book reviews

Repost of my review of Stephen Collins’ Eye Contact… 

I wrote this review for Epinions.com in March 2013, and I’m reposting it here, because we were just talking about Stephen Collins last night. This book was definitely the “anti-RevCam”. It appears here “as/is”. He’s now living in Iowa with a German woman named Jenny. 😉

Yes… THAT Stephen Collins, the same guy who played Reverend Camden on 7th Heaven for 11 years.  He wrote two shitty novels.  I have read and reviewed them both.  This is my review of his book, Eye Contact.  Enjoy!

Pros: Not full of typos.  Reasonably well-written.

Cons: Implausible plot.  Unlikable protagonist.  Sleazy.

I recently made the curious decision to watch all the episodes of the old WB series 7th Heaven.  As I was watching the show, I learned that the actor, Stephen Collins, who played the Reverend Eric Camden, the patriarch of the large Camden brood, had tried to branch out into a career in music.  As I was investigating Collins’ music career, I learned that Collins had also made a foray into the literary world.  Because I just can’t resist a good snark fest, I decided to read his first book, Eye Contact (1994). 

On the cover of my copy of Eye Contact, there is a ringing endorsement from Stuart Woods promising a book that is “erotic, funny, and before long, terrifying.”  I finished this book last night and I think there’s a little false advertising going on.  Granted, I’m not really a fan of trashy novels to start with, nor am I generally impressed with Stephen Collins.  I wasn’t expecting this book to be very good and frankly, it really wasn’t.  On the other hand, it’s not as bad as it could be.  It’s not full of typos, for instance. 

The plot

Beautiful New York City based actress Nicolette Stallings (Nick or Susan Nichols to her friends) is a ho who really gets off on the thrill of the chase.  She enjoys one night stands with random men, much to her detriment.  One night, she’s in a restaurant dressed a skin tight peach cashmere dress.  She notices a Wall Street looking guy sitting across the room with his wife.  Despite the fact that the couple looks like they’re having an anniversary dinner, Nick decides she wants to do him.  She opens a window of opportunity, which the guy inveitably takes, and later ends up drunk on champagne.  She boinks the hell out of this random Wall Street looking guy in a hotel room she can’t afford.  And yes, despite the fact that she’s a struggling actress and he works on Wall Street, she is the one paying for the hotel.  Totally implausible, if she’s really that pretty and irresistible and he’s really that taken with her.

Over the next few days, Nick Stallings learns how damaging being a ho can be.  She suffers a series of inconvenient mishaps that land her in some serious legal hot water.  It turns out her random bed partner is a deranged, suicidal Wall Streeter who decides it’s not enough to traumatize Nick by killing himself in her home.  He has to try to ruin her life, too.  Luckily, Nick Stallings has a few brand new friends in New York City and occasional brain function to boot!  Will she be able to avoid being framed for a murder that was really a suicide?

My thoughts

As trashy novels go, I think Eye Contact is about standard quality.  As I read it, I pictured a B grade movie complete with B grade actors playing all the parts.  The story is implausible and takes place in much too short a time frame.  Within two days of meeting the Wall Street guy and witnessing him jumping out her window, surviving, and later coming back while high on Demerol to stab himself to death in front of her, Nick is being investigated for his possible murder.  The medical examiner is somehow able to determine the guy’s death is sketchy within a day or two of his death. 

Within that short course of time, Nick meets a couple who end up being super kind to her, even letting her move into their apartment after the lawyer’s bloody death.  I know that a lot of New Yorkers are much kinder than they seem, but what are the odds that this chick would find such a generous couple just when she needs them?  These folks really go above and beyond the call of duty for this woman they barely know, driving her around, hooking her up with a lawyer, and giving her food and shelter.  Collins also saddles these characters with irritating stereotypical New York accents heavily peppered with the f-word as if it’s very endearing.  I don’t have issues with the f-word, but when it’s used solely to effect a mood about a character and provide comic relief, it becomes a cheap gimmick. 

I didn’t think the character, Nick (or Susan or Nicolette), was very relateable.  I didn’t really care if she got out of her jam.  She comes off as someone with serious issues.  First off, there’s the name thing.  Her real name is Susan and half the characters call her that.  Her stage name is Nicolette Stallings, which the public knows her as and as some of her friends call her.  Her nickname is Nick, which is how Collins addresses her.  While I understand that actors often have stage names, the constant name issue was cumbersome and annoying.

