Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Grave Sight by Charlaine Harris

Grave Sight (Harper Connelly Series #1)

Grave Sight is the first in the Harper Connelly series by Charlaine Harris, the author behind the Southern Vampire/ Sookie Stackhouse series.  In this series there are no supernatural beings, but that isn't to say that Harper Connelly isn't special.  After being struck by lightening Harper found she had a gift for finding dead bodies and seeing how they died - not who killed them or why, but physically how.  She and her stepbrother Tolliver travel around finding bodies for a fee, along the way solving a murder or two or three.

The novel opens with Harper and Tolliver in a small town called Sarne.  Harper has been hired to locate the body of Teenie Hopkins, a teenage girl who disappeared months earlier, around the time her boyfriend Dell's body was found in the woods.  The assumption is that Dell killed Teenie then himself, but Harper casts doubt on what previously people were fairly certain about and some are not happy about that.  Even though she was hired to find Teenie no one in Sarne really wants Harper there.  Some people think her gift is evil and others believe she and her brother are taking advantage of people, but they can't ignore the fact the results of her gift.   

This was a quick and easy read; good but not great.  Maybe it isn't fair but I couldn't help but compare this to the Southern Vampire series.  Like Sookie Stackhouse, Harper Connelly has a gift that tends to freak people out.  Both had troubling childhoods.  In every novel either Sookie or someone she cares about finds themselves in a life threatening situation.  Bon Temps with all its vampires, werewolves, fairies and ordinary humans is a violent one.  Yet somehow the Southern Vampire series is also funny and thought provoking.  Sookie manages to stay upbeat and positive usually.  She's also smart, resourceful and though she doesn't have super strength, she's strong.

In contrast, Harper, her brother Tolliver, and the world they inhabit is much more solemn.  Most of the time Harper seems to be either panicking, about to faint, or angry.  I alternated between being mildly annoyed by her and mildly sympathetic.  In any case the feeling was always mild - she just wasn't that compelling of a character.  But to be fair, this was the first entry in this series so perhaps Harper's character will come together more in later novels.  I can get past the solemn (even depressing) nature of the book, so long as the overall story is compelling.  The plot here wasn't that interesting but knowing Harris's other work I would be willing to give the next entry in this series a try.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Deadlocked by Charlaine Harris

Deadlocked (Sookie Stackhouse / Southern Vampire Series #12)

Deadlocked by Charlaine Harris is the twelfth novel in the Southern Vampire series.  I am a big fan of Sookie, the Southern Vampire series, and True Blood and was eagerly looking forward to this book.  The major plot piece involves the murder of Kym Rowe, a half human/half were animal, on  Eric Northman's property.  For those unfamiliar with the series, Eric is a vampire and Sookie's boyfriend.  Moments before coming to her demise, Sookie caught Eric drinking from Kym.  To make matters more complicated Eric was entertaining Felipe de Castro, the powerful vampire King of Louisiana, Arkansas and Nevada, when Kym was killed.  Aside from  this murder mystery, Sookie is deciding what to wish for.  In the previous novel in this series, Dead Reckoning, Sookie found a magical object called a cluviel dor in an old piece of her grandmother's furniture.  The cluviel dor is a magical object from the fae world that allows the possessor one wish.  Though she has kept her discovery of this object a secret it seems multiple beings have become aware or at least suspect that Sookie has it.  Another concern is Eric's potential marriage to a vampire queen.  Politically the marriage would be the perfect match, benefitting both Eric and his potential wife.  The question then is does Eric love power or Sookie more.

Though Deadlocked is not the best entry in the series I still enjoyed visiting Sookie's world for awhile.  Unlike other novels in this series, I never felt emotionally pulled into the story.  None of the mysteries or problems ever seemed that important, not even to Sookie.  More than anything this book felt like Harris was tying up loose ends left over from previous books, loose ends relating mostly to the fae world and Sookie's fae relatives.  My hope is that Harris was using this book to clear away some of the clutter and that the next book will be bring new changes and bigger mysteries to the series.  Here's hoping!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Magician King by Lev Grossman

The Magician King

The Magician King is the sequel to Lev Grossman's The Magicians.  Both borrow heavily from the Harry Potter and the Narnia series.  Like Harry Potter Quentin Coldwater finds that magic is real and soon matriculates at a Brakebills, a college for magicians.  Even better he discovers that Fillory, the Narnia like world he grew up reading about, is real. 

