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Series Review: Sookie Stackhouse / Southern Vampire Mysteries Series by Charlaine Harris

March 7, 2014 6 comments

Introduction:
I post series reviews after completing reading an entire series of books.  It gives me a chance to reflect on and analyze the series as a whole.  These series reviews are designed to also be useful for people who: A) have read the series too and would like to read other thoughts on it or discuss it with others OR B) have not read the series yet but would like a full idea of what the series is like, including possible spoilers, prior to reading it themselves or buying it for another.  Please be aware that series reviews necessarily contain some spoilers.

Man in cloak floating in the airSummary:
Sookie Stackhouse is a waitress in the rural town of Bon Temps, Louisiana, and she has a secret.  She’s a telepath, and it’s ostracized her from most of the people in her town.  But when vampires come out of the coffin, Sookie discovers that she can’t read their minds.  Mind reading made her dating life non-existent, for obvious reasons, but with vampires, Sookie can feel somewhat normal.  She soon starts to get pulled into their supernatural world, which contains more than they’re letting on to the mainstream public.

Review:
I first want to make it very clear that this series review is talking exclusively about the books and not the tv show inspired by them, True Blood.  There will be no spoilers for the show and no comparisons between the books and the show.  The show diverged very quickly from the books, so I think it’s fair to keep discussion of the two separate.  Moving right along!

coverclubdeadThis series takes the mystery series whodunit in the vein of Agatha Christie and drenches it in the supernatural and the American south, utilizing it to tell the overarching story of one woman choosing who she wants to be.  Perhaps because of the presence of some handsome leading men and the occasional sex scene, some mistake the series for a romance one.  But this series is truly not a romance.  Sookie’s romantic life (and sex life) is really secondary to the mysteries she solves and her slow discovery of who she is and who she wants to be.

The whodunit plots are generally murder mysteries.  The violence is moderate.  If you can handle a vampire biting someone or knowing someone is being beheaded without actually getting the gore described to you, you can handle the violence in this series.  The whodunit plots start out engaging but gradually become more repetitive and ho-hum, almost as if the author was running out of ideas for situations to place Sookie in.  Similarly, Sookie gets kidnapped and has to get saved by her supernatural friends kind of a lot.

coverdeadasadoornailThe setting of a supernatural American south is well imagined and evoked.  Both small town, rural lives and larger southern cities like Dallas and New Orleans are touched upon.  The American north is visited once, however, Sookie has a strong aversion to northern women that sours the representation of the north in the book.

The characters can sometimes feel like overwrought caricatures.  While some characters are given depth, most are not.  This is odd, since Sookie can read minds.  one would assume that she, as the first person narrator, would have a very three-dimensional view of those around her.  And yet she doesn’t.  Sookie likes to say that she’s for equality and seeing the good in everyone but she actually judges people very harshly.  For instance, she thinks it’s a shame that women who are not virgins wear white wedding dresses.

Sookie’s character does develop, albeit minimally, over the course of the books.  Characters should grow and change, coveralltogetherdeadparticularly over the course of 13 books, but unfortunately Sookie’s character changes to become less and less likable.  This is extra frustrating when the book is told from her perspective.  Instead of becoming more powerful and strong (emotionally, mentally) over the course of the series, Sookie becomes less and less able to handle the things going on around her.  She also continues to act shocked and appalled at the wars and violence she doesn’t just see, but participates in, in spite of it now being a normal part of her life.  Perhaps if she was just repeatedly a victim this mentality would make sense, but Sookie enacts violence on those around her and then acts disgusted at what the vampires/werewolves/etc… do, which comes off as hypocritical.  Either own your own actions and validate their necessity or stop doing them.  Don’t do certain violent actions then deny your involvement while simultaneously judging others for doing precisely what you just did.  The fact that Sookie slowly becomes this hypocritical person makes her less and less likable.  Similarly, she starts out the books with a firm belief in social justice and equality for supes but over the course of the series clearly comes to believe that humans are better than supes.  I don’t blame her for wanting a quiet life or for wanting to stay human or wanting to have babies but she could have Blonde woman in blue standing between two pale men in black capes.done all of those things without coming to view supes as inferior.  It is frustrating for the reader to have a main character in an almost cozy style mystery series gradually change into someone it is difficult to empathize with.

There is a consistent presence of GLBTQ characters, albeit mostly in secondary roles, throughout the series.  Homophobia is depicted in an extremely negative light since only the bad guys ever exhibit it.  Unfortunately, there is an instance of bi erasure in the book.  One of the characters is identified as gay but everyone also acknowledges that he periodically sleeps with women.  Even the character himself calls himself gay, so this isn’t just a case of the author writing a realistic amount of the realities of bi erasure into the book.

The sex in the book is not well-written.  It is just awkward, cringe-inducing, and laughable most of the time.  But the sex scenes aren’t very often, and they do fit in with the rest of the book.  Just don’t go to this series looking to get really turned Cartoon drawing of a blonde woman in a green dress upside down with burning paper near her.on.