Secondly, Collins makes Nick out to be a bit of an oversexed bimbo.  She’s portrayed as a sexy woman who can’t help herself, even if a man is otherwise engaged.  There are interludes within the text that have Nick doing things that are vaguely kinky, but not all that sexy or erotic.  As I read about them, I wasn’t turned on…  In fact, my exact reaction was a resounding “Eeeeeew!”  Collins adds annoying little asides in italics that are supposed to be Nick’s thoughts… her better judgment, really, warning against all the stupid things she does.  Sadly, Nick never listens to her better judgment and ultimately gets herself in a big mess. 

Collins tries to develop this character through a series of flashbacks to Nick’s younger years, when she was an “ugly duckling” child and the low self-esteem that tends to come with being a homely kid.  This is supposed to help the reader understand why she’s such an unrepetant ho as an adult.  However, instead of feeling empathy for Nick, I felt like she needed a competent psychiatrist with an open calendar who specializes in sexual hangups.  Any time a pre-teen goes rifling though her father’s dresser, tries on his bikini bathing suit and gets it “moist”, then puts it back in the dresser, I can’t help but think she’s got some serious Electra complex issues.

As I was reading Eye Contact, I couldn’t believe Collins the writer is the same guy as Collins the actor, who portrayed the Reverend Eric Camden, the 7th Heaven character who was obsessed with making sure none of his kids had premarital sex.  This novel is chock full of the f-word and sleazy sex scenes that I didn’t find all that erotic or interesting.  To me, Nick came off as someone very unlikeable, slutty, and shallow.  I wondered what or who inspired Collins to create her… and if he really thought his readers, most of whom are likely women, would think she was someone they would root for or respect.  I mean, even if you’re reading a book about someone very unlikable, you at least want to have some respect for the character, right?  To me, Nick Stallings came off as just a stupid ho who needed to keep her mouth shut and her legs crossed… and maybe stop by the doctor’s office for an HIV test and some penicillin. 

Overall

Like I said, this book is not as bad as it could be.  I’ve certainly read worse novels than this.  But I didn’t think Eye Contact was very good.  As much as I dislike Stephen Collins as an actor and a singer, I probably like him even less as an author.  But he did write another book in 1998 which I will read and review, just for the sake of completeness. ETA in 2022: I do remember reading the book, but I don’t know if I can still access the review. I seem to remember thinking it was worse than Eye Contact.

As an Amazon Associate, I get a small commission on sales made through my site. But I wouldn’t recommend this book, anyway.

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animals, book reviews, nostalgia, religion

Exposing Bill to Black Beauty…

No, I’m not referring to the black pills or capsules filled with amphetamines, although there are times when I think Bill might benefit from a little speed. Kidding, of course… He’s just chronically tired, because he doesn’t sleep soundly.

No, not THESE Black Beauties.

I’m actually referring to the book, Black Beauty, by Anna Sewell. It was one of my favorite books when I was a child. In those days, I was certifiably horse crazy. My sisters had passed down several copies of the 1877 novel, which was English author Anna Sewell’s only book. I read it countless times when I was growing up. Curiously, Bill was never exposed to this children’s literature staple. He says it’s because he was reading “adult” books when he was a child. I would say that although Black Beauty is a supposed children’s book, there is much value in it for adults, too. Not only is it a good reminder that animals are sentient beings with thoughts and feelings, but there’s also a lot of wisdom in it that is surprisingly timely today.

Anna Sewell spent several years writing Black Beauty, as she was an invalid who was very ill during the last years of her life. Anna was not able to stand or walk for very long distances, owing to an accident she had when she was 14 that injured both of her ankles. She relied on horse drawn carriages to get around, which caused her to love and respect horses very much. Sadly, Anna died at age 57, only five months after her book was published. She did, however, live long enough to see its initial success. Black Beauty is now one of the most popular and best-selling books of all time. And yet, Bill hasn’t even seen any of the movies, or the 70s British television show. I used to love watching Black Beauty on Nickelodeon in the 80s, when I was a pre-teen.

The TV theme for the show based on the novel.

I don’t remember what prompted me to buy a Kindle version of Black Beauty last night and start reading it to Bill. I knew that more than once, I had told him he needed to read the book. He kept expressing interest whenever I mentioned it, but never got around to taking my suggestion. He was always too sleepy!

