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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: The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham

March 3, 2011 1 comment

People with red eyes on green background pursued by plants.Summary:
Bill wakes up in the hospital the day after a worldwide comet show with his eyes still bandaged from a triffid accident.  His regular nurse doesn’t show up and all is quieter than it should be except for some distraught murmurings.  Shortly he finds out that everyone who saw the comet show has lost their sight, leaving a random bunch of people who just so happened to miss it the only sighted humans left in the world.  A hybrid plant created years ago for its highly useful oil, the triffid, is able to walk and eats meat.  Swarms of them are now wreaking full havoc on the people struggling to save the human race.

Review:
This book reads like the novelization of a 1950s horror film.  Man-eating plants!  Dangerous satellite weapons of mass destruction!  Humanity being reduced to the countryside!  Classic morals versus new morals!  This is not a bad thing, and Wyndham seems to be conscious of the innate ridiculousness of his tale, as it possess a certain self-aware wittiness not often present in apocalyptic tales.

Bill is a well-drawn character who is enjoyable as a hero precisely because he is an everyman who is simultaneously not devoid of personality.  He is not the strongest or the smartest survivor, but he is just strong and smart enough to survive.  Similarly, his love interest, Josella, impressively adapts and changes over time, and their love story is actually quite believable, unlike those in many apocalyptic tales.  In fact, all of the characters are swiftly developed in such a way that they are easy to recognize and tell apart.  This is important in a tale with so much going on.

On the other hand, the action is stuttering.  It never successfully builds to an intense, breaking point.  Multiple opportunities present themselves, but Wyndham always pulls the story back just before a true climax.  After this has been done a few times, the reader loses the ability to feel excitement or interest in the characters and simply wants the tale to be over.  In a way it is almost as if Wyndha couldn’t quite decide which direction to take the action, so took it briefly in all directions instead.  This makes for a non-cohesive story that pulls away from the investment in the rich characters.

Additionally, I do not believe the whole concept of the triffids was used to its fullest extent.  The name of the book has triffids in it, for goodness sake.  I expect them to feature more prominently and fearfully than they do.  Perhaps I’ve just read too many zombie books, but the triffids just seem more like a pest than a real threat.  The concept of man-eating plants taking over the world is a keen one, and I wish Wyndham had invested more into it.

Overall, the book is a quick, entertaining, one-shot read that could have been much more if Wyndham had made better choices as an author.  I recommend it to kitschy scifi and horror fans looking for a quick piece of entertainment.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Source: PaperBackSwap

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Book Review: It by Stephen King

February 3, 2011 2 comments

Creepy looking clown.

Summary:
In the late 1950s in the small town of Derry, Maine, children are being mysteriously murdered.  Seven misfit and outcast kids band together to face It, and they think they’ve beaten it, but 27 years later, the murders return.  Vaguely remembering a promise they all made, the now adults return to their hometown of Derry to face It again.

Review:
This tale is largely known in the States as “that scary clown story,” so for years I avoided it.  I’ve been terrified of clowns for as long as I can remember.  My parents tell me that the first time I ever saw one, I screamed uncontrollably.  My only encounter with Stephen King’s It (as it’s known in the States) was with a diorama of the clown from the movie in a haunted house I went through in Salem, MA.  It scared the crap out of me, so I was a bit nervous to read this book.  However, having read the Dark Tower series, I wanted to read all of the other stories that King lists as taking place in the same general universe, and It was one of them.  So I manned up and read it, and boy am I ever glad I did.

This is not a cheesy scary clown story.  What it is is first a character study and second a commentary on growing up.  The dual horror of being a kid and being excited and afraid to grow up and being an adult and being excited and concerned that you are grown up and may have lost a part of yourself in childhood.  King very clearly demonstrates that being a kid isn’t all fun and games–most of the kids in the group of 7 have bad home lives–but there is an essential hope that children have that is hard to reclaim as an adult.  A child is able to have a horrible experience with a shape-shifting werewolf or a bunch of bullies and then walk a couple of blocks and forget about it and be excited to see American Bandstand that night.  Children are incredibly resilient, and King demonstrates that.

What makes the story though is the return to Derry 27 years later.  King puts a hope in adults that although they may not remember exactly what it is to be a resilient child, they can still repossess that power in later life.  Although the first inclination of kids to survive is to forget the bad, an adult can remember and still survive.  For at the beginning, the characters don’t want to remember what happened to them as kids.

Did he remember?  Just enough not to want to remember any more. (Location 1416)

Yet the characters are brave and face their childhoods.  Yes, King personifies both the childhood evils and the remembering of them as an adult with It, but that’s part of what makes the story powerful.  There’s a reason people refer to memories as personal demons.  That’s how they feel.  In the end, the way the characters grow and change and overcome is to find

A way to be people that had nothing to do with their parents’ fears, hopes, constant demands.  (Location5631)

Beyond the excellent symbolism and allegory for the experience of surviving bad things in your childhood and facing them again as an adult, the horror itself is wonderful.  It comes at just the right frequency so that the reader settles into a sense of security only to be blind-sided by a terrifically horrifying experience.  There were sections that literally had me jumping at the sound of my own phone ringing in the silence.  These are some of the better passages of creepy horror that I’ve read written by King.

Of course, the allusions to the universe of the Gunslinger are there.  It gave me chills to recognize them as I read.  Among just a few were the turtle, spiders, and other worlds than these.  One particular line that gave me chills of recognition that other fans of the Dark Tower series will be sure to appreciate is

Eddie had drawn his aspirator.  He looked like a crazed malnourished gunslinger with some weird pistol.  (Location 20760)

Combining everything from the horror to the allegory of facing childhood demons to the allusions to the Dark Tower series make Stephen King’s It a remarkable read.  I recommend it to fans of Stephen King, as well as anyone interested in the idea of childhood demons who feels they can handle passages of horror.

