Monday, January 24, 2011

Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris

I had already watched the first season of True Blood before I picked up this novel, and I was a little worried I might get bored knowing the answer to the mystery. Gladly, I was mistaken. Although the essential plot is the same, the book exclusively follows Sookie Stackhouse’s point of view. It’s cleaner, neater, and more enjoyable than watching the escapades of the secondary characters from the tv show. Several of those characters were not in the book at all, while others were merely altered. Dead Until Dark and True Blood are both great entertainment, but if I had to pick, I prefer the book.

What I loved about Dead Until Dark is the lush style of Charlaine Harris’ writing-- her characters are sensual and her words are decadent. The style and setting are decidedly reminiscent of Anne Rice. The Louisiana setting is an obvious connection, but they both have a way of writing that gets your temperature climbing and your mind wandering... umm... south. Since the vampires in this universe can and do have intercourse, the erotic element has plenty of opportunity to shine. Charlaine Harris managed the tension with aplomb, and the book toes the line between sexy and raunchy. Sookie Stackhouse is a tantalizing mix of sweet and steamy, and that balance carries beautifully through the book.

Charlaine Harris also manages to incorporate a tongue-in-cheek sense of humor in Dead Until Dark. After a particularly heated tumble with Bill, Sookie thinks, “This was pretty exotic stuff for a telepathic barmaid from northern Louisiana.” I loved that line because that telepathic barmaid is pretty exotic in her own right. The humor in the book is subtle and clever. You won’t find anything silly or childish in this story.

Overall, the book was an engaging and titillating read. Fans of the tv show and fans of vampire fiction can both find something to enjoy. Dead Until Dark is a great addition to the vampire genre, and I am looking forward to sinking my teeth into the rest of the series. (Sorry for the bad pun, but the sentiment is real!)

Penguin: Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris
Image Source: Penguin
Review Copy: Self Purchased
ISBN-13: 978-0441019335

This review was originally published at Kawaii Writing and republished with permission.

The Moorehawke Trilogy by Celine Keirnan

I have been waiting to read Celine Keirnan’s The Moorehawke Trilogy for more than a year now. Keirnan is an Irish writer, so her books were released in the European and Australian markets earlier than here in the United States. My best friend is a writer who lives in Germany, and she hyped the first book up to me before it was even available here. I got to read The Poison Throne when it was released in April 2010. Wow. Just wow. I wanted more, but when The Crowded Shadows was released in July, I was mega-busy with my graduate studies. There just was no chance for me to read it until I got through summer and completed my fall semester.

Enter winter break. Once I got through vacations, family obligations, and holiday madness I hunkered down with a warm blanket and The Moorehawke Trilogy. I re-read the first book because it had been awhile, and hey, it was good enough for a second read. I loved it just as much the second time as I did the first. Then I read the last two books in the series. My wow factor tripled. Wow wow wow.

The series is set in Europe of the 1500’s, but this is not a historical setting really. Kiernan has re-imagined the time period to suit her world, weaving fictional countries and politics in with decidedly nonfictional ones. My husband the history buff would be aggravated, but it worked in this narrative and I didn’t really mind. Her world also has fantastical elements such as talking cats, ghosts, and shapeshifters. The touches of fantasy were used with great care, and they added considerable depth to the story. A reader might expect whimsy, but most of the fantasy was of a darker nature.

In fact, I learned that this series faced something of a marketing conundrum (for more on this, check out the interview with Celine Kiernan on The Skiffy and Fanty Show). Teenage female heroine, talking cats, ghosts-- that equals young adult, right? But there are some pretty graphic scenes of torture and violence. Hrm. In the United States, it got shuffled into the fantasy market even though it might be considered lightweight by the dedicated sword-and-sorcery crowd.

I don’t care about that. The series is beautiful and nail-biting and uplifting. It will be added to my short list of books to read again and again.

Wynter makes a fascinating study in the fortitude and self-possession it takes for a woman to navigate life at court while maintaining her own ideas, opinions, and agendas. Although she is not noble by birth, her father was named Protector Lord by the King, and Wynter is the Protector Lady. As such, she grew up at court in the company of Razi and Alberon, the king’s two sons. Razi is older but illegitimate, so he has been trained for life as a doctor. Alberon is the legitimate heir to the throne, but a few chapters into The Poison Throne, you discover that something is terribly wrong.

Wynter is forced to decide between loyalty to her friend, loyalty to her country, and loyalty to her ailing father. She does not decide lightly, but her course of action shapes the events for the last two books in the series. Her adventurous path leads her to danger, romance, and more danger. The romance is rocky and sweet and wonderful. I don’t want to say too much more for fear that spoilers may slip. So, all I will say is go buy the books. Read them! Love them!

And do check out Celine Kiernan’s website (http://www.celinekiernan.com/) and DeviantArt gallery (http://tinycoward.deviantart.com/gallery/11282179). Her background as an illustrator makes for incredible “extras” to the series, like a Wynter paper doll. LOVE.

Hachette: The Poison Throne by Celine Keirnan
Image Source: Hachette
Review Copy: Self Purchased
ISBN-10: 0316077062

Hachette: The Crowded Shadows by Celine Kiernan
Image Source: Hachette
Review Copy: Self Purchased
ISBN-10: 0316077089
Image Source: Hachette
Review Copy: Self Purchased
ISBN-13: 978-0316077071

This review was originally published at Kawaii Writing and is republished with permission.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Greyfriar by Clay Griffith & Susan Griffith


I received this book as one of many vampire-themed Christmas presents from my husband (I don’t know whether that says more about him or me), and I was pretty dubious. Sure, I love vampire stories, but steampunk vampire stories? Really? My husband insisted it was highly recommended. And now that I’ve read it, I can see why. In fact, I highly recommend it. This book is brilliant, and I love it!