I finally took it upon myself to read it to him, so I knew he was exposed to the story. Sure enough, he was very quickly hooked. Black Beauty is a very engaging book, even for men in their late 50s. Bill loves animals, and this is a book that isn’t just about horses, but also other creatures. It’s a plea against cruelty, and a reminder that religion doesn’t necessarily determine someone’s value as a person. For instance, this morning, I read this in the final paragraph of Chapter 13:

“Your master never taught you a truer thing,” said John; “there is no religion without love, and people may talk as much as they like about their religion, but if it does not teach them to be good and kind to man and beast it is all a sham—all a sham, James, and it won’t stand when things come to be turned inside out.”

Sewell, Anna. Black Beauty (p. 46). True Sign Publishing House. Kindle Edition.

As I read that, all I could think was that it was such a timely quote, given how things are today, in 2022. Anna Sewell was definitely a wise and intelligent woman, ahead of her time. I think about all of the so-called religious people– especially certain “Christians”– who claim a moral high ground because of their religious beliefs. And yet some of those people are the biggest liars, social climbers, and hypocrites ever! Give me a kindhearted atheist, any day.

Anna Sewell hadn’t meant for her book to be for children. She had wanted to increase awareness of animal welfare and promote kindness and sympathy, particularly toward horses, but likely also toward everyone and everything that lives. She even expressed consideration for flies in her book, as she wrote a story about a mean spirited boy named Bill who was cruel to his pony, and was once caught pulling the wings off of flies in a window sill. God knows, I’ve killed some flies in my day, but I don’t torture them. Hell, the other day, a bee landed in my beer and I helped the poor drunken fellow out to recover. Of course, it’s illegal to kill bees in Germany, anyway.

We’re already up to chapter 14. I’m determined to introduce Bill to this story, once and for all. I don’t think he’ll be sorry. I feel lucky to have such a patient and kind husband, who doesn’t mind indulging my idiosyncrasies and letting me read to him. The chapters are pretty short, which is a nice thing. It makes it easier to stop. I have read this book so many times, yet it never gets old. It truly is a great story. In its day, it helped change people’s attitudes about animals and how they are treated. Sewell’s commentary about “bearing reins”, which were used to force horses to keep their heads high, even led to their use being banned in the United Kingdom and the United States.

Besides reading books from the 19th century, we might also venture out today, since I’m not contagious anymore. I do still have a slight cough, but cold weather will be upon us before we know it. What I’d really like to do is find a nice hike to a waterfall, like we did when we lived near Stuttgart. Unfortunately, I don’t think we have too many near us. On the other hand, we didn’t really have any near us down in BW, either. We were just more willing to go out, because there wasn’t a pandemic going on. Germany’s rules have loosened a lot, but we’ve kind of lost the desire to go out as much anymore. And now, I can’t see COVID as an abstract threat, because I just got over it myself.

I’m also still working on reading Revenge, but I expect to be done with that book very soon. I look forward to dishing. In the meantime, below is a link to the abridged Kindle version of Black Beauty I’m reading. It’s only 60 cents! If you purchase it through the below link, I will get a pittance in commissions from Amazon. 😉

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book reviews

My thoughts on The Testaments: The Sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale…

I just finished reading The Testaments, Margaret Atwood’s explosive sequel to her smash 1985 novel, The Handmaid’s Tale. I read and reviewed Atwood’s most popular novel a couple of years ago. I recently reposted my review of The Handmaid’s Tale, which you can find here. To be honest, I wasn’t all that hot on The Handmaid’s Tale when I first read it. I found it very depressing and had trouble finishing it. But then I started watching the series on Hulu and got hooked on that. When Atwood published The Testaments, I decided I might as well see how the story ends. Or does it end? It’s hard to tell.

I’ll admit, I put off reading The Testaments. I don’t read a lot of novels anymore. I prefer non-fiction books, even though I spent so many years reading fiction as an English major and adolescent bookworm. I finally decided to get busy with The Testaments when I watched the film version of The Handmaid’s Tale. You can find my commentary on the film here.

So… with all of that out of the way, what did I think of the sequel? I’m happy to report that I mostly found it enjoyable. It was a lot more readable and less depressing than The Handmaid’s Tale. Perhaps thanks to the TV series, I was able to form pictures in my mind of what the characters would be like. I also noticed that Margaret Atwood has a knack for being unexpectedly witty, and that made reading her book a delight.

For this book, Atwood focuses on several characters, rather than just the handmaid. The story is set more than fifteen years after the first story, and we’re introduced to characters who were just children when the first book ended. There’s Agnes, a teen who was raised by a high ranking commander and his wife, Tabitha, who is dying. Agnes’s father remarries, and her new stepmother, Paula, is intent on marrying her off to another high ranking commander, who’s been married a few times and seems to have a bad track record with keeping his wives alive.