5 out of 5 stars

Source: Amazon

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Book Review: Dead and Gone by Charlaine Harris (Series, #9)

October 11, 2010 9 comments

Sookie in the air between two cloaked vampires.Summary:
Now that the pieces seem to have been picked up from the bombing at Rhodes, Sookie is hoping to just get back to her normal life and adjust to living with her two roommates, the witches Amelia and Octavia.  Of course, that can’t last for long.  After seeing how well things are going for the vampires being out, the shifters decide to come out as well.  Soon there’s what appears to be a hate crime against a shifter Sookie knows, and the FBI comes knocking wondering how Sookie was able to find survivors at Rhodes.  On top of everything, a fae war is brewing, and Sookie can no longer hide from the fact that she’s part fae.

Review:
This is without a doubt my favorite Sookie Stackhouse book so far.  It’s dark and (I know this sounds odd to say about a paranormal story) realistic.  Harris doesn’t let Sookie hide from her problems.  She has to truly face reality and deal with it in a way she’s never had to previously in her life.  She can’t hide from her telepathy, her exes, her friendships, her coworkers, or her enemies.  In a way this book is all about Sookie having to grow up and deal with it.

Readers who started out loving the beginning of the series might not like the dark direction Harris has turned.  I for one love dark, disturbing tales, but those who don’t should be aware that there are a few scenes they may find upsetting.  I thought these scenes were quite creative, particularly for a series that is being told in the first person.

Of course, this book still faces the writing issues seen in the earlier books in the series.  Mainly, some of the writing is painfully simplistic or uses the obvious analogies.  Then again, Sookie isn’t exactly super-intelligent, so it fits her voice.  Additionally, the sex scenes continue to be a bit cringe inducing.  I know other reviewers have pointed out multiple times how the sex scenes are a bit ridiculous.  That continues to be true, but they aren’t exactly the focus of the series, so I’m ok with that myself.

Overall, Harris has taken an idea that could have worn out quickly and moved it gradually to a much darker tale that is quite thrilling.  The series continues to be complex, and readers who’ve enjoyed the series thus far won’t be disappointed as long as they can handle some disturbing scenes.

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
From Dead to Worse, review

Counts for R.I.P.V Challenge

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

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: Dead as a Doornail by Charlaine Harris (Series, #5)

November 30, 2009 9 comments

Summary:
Someone is shooting shifters in the parish, and the Werepanthers are suspicious of Jason.  Sookie sets out to clear his name, but things get a bit more complicated when it becomes clear someone has their eye not only on the shifters, but also on her.

Review:
Although the back cover claims this entry into the Sookie-verse is full of entertaining plot-twists, it actually reads as a been there, done that, plot.

Jason is in trouble, again.  Sookie’s fairy godmother has to save her, again.  Someone isn’t what they seem. Again.  Sam still has the major hots for Sookie (though I’ll never understand why.  She seems to just use him repeatedly when she needs help).  Bill still wants Sookie even though he’s sleeping with someone else, and Alcide is still kind of a jerk.

I think the problem with this book is that it doesn’t move the overarching plot forward much at all.  There is a tiny development in the Sookie/Eric plotline, but that’s all.  I guess I could forgive this if the individual storyline was new and exciting, but it’s not.  Ooo, someone’s targeting the supes.  Big deal.

In spite of all these complaints, I still want to keep reading the series.  This book read more like a clunker episode of a tv series you really love than a death toll.  I expect things will improve in the next book, and this was just a mystery idea that went bad for Harris.

2 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

Book Review: Dead to the World by Charlaine Harris (Series, #4)

November 25, 2009 10 comments

Summary:
Just because Sookie has broken up with Bill doesn’t mean her relationship with the supernatural world is over–especially when she finds Eric naked and suffering from amnesia on the side of the road.  When she discovers from Pam that a league of evil witches have their sights set on ruling Shreveport, she agrees to hide Eric while the vampires, werewolves, and Wiccans attempt to fend off the witches.  To top it off, Sookie’s brother has gone missing, which may or may not be related to the near-war going on.

Review:
While the books in the series so far have been improving, Dead to the World is definitely a step back.

The individual plot lines aren’t so bad, but Harris doesn’t do a good job of keeping them integrated and flowing.  The book reads as if it has too many sticks in the fire.  Just too much happens in such a short book.  The reader is left feeling a bit of whiplash from the rapidly changing storylines and situations.

I knew Sookie would have a rebound after Bill, but I’d hoped Harris would be more creative than having that rebound be Eric.  Don’t get me wrong.  I like Eric better than Bill, but I also enjoyed the tension between him and Sookie.  I wish that had lasted longer.  Similarly, I don’t think giving Eric amnesia was a wise character development choice.  I’m pretty sure anyone with amnesia plopped into the supernatural world would be a cowering mess.  That doesn’t tell us anything about who Eric is underneath his persona.  Sookie’s interactions with him therefore felt so fake that I not only couldn’t take real interest in them, I was also a bit grossed out by the falseness of them.  I didn’t expect Sookie’s rebound to be emotional, but I did expect it to be more real.

On the other hand, Sookie’s character development takes a nice turn.  Without Bill in the picture, she may have expected the supernatural world to pretty much leave her alone.  Instead she finds out they still depend on her.  Through the various situations, she starts to become a more empowered version of herself, and I enjoyed seeing that.

The best part of the book by far is Jason’s plot-line.  I can’t say much more or I’ll give away the secret, but suffice to say that I hope True Blood gets to this part of the story sooner rather than later.

While I’m irritated by some of the character development choices Harris has made, I am still enjoying the world she has created.  I am hoping though that the series returns to the tight, witty writing found in Club Dead.

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