Friday, May 29, 2009

"Dead and Gone" by Charlaine Harris

This is the ninth book in Harris's Southern Vampire series, and much as I love Sookie and Harris, I think the series is starting the inevitable downhill slide. Don't hate the messenger, people! It always seems to happen at some point, especially once a series gets insanely popular and/or hits the magic number 7 - after the seventh book or so, they just don't seem nearly as good as they once were. Sigh. Perhaps Harris is running out of ideas, or perhaps she's just too busy with the HBO series True Blood; I don't know. But this offering was not of the same quality as others in the Sookie series.

Things start off with a bang, almost literally. The weres, following the lead of the vamps, have decided to come out, and there are the usual mixed emotions after the big reveal. Several of the weres are relieved not to have to hide their true nature anymore, while others are nervous about their friends and family. With good reason, as one peripheral character is injured almost immediately. Sookie is at Merlotte's when the reveal occurs on live TV; her boss, Sam, and another were change in the bar to show people that weres are just like everyone else. Most are surprised but pleased by the news, all but waitress Arlene, who's been cozying up to an ultra-zealot group of vamp/were/anyone-different-than-us haters.

Soon after the reveal, Crystal, Jason's wife and Sookie's sister-in-law, is killed and crucified in the bar's parking lot. There's a lot of confusion over whether she was killed for her wanton ways (her cheating ways were well-known to most of Bon Temps) or for her were nature; it could be a possible hate crime. There's a pair of FBI agents in town wanting to recruit Sookie for her telepathic abilities (which she doesn't admit to, of course) and they immediately take over the crime scene. Sookie is scared and worried for her brother, as most will assume that Jason killed her for cheating on him. But Sookie knows that Jason would never do that, not when Crystal was pregnant with his child...

Eric is back in full force and basically wants to lay claim to our gal. She's not happy with his heavy-handed ways, but due to a big power shift in the vamp world, she might have to put up with them to keep herself out of the new head honcho's hands. Oh, and there appears to be more than one person out to kill her, too. She's evidently become a pawn in the fairie war between her grandfather and another leader. What's a girl to do?

Well, in this book, a lot. And I think that's where most of my complaint comes in - there is just way, way, way too much going on here. There's the possible hate crime of Crystal's murder, which really and truly probably should've been the focus of the book. Add to that the Eric stuff, the fae stuff, the FBI stuff, and it's just a mish-mash of plot lines. My other big complaint is how violent this entry is. Don't get me wrong - I have nothing against violence in and of itself. But these books haven't really been about that sort of thing, not to this extent. I don't know if Harris is setting up stuff that will be good for HBO down the road, or if she just thought this was a dark time in Sookie's life and the writing should reflect that. OH! And there's a very weird and distracting scene with Sookie's ex-boyfriend, Quinn, one that I'm not really sure was necessary. Again, I don't know if Harris is trying to keep him in our minds with a possible return to the canvas, or if she caught so much flack from the unceremonial dumping he took in the previous book that she wanted to soothe some ruffled feathers; either way, it just didn't work for me.

While I'm disappointed in this book, I haven't given up on the series, not yet. However, having said that, I think I'm only willing to read one more book like this before I start looking elsewhere. I have really enjoyed Sookie's story, but I'm not willing to stick with it if the writing is headed downhill. Here's hoping that Harris leaves the TV stuff to the TV folk and concentrates on what got her to HBO in the first place.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

"Dog On It" by Spencer Quinn

I originally picked this up for my hubby, who is always needing another book to read. Claims "his" authors just don't write fast enough to keep him happy. He devoured it and kept telling me how good it was, how much he liked Chet, etc. Imagine my surprise when we got the latest issue of Entertainment Weekly here at work, and there in Stephen King's column is a list a "beach reads" - and there's "Dog On It"! Well, if Steve-o liked it that much, I knew I had to try it...

Chet is a dyed-in-the-wool good dog. His partner is Bernie Little, and together they are the Little Detective Agency. Chet was supposed to have been a K-9 dog, but something went wrong near the very end of his training. Chet is a very, very good leaper, and he's not entirely sure what happened, but he thinks he remembers blood... Anyway, he and Bernie are a team, and they're about to get a case that will test their abilities and then some.

