Author: Charlaine Harris
Sookie Stackhouse, vol. 2
My rating: 3.5 of 5
Warning: Mature Audience
Things in Sookie’s life had never been easy, what with her unwelcome gift/curse/whatever of telepathy, but they had definitely taken a turn for the stranger and more complicated once she started dating Bill, a vampire. Although the reprieve his presence gave her mind, what with being unable to read his, well . . . it certainly hadn’t been all bad, not by far. But Sookie’s life shows an extreme run of bad luck as she finds a coworker dead in the parking lot, gets summoned to Dallas to conduct telepathic interrogations, gets kidnapped, is attacked by a maenad, and fights with Bill. Not that she’s about to let all that stop her from investigating her friend’s murder and seeing justice done.
I found Living Dead in Dallas to be a solid follow-up to the first volume in the series, Dead Until Dark. It builds well upon the groundwork that was laid in the first book, developing Sookie and Bill’s relationship, getting Sookie further embroiled in vampire Eric’s schemes, and bringing some new mysteries and dangerous elements to add to the overall intensity of the story. The author does well keeping that small-town Southern girl vibe going, even when Sookie is dumped in the big city of Dallas and expected to manage. We get some solid character development in this volume as well–you’ve got a self-educated, smart woman who is very brave and has strong convictions . . . yet who is also remarkably brittle at times. She’s an interesting character. The story itself is kind of all over the place, but in a way that actually ties together eventually. There’s enough going on to keep things engaging, and the pacing is good. Other than a fair warning that this is definitely an adult book, I would generally recommend Living Dead in Dallas, especially to paranormal romance and mystery lovers.
Author: Stephenie Meyer
My rating: 2.5 of 5
You’re likely all familiar with the story of Bella and Edward, star-crossed lovers who obsess over each other–one human, the other vampire, a love-story fraught with complications. But what if, perhaps in another universe, things had been just a little different. What if Bella had been a guy–Beau–and Edward a girl–Edythe? Would fate have still drawn them inexorably together? And would their choices lead them to the same conclusion? This is Beau and Edythe’s story.
Having just read (and enjoyed) Meyer’s The Chemist, I decided to (finally) give Life and Death a try. And I have to say that, having read Twilight a few times in the past, the experience of reading this book was immensely strange. I guess I was expecting something along the lines of a retelling–you know, the same concepts, but genderbent and retold. This is more like a genderbent manuscript rewrite with an alternate ending. There are areas where awkward phrasings were corrected, certain concepts were delved into more, obvious changes due to the altered gender of the characters . . . but there are also huge swathes of story that are exactly the same, down to memorable phrases being word for word. None of this is exactly bad, but . . . it also feels kind of cheap to be marketing this as a whole new book, you know? I did enjoy the alternate ending, and I think it was fitting. And yes, the gender swap did make the romance less weird and creepy that it was in Twilight, I guess. But on the whole, I honestly wasn’t super impressed. I probably would have liked Life and Death a lot more if I hadn’t read Twilight first, so there’s that . . . if you haven’t read either and are interested in trying one, this one is probably the better book. Otherwise, not particularly recommended; it was okay, but just generally a strange reading experience.
Author: Charlaine Harris
Sookie Stackhouse, vol. 1
My rating: 3.5 of 5
Warning: Mature Audience for sex, language, and violence, although it’s all relatively minor
In a lot of ways, Sookie Stackhouse is your average small-town Southern girl with strong ties to the community and a good job waitressing in a local bar. Oh, and a knack for reading people’s minds, which, not so average I guess. She calls it her “disability,” and although Sookie never talks openly about her gift, it’s given her a bit of a local reputation; “crazy Sookie” they call her. Of course, their opinions only seem more justified when vampire Bill Compton comes to town and Sookie–rather than running the other way like any sensible girl–starts dating him. And when the bodies of other girls in similar blue-collar jobs start piling up . . . well, the community starts to get nervous.