This sounds like a lot of criticism for the series but some of these things, such as the campy, two-dimensional characters, are part of what makes the series enjoyable.  It’s kitschy, not to be taken too seriously.  It’s a series to come to and read precisely to laugh and roll your eyes.  To be utterly bemused at the sheer number of supernatural creatures and the ridiculousness of how they organize themselves.  To sigh in frustration at Sookie as she gets kidnapped yet again or is oblivious yet again to who the murderer is.  It’s a series that’s candy for those who enjoy camp and not too much violence with a touch of the supernatural in their mysteries.

3.5 out of 5 stars

A blonde woman stands among flowers and tomatoes with the sun either setting or rising behind her.Source: Amazon, PaperBackSwap, and Audible

Books in Series:
Dead Until Dark, review
Living Dead in Dallas, review
Club Dead, review
Dead To The World, review
Dead as a Doornail, review
Definitely Dead, review
All Together Dead, review
From Dead to Worse, review
Dead And Gone, review
Dead in the Family, review
Dead Reckoning, review
Deadlocked, review
Dead Ever After, review

Book Review: Dead Ever After by Charlaine Harris (Series, #13) (Audiobook narrated by Johanna Parker)

March 5, 2014 5 comments

A blonde woman stands among flowers and tomatoes with the sun either setting or rising behind her.Summary:
Sookie, Eric, and Sam must deal with the fall-out of her using the cluviel dor to save Sam, rather than to save Eric from his arranged marriage with the vampire Queen of Oklahoma.  On top of this, someone is out to frame Sookie for murder, and they just might succeed.  Sookie even gets arrested and must be bailed out of prison.  Her demon godfather, his niece, his grandson, Sookie’s witch friend Amelia, and Amelia’s boyfriend all come to help her.

Review:
You guys. You guys. I finally did it. I finally finished the Sookie Stackhouse series! No longer will Sookie’s book adventures hang over my head….now I just have to finish watching True Blood.  The final entry in the series finishes telling the story of what clearly were a defining couple of years of Sookie’s life.  Whether or not that’s the story readers wanted to hear, it is the story that gets told.

It becomes abundantly clear early in this book that Sookie has had it with the supernatural world.  At least, with pure supes.  She’s ok with people who are basically human with a touch of something else (like herself) but she’s over the truly supernatural, like the fairies and the vampires.  Anyone who she feels has no humanity, she is done with.  As a reader, I appreciate that Harris took the heroine and made her commit firmly to the humans.  Many heroines in supernatural books desperately want to be supernatural themselves and commit wholeheartedly to that world.  I like that Harris tells a different story, even if I think that ultimately it makes Sookie look a bit prejudiced.  That part of Sookie’s character arc makes me sad.  She starts out very much in favor of social justice and incorporating the supernatural world into the human one and ends up kind of prejudiced and against change.  It’s sad.  But, it is an actual character arc, and it makes sense within who Sookie is as a character.  Some readers, who are enamored with the supernatural world themselves, might find it irritating or frustrating that Sookie has changed to not wanting to be a part of that world.  But it is a well-written character arc that makes sense.

The murder/framing plot at first seems incredibly ho-hum, been there, done that, why is everyone constantly after Sookie she is not that special, although she’s pretty annoying so yeah it kind of makes sense.  The plot does at least bring together a bunch of other highly enjoyable characters, such as Diantha and Amelia.  Ultimately, there is a plot twist that makes the central whodunit plot more interesting, although I did not like how the twist plays into Sookie’s increasing dislike of supernatural folks who she thinks aren’t human enough.

The boyfriend situation.  Well, it makes sense who Sookie chooses, and thank god their sex scenes are better written.  The ultimate romance makes sense with who Sookie has become, although it doesn’t read as either titillating or particularly romantic to me.  Then again, I decided many books ago that this series isn’t really about the romance, so I can’t say that it bothered me that much.  Readers that are more invested in the romantic aspect of the books might be disappointed or elated, depending on who they like.

One oddity of the book is that it alternates between Sookie’s first person narration and an ominous third person narration telling us things that are going on that Sookie doesn’t know about.  I don’t recall this happening in the series before, although I read the books over a long period of time, so perhaps it had.  In any case, departing from the familiar first person narration probably was an attempt to build tension, with the reader knowing more about what is threatening Sookie than Sookie does.  Ultimately, though, it just comes across as simultaneously jarring and like Harris just couldn’t figure out how to tell this story entirely from Sookie’s point of view.  It reads odd, not ominous.

The audiobook narrator, Johanna Parker, took an odd turn with this book.  Her voice reads as an old woman periodically, which doesn’t suit who Sookie is.  I was disappointed, after her very good narration of books 12 and 11.