Bernie is contacted about a missing teen by her mother, simply distraught over her daughter's disappearance. Only thing is the girl shows up pretty fast, so Bernie has his doubts about what really happened; he believes the girl was out with a boy and just doesn't want her mother to know. Plus there's the bag of pot that Chet found in her room - add one and one and they pretty much come up to two. Except that Bernie is contacted by the same woman again within a few days, hysterical and crying, saying her daughter is gone again and this time it's been more than just a few hours and she just knows something bad has happened to her. Bernie is reluctant to help again, but something just isn't adding up. He agrees to take the case, and after interviewing a few people, including the girl's father (divorced parents, don't ya know), he really smells a rat. Chet, of course, accompanies him everywhere, much to several peoples dismay, but Chet is smart, and Chet is his partner after all. Just when it seems like maybe the girl is OK and nothing bad has happened, it all falls apart, leaving both Bernie and Chet in danger.

OK, that's a pretty simplistic version of the plot, but that's as much as you're going to get! I was impressed by this book, and I can see why King recommends it for the beach (or wherever it is you vacation). It's cute, it's an easy read, and it's actually fairly well-written. Chet is our narrator, and I have to admit, I was totally believing it. I've never read any of the stories told from the animal's point of view before; they always seems too cutesy or corny. This one hits the mark, making Chet almost seem human but giving enough info to prove he's not. For example, Chet's attention wanders quite a bit, much like my dog's used to. He's distracted by movement at times, and he loves smells, describing them in intricate detail, much like I'd imagine a real dog would if it could talk. He and Bernie make a great team, and lucky us, this looks like it's going to be a series. I sure hope so - I'll take a journey with Bernie and Chet any day. Check it out!

"Hands of Flame" by C. E. Murphy

This is the third book, and possibly the end, of the Negotiator series by Murphy. (I highly doubt it's the end, though, as she has a forward in this book that makes it sound like she really wants to come back to this series!) I thought this was a very good ending to the trilogy, and if you haven't read the other two already, I'm going to tell you right now to go read them. Really, you have to read them before jumping into this book - there's just way too much history to start here.

Margrit Knight is still embroiled in the world of the Old Races in her final days at Legal Aid. When we last saw her, she'd asked Alban, her romantic gargoyle, to give her some space and time to figure things out. Unfortunately, Margrit doesn't have very much of either; she was instrumental in the death of a djinn, and the Old Races still believe you cannot kill one of their kind without consequences, namely your own death. There's also a territorial war brewing down on the docks as the djinn and selkies vie for leadership of the underworld that was once held by the dragon Janx. The dragonlord is licking his wounds in the tunnels held by Grace O'Malley, and she's none too happy to have him there. Eliseo Daisani, the vampire, is about to become Margrit's boss, but he's hiding a very, very big secret of his own, one that may turn the Old Races against him.

There's a lot going on here, of course, and it's all good. There are new characters introduced as well as the appearance of old favorites. And there are so many loose ends that I can't imagine Murphy won't go back to this series after writing a few installments of the Walker Files. Keep in mind that that series started as a trilogy as well, so there's definitely hope that we'll see Grit and her gargoyle again. I certainly hope so. I'd love to be able to give you more of a plot, but honestly, I just can't do that without giving too many things away. Trust me when I tell you that The Negotiator Series is a well-written from all angles - plot, character development, and just the right touch of romance. And remember to look up once in while...

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

"Dark Lover" by J. R. Ward

My sister read this series quite a while back and recommended it to me. After that, patrons read it and recommended it to me. Finally, I have given in and read the first book, having taken it with me on a long weekend at the beach. Let the festivities begin...

Wrath is the only purebred vampire left on Earth. He's been fighting with his "brothers", the Black Dagger Brotherhood, against the slayers. There are six of them in the Brotherhood including Wrath, and they all have a story to tell. This first book is Wrath's story, and he starts out as the typical brooding "I hate everyone" hero. His parents were killed by slayers, leaving him the only one left of the royal family, but of course, he refuses to be the king and lives to kill slayers.

Enter his friend Darius, also a member of the Brotherhood, who needs Wrath's help. Seems Darius had a mortal female lover a while back who became pregnant with his child, a daughter. Darius wants Wrath to help Beth Randall through her transition, when she sheds her mortality and becomes a vampire. Only thing is Beth has no idea that she's a half-breed or who her father is; she's believed all this time that she's an orphan. Granted, she's been going through some changes lately, but they're nothing terribly out of the ordinary: she feels her life is going nowhere, she's not really attracted to any guys right now, and - oh yeah - her eyes seem to be getting a bit sensitive to light. Probably nothing.