Cozy mystery meets vampire romance in this first installation of Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse series. I wasn’t sure quite what to expect from this book, since I basically just had the cover, the fact that it seems fairly popular, and the knowledge that it was filed in the science fiction/fantasy section to go on. Overall, I was pleasantly surprised, although this isn’t exactly what I would typically pick up to read. The author does a brilliant job capturing small town Southern U.S., from the fine rules of polite behavior to the pine pollen that is ubiquitous in its season. Being a girl with small-town Southern roots myself, I was surprised at how well this aspect was depicted. The plot element of having vampires being “out of the coffin” as it were, being accepted as legal citizens, was pretty fascinating and led to some different potential plot directions that your average vampire story where they live in hiding and so much of the plot is just keeping their secret. But still, as much as I hate to do so, there’s a sense in which I have to compare Dead Until Dark to Twilight. Not in like a one-of-these-stories-was-copied-from-the-other sense; it’s just that with vampire romance stories, there are certain tropes that seem to keep coming up. The nice girl getting dragged into a dangerous life, the mysterious boyfriend, the shapeshifting (usually werewolf, so the change-up here was nice) other guy, the other (more dangerous) vampires coming around and causing trouble. Not saying any of that’s a bad thing–they’re tropes for a reason–but still. The romance was a little more that I would typically read; that’s probably one of the reasons this wasn’t so much my favorite story. Still, it was within acceptable bounds for the most part. As for the mystery aspect, it was a pretty typical small-town murder mystery, mostly notable for the fact that it was mixed with a vampire story at all. On the whole, Dead Until Dark was an enjoyable, quick read with good pacing and a great depiction of small-town life that I would recommend for those who enjoy both sexy vampire stories and a good mystery.
Author/Illustrator: Keezy Young
My rating: 5 of 5
Being a ghost, Blue had missed human interaction . . . until he found Hamal, a guy who can actually see and talk to ghosts. The two quickly become friends–okay, Blue maybe has fallen a bit in love–and the small gardening shop Hamal works at soon becomes a popular hangout for a number of lonely ghosts. But something dark is creeping into the area, and Hamal seems to be at the center of it all. How far will Blue have to go to protect the guy he cares for and the other ghosts?
Taproot was one of the most charming, refreshing stories I’ve read in a while. Originally a webcomic, it’s now available as an updated single-volume graphic novel. But yes, it has that independent, webcomic sort of feel, which is delightful. The main characters are just absolutely lovable and sweet; like, I wanted things to work out well for them right from the start. And, not to give away too many spoilers, but I promise, they do get their happy ending. The art is really nice–distinctive and attractive. I really love the mix of bright colors with dark, especially the way the panels are overlapped to provide a fade-in at certain points. It’s used well to emphasize the contrast of light and darkness in the plot itself. As for the plot, again, a good mix of feel-good fluff and eeriness that resolves well and left me feeling happy. Taproot is the perfect sort of story for when you need something short to cheer you up and make you believe in hope again.
Author/Illustrator: Atelier Sentō (Cécile Brun & Olivier Pichard)
Translator: Marie Velde
My rating: 3 of 5
On their visit to Japan, two young folks from France come into possession of an old, plastic camera that–so they are told–is specially made so as to be able to photograph yokai or spirits. Fascinated by the idea, they take pictures at sites reported to be haunts of yokai, tracing down legends around the country. But they won’t know until the roll’s finished and they’re back home whether it actually worked.
I feel like I should preface my review of Onibi by saying that it generally has positive reviews on Goodreads and has even won an award . . . because generally speaking, my own personal review isn’t that great, so maybe I’m totally missing something. I think a lot of my issue is just mistaken expectations. I mean, looking at this book–both the cover and the description–it looks like some cool graphic novel of a couple of kids going around hunting yokai. Which sounds awesome, incidentally. In actuality, this is more of a graphic memoir/travelogue of the authors’ visit to Japan. And that’s cool and all . . . if that had been what I was wanting to read. But being what it was, I was disappointed by an overall lack of plot and character development. You barely even see the main characters’ names mentioned, and their personalities don’t really come through at all–barring their penchant to be curious and seek out yokai legends. So yes, not an actual fictional story proper, more a fantasized adaptation of reality. On the other hand, to give credit where it’s due, when seen as what it is, Onibi does have its good points. Probably the best part is its depictions of rural Japan; you get some lovely landscapes and drawings of small towns. The art is nice in general–pretty typical western graphic novel style throughout. And the actual photographs at the end of each chapter were eerie and cool, much like some of the pics you see in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children–the ones that you know are some trick of lighting or such, but it totally looks like there’s a ghost or something. So yeah, as a travelogue, Onibi is a pretty interesting tour of some of the more rural areas of Japan . . . just don’t look to it for a lot of plot and such.