Overall, the final book in the Sookie Stackhouse series satisfactorily completes Sookie’s story arc and wraps up everything that has happened to her.  Those who are secondary to the first person narration of Sookie’s life do not get the attention and wrap-up some readers might be looking for.  However, this book series has always been about Sookie.  It is told in her voice and is about her life.  Some readers may be disappointed with how her life ends up and who she ultimately becomes but the character arc is well told.  Recommended that readers who have completed at least half of the series finish the series, keeping in mind that it is really just about Sookie.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Audible

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Previous Books in Series:
Dead Until Dark, review
Living Dead in Dallas, review
Club Dead, review
Dead To The World, review
Dead as a Doornail, review
Definitely Dead, review
All Together Dead, review
From Dead to Worse, review
Dead And Gone, review
Dead in the Family, review
Dead Reckoning, review
Deadlocked, review

Book Review: Deadlocked by Charlaine Harris (Series, #12) (Audiobook narrated by Johanna Parker)

March 4, 2014 2 comments

Cartoon drawing of a blonde woman in a triangle of light coming from a small object.

Summary:
Sookie now has to deal with the fall-out of her, Eric, and Pam’s successful plot to kill Victor.  And that means entertaining the vampire King of Louisiana.  The very first party they host for the King ends with a dead half-shifter girl on the lawn.  Meanwhile, Sookie finds out just why Eric has been seeming distant lately, and it might be too much for them to overcome.  On top of all this, Sookie has to keep track of and protect the fairie present given to her grandmother, the cluviel dor.

Review:
The penultimate book in the Sookie Stackhouse series has a lot of big reveals, as one would expect.  The big reveals at the heart of Sookie’s overarching story make sense and are well-played, although the central mystery of this entry feels a bit ho-hum.

The cluviel dor felt a bit like a deus ex machina from the instant the concept was introduced in book 11.  To a certain extent, a powerful magical object that grants one wish will always feel like a deus ex machina, no matter how it is ultimately used.  However, of the many options for the use of the wish, I think that how Sooie ultimately uses it is the least like a deus ex machina that it could be.  The world is not torn asunder. The events of prior books aren’t canceled out.  The instant in which she uses it makes sense, feels real, and is understandable.  It reveals a plot point that may irritate some readers, particularly big fans of Eric, but it’s not a development that doesn’t fit in with the characters and world.  Meaning that the cluviel dor is not used as a love spell or to undo the existence of vampires or some such nonsense.  Those nervous about what would happen with it should rest easy and continue reading the series.  You won’t have the rug pulled out from under you.

The central mystery feels kind of repetitive.  There’s a dead body, and everyone must figure out what happened.  Similarly, Sookie continues to refuse to learn anything from the multiple supernatural situations she has found herself in.  She continues to make incredibly dumb mistakes that make it hard to root for her.

The depiction of the vampires, fairies, and werewolves continues on an ever more negative spiral.  The good supes are few and far between, whereas humanity is depicted as something to strive for.  For instance, having mercy on someone is seen as having humanity, as opposed to just having mercy.  One of the things I liked at the beginning of the series was the ambiguity of the supes.  Having Sookie feel increasingly negative toward them all is a bit sad.

That said, the book definitely moves the plot forward in a logical way.  Many loose ends are addressed and answers given.  Plus there is at least one big final question left for the last book in the series.

Overall, if you’ve stuck with the series this far, you should definitely keep reading.  The penultimate book answers some question and continues to flesh out the version of Bon Temps in Harris’s mind.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Audible

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Previous Books in Series:
Dead Until Dark, review
Living Dead in Dallas, review
Club Dead, review
Dead To The World, review
Dead as a Doornail, review
Definitely Dead, review
All Together Dead, review
From Dead to Worse, review
Dead And Gone, review
Dead in the Family, review
Dead Reckoning, review

Book Review: The Curse of the Wendigo by Rick Yancey (Audiobook narrated by Steven Boyer) (Series, #2)

April 11, 2013 3 comments

Black silhouette of birds and trees against a moon and a red background with a face just discernible in it.Summary:
Will Henry, 12 year old orphan and assistant to renowned Monstrumologist, Pellinore Warthrop, is shocked to find a refined woman on Warthrop’s doorstep.  She is the wife of Warthrop’s best friend who has now gone missing in rural Canada while looking for the elusive wendigo (aka werewolf).  Warthrop insists that there is no such thing as a wendigo, but he agrees to go looking for his missing friend anyway, even if he believes his mission was ridiculous and an affront to monstrumology’s reputation.

Review:
I can’t believe it took me this long to get to the sequel of one of my rare 5 star reads, The Monstrumologist.  I gave my dad a copy of The Monstrumologist for his birthday, and his enthusiasm for the series brought my own back to me, so I joined in with him to read through it.  I had a bunch of credits stacked up on Audible, so I went with the audiobook versions.  My speedy father reading in print quickly outpaced me, but that’s ok.  I’m really enjoying the audiobooks, although I’m sure I will be reading the final book in the series in the fall when it comes out on my kindle. Can’t wait around for the audiobook!  All of which is to say, my enthusiasm for the series remains high, if not steady, and the audiobooks are just as enjoyable as the print.

