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Dwanollah's Endorsements, Vol. 1: TRASHY READING
June 2004

Jackie Collins:
While the conventions have gotten really old since her heyday in the 80s, in her time, Jackie actually wasn't all that bad. Sure, the plots and characters were trashy reading at its best, but she has a fun knack with dialogue; she's not a nearly-talentless writer, like some of the others mentioned here (ahem VC ANDREWS ahem).

Jackie's best stuff, in my opinion, is her mid-career releases: The Hollywood Husbands and Wives, the first couple Santangelo books, Lovers and Gamblers, Sinners, Rock Star…. Part of the fun of Collins's books is trying to figure out who's who, and it's pretty easy to see where she pulls from. (I don't think her "inside sources" are anything more exclusive than the National Enquirer, but so what?) She also relies heavily on Hollywood Stereotype; obviously, there's little that's realistic about the way she portrays the music- and movie industries, business tycoons, mobsters, or models. Jackie's fictional world is the cotton candy of trashy reading; it melts away like nothing, but its overly-sweet sticky messiness is so good while it lasts!

Her more recent books, though, have been disappointing... rehashed dialogue, sometimes even lifted by full paragraphs from other books (I'm looking at you, Lucky's Vendetta!), boring charaters and predictable plots with too much deus ex machina (Hello, American Star!),

Jackie C. also has a "type" of heroine, and, when you look at her own lifted and airbrushed visage on the inside covers of her

book, it's easy to assume she's channeling an idealized version of herself. Mary Sue? You tell me! Her women are always tough, gritty, nontraditionally named and nontraditionally beautiful, with long, wild hair, wide mouths, cat-eyes, and exotic cheekbones. Only the sad-ass Hollywood Wives would be dressed in couture ruffles or sequins; the real Collins heroine wears sleek leather and silk, black, red, white; her "fuck you" attitude is as essential an accessory as her "casual" diamond earrings or leather boots. Lucky, Montana, Dallas, Sunday, Rafaella, Cleo… they're all cut from the same mold. In fact, JC's characters, in general, fall into types, and you could pretty much separate 'em out book by book, and end up with the Eccentric Perverted Businessman pile, the Petulant Heiress/Star pile, the Cocky Dumb Action Dude pile, the Savvy Ballbreaker Maybe Dyke Agent/Producer Woman pile, the Spoiled Daddy's Pretty Princess/Spoiled Dumb Ugly Prince pile, and the list goes on. Ditto her wacky names: Marshall K. Marshall, Dindi Sidney, Muffin, Liver Rock, Kris Phoenix, "Pinky Banana".... There could be numerous drinking games outa this kind of stuff!

Jackie can be hit-and-miss with the sex stuff, though. Just when you think you're gonna get some Hott Rock Star action, you end up reading about the fat Italian mobster and the airhead blonde hooker. Yeesh.

Virginia Henley
You want bodice-rippers? You got bodice-rippers!

I have a sharply-honed formula for picking out romance novels, when, every six months or so, I want some trashier-than-Krantz reading. A truly trashy romance novel must meet the following criterion:

1) The hero and heroine must have absolutely silly names. She'll be something flowery (but historically unlikely) like Misty or Summer or Briananana or Kyleah, and he'll be Thorne Oakenwood or Hawk Phallus or something. My ultimate favorite was some Harlequin book, long gone, that had a character named Cyrus Burrus. No shittin'!
2) The title and the blurb on the back cover must contain one of the following words: rogue, rake, scoundrel, vixen, hellcat, hellkitten, brazen, angel, temptress, pagan, master, slave, enslave, arrogant, pirate, deny, feisty, hot-tempered, wild, yield, passionate, intoxicating, ravish, et. al.
3) The couple must be bent in a nearly-unnatural pose on the front cover.

Ginny H. doesn't mess around, either. She's got it all. And unlike some of the other trashy historical romance novels, who get all coy with their "throbbing manroots" and "tender flower-petals" Henley's not afraid to use an honest, straightforward "fuck" as well. In fact, one of my favorite opening lines from any trashy novel ever is Henley's "What a beautiful cock." Of course, the heroine is stealing a chicken, but you don't know that for the first few oh-so-ha-ha-funny double-meaning sentences, now, do you?

