Kelly and Kim’s dueling review of Spank Me, Mr. Darcy by Lissa Trevor

Joining me on the blog today is my super-bestest reading buddy Kim from Reflections of a Book Addict.  Kim and I both love Jane Austen’s books, particularly Pride and Prejudice, and we’re both open to the concept of stories that take Jane’s Austen’s setting and/or characters and apply some sort of spin, whether continuing the story beyond where Miss Austen left off, or retelling the original story with a different set of circumstances.  Spank Me, Mr. Darcy definitely qualifies as that latter type of Austen re-do, but, of course, it doesn’t do it very well.  Honestly, what were you expecting?

Anyway, Kim and I were just putzing innocently around on the Internet, when we read a post on Book Riot about this book and did a collective (and individual) Whuuuuut? Then we hightailed it to NetGalley to see if we, too, could read it.

Cover image, Spank Me, Mr. Darcy by Lissa Trevor

First, the publisher’s blurb, courtesy of Goodreads:

After finagling an invitation to the ball, Elizabeth Bennet is introduced to the powerful and prideful Mr. Darcy, while her sister Jane has captivated the new owner, Mr. Bingley. Having contented herself with the pleasurable caresses of her best friend, Charlotte Lucas, Elizabeth is intrigued with the sensuality she finds at Netherfield. But it isn’t until her sister Jane is taken ill and Elizabeth stays at Netherfield to nurse her back to health that she finds the dungeons of Netherfield and the man in the black mask who becomes her Master.

By the time she leaves Netherfield, Elizabeth will have become disenchanted with her childhood playmate and obsessed with Mr. Darcy, her Master, who has told her that she would be more marriageable as a Netherfield submissive than as a curious virgin. Elizabeth holds on to her affront at his callous regard for her until Charlotte marries Mr. Collins and Jane is discarded by Mr.Bingley. Unwilling to save herself for a man who’ll make a good match and determined not to suffer Jane’s heartbreak, when she meets Mr. Darcy again at Rosings Park, she decides to become his slave and offers him her virginity.

But when she finds out that her cruel Master has destroyed Jane’s chance at marriage with Mr. Bingley, she rejects Mr. Darcy – even as he reluctantly proposes marriage to her. It isn’t until he saves her sister Lydia’s reputation and brings Jane and Bingley together, that Elizabeth realizes that she loves him. If he still loves her, she would be most willing to take her punishment for rejecting him – and live happily ever after.

Kim: When dissecting the world of Jane Austen fan fiction (JAFF) I’ve always thought there were different fan levels.  There are those who are purists, the ones that don’t want Austen’s stories modernized or changed really in any way.  There are the inbetweeners who are ok with some changes, some modernizations, but don’t really go for the paranormal/zombie/erotic/etc changes.  Then there’s the last group (which I fall in) – the free for alls.  We’ll try ANYTHING that relates in some way to Austen and her characters.  Darcy as a werewolf, pirate, Dom, zombie, etc…..we’’ll read it.  Just because I read it doesn’t mean I’ll like it, but I’m willing to keep an open mind.  When Kelly and I decided to read Spank Me, Mr. Darcy I thought, “Hmm….this one might be pushing my limits of acceptance, but I’m trying anyway.” OMG. This fucking book.  I should start off and be totally honest and upfront and tell you all that I did NOT finish this book.  To put that in perspective, my Goodreads profile tells me that as of today I’ve read 660 books and DNF’d 10.  You do that math. I don’t DNF much, if anything. That’s how bad this book was. OY. Kelly deserves a fucking medal for finishing it. Like a gold medal that is the size of the world. Because I don’t know how she did it. I seriously BOW DOWN to her as a reader.

Kelly: I don’t know how the hell I was able to finish it.  At a certain point, I think I entered a meditative state, and part of my brain sat back to watch — very cinema verite — the rest of my consciousness grapple with the book, its flaws, everything that’s wrong with the world, etc.  Spank Me, Mr. Darcy is just awful, but it isn’t enough to say that it’s bad.  A lot of books are bad, and it’s fairly obvious from the concept that this one wasn’t going to be fantastic, but this one is a special kind of bad.  In fact, it’s the Worst Book I’ve Ever Read.  That’s right — it’s worse than Tess of the d’Urbervilles, Blind Man’s Bluff: The Untold Story of American Submarine Espionage, and Tempted at Every Turn put together.