Yancey does something brave for a second book in the series.  Instead of following the formula that worked so well in the first book and basically doing a monster-of-the-week-in-our-town method like Buffy and so many other urban fantasies, he changes things up.  There is a monster, yes, but it is entirely different from the first one.  This is a monster that might not even exist, unlike the anthropophagi in the first book who are almost immediately clearly real.  Additionally, Warthrop and Will must travel away from New England to go looking for the trouble.  It does not come to them.  Another good plot twist is that the story does not entirely take place in Canada.  It moves to New York City.  Thus we get both the dangers of the wilderness and the dangers of the city in one book.  These plot choices mean that what makes this series a series is the characters, not the fantastical nature of their world.  By the end of the book I was thinking of the series in terms of the relationship between Will and Warthrop, not in the context of what nasty beast we might meet next.  It thus does what great genre fiction should do.  It looks at a real life issue and dresses it up with some genre fun.  And the issues addressed here are big ones.  What is love and what should we be willing to sacrifice for it?  Is it more loving to stay with someone at all costs or to let them go to protect them?  At what point do you give up on someone?

The horror certainly felt more grotesque this time around, although it’s possible I just wasn’t remembering the anthropophagi that well.  This is a bloody book full of horrible things.  Precisely what I expect out of my genre.  There’s not much more to say about the horror than keep it up, Yancey.  Also that this might not be for you if blood and guts and profanity are not your thing.  But they *are* mine and, oh, how well they are done here.

Just as with the first book, the language Yancey uses is beautiful.  It’s rich, eloquent, visual, and decadent.  It’s a word-lover’s book.  An example:

But love has more than one face. And the yellow eye is not the only eye. There can be no desolation without abundance. And the voice of the beast is not the only voice that rides upon the high wind….It is always there. Like the hunger that can’t be satisfied, though the tiniest sip is more satisfying than the most sumptuous of feasts.

Stunning.

The characterization here remains strong for Will and grows much stronger for Warthrop.  Will grows and changes as a 12 year old in this time period in his particular situation would be expected to.  With Warthrop, though, we get a much clearer backstory and motivations for his actions.  In the first book we came to know Will.  In this one we come to know Warthrop, although Will is not left without any development.  It’s a good balance.  I also enjoyed the addition of two female characters, who I thought were well-written, particularly Lily, the budding young feminist determined to be the world’s first female monstrumologist.  She is truly three-dimensional in spite of her rather limited screen-time compared to Will.

The pacing doesn’t build steadily from beginning to end.  It rather builds to a first climax, comes back down and builds again to a second climax.  This makes sense, particularly in a werewolf book, but I must admit it felt a bit odd in the moment.  It almost felt like reading two books in one until it all came together in the end.  In fact, this is one of those books that gets better the more you look back on the story as a whole.  Be prepared to enjoy it more in retrospect that in the first reading.

The audiobook narrator, Boyer, has a tough book to work with.  There are a wide range of characters of multiple nationalities to act out (Canadian, German, French, New York, Massachusetts, etc…).  Additionally, at least three different languages are spoken (English, French, and German).  I’m not fluent in anything but English, but I did take German in university, and I can say that his German accent is at least passable.  He also does an excellent job creating a unique voice for each character.  I only rarely got lost, and that was generally due to rapid-fire conversation where each character only had a word or two.  I must say, though, that he does mispronounce a few words, which detracts from Yancey’s gorgeous writing.  I blame the audiobook director for this, though.  S/he should have realized and corrected this.  Overall, though, the mispronounced words are only in a couple of locations and do not deeply affect the reading of the book.

Overall this is an excellent follow-up to a remarkable first book in the series.  It brings to the table that which made the first so powerful: YA horror with rich language set in a historic time period.  But it also changes things up enough to avoid falling into the monster-of-the-week trap.  The entries in the series are part of a larger story, and that can be seen.  Fans of the first book should pick up the second book asap.

5 out of 5 stars

Source: Audible

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Previous Books in Series
The Monstrumologist, review

Book Review: Above Ground by A. M. Harte (Series, #1)

November 28, 2012 4 comments

Yellowish moon seen through the trees.Summary:
Lilith Grey has spent her entire life living below ground–among the lucky descendants of the humans who escaped there before catching the virus that turned the rest of humanity into monsters from fairy tales.  But one day Lilith and her friend Emma get temporary vaccines and go above ground to a tourist theater to view these vampires and shapeshifters in person.  When everything goes horribly wrong, Lilith finds herself whisked away from the carnage on the back of a werewolf.  Can she ever get back below ground?

