Sunday, May 23, 2010

Review: "Dead in the Family" by Charlaine Harris

I guess everyone needs a break now and then, and certainly Charlaine Harris’ telepathic waitress Sookie Stackhouse has hit a lull in the series’ latest entry “Dead in the Family” ($25.95, Ace).
It’s not that there’s not plenty of action in the book. Quite a bit happens. In fact, the story is kind of like a supernatural family reunion as more fairy members of Sookie’s family show up, members of the vampire Eric’s family arrive to cause trouble, some secret’s about Bill Compton’s family are revealed and even Merlotte’s owner Sam is having troubles with his family because of the weres and shifters going public.

Among all that, there are also larger problems in the world of the books. Most notably, some are pushing for registration of the two-natured, just as they have the vampires who went public. Eric is still having troubles with his new boss in the vampire world, Victor Madden, and there’s upheaval in the Shreveport pack of weres.

Despite all that, “Dead in the Family” seems to plod just a little. There are flashes of action here and there, but it just doesn’t quite have the same spark that some of the previous volumes had. It’s more like a breather in between the explosive action that ended the previous volume and things that are on the horizon.

It also seems to me that there’s a little more of HBO’s “True Blood,” based on the books, seeping into Harris’ work in this volume. Certainly for those of us who both read the books and watch the series, the differing storylines can get a bit confusing. For example, I was almost sure that Bill had told Sookie in a previous volume how he was turned, but now I’m thinking that might have been in “True Blood,” and either way, the story that I’m remembering differs from the one told in this book.

At the end of the day, “Dead in the Family” is still an enjoyable read and it keeps me interested in the continuing story of Sookie and all of the strangeness that surrounds her. But it doesn’t leave me with that same sense of excitement that some of the earlier tales did. Hopefully things will get back on track with the next volume.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Review: "Bite Me: A Love Story" by Christopher Moore

In the past few years, I’ve often bemoaned the fact that the fantasy section of the bookstore has become more like the vampire section. While there seems to be a major love affair with vampires right now, I’m, quite frankly, sick of them. So it’s a little strange to me that I find myself immersed in three straight books that feature vampires. The second is Christoper Moore’s “Bite Me: A Love Story” ($23.99, William Morrow).

The book is the sequel to 2007’s “You Suck: A Love Story” and “Bloodsucking Fiends: A Love Story,” originally published in 1995. It continues to follow the story of vamps Jody and Tommy, a young couple trying to make it as creatures of the night in San Francisco. If you missed “You Suck,” don’t worry, a summary from Jody and Tommy’s minion Abigail von Normal (also known by her day-slave name of Allison Greene), leads off the book. It’s written in her own special blend of goth, valley girl and netspeak, as are all her entries throughout the book.

Abby, her confused goth friend Jared and her geeky boyfriend Steve, who she calls “Foo Dog,” have encased Jody and Tommy in bronze to satisfy her romantic notion of keeping them together forever. While they’re imprisoned in the statue, Chet, an unusually large stray cat, has been busy. He and his homeless owner were attacked by the master vampire that turned Jody in the previous volume. He’s been building an army of vampiric cats that are roaming the streets of San Francisco and killing homeless people.

Unfortunately for Abby and Moore’s colorful cast of characters -- including a homeless man known as the Emperor, a group of vampire hunters that work at the local Safeway called the Animals and a couple of local police detectives who are in on the vampire secret – the horde of bloodsucking cats has caught the attention of another group of vampires who have arrived in San Francisco to eliminate the problem and everyone who knows about it.

Like all of Moore’s work, “Bite Me” has a lot of fun with its subject. While still presenting an enjoyable story, Moore also makes a little fun of the current obsession with vampires and the conventions of the vampire mythos. While I have to admit that the silliness of Abby’s shallow angsty ramblings does get a little tired at points, I’d rather read them than the angsty ramblings in, say, one of the “Twilight” books.

While I much prefer when Moore takes on loftier subjects with his humor, as in my personal favorites “Lamb” and “Fool,” his work is always enjoyable. This one’s a quick, fun read that offers you a chance to have a laugh at the expense of vampire stories that take themselves too seriously.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Review: "Changes" by Jim Butcher

After a series goes on long enough, there inevitably comes a time when a drastic shift is needed to keep it from going stale. That time for Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files comes with its 12th book, “Changes” ($25.95, Roc).

The shift begins with the book’s title, which drops the two-word puns of the previous 11 volumes. It mirrors a shift in the demeanor of the books. Things are about to get much darker and much more serious for Chicago’s only wizard for hire.

Harry gets a gut-punch with the first line of the book where he’s informed that he has an eight-year-old daughter that he’s never known. The news is delivered by her mother, Harry’s old flame Susan, now a half-vampire member of a secret warrior society that hunts Red Court vampires. The child, Maggie, has been abducted by the vampires and, naturally, they have nasty plans for her.

Normally, Harry would have plenty of backup as the White Council of wizards and the Red Court vampires have been at war, but he’s unable to call on the aid because Duchess Arianna Ortega of the Red Court has sued the White Council for peace. The request has split the council, with many seeing a hope to end the war that has decimated their ranks and others seeing a trick by the vampires. It’s up to Harry and a handful of friends to rescue the girl, a task made even more difficult by vampire plots that have led to an FBI investigation into the destruction of his office building among other complications.

I say this book has a more serious tone, but fans of the series shouldn’t be worried about that. Harry is still the wisecracker that he’s always been, and it’s loaded with references to science fiction and fantasy classics like “Star Wars,” “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Wizard of Oz.” There are plenty of chuckles and light-hearted moments to be had during a more intense story line. Despite all that’s going on around him, Harry is still Harry, after all.

On the other hand, there are events that happen in the book that will, necessarily, change things for Harry forever. I won’t give those events away, but they make it very hard to believe that he’ll come out of this as the same low-rent, high-powered private investigator that he’s been for the better part of the first 12 books. He’s now entangled with far too many greater powers in the supernatural world, and those entanglements promise to make things even more treacherous for him.

The strength of Butcher’s stories continues to be the fast pacing and fascinating characters that he’s delivered throughout the series. The centerpiece of “Changes,” though, may be the final battle which is more grand and sweeping than anything we’ve seen before in the Dresden series. It pays homage to his love of more traditional fantasy and delivers a spectacular finale to the story.

Serious “Changes” are definitely coming for our old friend, but having given me some of my favorite tales over the last decade or so, I’ll trust that Butcher will take the the stories in an even better direction.