Henley doesn't really break any new ground, of course. The usual romance novel conventions prevail. The heroines are ravishingly beautiful, young, tender, innocent, yet feisty and hedonistic. The men are virile, mighty, overwhelming, rich, successful, brutal, yet so tender. She seems to think that "strong woman" = bitchy and "strong man" = predatory, and "passion" = manipulation. I mean, what'd you expect from the covers? Naturally, the dumb fluffy bunny women who use multiple exclamation points and type in all caps when they write and who wear appliquéd kitty cat sweat-shirts with stretch pants and who get their acrylic nails airbrushed and still have spiral perms and have sig. lines on message boards that contain multiple smiley animations and include the phrases "Mommy to ____" or "My little angels, ____" are gonna think Virginia Henley's heroes are soooooo romantic and the women are sooooo inspiring. Guh.

So what's the appeal…? VH's books have way better sex scenes than your Heather Grahams and Victoria Holts, so enjoy!

Of course, her novels are neither historically accurate, nor politically correct. More than one of Henley's Heroines is raped - well, "overpowered" - by her husband/lover, but of course, the ladies in question ultimately want it, but are too stubborn to ask for it. The husband usually spanks (or threatens to spank) his unruly wife, but she deserved it. Henley takes liberties with historical figures, and is awfully fond of the Plantagenet clan. (And some of her lower-end-of-the-IQ-scale readers, if amazon.com reviews are to be believed, actually think they're LEARNING HISTORY from her books, for pity's sake! Let's hope more readers're inspired to read, well, actual history instead of just more historical romances!)

Henley's romances are the usual love-hate battle of wills, but the fun of them is in the sex scenes. Of course, it's no Anais Nin, but if you need some "turgid member" or "dewy center" or "let down her love juices" action, here's the place!

V.C. Andrews
But be careful! As with the aforementioned Ms. Collins, I don't recommend the whole Virginia canon… just the early stuff, like the Flowers in the Attic series, and the one-off book My Sweet Audrina.

VC wrote potboiler "rubbish" to the Jo Marchest degree; this is our generation's Emily Bronte, so enjoy it! Incest is the buzzword with VC, if you didn't already know... incest, and lots of it! VC was also big on freaky religious fanatics, revenge, abusive parents, abusing animals,, and reallyreally rich people, along with the whole gothic element of decay and death and horror and creepiness. Fun shit, especially in the FITA books. Of course, when I first read them (at 12, like most of her fanbase did), I was touched profoundly. Chris was SO PERFECT AND ROMANTIC! Cathy was SO STRONG AND WONDERFUL! And even though I wanted someone to take that whiny bitch Carrie down to the hospital to show her what children with REAL deformities looked like, she was still so TOUCHING AND TRAGIC!

But sadly, just when Virginia got goin' on the bestseller list, she was diagnosed with cancer, croaked, and her "estate" hired a ghostwriter. Which fucked everything up but good.

When the New Dude jumped in, Ginny A's books were already getting a little thin. By the Heaven series, there were lots of dropped threads and hints that amounted to nothing, even in the first book, which was the last one she (ostensibly) wrote in full. Miss Deale just… disappeared? And what about the hints dropped that Stepmother Sarah could "turn up" again? Nuthin'. And wait… one minute Pa is dying of a disease, and then… he's not? By the third book in the series, things just didn't sound… VCish. There's no consistency with the dialogue, especially the hillbilly accent. There are subtle, unexplainable shifts in the characters and the way they behave as well. It's never explained or understood just WHY Tony becomes sexually obsessed with Heaven… hell, in Web of Dreams, the book about Leigh, it's never really understood why Tony's so obsessed with Leigh, either. She's certainly not a compelling enough character to live up to the mythological proportions of her build-up, much less consistent with all the things said about her in earlier books. But... Tony's just… SUPPOSED to become obsessed by her, because ALL VCA's heroines inspire obsessive love in EVERYONE THEY MEET ESPECIALLY IF IT'S A BLOOD RELATIVE! Of course, in Ginny A's books, rape is a sign that someone is DEEPLY IN LOVE WITH SOMEONE and that they are THAT WORTHY OF LOVE AND OBSESSION! Damn.