Review:
I was hesitant to accept a YA book for review, since the genre is not one I tend to enjoy.  But I had previously read and thoroughly enjoyed a book by this indie author, so I decided to give it a go.  Her other work, Hungry For You, is a collection of zombie themed short stories that manages to put a fresh twist on that genre, so I was hoping for more of that unique glint in her YA work as well.  This, her first full-length novel, is more unique than what is currently saturating the market, but I did not feel that it lived up to the expectations I had based on her short story collection.

The basic concept is intriguing.  Many post-apocalyptic stories feature humans living in bomb shelters or other similar underground enclosures but not for the reasons put forth in this novel.  This unique twist is what I’ve come to expect from Harte’s writing, and it definitely was the part of the story that kept me reading.  Seeing how the mutated humans lived above ground versus how the non-mutated lived below ground was intriguing and interesting.  I wish more time had been spent building this world and less on the emotions of the main character (not to mention her friend, Emma, and the werewolf, Silver).  The scifi explanations for the fantastical creatures was also engaging, but again not enough time was spent on it.  Similarly, while the typical werewolves and vampires exist among the infected above ground, there are also the more unique such as the ewtes who mutated to live in the water but can walk on the ground with water tanks.  Actually, I could have easily spent an entire book among the ewtes.  They were far more interesting than our stereotypical main character Lilith.  The world and minor characters are what kept me reading….not the plot or main characters.

The initial plot set-up is painfully stereotypical.  Clueless teenage girls wind up in danger. Two men save them. One is an angst-ridden werewolf. The other is a mysterious, handsome intelligent fella.  The girls protest they can care for themselves but the reader can see they can’t really. The main teenage girl feels inexplicably pulled to the werewolf angst man. The werewolf angst man feels drawn to the teenage girl and angsts about it. And on we go.  The last few pages of plot, thankfully, didn’t take the typical turn, but honestly the pay-off was incredibly minor compared to the rest of the stereotypical YA plot.  Even just making it a teenage boy from below ground saved by a female werewolf would have been a change enough to make me more interested.  I also was disappointed to see no depth or examination of the human condition here, which I saw in Harte’s previous work.  I was excited to see what depth she could bring to YA but she didn’t even bring an empowered female main character to the genre.  Quite disappointing.

Ignoring my own quips with the plot and main characters, the book simply does not read like a solid first entry in a series.  It gives the reader mere tastes of what we want to know from a first book in a series, like who the DEI are and why everyone is afraid of them, while lingering on things like how the main character craves the werewolf.  That is fine if it was a paranormal romance, but it feels more like it is meant to be a post-apocalyptic/dystopian style novel.  A clearer world needs to be established and characters more fully fleshed-out if they are to hold up a whole series.   There has to be a clear world and a three-dimensional main character set up before the danger if the reader is to feel any connection or caring at all.  As it is, I mostly just wanted to wander off and follow the ewtes.

Overall, then, this is definitely a book for YA fans only.  It’s the basic plot from YA with a twist set in a unique future world that was fun to visit.  YA fans will have to try it out for themselves to determine how much they will enjoy that visit.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Kindle copy received from author in exchange for my honest review

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Giveaway! The author is running a giveaway along with her month long blog tour.  Check out the rafflecopter for details!

 

Book Review: Soulless by Gail Carriger (Series, #1) (Bottom of TBR Pile Challenge)

October 23, 2012 5 comments

Woman holding parasol in front of city skyline.Summary:
Alexia Tarabotti isn’t just suffering from being half-Italian in Victorian England, she also is soulless.  Unlike vampires, werewolves, and other supernaturals who successfully changed thanks to an excess of soul, or even having just enough soul like day dwellers, she simply has none. Plus as a preternatural she turns the supernaturals human when she touches them.  Obviously they aren’t a fan of that.  Except for one particularly persnickety werewolf, Lord Maccon, who is Scottish to boot.  And to top it all off a mysterious wax-faced man suddenly seems very interested in kidnapping her.  None of this seems particularly civilized.

Review:
The Parasol Protectorate series was all the rage when this book made it onto my tbr pile back in 2010.  That was kind of the beginning of the steampunk craze, before you could find gears on everything in the costume shop.  I can see why this series is popular, but it’s just not my cup of tea.

The world building is wonderful and is what kept me reading.  A good steampunk blends history, science, and fashion to make for a semi-familiar but deliciously unique world that’s delightful for history and science geeks alike to play around in.  Carriger pulls this off beautifully.  The fashion is Victorian with a steampunk edge.  The politics are recognizable but with the supernatural and steampowered sciences taking a role.  A great example of how well this world works is that in England the supernatural came out and became part of society, whereas America was the result of the Puritans condemning the acceptance of the supernatural who they believe sold their souls to the devil.  This is a great blend of reality and alternate history.