Go ahead and ask me: “Kelly, what’s so bad about this book?”  I mean, I could be glib and shout, “EVERYTHING. ALL THE THINGS,” but it’ll be better to do up a proper Pros and Cons list for this book.  I think you’ll get the drift fairly quickly.

Things that rocked (or at least didn’t totally suck)

Things that SUCKED

The Mr. and Mrs. Bennet scenes, while a trifle awkward, made the best use of the original material coupled (ha) with the erotic elements applied to the story.

Mrs. Phillips is a retired dominatrix that teaches her nieces oral sex.

A-W-K-W-A-R-D

…………….

Mrs. Bennet and Lady Lucas have this weird lesbian relationship that Sir William Lucas like creepily watches in secret.

Peeping Tom anyone?

………….

The editing is the worst.  There’s no sense of continuity, and it’s fairly obvious that if the author gave the thing a once over after she was done cutting and pasting the story together, she was drunk at the time.

Ummmm………

Pretty much every character has sex with every other character, whether or not it makes any sense to the story or to the characters.  Even if you try to forget that the characters are supposedly based on Austen’s P&P folk, it still doesn’t work.

The cover was interesting?

The world of the book is SUPER strange.  The servants have sex with the upper characters. (Bingleys, Jane, Hursts, etc) It’s like everyone is into orgies, BDSM, etc, and everyone knows about it.  Like Netherfield is a known sex house. Say what?

The first sentence made me laugh.

Jeweled butt plugs. Just saying.

……………………………………….

Elizabeth’s name is misspelled every other page. Lizzy on one page but Lizzie on the next.  Clearly demonstrates the lack of editing that existed.

……………

Lady Catherine as a retired dominatrix is just yucky. I felt so dirty reading the scene when Lady C, Charlotte, and Mr. Collins get it on. Honestly, I felt coated in filth. Another human being thought that exchange up, and it just made me sad to be human.

Yeah, that’s all we got.

While everyone’s focused on having as much weird sex as possible, it was super strange that Elizabeth places such a high value on maintaining her hymen for her husband to break.

There were sections of the book where a character pops into a scene suddenly and then disappears, only to reappear without explanation.  As Kelly says, drunk writing at its best.

The Wickham/Lydia plot is resolved in 1 pg. The entire Pemberley visit doesn’t even exist. Elizabeth never sees Darcy’s home and sees that he’s changed. Bit of a bizarre twist there.

It doesn’t even make sense how Darcy found out about the Wickham/Lydia bit.  It’s almost like he received a psychic message that something had happened and he went hightailing it to London to solve it.  Of course, the readers get an extremely truncated summary (in one paragraph) of how Darcy found Wickham and Lydia and saved the day… But Darcy isn’t there when Elizabeth gets the news, so how the hell did he find out about it?

Owl post, maybe?

The Elizabeth and Charlotte scenes were pretty awkward, but the worst part is that Charlotte contents herself to marrying Mr. Collins by resolving to hire a maid who looks like Elizabeth so they can both boink an Elizabeth stand-in. It’s so skeezy.

There are a few gratuitous self-pleasuring scenes, but I think Jane’s might be the worst. It’s just disconcerting to read about Jane going to town on herself while fantasizing about all the things she did with Bingley and all the things she wants still to do.  It’s Jane for fuck’s sake!

Mr. Bennet has a super creepy way of treating Mrs. Bennet’s poor nerves. It was the third creepiest part of the book. (Lady C and Charlotte’s Lizzy maid came in first and second, respectively.)

The main thing that Jane likes about Mr. Bingley is that he has sisters that she can diddle while he’s away.  In a story like this, that’s perhaps not so strange, but it is a little weird that she doesn’t do it openly.  It’s another example of the weird dynamic where everyone is utterly oversexed and also super concerned about a few seemingly insignificant aspects of purity/innocence.

The epilogue.  Subtitle: Lizzy gets a jeweled butt plug.