Laundry Files, vol. 1
My rating: 4.5 of 5
Warning: Mature Audience, mostly for language
At first glance, Bob Howard seems like a pretty typical IT guy–smart, sardonic, harried by the incompetence of the computer-illiterate in his organization and the demands of his managers. That is, until you consider the fact that he works for a secret government organization whose sole purpose is to protect the world from eldritch entities invading from alternate realities. And Bob’s life is about to take a turn for the weirder as he, bored with desk duty, volunteers to be put on active service. There’s no telling what horrors he’ll run into next.
So, I’ve heard some really mixed reviews about this book, and honestly the author in general. I have to say, for myself, I enjoyed The Atrocity Archives a great deal and plan to read at least more of this series–probably some of Stross’s other series as well. It’s this delightful cross of eldritch horror, office politics, techno-thriller, and spy story, all told with this delightfully sardonic sense of humor. Personally, I enjoyed Bob’s outlook and found him an interesting character to read. And just the ideas behind this story are fascinating . . . higher maths being summoning rituals and opening doorways into other realities, programmers accidentally stumbling on said summonings, secret organizations specifically designed to deal with these. Plus just the whole office drama of the organization and Stross’s presentation of it. I have heard some folks complain about the “technobabble” used in this story, and yes absolutely this book makes me wish I actually understood more higher math and programming . . . but on the other hand, I’m not sure how much more sense it would make even if I did have more context for all the terms. It seems kind of like magic spells used in fantasy novels; like, if you understand Latin, you’ll get a bit of a heads up on what the spell does, but it’s mostly flavor text, and even if you don’t understand, the effects will become pretty clear pretty quickly. I never felt lost because I didn’t understand a term, put it that way. In any case, I found The Atrocity Archives to be a truly engaging and enjoyable book–recommended for those who enjoy something a bit more off the beaten path.
Author: Ira Levin
My rating: 4 of 5
Life is glowing with promise for young couple Guy and Rosemary Woodhouse. Guy’s just waiting for his big break to launch his acting career. Rosemary is excited by the prospect of making a home and someday soon having a baby. And the both of them are thrilled at the opportunity to move into the exclusive Bramford apartment building. Rosemary’s friend and mentor Hutch, however, isn’t so excited when he hears they are moving there, citing numerous stories of strange, dark happenings in the building. Rosemary and Guy aren’t about to be put off by some stories, though, especially not after Guy hits it off so well with the neighbors. But as time goes on, those neighbors and various occurrences begin to seem more and more off . . . especially after Rosemary becomes pregnant.
Rosemary’s Baby is something of a classic horror novel–and I’m exceedingly glad that I knew that going in, or I would have been very confused. Because at first, it reads like period-typical literary fiction: young couple settling in, starting a career, making friends, that sort of thing. It’s only as you get further into the story that the atmosphere becomes more tense and the signs that something’s very, very wrong begin to show up more and more frequently and obviously. And it’s only in the climax of the last chapter or so that you get a truly apparent horror vibe, although it’s been building for a long time before you actually get there. Rather than being some intense, jump-scare filled thriller, Levin gives us a gradual build of tension with plenty of hints that (if you know what you’re looking at) point rather clearly to occult, dark influences. I would actually recommend reading the introduction to the 50th anniversary edition prior to reading the story if you get a chance, because David Morrell does a great job of pointing out some of the concepts to be looking for and points out the way the story’s focus changes from a very outside, dispassionate observation to a very narrow, emotional view from Rosemary’s perspective as the story develops–all of which add a lot to the horror aspect. On the negative side, this was written in the 1960’s, so there’s a certain amount of period-typical racism (and kind of sexism) that’s present . . . not in a way that’s central to the story, but still. But on the whole, this was an enjoyable read that I would recommend for those who enjoy a slow-build, atmospheric sort of horror.