The plot wasn’t a huge mystery, which is kind of sad given the complexity of the world building.  What really bothered me though was the romantic plot, which suffered badly from a case of instalove.  Although we hear of delightful prior encounters between Alexia and Lord Maccon, we didn’t see them.  We mostly see him going from hating her to loving her and demanding her hand in marriage. It just felt lazy compared to the other elements of the book.  I get it that Carriger could be poking fun at Victorian era romances, but I think that would have worked better if it didn’t have such a Victorian ending.  Plus, I didn’t pick up this book to read a romance. I wanted a steampunk mystery with a strong female lead.  I didn’t like how quickly the romance took over the whole plot.

Potential readers should take a glance at the first chapter and see if Carriger’s humor works for them.  I can see how if I was laughing through the whole book I’d have enjoyed it more, but the…decidedly British humor just did not work for me.  It didn’t bother me; I just didn’t find it funny.  I mostly sat there going, “Oh, she thinks she’s being funny…..”  Humor is highly personal, so I’m not saying it’s bad. It just isn’t my style. It might be yours.

Overall this is a creatively complex steampunk world with an unfortunately average plot overtaken by instaromance and seeped in dry, British humor.  It is recommended to steampunk fans who find that style of humor amusing and don’t mind some instalove all up in their story.  That does not describe this reader, so I won’t be continuing on with the series.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Source: PaperBackSwap

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Book Review: The Wolf Gift by Anne Rice

February 18, 2012 6 comments

Image of a wolf's eyes.Summary:
Reuben Golding is a talented new journalist who feels as if he is floundering around with no direction in his family of wealthy, talented people.  That all changes when he’s bitten in a mysterious attack while writing about an old house on the seacoast.  He shortly discovers that the bite has turned him into a man wolf–like a werewolf, but with the ability to change every night.  Oh, and also he has an insatiable desire to devour those who smell like evil.  His quest for answers about his new situation will open up a whole new world to him.

Review:
It needs to be said that having read only Anne Rice’s earlier books, I somehow missed the memo that she went from atheist to Catholic in the early 2000s.  As an agnostic myself, one of the things I love about her earlier novels, beyond the poetic writing, is this search for meaning without belief in a god that the characters demonstrate.  So.  I was less than thrilled to find god all up in my werewolves.  *growl*

But it of course is more than philosophical differences that make this book bad.  The writing is just….not what it used to be.  The pacing is off.  Parts of the novel wax eloquent about the redwood forests, but then action sequences feel like Rice was trying to mimic the style of pulp authors like Palahniuk.  (Something that she does poorly, btw).  I get wanting to try a new style, but you need to pick one or the other.  The up and down almost randomness of the style changes made it difficult to get into the story.

Then we have the story itself.  If Rice had gone just slightly more absurd, this would make an excellent humorous novel.  Of course, it’s not meant to be.  A perfect example is one scene that I keep thinking over just for the giggles it gives me.  The scene, is supposed to be one of the pivotal, more serious ones in the book, naturally.  Reuben is in his wolf form and having just run through the forest eating animals, he stands on his hind legs and spins in a circle while singing the Shaker song “Simple Gifts.”  And then a woman in a cabin sees this and naturally they have the hot hot beastiality sex.  (Note: I do not actually find this scene hot at all.  In fact I find it really fucking disturbing, and I don’t find ANYTHING disturbing usually).  It isn’t like scenes of sex and violence in other novels that are part of an overall narrative designed to help you understand something.  It’s not an allegory of anything either.  It just is there because….yeah, I don’t know why it’s there, actually.

Then we have the wonderful presence of an atheist character who is clearly there so Rice can lecture atheists via her book.  Oh you silly atheists! Of course there’s a god!  The whole of nature is reaching toward him and yadda yadda yadda *eye-roll*  This is just bad writing.  It’s such an obvious attempt to be able to directly lecture the readers that it’s painful to see.  Particularly after knowing that Rice is capable of actual eloquent writing.

Also the whole entire concept of having werewolves actually be evil-fighting do-gooders is like a furry version of Batman. And who wants that? Nobody, that’s who.

Speaking of Batman, if I have to read one more book about a poor little privileged white boy, I’m going to lose my mind.  Aww, poor Reuben, he has a high-achieving lawyer girlfriend who loves him, a surgeon mother, a giving brother, and a professor father, but Reuben is bad at science and everyone tells him a 23 year old can’t write.  People need to take him seriously!  Poor Reuben.  And Reuben claims he changes after getting the “wolf gift” but he really doesn’t.  He still whines to anyone who will listen and runs around trying to tell everyone else what to do but never bothers to actually force himself to grow up.  He could have been an interesting main character if the wolf gift actually challenged and changed him.  But it doesn’t.  He’s still the same, whiny, privileged rich kid.  Only now he’s surrounded by the slightly creepy doting wolf pack.

Oh, and Rice?  Wolf packs don’t consist of only one gender, idiot.  Research? Have you heard of it?

