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
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,
. 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
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,
Jackie C. also has a "type" of heroine, and, when you
look at her own lifted and airbrushed visage on the inside covers
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.
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
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
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!
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
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
disappeared? And what about the hints dropped that Stepmother
Sarah could "turn up" again? Nuthin'. And wait
minute Pa is dying of a disease, and then
he's not? By the
third book in the series, things just didn't sound
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
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
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!
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"
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
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
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.
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
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
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!
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!