The "prequel" to Flowers in the Attic also kinda sucked because it couldn't live up to the mythological proportions set by previous books. There were so many inconsistencies, and, even allowing that Corrine's point of view would differ from Olivia's didn't make sense of them. Garden of Shadows just really skated over the surface, and so, after hearing about how Malcolm was SO EVILLY FANATICALLY RELIGIOUS that it affected THREE GENERATIONS AFTER HIM, the brief mention about him "turning to God" was so… unconvincing. All of the abuses and atrocities mentioned in previous books? Barely mentioned here. Buh.

I lost the VC urge, interestingly enough, with the "Dawn" series. Ooh, dig it! A trashy book series with MY NAME?! Woo! Or not, it turned out. What was horrific but strangely plausible in Flowers in the Attic was just… retarded with Dawn. Cathy was innocent, but Dawn was totally stupid. Weird gothic plot twists reeking of darkness and creepiness morphed into… stupid people. Like Dawn's folks, supposedly kidnapping her, and then, after 15 years on the run, moving back to the same town they stole her from, and not only enrolling her in the same school as her half-brother and -sister, but letting her DATE her half-brother…? That made Pa Casteel's plan to sell his chilluns seem downright BRILLIANT by comparison! I guess ol' VC's outlines for New Dude weren't as detailed as he needed.

Not to mention that New Dude kept screwing stuff up; it was obvious from the moment he took over the Heaven books... he couldn't even get characters' names right! I was cheesed that Logan Grant Stonewall became Logan Robert Stonewall, and that Walter Drake Casteel became Drake Ormand Casteel, which was especially dumb because Ormand was the name of Dawn's kidnappin' daddy. What kind of a name is Ormand, anyhoo? And, good gravy, the plot holes were big enough to hide four kids in! Like, for instance, in Heaven's books, everyone babbles about how Leigh is so natural and senusal, running around in loose dresses, braless... but in Web of Dreams, Leigh always wears skirts and sweaters, lipstick, and a bra, with her hair pulled back in headbands, like a nice prim little fifties girl, not a sensual child-woman. And what about the hooey that Clive Van Voreen isn't her real father, because Jillian got knocked up and HAD to get married... at... 26? When she was 26, Jillian had a shotgun wedding at her mother's insistance? So what was she doing before then? And how about how one minute, Jillian's two sisters are ugly and jealous, the next, they're almost as beautiful as her but not as "well-preserved"...? And what about this letter and Leigh's diary that ended up in Jillian's desk drawer...? So, were Jillian and Tony faking the whole time with Heaven when they believed her "mother" had just died? What about Fanny's daughter, Darcy, by the Reverend? Wasn't she still being raised in Winnerow? Why no mention of her, ever? Why is it so important for Troy to find Keith and Our Jane for Heaven when, at the end of the previous book, Pa had already given Heaven the name and location of the family that adopted them? Seriously, the Heaven books are a complete muddle. And New Dude's writing style blows. He lifts full passages from earlier VC books time and again, or uses characteristic words/phrases (take a drink every time someone has cerulean blue eyes, and you'll be drunker 'n Jack Landry at a fais dodo in no time), but the effect is stiff and stilted. People "slap" their hands together a lot, or " '____,' she said, nodding." It's so pathetically bad.

And now, the books are so formulaic that I'm sure there're 12-year-olds writing better fic for their websites. Beautiful girl with older brother/cousin, parents/mother die(s) tragically, finds real family, finds out boyfriend is really brother or brother is really boyfriend or both (see: Dawn, Ruby), has teen pregnancy, and the next book will be from her daughter's viewpoint because she will die suddenly and tragically, too, and the daughter will have to fight off the advances of skuzzy people, usually blood relatives. And instead of touching, tragic heroes like Christopher Dollanganger Foxworth, the heroine hooks up with dumb rich handsome louts who the reader is suddenly supposed to believe is wonderful, like Ruby's husband Beau, who is pretty much just a high school stud on the make, and you're sure that she's gonna wake up and chuck him. But no. Plus every time a character seems to get in the way, they get killed off (see: Giselle, Jack Landry, Paul, Daphne....)

I suppose reading Ginny A. to find all the things wrong or inconsistent is part of the fun of trashy reading though, innit?