Overall, this was an incredibly irritating and frustrating read that I disliked so much I’m not even going to do my usual of passing on my reviewer’s copy to my dad.  This one is going in the recycling bin.  And you all should give it a pass as well.

1 out of 5 stars

Source: Copy from the publisher in exchange for my honest review

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Book Review: The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan

September 1, 2011 4 comments

Phases of the moon on a black background.Summary:
Jacob Marlowe finds out he’s the last werewolf living and has just been informed by the WOCOP that they plan to kill him during the next full moon.  That’s just fine with him.  He’s been living for almost 200 years and is just plain tired of it.  So he plans to let the WOCOP’s tails follow him and just let the death happen.  The fates don’t quite see it that way, though, and nothing quite goes according to Jake’s plans.

Review:
Think of this as what would have happened if Anne Rice chose to write about werewolves instead of vampires.  The Last Werewolf reads very much like Interview with a Vampire only with the characteristics of werewolves instead of vampires of course.  By this I mean that the sentences and story structure are incredibly literary while addressing the highly genre topic of werewolves.

Unlike vampires, werewolves must eat a human during each full moon or they become ill.  Animals are no substitute.  They cannot take a bite and leave the victim alive.  No, they must completely ravish the victim.  This is no weak True Blood style werepanther or werewolf that can simply shift at will and avoid killing people.  Jake is affected by The Hunger and must eat and kill to stay alive.  The rest of the month when he’s not in wolf form he has to come to terms with his actions.  The crux and root of the dilemma at the heart of the story is this:

We’re the worst thing because for us the worst thing is the best thing. And it’s only the best thing for us if it’s the worst thing for someone else. (page 197)

It’s quite the moral conundrum and is addressed eloquently in the story.

There is also of course Jake’s suicidal mentality.  He wants to die, but he doesn’t want to be the one to do it.  He’s completely over life.  Life is boring and pointless.  There are absolutely some beautifully depressing passages about the emptiness of life that both perfectly depict depression and remind me a bit of the Romantic period of poetry.  Think of Lord Byron.  That type of thing.  Beautifully suicidal.  That may bother some readers.  To me, it’s often a part of great literature.  This overwhelming sadness and feelings of helplessness.  They’re common human emotions and lend a great force to the narrative.

Now, I was sent this for review due to how much I enjoyed American Psycho in January, so I was expecting it to be graphically violent and sexual and have the two mixed-up.  It is all of those things but–dare I say it–it wasn’t quite violent enough for me.  I was expecting something shocking, due to the American Psycho  connection, but I can see a lot of people reading this and not being put-off by the amount of violence.  Compared to your average R rated action flick, it’s really not that bad.  On the other hand, a lot of people are profoundly disturbed by the violence in American Psycho.  There’s absolutely nothing wrong with the level of violence in this book, and I think Duncan was probably smart in that, since it will have a wider appeal.  What can I say.  I was looking forward to something incredibly gross and twisted and instead got a lot of beautiful prose with the occasional murder.  It was a happy surprise, absolutely.  I just want to make it abundantly clear to potential readers that if you can handle an R rated horror movie, you can definitely handle the violence in this book, so don’t be turned off!

So the prose is beautiful and the topics addressed and discussed are important or at least interesting, so why am I not raving?  The ending left me disappointed.  It felt rather cliche and expected, and I didn’t like what became the focus in the end.  There are so many other ways the ending could have gone that would have been amazing and powerful, but instead I finished this book and basically said, “AGH not this shit again.”  *mini-spoiler* It includes pregnancy and babies, and ya’ll know how I feel about that. *end mini-spoiler*

Overall this is a literary take on a genre theme.  It is violent and sexual, but not disturbingly so.  Recommended to fans of Anne Rice.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: ARC from the publisher in exchange for my honest review

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Book Review: From Dead to Worse by Charlaine Harris (Series, #8)

June 7, 2010 8 comments

Sookie and a vampire against a stormy background.Summary:
Hurricane Katrina and the bombing of the vampire assembly at Rhodes have left the Louisiana supernatural community reeling and disjointed.  This naturally creates the perfect atmosphere for attempted violent takeovers in both the were and vampire communities.  Sookie finds herself smack in the middle, as usual, both due to her telepathic abilities and her desire to help her friends.  Of course her telepathic abilities can’t tell her where her boyfriend, Quinn, has disappeared to.  In the middle of all this, she also finds out some interesting family secrets.

Review:
Not only is Sookie’s character developing and changing, but the series is as well, and that’s what’s keeping it interesting this many books in.  If you’ve stuck it out this long, then you’re clearly enjoying something that Harris is doing; however, I would say that the previous book and this one mark a stark change in the style of the series away from paranormal romance to just paranormal fiction.  I’m actually not sure what exactly one would call this genre, but From Dead to Worse definitely reads like modern-day fiction just with supernatural characters tossed in.  I really enjoy this partly because Harris’ sex scenes are cringe-inducing anyway, but also because it allows for that modern day connection but with problems that I will never have.  This makes it a relaxing read.

