Tag Archives: suspense

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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My Teacher Is an Alien

Author: Bruce Coville

My rating: 3.5 of 5

Susan is actually excited to be going back to school–mostly because this year (sixth grade) her class is being taught by Ms. Schwartz, possibly the best teacher ever. They’re even supposed to be putting on a play soon, which has Susan’s aspiring actress heart soaring. But when class starts back after spring break, they find Ms. Schwartz gone without explanation and a substitute, Mr. Smith, in her place. Mr. Smith begins to suck all the joy out of learning, and Susan hates the change of teachers. But then she finds out a secret that makes all her previous complaints about Mr. Smith seem insignificant–he’s actually an alien plotting to take a group of children back with him to space to study! Now she’s got to convince someone, anyone, of the truth before it’s too late.

Bruce Coville is a consistently excellent author that I just really enjoy reading. My Teacher Is an Alien is no exception. It captures the environment of a sixth grade classroom, the interpersonal dynamics, and the complications of trying to get adults to listen when you’re that age. And in the midst of that mundanity, you’re introduced to this suspenseful, incredible situation with aliens and force fields and missing teachers. It makes for a great mix. This volume is also kind of nostalgic to read, being written in the 1980’s; it’s kind of nice to look back to a world where you would actually have to bring a camera (using film!) to get evidence, and then wait overnight for it to be developed at the drugstore. There’s just a different atmosphere to stories set (and written) in that time period. I also enjoyed Susan and her friend Peter’s characters; they’re interesting individuals with well-developed characters. In general, the story’s just pretty engaging and fun–recommended.

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The Chemist

Author: Stephenie Meyer

My rating: 4 of 5

Warning: Mature Audience, mostly for violence, although there’s some minor sexual content

She used to be an agent of the American government, conducting black-ops interrogations, addressing biological threats, and creating new chemical compounds designed to target the human body. Now she’s a fugitive, on the run from her own department since someone there has decided she knows too much to stay alive. She’s gotten good at surviving–staying alone, being over-prepared, trusting no one and nothing. But when the department tricks her, bringing her into contact with sweet, innocent Daniel Beach, everything changes. And suddenly, she’s got a reason to do more than just hide; now she’s prepared to fight back.

In a lot of ways, The Chemist was everything I expect from a Stephenie Meyer novel, although at the same time, it was quite different from anything else of hers I’ve ever read. I have to say that I quite enjoyed it, more than I expected to. It is a book that I think you’ll enjoy more if you know somewhat what to expect, and honestly, that’s not clear from either the title or the cover or the author’s reputation. So I’ll go ahead and tell you: this is a secret agent thriller with a bio-chemistry twist. If you’re into the whole Jason Bourne thing, this should be right up your alley. If needles give you the heebie-jeebies, be forewarned, there are a lot of them here. The book is fast-paced and an easy right throughout, with plenty of action and suspense. And of course, the one element that is definitely classic Meyer, there’s a star-crossed romance thrown into the mix. Although this is definitely a more adult book that the others of Meyer’s that I’ve read (especially with the whole torture and violent death thing), it’s light on the explicit sexual content, and there’s basically zero bad language present. But yeah, torture and violence is definitely a thing here. Tropes are also a thing–as in, the book’s absolutely full of them–but then, they’re the sort of things that are tropes for a reason, right? And this is the sort of story (again, it’s helpful to know this going in) where that’s kind of acceptable because we’re in it for the intensity of the thrills and the sweetness of the love story, not for some great literary exposition. So yes, taken as what it is, I found The Chemist to be a surprisingly rewarding read, one I would recommend, especially to fans of thrillers.

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Rosemary’s Baby

rosemary's babyAuthor: 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.

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Powerless (Danny Phantom Fanfic)

Author: PixieGirl13 

FanFiction ID: 4389824

Status: Complete (24 chapters)

My rating: 5 of 5

Rated T, mostly for whump/violence and Vlad-typical manipulation and evil machinations

Danny’s finally got the house to himself for a week and a half of unsupervised, (hopefully) ghost free summer relaxation. Even Sam and Tucker are going to be out of town, and Danny plans to take advantage of the opportunity to sleep in and take it easy for once. But nothing seems to go the plan for the teenage half-ghost superhero as he finds himself kidnapped by his (also half-ghost) archnemesis Vlad Masters and dragged halfway across the world to help save Tokyo (or at least Vlad’s evil drug-lord friend) from a golem that has been terrorizing the drug trade there. So much for a vacation!