Wrath wouldn't dream of helping Darius - except that Darius is brutally killed by the slayers. And he sees Beth for the first time, stirring up all sorts of feelings inside himself. He doesn't want to help her, not really, but he can't seem to stay away from her, either. He decides he must honor Darius's wishes, even as he realizes that he's falling for Beth. However, Wrath is hiding secrets from Beth, not the least of which is she might not live through her transition. And Wrath can't face the idea of Beth dying...

Overall, I'd give this book a solid B-. Sorry to all the folks that have been reading this series and loving it, but I wasn't overly impressed. Ward puts some interesting twists into the vampire mythology, having them born as a completely different species and such, and actually having the slayers seem more what we think of as "vampires". After all, slayers have given up their souls, they need to be staked through the heart to be killed, etc. The vampires of Ward's world do drink blood, but only each others - human blood is OK but not nurishing to them. They can also eat real food and have quite the appetites for culinary pleasures.

The love story is OK, too, but we've seen this sort of thing before. Bad boy doesn't want to meet the girl, let alone spend time with her, but something throws them together and they end up fighting their attraction to each other. I was more impressed with the human cop, "Hard-Ass", aka Butch O'Neal. He's thrown into this world as well, and I thought he was much more interesting. I'd be willing to read another installment just to see if he's in it. The other vamps are very familiar, all six-foot-plus, all pretty gorgeous, all very bad-ass and brooding in their own ways. What bothered me the most was their names. OMG! "Tohrment"? "Zsadist"? Puh-lease. "Darius" was by far the only normal-sounding name of the bunch, and he's killed off in the first 25 pages of the book!! Sigh. Give the Black Dagger Brotherhood books a shot if you're brave, but trust me when I tell you there's nothing new in this book.

Monday, May 4, 2009

"The Dark Garden" by Eden Bradley

"Rowan Cassidy likes to be in charge - especially in her personal life. As a mistress at Club Prive, the most exclusive bondage/S&M club on the West Coast, Rowan can live out her dominant fantasies safely, and with complete control - until the night Christian Thorn walks in. Self-confident and sophisticated, he's a natural dominant if Rowan's ever seen one. Yet she can't stop thinking about him and imagining his touch.

Christian has returned home, hoping to break free from his dissatisfaction and malaise - and discovers the cure in Rowan. He's dying to get his skilled hands on her and watch her surrender, to unlock the mystery of her that captivates him. Determined to be her master, he makes Rowan a daring proposition: give herself over to him for thirty days.

Rowan finds Christian's offer terrifying - and impossible to resist. But abandoning herself to Christian's power might be more than she can handle...Or it might be the realization of her true nature and the dark garden within her. There will be only one way to find out. And once the game has begun, there's no turning back."

Yes, this is book is classified as "erotica", but I would argue that it's really nothing more than a romance novel with some more intense and slightly kinkier sex scenes in it. Trust me - if you've read any of the "paranormal romance" that's available out there, the sex in this book isn't going to shock you one bit. If anything, it's a bit on the tame side - just uses a few more explicit terms for certain body parts. I'm still wondering why it showed up in my Amazon recommendations, but I gave it a shot anyway.

The character development is OK, but true to a lot of romance books, everyone in this offering would be considered "perfect". The men are tall, dark, and gorgeous, with the prerequisite 6-pack abs no less! The women (there are two story lines here) are both petite, dainty, and pretty much the perfect size for a "submissive" partner. I'm trying to remember if the term "throbbing member" showed up anywhere! LOL! The sex scenes themselves were decent, but I've read much hotter writing in "normal" romances.

Why am I dogging on the "erotic" part of this book and downgrading it to "romance" novel? Because in my opinion, an erotic offering is just that - it's very, very sensual and really makes your blood steam. It gives you fantasies. It makes you blush to think that anyone knows you're reading it. Sometimes, it just plain makes you blush. This book? Um, not so much. And I think the reason it doesn't feel right to me is that it's very clear from almost the beginning of the book that Rowan and Christian are going to fall in love. Same with the subplot of April and Decker. Both couples are supposed to be BDSM partners playing out scenes, but the dialogue between them suggests that all will end happily in much more "normal" coupledom. In fact, by the end of the book, even the sex is "normal" for the most part, with the whips and floggers and other BDSM toys put away.

Overall, it's not a bad read - short and pretty simple. As for plot, character, and all the rest of it, it's was a solid "C". I'd put it up there with the sort of movie you can watch on the weekend when there's nothing else on. It may not be Oscar material, but it'll do in a pinch (no pun intended!) and quickly forgotten afterwards.