In the world of Vampire Empire, it is the year 2020. It’s been 150 years since the Great Killing-- the time when vampires rose and drove humans from the northern lands. Humans have relocated to warmer climates where vampires do not live and rebuilt their empires on technology of iron and steam. Adele is the future empress of Equatoria which was built on the remnants of the British Empire, but she is not your conventional damsel in distress. Adele studies various martial arts from her Japanese mystic tutor Mamoru and can clearly hold her own in a fight. In order to drum up support for the coming war to reclaim their homeland, Adele leaves her father’s court in Alexandria to tour the independent borderlands of Europe. On the trip, her airship is attacked by vampires and Adele ends up joining forces with the mysterious vampire-fighting legend, The Greyfriar.

I don’t even know which good thing to say about the book first. The pacing is impeccable, and you would never know that the book has two authors rather than one. Clay and Susan Griffiths manage to meld their voice and style so that their writing is indistinguishable. I can only begin to imagine what sort of professional and marital partnership it must take to accomplish this endeavour so flawlessly.

The conflict between religion, mysticism, and rationalism also plays a very interesting role in this book. The authors have done an excellent job bring that Victorian debate into the narrative, and it really helps the reader to grasp how stilted human society became after the Great Killing. Not only are they still in a very industrial phase (hence, steampunk) but they are still concerned over the same social and religious quandaries. Then it makes you realize that we are still concerned over many of the same social and religious quandaries. Maybe we really haven’t progressed as much from the Victorians as we would like to believe. This gave the book an added layer of depth that was greatly appreciated and intellectually enjoyable.

Another thing I absolutely love about this book is the characters. Adele is sassy, smart, and entertaining in first-person POV. She balances the courtly and personal aspects of her life with considerable grace, and she has no qualms about getting her hands dirty when necessary. The Greyfriar is a romantic mix of dark brooding and awkward tenderness. He’s all tough exterior with a teddy bear center. They share an adorable interplay that gets neither boring nor nauseating in the story. Of course, there’s always a catch, and it turns out that Adele is already engaged for a political marriage to the American Senator Clark. The Greyfriar himself is more than he seems. The romantic tension is just right.

Every great book has one fun little curveball tucked in that somehow defines the whole thing. In Greyfriar, it’s the cats. But I can’t say anymore about that until you go and read it yourself.

So there you have it. Vampire Empire Book One: The Greyfriar has a fascinating alternate timeline, compelling characters, star-crossed lovers, and cats. What more could you ask for? Oh yes, the second book. Now.

Pyr: The Greyfriar by Clay and Susan Griffith
Image Source: Pyr
Review Copy: Self Purchased
ISBN-13: 978-1616142476

This review was originally published at Kawaii Writing and republished with permission.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins


In the distant future, the former United States has become the nation of Panem-- a collection of 12 districts ruled by an omnipotent Capitol. Every year the Capitol requires the each district to provide one boy and one girl tribute for the Hunger Games as punishment for a rebellion led 75 years ago by a mysterious 13th district. In the Games, the 24 tributes fight until only one victor remains alive, and the entire event is televised for the Capitol’s viewing pleasure.

This tyrannical political environment is the backdrop for Suzanne Collin’s The Hunger Games trilogy. The series follows the adventures of Katniss Everdeen, who gets pulled in to the violence and political intrigue of the Games when she volunteers as a tribute to save her little sister, Prim. It is rather difficult to review a trilogy without giving spoilers, so I am going to focus primarily on what I love about the characters in The Hunger Games without delving so much into plot lines or endings.

What truly impressed me about this book is that Katniss is such an incredibly written female character. She is the primary provider for her household, and she does this by hunting wild game outside of the fence surrounding her home in District 8. Not only is she a well-trained and talented archer, she has a keen survivalist instinct that actually makes her a contender in the Hunger Games-- something very uncommon with tributes from her district.

Katniss’ only flaw-- if you can call it that-- is that she is emotionally unaware. Most of the conflict in the book (aside from the obvious) has to do with her misunderstanding other people’s intentions, her difficulty in forgiving others, and not being sure how she really feels. This makes her a non-stereotypical heroine in my opinion. Women are usually squishy and dramatic, but Katniss is neither. She is bold, brash, and spunky. She is also unfailingly loyal to her friends and family. Katniss’ character manages to be noble without being annoying, which makes it easy for the reader to cheer her on through the ordeal.

The male characters are generally less complex, but they are far more emotionally aware than Katniss, which makes for an interesting dynamic. Gale Hawthorne is Katniss’ friend and hunting partner from District 8. He too supports his family since his father and Katniss’ father were killed in a mine accident several years ago. Frustrated with conditions in District 8, Gale uses their time outside of the fence to vent and say things that would be considered very treacherous. Opposite Gale is Peeta Mellark, the son of a baker, who becomes Katniss’ fellow tribute in the Games. He is a quiet fellow who inadvertently gave Katniss the will to survive when her father died. Although Katniss doesn’t know Peeta well, he has a lot more going on beneath his quiet exterior than she knows.

The characters spark, and the narrative catches fire. Everything in this book is dynamic and thrilling. Even the most reserved characters have a strength and a will that make them incredibly compelling. Readers will find themselves swept up by the story in no time-- The Hunger Games trilogy is truly a high-interest read.

Scholastic: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Image Source: Wikipedia
Review Copy: Self Purchased
ISBN-13: 978-0439023528

Scholastic: Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
Image Source: Wikipedia
Review Copy: Self Purchased
ISBN-13: 978-0439023498

Scholastic: Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
Image Source: Wikipedia
Review Copy: Self Purchased
ISBN-13: 978-0439023511

This review originally published at Kawaii Writing and republished with permission.