Powerless was a brilliantly executed fanfic displaying, yes, the aspects I really want in a fanfic, but also a lot of what I would want even in a published short novel. It goes without saying that the writing itself was excellent, if in need of some minor editorial work in a few places. Very enjoyable to read, expressive, and engaging. The characterizations were remarkably well done. Getting into Danny’s head to write him in first person is never easy, but particularly so in such a tense, chess-like situation, and I feel like the author not only gave us a credible rendition of the character but also an insightful one. Not to mention, one that’s a lot of fun to read. And the interactions between Vlad and Danny throughout are spot on–not some over-indulgent father figure or some slashy nonsense, but rather the incomprehensibly confusing manipulation of a brilliant but self-centered and morally-lacking mastermind trying to mold/mess with a toy/protégé/pet. The insight into Vlad’s character and the ambiguous (is he evil? or does he actually care?) way in which he’s written is perfect, making the way Danny is manipulated by him entirely credible. Also major kudos to the author for writing engaging, complex OCs that are a delight to read; I’m not normally big on having OCs in my fanfic, but I’ll gladly make an exception for these ones. As for the actual story, it’s surprisingly, refreshingly plot-centric, with lots of interlinked pieces gradually falling into place. There’s a great balance of suspense and action, plus a good bit of whump. Also, the author’s dragging the characters out of Amity Park and into such exotic locales as Prague and Tokyo is a really nice touch that gives some much-needed variety and room to breathe and be creative. All in all, Powerless is a gripping, balanced story that I highly recommend.

 

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The Visiting Prince (Merlin Fanfic)

Author: Emachinescat

FanFiction ID: 6965383/AO3 ID: 1263553

Status: Complete (17 chapters)

My rating: 3.5 of 5

Rated T, mostly for whump/violence

Prince Arthur remembers Prince Edmund of Stafford as a narcissistic, violent prat from their time spent together as children . . . but then, he was the same back then, right? It’s been years since they’ve seen each other, and surely Edmund has grown up and changed, just like Arthur has. As their kingdoms come together to sign a new peace treaty, Arthur finds this assumption challenged strongly when Merlin comes to Prince Edmund’s unwelcome attention. Because of course, Merlin can’t keep his mouth shut, and Prince Edmund was never one to let a challenge to his authority go easily. Or at all.

Emachinescat is, without a doubt, one of my all-time favorite authors–whether it’s fanfic or original fiction–and Merlin fanfic is one of the areas where her writing most shines. She’s got this great balance of bromance and whump that’s just a treat to read, and the characters and their relationships are just spot-on. That’s definitely the case in The Visiting Prince, although it’s actually not one of my favorite Merlin fanfics. In this story, we are presented with an OC baddie that we can truly love to hate; he’s really quite awful. As such, a lot of the story is focused on suspense and whump, with Merlin, Arthur, and the rest being backed into some pretty tight corners and not being able to do much about it. Because the threat is political and social rather than magical, we don’t get to see the BAMFery that shines in other Merlin stories. Also, due to the tight situations our heroes are stuck in, there is a limit to the bromance we get–mostly only the first couple chapters and then right at the end of the story. But what bromance we’re given is exactly in character and a lot of fun to read. So yes, The Visiting Prince isn’t my favorite of Emachinescat’s stories, but it’s a solid, well-written story that is definitely an enjoyable read.

NOTE: You can find The Visiting Prince on FFNet at https://www.fanfiction.net/s/6965383/1/The-Visiting-Prince or on AO3 at https://archiveofourown.org/works/1263553/chapters/2607037.

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A Phantom Marooned (Danny Phantom Fanfic)

Author: LordPugsy

FanFiction ID: 9820196

Status: Complete (19 chapters)

My rating: 4 of 5

Danny knew something was off when his entire English class won a fancy cruise–in a contest no one remembered ever entering. Unsurprisingly, it’s not long before things go horribly pear-shaped, leaving the class stranded alone on an island, all their technology fried, and non-native tropical animals dangerously near. Worse, Danny has lost half of his ghost powers due to some weird barrier surrounding the island. Now the class is going to have to work together to survive, and Danny is going to have to be the hero his friends know him to be . . . somehow without revealing his more famous alter ego to the rest of the class.

Okay, maybe the basic premise of this story isn’t the most original ever, but I found the execution of the story in A Phantom Marooned to be quite enjoyable. The character development is well done, allowing more optimism and less angst than a lot of DP stories I’ve read. The characters are a bit older–around sixteen at this point–and they’re allowed to grow as people while still operating within their root personalities. There’s a nice blend of adventure and suspense–lots of tension both from the situation and from Danny’s trying so hard to keep his secret–with a pleasant dash of romance thrown in–both between Danny and Sam, and unexpectedly but welcomely, between Tucker and Valerie. Plus plenty of BAMFery on Danny’s part, which is thoroughly satisfying. If you want a story where he gets to shine and actually be recognized for being amazing as Danny Fenton, not just as Danny Phantom, then this is your story. I will warn that, although the author has this rated as K+, it’s probably closer to a T, maybe a T+. There isn’t a lot of language, and the romance is kept remarkably innocent and sweet, but later in the story, the group runs into a very violent, crazy group of bad guys, and . . . lets just say there’s a lot of blood and whump at certain points. The writing itself is quite good; there are a few grammatical/word choice issues at times, but nothing too obnoxious, and certainly not enough to detract from how enjoyable the story is as a whole. Definitely recommended.

Note: You can find A Phantom Marooned at https://www.fanfiction.net/s/9820196/1/A-Phantom-Marooned.

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