Monday, September 26, 2011

Strickly a Book Review

Call Me Irresistible: A Novel
by Susan Elizabeth Phillips
William Morrow Paperbacks
5 spangles out of five
Contemporary romance

Hah! Finally read a book that has been recently released!

Okay, so I didn't read it, not exactly. I listened to it. I had a loooong solo car trip to make and I tend to try to fall asleep at the wheel, so listening to novels is the best way to go. (An interesting lecture is also good, but one never knows how drone-worthy the lecturer will be.)

Shannon Cochran narrates this, and believe me, she puts oomph into her performance, differentiating the characters expertly and providing a satisfying Texan drawl or British accent when needed.

The worst thing about this book is that I'll have to buy a print version as well. Maybe I should make the excuse that I'll mark this up. You know, writers (especially RWA writers) are forever slashing color highlights through books, marking passive voice, conflict points, descriptive passages vs. dialogue, etc. Yeah, I'll do that. I need to buy a print copy.

But I'll mainly be buying it just so I can reread the introduction of Ted Beaudine as he arrives in the church for his wedding rehearsal. Ted (we remember him from Fancy Pants, right? Last we saw him he was something like eight or eleven years old) is a perfect man. No, really. He's gorgeous, he's at the top of his form, he's wealthy, he's genius-level brilliant, charming, and he's mayor of Wynette, Texas. He's also about to marry Lucy Jorik (from First Lady), who is Meg Koranda's (Glitter Baby) bff.

I wish I could give you the exact wording, but as he enters the church, the sun backlights him with a halo. Trumpets blare a fanfare (they're practicing; it's just a coincidence). Birds sing, the stained glass lights his path like it's tossing rose petals in front of him, etc etc. Perfect. So gloriously, OTT perfect that I was howling in the car. SEP treats him like this several more times in the book. "Don't you think it's weird?" Meg asks people, but they all regard her blankly.

Meg, of course, is anything but perfect. She (like most SEP heroines) is gorgeous (she doesn't realize it) and the daughter of wealth. SEP's pattern is to take a (usually) wealthy young lady who needs to be taught A Hard Lesson and rip out every support system she possesses. Then when you think things can't get worse, they get worse. And then they get worse from there.

If we didn't know that SEP's heroines can all dig deep within themselves and claw their ways out of their dire predicaments, we might close the book. But the fun—and let us be honest, the inspiration—of SEP's narrative is watching these heroines work hard. Bit by bit they learn tough lessons about themselves. They have to find and use their native courage against tremendous difficulties. They prove themselves to a world that has turned against them. And slowly they begin to discover their unique gifts, the ways only they can contribute to the world.

Kinda like Wonder Woman, right? Well, phooey on you. I think it is.

Almost any SEP novel you read will suddenly throw passages of heavenly poetry your way. This book is no exception, and I wonder what I missed by listening to it instead of digesting it word by printed word. These will be the kinds of things I'll highlight. It's this poetry that is one of the aspects of SEP that sets her so far apart from the ordinary crowd of romance writers.

Also, SEP is one of those writers who can really peel back character like an onion until you get to the Deep Truth which must be revealed so the character can not just grow, but blossom. I've been noticing that sometimes SEP throws in a couple too many layers—on rare occasion you say, "Get on with it!"—but this doesn't happen often and even those extra layers are worth exploring. (Though editing them out wouldn't really harm the book.) They're rare. Rare. (Just wanted to repeat that.)

And oh yeah, the sex scenes are ooey-gooey without being anatomical treatises. SEP is one of the few who can pull that off. Believe me, you haven't really read a hot sex scene until you read how the Perfect Man delivers Perfect Sex. (Which oddly makes it not so perfect, as Meg discovers.)

This is a second-generation book in that it deals with a bunch of kids resulting from some of SEP's earlier romance novels. More than a few of the heroes and heroines of those books show their faces as well. Wynona, TX is getting a little crowded. And there's at least 2 titles that I missed reading that would explain who some of these folks are. (I've read the rest. I think.) (And no, you don't need to have read any of these books to fully enjoy this one.)

Do read the Jenny Crusie/SEP "interview" on this book's Amazon page. Hie-larious!

All in all, a terrific read! Now all I have to do is actually read it.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Who's your U.N.C.L.E.?

Before Star Trek, practically days after the Beatles hit America... There was The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

I was mad for the show! I don't really recall what the first episode I ever watched was, but I recall the impact the show had on me. My very first fanfic involved the Beatles and UNCLE.

What's this UNCLE, you ask? Philistine! UNCLE was (of course) the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement, an international spy organization that utilized cool spy equipment and went on exciting spy adventures, laced with humor and pure sex in the form of Illya Kuryakin, Agent #2 of Section 2.

Oh yeah, Napoleon Solo was there as well. He was #1 of Section 2, even if he always wore a badge that said "II". (According to Wiki, this was Roman Numerals for Section 2, used in the first season and for some reason retained by Robert Vaughn for further seasons even though other agents didn't go by that system.)