Kim: When I read a book that I disliked or DNF’d I normally try to find one strong thing and praise it for doing that “thing” well.  Unfortunately the only clear thing about this book is that it was not edited and written for one thing only, profit.  I hate saying this about a book, but I found nothing artistic about it.  There is no purpose to it whatsoever, except cashing in on the JAFF fandom and the popularity of publishing something with Jane Austen’s name attached to it.

Kelly: Yes, and also publishing a piece of erotica.  The thing is, even the erotic aspects of the book are terrible. I get it — everyone wants a piece of the erotic pie, but that doesn’t mean you can just throw words together and call it a day.  It’s apparent that the author was drunk or high or both when she ‘wrote’ this thing, and it’s even more apparent that she didn’t care about it at all.  I mean, honestly… I don’t even feel the slightest bit guilty about bashing it utterly, because I’m fairly certain the author won’t give two hoots or a holler about my opinion.

Kim’s final thoughts: ………… Yeah. I think that’s sufficient.

Kelly’s final thoughts: Terrible erotica + a badly edited version of P&P + a lot of tequila + the author’s ennui or self-loathing or poor sense of vocation (I’m not sure which is to blame) = The Worst Book Kelly’s Ever Read.

*FTC Disclosure – I received an e-galley of this book from Riverdale Avenue Books via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*

Dueling Review – Rush by Maya Banks

First, an update on the Lord of Darkness giveaway.  The winner (who has already been notified and whose books are already on the way) is…

asingledream

Lord-of-Darkness-giveaway-results

Next up, Kim, over at Reflections of a Book Addict, and I have another dueling review, this time about Maya Banks’ loved-or-hated Rush, the first book in her new Breathless Trilogy.  While reading the book, we kept up a steady stream of tweets and emails, and it soon became clear that we both had issues with the monumentally unheroic Gabe (note: he’s not an anti-hero… he’s actually just a douche bag) and the weak, complacent Mia.  We worried that the recent spate of books that seem to encourage unhealthy relationships might have a negative effect on women in our culture, so we wrote an open letter to women who are thinking about entering into a relationship and who wonder if, perhaps, their relationship (or arrangement) is a trifle unhealthy.

Check out the full post, over at Kim’s blog.  I’ve copied our open letter below.

Dear Woman Who Deserves Better Than What She’s Signing Up For,

We really want to see you with a man who deserves you.  Therefore you should know that if any of the following statements ring true for your relationship, something’s wrong.

  • Did you have to sign a contract with your new “significant other?”
    • If part of the negotiations require you getting him to agree to fidelity to just you…..something’s wrong (especially when there is a whole paragraph already included in the contract about your fidelity to him!)
    • If you need your “significant other’s” permission to hang out with your friends, something’s wrong.
      • If you’re not allowed to speak to your friends about your relationship, something’s wrong.
      • If you get permission to hang out with your friends, and your “significant other” still gets upset because alcohol is involved, something’s wrong.  You’re in your twenties. Live it the fuck up.
    • If your contract stipulates that all your physical and financial needs will be met in return for your ceding all control over yourself and your functions, but said contract makes no mention at all of your emotional well-being, something’s wrong.
    • If your contract states that it’s totally OK for your “significant other” to share you, occasionally, with other people, and you’re not quite sure what that means, so you have to ask about it, something’s wrong.
      • If you might be on the positive side of ambivalent, once it’s explained, that’s cool. But if, when the sharing happens, you aren’t in possession of the full facts, and it’s awful, and it happens anyway, something’s wrong.
        • If your “significant other” shares you without your permission and you get upset, and his response is to just take you on a shopping spree….something’s wrong.
  • So, you’re having sex with your “significant other.”  If he’s constantly shouting at you to give him your eyes, something’s wrong. I mean really, those are your eyes! Why should you give them up?
  • While at the office, if your “significant other” says, “Hey, come over here. I’m going to put this butt plug in you, and you’re going to wear it all day,” something’s wrong. Seriously girl, that’s your butt. What if it’s Mexican lunch day in the office? You gotta say no to that chili because he wants those plugs in you all day? Hells no.
  • If your “significant other” says “I’m looking forward to f**king this sweet ass” more than once (and that once is permissible only if there’s a lot of alcohol involved), something’s wrong.
  • If your “significant other” starts hitting on his dad’s girlfriend, like right in front of you, and you’re like, “What?!” and you leave, and then your “significant other” gets all kinds of angry at you for leaving that shit, something’s wrong.
  • If your “significant other” basically rapes your mouth because he’s too impatient to let you go at your own pace, something’s wrong.
  • If your “significant other” constantly asks you, “Did you eat?” GET THE HELL OUT OF THERE. Your fast metabolism won’t last forever and you’ll just end up obese with the amount of food he keeps plying you with.
  • If your “significant other” wants to pay you an outrageous sum of money so that you’ll be his beck and call girl (and butt-plug recipient), something’s wrong. You’re not a prostitute. You shouldn’t be treated as such.
  • If you have to pay the piper for all the stupid shit your “significant other’s” ex-wife did, something’s wrong.  That’s his baggage, girl, and it shouldn’t have anything to do with you.

