting out so I'd say anyone could jump into this program. Whether you want to simply lose weight, get lean, or bulk up, I'd say you could make it work for you as long as you have a goal in mind. I thought Tony Horton does a good job motivating and pushing you to the extreme as well. The program recommends purchasing supplements separately specifically designed for P90X exercises (this is a business after all), but I have my own vitamins, minerals, and protein bars. I may look into their recovery drink however.

As for the exercises, you'll need about an hour to an hour-and-a-half daily. I travel quite a bit, but with resistance bands, I can do most of the work outs from a hotel room. There's 12 different exercises, and you follow a daily schedule. I officially started yesterday (Thurs., May 15, 2008) and if I don't miss any days, I'll end Wednesday, August 13th. Like I mentioned earlier though, I did the Ab Ripper twice and Shoulders and Arms prior to Day 1.

Day 1 involves Chest & Back (~1 hour) and Ab Ripper X (~20 min). I could do about 2 front pull-ups and 6 reverse-grip chin-ups, so obviously my back needs a lot of work too. Unlike other Ab routines, P90X's Ab Ripper X is more core-oriented and I could feel it in my hips and thighs quite a bit. Taking Tony's advise, I paused during the Chest & Back exercise and took longer breaks. I even went back to do some things over until I was satisfied.

Today's exercise -- Plyometrics -- really killed me. Since I wasn't big on cardio and legs to begin with, this routine seriously challenged my endurance. Let's just say the pause button was my best friend, I could barely keep up, and my coordination left something to be desired.

I'm looking forward to Day 3 (tomorrow): Shoulders & Arms, Ab Ripper X.