There’s Daisy/Jade/Nicole… raised in Canada by people who ran a used clothing store. She thought they were her real parents until she turned sixteen, and the people she thought were her parents were suddenly killed when their car blew up. It’s at that point that she finds out who she really is, and why she must journey to Gilead. Nicole is young and snarky; she uses the Lord’s name in vain, which upsets Agnes.

Agnes has a friend named Becka, whose father is the best dentist in Boston who happens to have a penchant for child molestation. She decides she’d rather be an aunt than get married. Becka trades in her bright green dress– the dress for brides to be– for the dull brown dress the aunts wear. She learns how to read, and shows Agnes the way to avoiding marriage and a sure death sentence. Agnes gets a new name and eventually meets a long lost family member.

There’s Aunt Lydia, who seems like a terribly malevolent character at first blush, but then you get her backstory and find out she’s not as bad as she seems. She’s also super smart and witty, and I especially enjoyed some of her funnier quips. You find out that Aunt Lydia has come up with a “missionary program” in which pairs of women, known as “Pearl Girls”, try to recruit people to move to Gilead. Pearl Girls are destined to be aunts, like Lydia. Reading about the aunts is interesting. They reminded me of nuns. I would have liked for Atwood to develop Lydia even more, giving readers more of a look at how and why she turned from who she was into who she now is.

I think I might have found The Testaments even more compelling if it had been a bit more detailed. Because there are three characters to follow, there’s less detail about each protagonist. There’s also less shock value, because there’s less time and opportunity for it. In some ways, I’m glad for less shock value– again, I found this book less depressing than The Handmaid’s Tale. But it seemed to me, I don’t know, kind of rushed and incomplete in some ways. Atwood kind of glosses over what life is really like in Gilead. She could have added more detail about this world she’s created, with more about what the society is really like. That might have made her characters more multi-dimensional. I did enjoy the last bit, which is a look at the future– 2197– long after we’re all gone. Atwood makes mention of the need for sunscreen and insect repellant, a nod to the climate changes that will affect everyone if the world isn’t already destroyed by then. Who knows?

The three characters interacting together are interesting, especially when the reader learns who they really are and, more importantly, witness them learning who they really are. Atwood’s sequel is appealing, and will probably be satisfying to most readers. However, as a work in itself, I don’t think it’s quite as earth shattering as The Handmaid’s Tale is. I couldn’t help but realize that Atwood probably wrote this book for people who don’t necessarily read literature for fun. This book is very commercial and, as such, is a bit watered down. Consequently, it reads more like something the average person would enjoy, rather than something artistic, literary, and groundbreaking. In other words, it seems a little like Atwood “cashed in”, even though I’ll admit that I mostly enjoyed the book.

So, The Testaments definitely has commercial appeal and Atwood’s additions, no doubt, will be used in the series. But overall, the book is kind of lightweight and pedestrian, and it really seems like Atwood wrote The Testaments strictly for the masses. The Handmaid’s Tale, by contrast, is a better quality book because it’s obvious that Atwood really considered the plot for a long time and did her research. She took the time to craft the story using ordeals that real women have endured somewhere in the world at some point in time, giving The Handmaid’s Tale a more realistic feel, which made it a whole lot scarier and more compelling. The Handmaid’s Tale makes a solid, important, bold, political statement that may have felt far-fetched in 1985, but is definitely relevant in 2019. I’m not sure The Testament makes the same caliber of a statement, even if it’s more enjoyable to read.

If I were rating The Testaments on a five star scale, I think I’d give it three-and-a-half stars. The Testaments is definitely readable and interesting, but it doesn’t really stand up to the original story. It’s definitely not the same complex quality, and lacks the depth and shock and awe of the original. I found The Handmaid’s Tale much more difficult to read, but ultimately it’s a much better book because it’s been crafted from reality. The Testaments, by contrast, isn’t based as much in reality as it is speculation. And… as I’ve noticed on Amazon.com’s reviews, some people are upset that “June” (who was called Kate in the movie and was unnamed in the original book and remains unnamed in the sequel) gets very little mention in this sequel. So anyone who thinks they’d like to read this to find out about “June” is going to be very disappointed. Readers should remember that “June” doesn’t exist in Atwood’s book. That’s a character name that was given to her for the TV series. Atwood’s books aren’t the TV series, so readers shouldn’t go to the books for updates on what will happen in the series– although I do think aspects of The Testaments will be woven into upcoming seasons of The Handmaid’s Tale.

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