As we said earlier, something’s wrong if these statements describe your relationship.  We’d be more than happy to help you get out and find someone much more worthy of you.

With sincere love,

Kelly & Kim

I felt betrayed by this book (dramatic, much?)

Let me start out by saying that however betrayed I feel by this book, it only cost me $0.99, so I should really stop bitching and moaning about it (but I won’t).

Cover image, Tempted at Every Turn by Robyn DeHart

I love covers like this one, where the characters seem to be on the world’s most giant bed.  Anyway.

I learned a valuable lesson about myself while reading this book: the angrier a book makes me, the less likely I am to stop reading it.  If a book is just boring, I’ll probably set it aside in favor of something more interesting, but nothing will stop me from finishing a book that offends me deeply.  Weird, huh?

This is the third book in a series, and I should admit that I haven’t read any of the others.   A few months ago, I downloaded a sample of the second book, but it didn’t catch my attention enough to make me want to buy it.  I really should have been paying better attention when I purchased Tempted at Every Turn, but I just didn’t notice that it was by the same author.

There were really three things that I strongly disliked about this book:

1.  “Intelligent” characters did not behave intelligently.

Both the male and female leads in this one are set up as intelligent characters.  Willow is described as being very clever and excellent at solving puzzles and mysteries.  She is a member of the Ladies Amateur Sleuth Society (although the four members pretty much just gather to talk about boys, because that’s what women do when we get together, right?), and all of the expositional indications of her character focus on her intelligence, so you assume that she will act with intelligence throughout the book.  James, meanwhile, is set up as an intelligent man and a stellar Investigator with Scotland Yard, so you assume, going into it, that he will act intelligently and that he will be good at his job (you know, as a stellar investigator).  While it should be safe to assume that supposedly intelligent characters will use their noggins when making decisions, that’s not what happens in this book.  Willow’s decisions have no logical basis at all (frankly, I can’t even figure them out from an emotional perspective), and I can’t think of a single instance of her intelligence in action throughout the book (even the two “Willow is so smart” snippets I highlight below (item # 3) aren’t examples of Willow actually being intelligent…).  James approaches investigating the same way a person would if his entire occupational experience of investigation consisted of his having watched a few episodes of Columbo or Murder, She Wrote when he was a kid.  So what was the point of describing them as intelligent people?

2.  Characters’ decisions (and characters’ character traits) did not make sense

This one is sort of an elaboration on the first point.  In general, the characters in this book did not make sense.  Willow’s mom suffers from some sort of mental illness, so Willow decided, when she was about eighteen or nineteen years old, that she would never marry because it was her duty to take care of her mother.  To that end, she discouraged all male attention and made it to age 29 without a single suitor.  Then, she meets James, and it all kind of goes to hell.  She still doesn’t want to marry, but her reasoning doesn’t really make sense in light of other, much more obvious reasons to avoid marrying.  I mean, if your mom is all kinds of crazy, it makes sense to avoid marrying because you are afraid of passing mental illness on to your children.  With that reason–perfectly logical–just hanging out there like an unacknowledged elephant in the room, it seems really bizarre that Willow is so hooked, so focused on the idea that she can’t marry because it would be impossible for her to care for both her mother and her family.  If she’s so damn intelligent, why doesn’t it occur to her (until a man points it out) that a lot of folks end up caring for both their families and their ailing parents, and they manage to make it work just fine.  Her decision just doesn’t make sense.