Unlike some paranormal series, the main character of Sookie has gone through significant character developments.  She went from a naive girl desperate to fit in to sadder but wiser woman who enjoys being different.  In the first book, we see Sookie being cared for by her grandmother; in this one, we see Sookie caring for not only the witch, Amelia, but also an elderly woman, Octavia.  It’s not just this that’s changing, however.  Sookie’s experiences leave her wondering if she’s a good person or not, and frankly the reader is left trying to figure that out as well.

Some readers will be thrown by the absence of sex in this book.  However, I enjoyed the various types of sexual and romantic interest tension Sookie has with the various men in her life.  It is evident that she’s attempting to figure out which direction she wants to go in her life before settling on a man.  Racking up this tension throughout one book is a great set-up for the next one.

My only gripes with this entry in the series are two-fold.  First, I really don’t like the Jason/Hotshot storyline.  Jason could be a very interesting character, as we know from the direction they’ve taken him in True Blood.  He’s not used well in the books, though, and I hope Harris fixes this soon.  I’m tired of cringing over the Hotshot scenes.  Also, this book yet again features a northern woman who yet again is an evil bitch in Sookie’s eyes.  This is obviously Harris’ own prejudice coming through as Sookie has been established as a person who is staunchly not prejudiced against anyone.  What is with this hating on northern women?  It says a lot about Harris that this prejudice seeps into her writing even when writing a character who is not prejudiced.  I’m sick of seeing it, and it stings as a northern female fan of the series.

However, in spite of these short-comings, the series is still enjoyable.  This book marks a distinct change in the writing from paranormal romance to simply paranormal.  Readers who’ve stuck it out this far will either enjoy this change as I do or give up on the series due to its lack of romance.  If you’re reading it for the characters and the world Harris has created, you will enjoy this entry into the series.  If you’re reading it for paranormal romance, you’ll probably want to look elsewhere.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: PaperBackSwap

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Previous Books in Series:
Dead Until Dark, review
Living Dead in Dallas, review
Club Dead, review
Dead To The World, review
Dead as a Doornail, review
Definitely Dead, review
All Together Dead, review

Book Review: All Together Dead by Charlaine Harris (Series, #7)

December 17, 2009 14 comments

Summary:
Against her fairy godmother’s better judgment, Sookie accompanies the Louisiana vampire contingency to Rhodes, Illinois for the vampire summit to work for the queen reading human minds at the various wheelings and dealings.  She is excited that Quinn will be there as well, but a wrench is thrown in the works of their relationship when she is forced to exchange blood for a third time with Eric.  To top it all off Sookie and fellow telepath Barry have the odd sensation that something isn’t quite right at the summit.  It’s a lot for small-town girl Sookie to handle in one week in the north.

Review:
I want to say the action in this entry into Sookie’s adventures is excellent, but it isn’t quite there.  The minor side-mysteries are quite good, but they are meant to distract from the main event, which frankly I had figured out way way way before Sookie.  It was pratically hitting her in the face, and she didn’t get it.  So the mystery leaves a little to be desired.

On the other hand, the plot point where Andre is trying to force Sookie to exchange blood with him, and Eric steps up to exchange blood with her instead is excellent.  Quinn is unjustifiably angry, and Sookie discovers that trading blood three times is a magical number.  She is more closely tied to Eric than she is comfortable with, and she is left incredibly confused about her feelings for him vs her feelings for Quinn.  This is a love conflict that is bound to prove interesting because she has feelings for Eric but intellectually believes Quinn is a wiser choice.  Now this is juicy romantic conflict!

Something that has been bugging me about the series that is featured epicenter of this book though is the whole idea of the vampires arranging their kingdoms based on the states.  There’s the King of Tennessee and the Queen of Louisiana, and they even call each other simply by the state (as in, “Oh hi, Louisiana”).  This makes zero sense.  Why would the super-powerful and, for the majority of existence, hidden vampires arrange themselves based on arbitrary human dividing lines?  Sure having multiple kingdoms in the US makes sense, but not arranged based on the human-created state lines.  It doesn’t fit into the characterization of what a vampire is.

I think what really bothered me about this book though was that it made me dislike Sookie.  I don’t like how she behaves, her superficial focus on clothing, or her prejudiced view of northerners.  (Not a single northern woman she runs into does she view as anything other than a rude bitch).  I don’t always need to like my main characters, but I think in a paranormal romance that’s problematic.

Overall, the action is excellent, even if some of the world-building doesn’t make sense and the characterization can be off-putting.  I think this may be a set-up for a major, character-changing circumstance in Sookie’s life, which would make it more understandable.  We’ll see if I’m right.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Bought on Amazon

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Previous Books in Series:
Dead Until Dark, review
Living Dead in Dallas, review
Club Dead, review
Dead To The World, review
Dead as a Doornail, review
Definitely Dead, review

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