I had mixed feelings about The Magicians and have mixed feeling about this sequel, though I did like this one more.  The problem is Quentin, the main character of the series.  In the first book he is a smart and disillusioned teenager who wishes life was more like it is in the Fillory novels.  High school isn't so great, but then he gets into Brakebills and his life changes for the better.  Of course, everything isn't perfect.  Even in a world where magic is real bad things can happen, consequences have actions, and people die.  Still, overall Quentin gets almost everything he ever wanted.  The Magician King picks up where The Magicians left off, with Quentin essentially living his dream. He is one of the four royals who rule Fillory. He lives a life of luxury and ease, and he's bored.  Although his life isn't perfect, it is pretty great and he is still complaining.  It is difficult to feel sorry for him and very easy to be annoyed by him. 

The problem with Quentin is that he wants life to be like a book or a movie.  He want a high stakes adventure full of danger and close calls where he gets to play the part of the hero.  At the same time, he wants the safety of there always being a happy ending.  At the end of The Magicians it seems Quentin has learned his lesson - life can be full of adventure, but a happy ending isn't guaranteed.  In The Magician King it seems that Quentin has forgotten all that he learned.  He embarks on a mini-quest to an island to collect taxes from delinquent taxpayers.  He sets sail across the ocean, meets some new people and has a good time, but it is not enough.  So it is on to a second quest that begins with a magic key that opens a door that leads to who knows where.  Of course he goes without thinking and immediately regrets his decision.  Julia, another one of the royals, accompanies him, but really it's Quentin's story.

In addition to Quentin's quest there is a second plot thread centering around Julia.  A bit of background here - In The Magicians potential witches and wizards must take an entrance exam to get into magic college.  Those who pass are invited to attend Brakebills, and those who don't have their memories of the magic test erased and are sent back to resume their normal lives.  Quentin passed the exam and Julia didn't.  Somehow though the memory erasure spell didn't quite work on Julia and by the end of The Magicians she has found her way to the world of magic and becomes of the four royals (along with Quentin, Janet and Eliot) who rule Fillory.  Her journey left her damaged in some way that isn't entirely clear.  In The Magician King we find out how she fought her way to Fillory.  Like Quentin Julia is not the most likable character, but at least she is an interesting character.

Quentin and Julia take turns being the center of attention and of the two, I enjoyed Julia's story a bit more.  They both went on a kind of quest - Julia because she needed to, Quentin because he was bored.  In the end Quentin's quest turns out to be important for all of the magical world.  Once again Quentin gets his wish - an adventure where the stakes really matter and he gets to play the hero.  But the bigger picture of why Quentin's quest is important for everyone isn't made apparent till close to the end.  With Julia I always had a sense of what was at stake for her. 

I'm not entirely sure who to recommend this book to.  I guess if you liked Harry Potter and Narnia, there is a good chance you'll like this.  Personally I loved the Harry Potter series but was always a bit bored by Narnia.  Perhaps that is why I have such mixed feelings about this series.

Monday, September 10, 2012

More Baths Less Talking by Nick Hornby

More Baths Less Talking: Notes from the Reading Life of a Celebrated Author Locked in Battle with Football, Family, and Time Itself

More Baths Less Talking is a collection of Nick Hornby's columns from the magazine The Believer.  This is the fourth collection of his columns, covering the period from May 2010 to December 2011.  Each column begins with a list of the books he acquired that month and what books he actually read.  Like many people, or at least like me, Hornby's book buying is often more ambitions than time allows, resulting in the first list usually being longer than the second. 

I loved this collection.  It isn't just a collection of book reviews.  Hornby writes about books, reading and life, and well, just all of it.  It's funny, so funny that I smiled, chuckled and laughed, even while I was reading on the bus.  I couldn't help it.  As an added bonus I got a few suggestions for future reading adventures.

In addition to Hornby's collections of his Believer columns, I'm also fan of his fiction writing.  About a Boy is my favorite, closely followed by High Fidelity, both of which were made into movies that I also enjoyed.  It's hard to go wrong with a Hornby book.  Pick one up and you're unlikely to be disappointed.   

Earlier collections of Hornby's Believer columns
The Polysyllabic Spree
Housekeeping vs. the Dirt
Shakespeare Wrote for Money

Also recommended
About a Boy
High Fidelity
Juliet, Naked

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Dr. Who - The Ponds are Leaving

As fans of Dr. Who probably already know, Amy and Rory will be leaving this season and the Doctor will have to find a new companion.  Amy and Rory have been two of my favorite companions and some of their episodes are among the best in my opinion.  (The Van Gogh episode might be favorite episode of all time; it's definitely in the top five.)  In this video from the Nerdist the cast talks about the impending exit of the Ponds.  Though I'm sad to see Amy and Rory leave, it looks like this season of Dr. Who is going to be an exciting one.

Nerdist News Exclusive: The Pond Farewell