James has spent his entire life bucking convention, and we’re given a reason for it, but it doesn’t really make sense.  So his uncle got away with a crime because he was a peer (of the realm)… and that unfairness prompts James to turn his back on society and all of its stupid rules… OK, what does his uncle’s crime have to do with etiquette and polite behavior?  And is James’ haircut (or lack thereof) seriously connected to his uncle’s perfidy?  Really, like that’s his big character motivation?!  And–I love it–he can’t even consider marrying Willow (until after they bump fuzzies) because she’s someone his mom would like, and his most compelling character trait is that he never does anything that would make his mom happy.  Isn’t that romantic?  I’ve always dreamed of marrying a man who still acts like a 13-year-old.

3.  She’s a clever girl, which means she’s almost as smart as a man of average intelligence

I could have ignored the other things that irritated me about this book, but this one just pissed me off.  Willow only really demonstrates her cleverness twice in the book (the rest of the time the author just tells you that she’s clever rather than showing you), and this is how it goes:

“His studio,” she said.  “Not the easiest room to find, yet the killer found it without alerting the servants.”  She paused.  “He’d been there before.”
James watched her eyes light up.  She loved this.  Perhaps as much as he did.  The clues and puzzles, the chase.  And she was good; he couldn’t deny that.  He’d come to the very same conclusion, had even written it in his notes yesterday.
“I noticed the same thing,” he said.  “Quite clever, Willow.”

And again:

James nodded, curious to where she was going with this.  Willow was clever and more than likely was coming to the same conclusion he’d already made.  “Go on,” he encouraged her.
“Yes, well, I remembered that statement and then the box of photographs we found at Drummond’s house.  It seems highly likely that among those images are some wealthy aristocratic ladies.”
And there she had done it.  “I believe you might be right.”
“Really?” she asked, seeming surprised.
“I had already come to this conclusion, and am in the process of wading through those images trying to locate anyone I recognize.”

My reaction was pretty much:

Honestly…  At the first “Wow, you’re pretty smart–you just figured out a concept that I understood instantly–that’s pretty smart–for a girl” mention, I was annoyed, and at the second one, I was angry-cat livid.  What the hell.  So I’m going back to reading a Julie Klassen book next (The Apothecary’s Daughter), because I want a book that isn’t going to make me angry.

This week in reading…

I was a little bit light on reading this week.  I spent so much time writing posts and checking out other blogs (and commenting) during Armchair BEA that I didn’t read as much during the day, and I barely read at all this weekend (all that gardening!).  All told, it was a bit of an indifferent week in reading.

Cover image, Chief Cook and Bottle Washer

Yeah, I read it.  I don’t really get the Texas thing, but there are a butt-ton of romance novels dedicated to cowboys and/or folk from Texas.  Don’t get me wrong,Texas is A-OK with me, and I’m certainly not messing with it, I just don’t get all kinds of excited about books set in Texas.  But it was free, and I was curious.  My favorite thing about this book is the little kid, even though she totally has a trailer-park name (Sammie Jo).  The kid is 15 months old at the start of the book, and although it’s tough to track the passage of time across the length of the book, I suspect she’s about 17 months old at the end of the book.

I have a 3-year-old and a 16-month-old, so I was automatically drawn to Sammie Jo, and I really think Hestand nailed her portrayal of the toddler.  Maybe I wouldn’t have even noticed this sort of thing before I had kids, but it really bugs me when authors include kids and then get all the details wrong.  12-month-olds can’t jump.  Seriously.  Babies who are just starting to talk can’t hit final consonants and can’t properly enunciate combination consonants “br,” “sl,” etc.  Hell, my 3-year-old still can’t do any of that stuff (all combination consonants become “f” for some odd reason…).  So I was beyond thrilled to meet Sammie Jo and discover her doing things an actual 15-month-old would do.  I was also charmed by the relationship between Emma, Sammie Jo’s guardian (and the actual main character of the book…), and the little girl.  Actually, I loved everything relating to Sammie Jo in this book.  All of the characters responded to her exactly as you’d expect, from the grandpa-like older man to the ‘gonna-be-very-good-dads-one-day’ brothers of the main male character.

