Tag Archives: regional fiction

Living Dead in Dallas

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.

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Dead Until Dark

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.

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Seven Wild Sisters

Author: Charles De Lintseven wild sisters

Illustrator: Charles Vess

My rating: 5 of 5

Sarah Jane loves going up to Aunt Lillian’s place up the mountain, helping her with chores and hearing all her stories about the fairy folk–the Apple Tree man, the Father of Cats, and many others. It’s not as though she entirely believes in these stories, but they’re certainly interesting. Then one day, as she’s going out to gather ginseng for Aunt Lillian, she encounters a tiny man, seemingly made of sticks and bits of debris–a little man shot through with hundreds of tiny arrows. Feeling she has to help him, she carries the wounded fairy back to Aunt Lillian’s . . . little knowing that by doing so she is involving herself and her six sisters in a world–and a war–she knows almost nothing about.

I’ve been a fan of Charles De Lint’s books for quite a while, mostly his amazing urban fantasies like The Painted Boy and Spirits in the Wires. I’ve never really read any of his children’s books, so Seven Wild Sisters was a fun new experience for me. While it is definitely a good read for kids (mostly leaving out stuff like sex and language), it carries through with all the best things that make me love De Lint’s writing: a vivid world, interesting and unusual characters, folk music, animals. And of course, the whole venture into the other world–written in a way that is quite consistent with how he writes it in his other volumes, but with a lot of local Appalachian flavor. I really love how the spirits and fairies are unique to the locality, as well as how the characters themselves are so full of the color of their home and the mountains. Plus, the book is rich with Charles Vess’s gorgeous illustrations; you could seriously read this book just for the pictures! I would highly recommend Seven Wild Sisters, especially to those who love a good fairy tale or urban fantasy.

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Tortilla Flat

Author: John Steinbeck

Coming home from service during WWI, Danny finds he has inherited property in his hometown of Tortilla Flat. This is a novelty to him, and rather a burden as well. It’s not long, however, until his friends decide to help him out with this burden–by freeloading in his house! From that point, their lives are full of wine, women, and song along with long lazy spells and moral discussions. Quite the moralizing group they are, despite a large portion of their activities being of somewhat questionable legality–they always have altruistic motives, of course! Indeed, the form almost a Robin Hood-like band what with their robbing the rich to feed the poor, namely themselves.

Upon finishing Tortilla Flat, I’m truly not sure what me feelings on it are. The writing style itself is wonderful, if a bit old-fashioned; I generally enjoy Steinbeck. The content, however, is questionable. Certainly, it’s not politically correct, although it’s historically and regionally interesting, for sure. The characters are portrayed in an almost noble-savage sort of manner of which I really can’t approve. The plot is technically well written, but again, it’s mostly portraying the vagaries of these ill-begotten, wayward men and their attempts to rationalize themselves. Not really my style. So on the whole, points for writing excellence and for the snapshot into life at the region and time, but still not a favorite of mine by any means. I probably won’t read Tortilla Flat again, although I don’t regret having read it once.

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The Painted Boy

Author: Charles de Lint

When he was only eleven, a large dragon image–like a multicolored tattoo–appeared on Jay Li’s back all by himself. At that time, his grandmother PauPau told him it showed that he bore the family heritage of the Yellow Dragon Clan, and she embarked on a mission to train him in all sorts of rules, exercises, and meditations . . . without ever really explaining why or what’s really happening to him. Now at the age of seventeen, he finds himself sent out on his own to find a place that “feels right,” which ends him up in Santo del Vado Viejo, Arizona, a city build straight on top of the desert . . . a city rife with gang violence and drug trafficking. Still, Jay finds a place for himself there, making friends (a first for him) and working in a small Mexican restaurant; however,  he finds himself still plagued by the whole dragon thing and trying to figure out what it means . . . especially since he has a niggling feeling that it might be more than some “spiritual heritage” or something, that it might be more literal than most people could imagine.

In The Painted Boy, Charles de Lint does what he does best, in my opinion: crafts an intricate urban fantasy that is both exciting and relevant to issues most people deal with frequently. I would consider him the number one master of urban fantasy–he writes with brilliant imagination, broad-reaching allusion, and a skillful perspective of how fantasy and legend fit into a modern context. I love the regional flavor that permeates many of his books, this one included; the natural setting, wildlife, culture, weather, everything ties in to the story and has influence on the characters. The characters themselves are wonderful–full of life and personality, uncertainties, struggles, and a flood of human emotion. It’s a joy to see growth and change in them throughout the story. Finally, I appreciate the balance de Lint brings while weaving together many seemingly-divergent pieces: the gang problems in the barrio, the relatively small (but personally huge) complexities of individual relationships, the whole huge fantasy element (which is huge), they all work together brilliantly. I definitely recommend The Painted Boy, particularly to those who enjoy a solid urban fantasy, but really to anyone who enjoys a good coming-of-age novel also.

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The Canning Season

Author: Polly Horvath

When Ratchet’s mom sends her to stay with distant relatives Tilly and Penpen Menuto for the summer, Ratchet is well aware that she’s being gotten rid of. What she doesn’t know is that the visit will change her life. As she spends time with these two eccentric elderly ladies, hearing their stories of the past, Ratchet begins to discover herself and grow into a young lady–someone who might one day be as unusual and strong-willed an individual as the Menuto sisters.

The Canning Season is a moving story, full of heartache but also of inspiration and strength. It parades as a children’s book, but I would consider the themes (and occasionally the language) to be more suited to an adult audience. The story is full of regional flavor, mild hyperbole, and rich, colorful characters. In particular, I though the stories the Menutos told were fascinating and fun (if a bit hard to believe at times). I found The Canning Season to be worthwhile to read, if not what I expected when I first picked it up. Good books are like that sometimes.

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