Jean M. Auel
I confess. When I started reading Jean Auel, sometime around 10th grade, I actually thought her books were really deep and meaningful, both historically and mythologically. For some reason, I didn't read Clan of the Cave Bear first, and, if I had, I prolly wouldn't've continued with the series. I started with Valley of Horses, which was a lot more action-packed (in more ways than one!) Of course, I've been hooked on Survival Stories since Island of the Blue Dolphins, so I was ready to think Ayla was all that and an otter-skin-bag-of-horse-chips. Discover fire? Domesticate horses? Invent the bow-and-arrow and the needle? Of COURSE she could!

But a little goes a long way, and there's a lot in the Earth's Children books that too easily lends itself to parody. Tell me you don't giggle like a twelve year old when you read the phrase "sharing Pleasures," same as you did with the whole "Ralph" thing in Forever! By Book Four, I was getting annoyed at the usual "Ayla, who was raised by Flatheads, encounters a new group of people. Will they accept her? WILL THEY?!" plots that took up 3/4ths of the books.

And talk about not living up to expectations, but Auel's latest book was the next-biggest disappointment in my life after the latest Star Wars movies. THAT was what we waited for for TEN YEARS? Damn, it sucked.

But Valley of Horses and Mammoth Hunters are still fun trashy reads. Because who doesn't like to read three pages of nearly-scientific observation about mammoths gettin' it on?

The Nanny Diaries
The mistake with this book (like with much contemporary fiction aimed at the twentysomething female niche market… I'm looking at you, Bridget Jones-reading-women-who-squeal "I'm JUST like her!!!") is taking it too seriously. People who flip out over "Ohmigawd, I can't believe people really DO this to their CHILDREN!!!" are missing the point: this book is FICTION. And as fiction, it's fun. Sure, the authors claim it's based on their real-life experience as nannies in New York, but still… it's a composite of characters and situations. It's also a shamelessly dishy read, which makes it especially fun.

Defiant Angel
Read all the reviews. Just GUESS which one is mine. That's riiiiiight!

This book blows, but, again, because it's almost a tongue-in-cheek presentation of every romance novel convention known to mankind, it's a fun read. The same women who think Virginia Henley's heroes are ideal just twist their white cotton Just My Size ten-per-package Target cotton panties* inside out with the Barencourt brothers… not ONE Fabio-guy, but, like, FOUR! Oooooh!

But don't let their gushing fool you… what with the stilted dialogue and hokey plot, there's not much to be impressed with here. The woman is an immature spoiled brat. The man is oh-so-suave. The woman doesn't know her own mind. The man can take care of her and provide her with everything her capricious little heart desires. In fact, the man is SO in control of the woman and the relationship that even biology is no match for him; he can actually decide WHEN he impregnates her! No, REALLY, Clinton Claremont Barencourt, a double-duke, decides that THIS time when he "fill(s) her womb" he's going to "g(i)ve her life." It's creepy how in control of fluffy Lady Tiffany's body he is… beyond just the whole sexual thing. If it wasn't a cheesy-ass romance novel, I'd worry that it was fucking up society. Hell, I might worry anyway.

But since, Readers, you aren't pork-stupid, you'll know to read this with an eye for the Laughable.

(*And before someone thinks I'm harshin' on plus-sized women… dudes, I shop at Target and wear Just My Size stuff too, so calm down, a'ight?)

Books about Women Captured By Indians!
But it isn't all about the fiction, people! There're groovy-ass choices in the non-fiction department as well! I'm almost perversely fond of novelizations of historical happenings, namely, women captured by Indians. I know how problematic this is; I minored in Native American history during Undergrad and all that… but I'm still hooked. My two favorites are Ride the Wind, the story of Cynthia Ann Parker (but be prepared, it's a heartbreaker) and Follow the River, about Mary Ingles. I've read real stuff, too, but the fiction is a total trashy read!

Mommie Dearest
This is the dishiest dish that ever dished, isn't it? And you gotta know what-all wasn't included in the movies, don't you? While it doesn't have the same great catchphrases as the movie, it's still spectacular to see Adult Christina trying to assert her place in Hollywood Royalty, while at the same time trying to make sense of her legitimate story of child abuse. She's as name-droppy as anyone else in Tinseltown, and, despite the real abuse she suffered, gets quite whingy about things that don't seem nearly as important as getting the crap beat out of you by your mother and being abandoned by every father-figure in your life. This book is the benchmark for gossipy tell-alls, though, and I fully admit to getting sucked into it on numerous occasions.

There! That should keep all y'all occupied, now, shouldn't it?

More Lists soon!

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