I didn’t like very much else about the book.  The pacing was strange, and the character development left a bit to be desired.  If the book didn’t keep on telling me how attracted the main characters were to one another, I’d never have guessed.  It annoys me when a narrator has to tell me what’s going on rather than my finding out through action or dialogue.  The ending was rushed and awkward and didn’t really tie-up all the loose ends. And, seriously, it ends at a cow birthing…  Maybe that’s totally sexy to people who get the whole Texas thing, but it just irritated me.

Awesome cover image, The Bride and the Brute by Laurel O’Donnell

Just had to show this cover full size…  I love the lightning-struck castle.  My remarks on this book require a preface: it’s a novella, and it was free.  Most of the novellas I’ve read have been terrible.  You get the idea while reading them that the author started out hoping to write a full novel and just didn’t have enough story (or time).  They don’t have to be bad (Once Upon a Winter’s Eve by Tessa Dare was pretty great), but they usually are.  This one was pretty bad, but not for the usual reasons.  It was obvious that this book was designed from start to finish to fit within novella length, so what went wrong?  Well…

1.  In a book set in England in 1392, I was a bit surprised to encounter characters named Jayce, Reese, Nicole, Morse, and Dylan.  Jarring, that.
2.  Reese, the male character, is a prize asshole for most of the book, and I just didn’t feel like rooting for him when he finally decided to overcome his own issues and chase down his girl.  And, in a novella, it shouldn’t have felt like “finally,” but it did.
3.  Jayce, the female character, is almost completely flat.  She really only has two character traits: she’s afraid of storms, and she feels strongly about the correct way to break in difficult horses.  I am not kidding.

So why did I keep reading it?  Honestly, when you’re reading a book that’s so short, there’s no reason to DNF the thing, and usually a sick curiosity comes over me.  I want to find out what happens at the end.  The Bride and the Brute rewards you for your patience (ish… it depends on how you define reward), and that was enough to make me glad I finished it.

Cover image, One Week as Lovers by Victoria Dahl

I finished this book last Monday, and I think I’ve decided that I liked it, but I had to overcome some reservations in order to reach that conclusion.  I do recommend it as an interesting and somewhat edgy romance novel (that’s an unusual word combination right there… when was the last time ‘edgy’ was associated with the romance genre?), but it’s fairly intense and probably wouldn’t suit everyone.  I’ve mentioned before that I enjoy it when romance authors push the envelope with their characters and give them real problems to deal with.  Dahl did that with both of her characters, particularly Lancaster, the male character.  Part of the fun of the book is slowly uncovering all his issues, so I won’t go into any of that.   (I felt like a total voyeur when I was reading this book, but it was very interesting to put together the puzzle of his behavior with the knowledge of what caused it.)  Suffice it to say that both characters are lugging around a metric-ton of baggage, yet the writing doesn’t suffer from all of that emotional weight.  The characters are well-written and their choices and actions make sense given their experiences.

Anyway, the real problem I had with the book was the sex scenes.  I get it: if you have characters who have both suffered sexual trauma of some sort, you’re going to end up with somewhat messed-up sex scenes.  They make perfect sense, but that doesn’t mean that I enjoyed reading them.  There’s zero comparison between One Week as Lovers and Fifty Shades of Grey, really, but I am even less inclined to read the latter now that I’ve read the former. If I had such a strong reaction to the relatively mild stuff that happens in One Week as Lovers, there’s no way I’d be able to get through Fifty Shades of Grey.

The Exclamation Point – a discussion and guide to usage

I’ve always been a bit exuberant.  I just have so much to say, and there never seems to be enough time or space to say it all.  I talk quickly, and I tend to be parenthetical.  I write quickly, and I am tangential.  I have this horror of being misunderstood, and I somehow think that tangents and parenthetical thoughts will help me to communicate exactly what I mean (will provide the context of my thoughts) in the least amount of time (if I’m speaking) or the fewest number of words (if I’m writing).  In my early school years, my teachers always had the same thing to say: “Kelly, you write well and with great enthusiasm, but you must limit the number of parenthetical references you include.”  When writing, I have to constantly battle my impulse to include a parenthetical thought (or two) in every damn sentence.  So if, while you read my blog, you think that there are perhaps a few too many tangents or parenthetical comments, you have no idea what I’m capable of bringing to the party.  This is me being restrained.