James Bond had barely made an impression on the US when UNCLE first appeared. All I knew was that here were two agents of an international organization—and one of them was Russian!!! in a time of Cold War—who could pull to the side of a New York street, step down into DelFloria's Tailor Shop, and, after DelFloria pressed his shirt press twice, could enter a secret entrance into UNCLE HQ via the back of a dressing room.

The coat hook they had to pull down to release the secret door is now on display at the CIA Museum in Washington, DC. Really. Look it up.

The show lasted for 3 1/2 seasons. Fist season was b&w, supposedly to pay tribute to b&w spy movies. Second season is considered the best. By season 3 the show had instructions to be more Batman-like, since Batmania was then sweeping the nation. Season 4 saw things put back aright, although with less humor than the first seasons.

The show didn't have a huge budget. You see the same locations used over and over again: first as riverfront in Germany; this time as a Norwegian fishing village, then as part of a New England town. The economics made them inventive, just as Star Trek's staff had to be a year or so later. Speaking of ST:TOS, you'll see a lot of guest crossover between the shows. I watched an entire episode before discovering on the final credits that James Doohan had been one of the primary crew on the ship that had been the setting. Many of the stars making the rounds during the early/mid-Sixties showed up, as did big names, once UNCLE was the #1-rated show and everyone wanted to be on it.

My fanfic concerned a fact few people knew: that Minot Air Force Base (where our family was then stationed) had an underground network run by UNCLE but called (of course) MABLE, for Minot Air Base Law Enforcement. Now, who was their primary secret agent? I'm not saying!

UNCLE's Illya Kuryakin was the very definition of ultimate cool. He had a Beatle-ish haircut and British accent. He was slim, athletic, intellectual, and listened to jazz while wearing shades. He seldom smiled. And he was Russian, such an exotic nationality! He wasn't like Khrushchev at all, never pounded his shoe on anything. He worked for Good.

Give NBC a year or so and they'd have a similar alien, exotic guy with bangs and no smile called Mr. Spock.

It was a great time to go through puberty.

Illya has matured to now be Ducky on NCIS. It's amazing how sexy a man in his seventies can be! I look at Ducky and see Illya. One time one of the NCIS personnel asked the head guy what Ducky had looked like in his youth. "Like Illya Kuryakin," was the reply.

One can now buy UNCLE as a complete set. It took a long while to come out, as there were legal problems as to who actually owned the episodes. It costs about $99 from Time-Life and comes in a secret agent attache case with some pretty nice extra features. No pen phone though, darn it.

If you want to further your UNCLE research, find some of the novels put out as part of the extensive marketing the show did. (It was one of the first, if not THE first, to emphasize marketing. I know I had the UNCLE board game and had seen the various guns, ID cards, dolls and such. Alas, my allowance wouldn't stretch that far.) The novels written by David McDaniel are by far the best of the bunch, and two of those are volumes I've kept through the years and reread: Vol. 4, The Dagger Affair (when I went to San Francisco a few years ago I was THRILLED!!!! to see Lombard Street, where our Men from UNCLE had dragged an evil agent down the hill to get him to spill information), and Vol 6, The Vampire Affair.

McDaniel really got UNCLE, the characters, the off-beat style, and best of all, the humor. It was also McDaniel who informed us that "Thrush," the evil organization who sat opposite UNCLE in worldly affairs, was actually an acronym: Technological Hierarchy for the Removal of Undesirables and the Subjugation of Humanity.

Occasionally I've wondered what, besides Illya, has kept UNCLE so dear to my heart all these years. It's only when I look at my other non-Beatle obsessions that I begin to see the connection: UNCLE, Star Trek, Wonder Woman.

They're all about working for a positive future. They're about the world working as one. We had a Russian working smoothly with Americans on UNCLE, as well as glimpses of UNCLE agents around the world, all part of one glorious and law-abiding society set to make sure that the human race lived to see its future. Star Trek showed us that future, and the people there worked to better themselves and others. We had a multi-ethnic, international/interplanetary crew who were all friends. With Wonder Woman, she works around the world empowering people (and herself), working for a better tomorrow for everyone.

So it's really no surprise why I should be such a fan.

One of the lovely sidebars of the collected set contains a short about UNCLE fandom. A professor goes on camera and recalls the time she sent her students home with an assignment: "Say to your mother: 'Illya Kuryakin.'" She reported that one of her students came back to tell of his mother letting out a scream of delight just at the name.

The other day I heard that UNCLE is going to be getting a remake by Steven Soderbergh, done as a Sixties period piece. I have to wonder just how much of the UNCLE magic can be recaptured, and how today's jaded audiences who seem merely to want explosion after shiny explosion, will take it.

Were you a fan? Did you prefer Illya or Napoleon? (Or April or Mark?) Or was there some other TV show that caught your imagination and has been able to hold it for years? Open Channel D and comment!