One could not be as exuberant as I without occasionally overusing that strange punctuation mark: the exclamation point.  I used to wonder why it even exists if there are such stringent rules limiting its use.  To me, the exclamation point (and all of the rules that attend/restrict it) is rather like a wooden spoon and a giant pot that one would hand to a toddler.  They’re obviously meant to be used as instruments of joy, to be banged upon in an explosion of obnoxious, creative energy, but the adults never like it when the children are so unconstrained, do they?  Instead that pot and spoon just sit there, taunting the child with their unusable potential.  That’s how I feel about exclamation points.  As a serious adult, I’m not supposed to use them, but, oh, how I want to!

Well… I don’t think anyone could confuse me with a serious adult.  I self-identify with toddlers…

Anyway, for all my enthusiasm for the dear exclamation point, I do think it’s possible to use it in ridiculous ways, and it really annoys me when my favorite punctuation mark is so misused.  To be honest, the main reason I haven’t bothered to read the 50 Shades of Grey series is that several book review blogs mentioned the author’s outrageous exclamation point use.  Ana entered the elevator and pushed the button for the fourth floor!   Sebastian was so angry!  (not actual quotes from the book(s).)

So I decided to write a quirky little guide to the exclamation point, and I’d love to hear/read feedback on whether I’m right or cracked in the head (could be both, honestly).

The Exclamation Point – A Guide to Usage

Correct usage:  to punctuate an exclamation, to denote enthusiasm, to provide commentary on questionable behavior, to convey silliness, to creep people out with inappropriate enthusiasm (workplace use).

Incorrect usage: to punctuate statements that are neither enthusiastic, ironic, nor silly.

Examples of Proper Usage

Look out!  There’s a bear coming right for you!
I can’t wait for dinner tonight; I’m going to eat a steak the size of my head!
While I was out on my walk last night, I saw a dude who was out jogging wearing nothing but his running shoes and a sweater (because it’s cold)… !!?!!
And then they fell in a ditch and died!
Thanks for responding so quickly and helping to coordinate this visit!!

Examples of Improper Usage

Jonathan was wearing jeans! (exception: if it’s completely bizarre that Jonathan would wear jeans, that exclamation point could justly indicate the writer’s surprise at encountering denim in connection with Jonathan.)
Betty made a stop on the way home to get some coffee. She added two sugar packets and some cream! Armed with her coffee, she headed home and planned to spend the evening watching Dancing with the Stars.
I went to a funeral yesterday! (This one is just a socially unacceptable usage… we aren’t supposed to be excited about death and its various celebrations.)

Exception

An exclamation point is an appropriate terminal mark to any sentence that references bacon (e.g. I ordered a BLT! or That macaroni and cheese has bacon in it!).  Bacon is always a reason to celebrate(!).

Stress – I has it

I usually try not to allow myself to experience stress.  You know how stress is: it creeps around the corner and stomps on top of you, in a quiet way, until all of your muscles are tense and you’re not sleeping well and you start dreaming about being a super spy under attack (or is that just me?).  Stress is insidious and awful, and I’m really not a fan of it.  When I feel it creeping in, I start to take measures to counteract it.  I might spend a little extra time reading really lame books (because they’re funny); I might paint my fingernails or my toenails, hoping that some pampering might have a calming effect; I might switch up the music in my iPod–from Muse to Enya or Beethoven or Sibelius.  The point is, when I feel it coming, I do my best to make sure stress doesn’t take up occupancy in my mind or body.

I feel stress.  There are dark circles under my eyes that even makeup won’t cover, possibly because I don’t know how to apply concealer properly.  I’ve been waking up in the night with muscle spasms in my neck and back (hence the dark circles…).  I’ve been clenching my jaw a bit too much.  Any day now, I’ll start to get snarky without being properly provoked.  I feel it coming.

Most unfortunately, I can’t exactly cut away those causes of my stress.  I have to work, I have to be a mother to my children and a wife to my husband.  I have to be a friend to my friends.  I have responsibilities at my church (Vestry member, Junior Warden, Chair of the Profile/Search Committee, member of the choir, member of the social committee (hee hee!!!), congregant, etc.  It’s a lot.), though I’ve been dropping the ball on a lot of these responsibilities lately.  I need balance, some moments when my time is my own, when I am simply Kelly rather than Assistant (and chief proofreader and quasi-media liaison), Mommy, Wife, Jr. Warden, etc.  I feel like I’m slipping away, even though I’m not.  That, to me, is the most awful thing about stress.  It’s like all the weeds choking out the plants in my garden.  It’s so easy to get covered, entangled, choked out by all of the various responsibilities, often conflicting, of one’s life.  How can I be a good mother and a good employee simultaneously?  What’s more important to my family, ultimately?  Where is the lesser evil/greater good?

Actually, it’s a budgeting issue.  I have a limited amount of time and energy every day, and all of the things that I need to do far exceed that daily budget, and decisions have to be made.  What are the priorities; which balls can I drop? It’s rather like deciding which bills need to be paid and which can be put off for a time, and it’s just as devastating, isn’t it?

So, to lower my stress levels I am (1) writing about it, (2) listening to Tori Amos’ Night of Hunters album, (3) reading, when I have a chance, Tristan’s Loins, believe it or not.  My husband thinks I’m totally lame for reading romance novels, but they really are stress-relieving to me.  I’m not saying Tristan’s Loins is at all a good book, but it isn’t nearly as terrible as I thought it would be, considering it was free and it’s about a romance novel character come to life by magical means.  Actually, it’s really funny, and it pokes fun at a ridiculous genre in a really great way.  So take that, stress!

Oh, and here’s the awesomeness that is Truly, Madly Viking.  Having mentioned it in my previous post, I really felt the need to share exactly how wonderful it is.  I particularly like the fur-lined gauntlets on a shirtless man.  Anyone else think his belt is a little WWE?  So fancy!

Cover image, Truly, Madly Viking by Sandra Hill

Speaking of terrible books…

I have already established that free books are often bad books, but I was faintly shocked this morning when I delved once more into nook’s free books section and discovered all the nonsense that is available.  I understand that it isn’t nice to make fun of people, but seriously, who are these people who write these books?  What in the world motivates them?  Anyway, I haven’t read any of these (yet), but it really makes me happy to ‘own’ a copy that I ‘purchased’ for free.  Besides, my sister would really get a kick out of some of the titles and covers.

I’ll start with the least bizarre and make my way down the list to the coup de grace.

Cover image, Love's Magic: Book One in the Boadicea Series by Traci Hall

I’m fairly certain I’ll actually read this book.  From the publisher’s description, it seems to be a combination of medieval romance/fantasy, and I hold a soft spot in my heart for fantasy novels.  I’m hoping for a dragon, but we’ll see.

Cover image, Undeniable by Gayle Eden

I picked this one up because it was free and because the cover image was distinctly creepy.  Doesn’t that dude kinda look like Keanu Reeves?  Isn’t it strange that his intense scowly face is superimposed over the image of the skinny chick holding an oddly demure pose?  And there was a hint of mystery involved–Barnes and Noble did not offer any information about this book except that it’s a “sensual regency romance,” whatever that means.  Even the reader reviews–usually full of delightful phrases such as “I’d read this over and over, if I could” (seriously… what’s stopping you?)–were unnaturally slim on details.  I want to read this book to find out if it’s as creepy as it appears.

Cover image, Chief Cook and Bottle Washer by Rita Hestand

And now it starts to get ridiculous.  Readers who have liked Undeniable also liked Rita Hestand’s Chief Cook and Bottle Washer.  Why?  I have no idea!  I don’t think I can stand to read this one, but the fact that it exists really makes me happy.

Cover image, Tristan's Loins by Karolyn Cairns

When the book is named Tristan’s Loins, you know it’s got to be bad good.  When the book is about an author who creates a twelfth century hero character who somehow comes alive and peppers the author with complaints about of her writing choices–why is the heroine so annoying?–it’s even worse better.  Honestly, the only reason I purchased this free nook book was so I could send it to my sister as a recommendation.  This one might just beat Truly Madly Viking for the title of  lamest most awesome romance story ever.  Well, it would win if the following book didn’t exist.  But it does.

Cover image, I Married an Alien by Emma Daniels and Ethan Somerville

Honestly, what is there to say about this?  It took two people to write this book?  What manner of crazy went into designing that cover?  Is the lead character named Broncanous? Broncaho?  So here’s my real response: WTF mate?!

Also, I Married an Alien reminds me of this: