Fiction: “Dead as a Doornail” by Charlaine Harris

dead as a doornailSo the next two seasons of True Blood are going to be winging my way through the US Postal Service as soon as I take a break from Breaking Bad and actually finish the last three episodes of Firefly; it’s time to read the next Sookie Stackhouse mystery so I’m all caught up.

This book starts off with Sookie dealing with Jason’s first night as a werepanther. Again, if Jason does get turned into a shifter in the TV show, please don’t tell me, I’m not sure that’s a thing I want to happen. Luckily for Sookie, Jason loves turning into a panther. Apparently shifting isn’t nearly as painful as it’s made out to be on The Vampire Diaries. Okay. But then someone starts sniping shifters, and it starts right after Jason becomes one, so fingers are starting to point at Jason. So now it’s up to Sookie to help prove his innocence.

When someone shoots Sam (and luckily only wounds him, doesn’t kill him, because I like Sam and I would be sad if Sam was killed off), Sookie goes to Eric for a temporary bartender so Sam can heal. Eric sends her a pirate vampire (no, I’m serious, eyepatch and all) named Charles. And then Sookie’s house burns down, so she moves into a duplex owned by Sam temporarily, and then she gets shot, and …

This entry in the series left me a little colder than the previous. Primarily, I couldn’t feel the beats of the story. Y’know how in a mystery, there is a problem, and then there are clues, and then investigating, and then maybe after every third clue, the protagonist gets into a scrape until the confrontation, and then once the mystery’s solved, there’s a denouement? I didn’t feel that with this title. It was more of, “My name’s Sookie, and let me tell you about my brother. And then this person got shot, but I went to work because that’s what I do. And then my boss got shot, and I felt guilty for no reason whatsoever, so I asked Eric for a bartender. Then my house burned down, and while I’m sad about it, I still have to work. And then Alcide came over and he wanted me to go to this werewolf pack funeral, so I went. I don’t like that he’s involving me in pack matters, but I guess I have to go. When I got back home, I visited Jason’s new panther friend, and then I got shot.” There was no active investigating. It felt almost … rote. And not that I’m looking for this in a mystery novel, but there also wasn’t any romancing going on with Sookie.

I don’t know if it’s a slump – I hope it’s not, because I enjoy Sookie Stackhouse as written. I’m only three seasons into True Blood, and the rumors going ’round is that TV!Sookie becomes less enjoyable as the series goes on; I hope that isn’t true.

I guess, I hope that Ms. Harris has more of a concrete plot-slash-investigation in the next book. Because this felt almost … slipshod? And I’ve liked these books before; I don’t want to give them up.

There has to be something to hold them all together. Like in the J.D. Robb/Eve Dallas series: the crimes and mysteries may change, but the relationship between Eve and Roarke is constantly changing, evolving, and maturing. I didn’t feel that there was any emotional growth with the characters. There was no regression, which is great; don’t get me wrong, characters staying the same is always something I enjoy. (*cough*Kay Scarpetta*cough). But … I needed more this time. Or, I expected more, and became disappointed when there wasn’t more.

Grade for Dead as a Doornail: 1.5 stars

Fiction: “Dead to the World” by Charlaine Harris

This is the fourth title in Charlaine Harris’s “Southern Vampire” series — or, as I (and I’m sure, a few others) like to call it, the True Blood series. As usual, I have read the book before watching the season to which it corresponds, for two reasons. One, because I always like to read the source material before seeing what type of atrocities occurred in the requisite adaptation. And two: my Netflix Queue is full up with Return of the Jedi, Firefly, and … Muppet Treasure Island?! Holy shit, I forgot that was in there!

Needless to say, I’m gonna be busy for a while.

So what happens in Book 4 of the Sookie Stackhouse mysteries? Well, it’s New Year’s Eve in Bon Temps, and Sookie’s resolution is to avoid situations in which she could potentially get beaten up. And may I say, I would love to see that scene on TV. I’m sure Lafayette and/or Arlene would have some sort of comment about it. Anyway, on her way home she runs into Eric Northman, her ex-boyfriend Bill’s boss. Only … Eric isn’t himself. For one, he’s running along the road completely naked in January. And two, once Sookie rescues him, she realizes that he doesn’t have any recollection of who he is or who she is or how he got to Bon Temps without clothes.

Turns out, there are some witches in Louisiana that want to take over some vampire business. It’s never really made clear why they want to invade the vampires’s turf, but … whatever. To be honest, I think it’s just a ruse to get a vulnerable Eric to have to live under Sookie’s roof for protection. And this vulnerable Eric can’t reconcile the very pretty barmaid who’s taking care of him with why she would be rejecting his advances. And, if I weren’t convinced that this was written before True Blood began airing on HBO, I’d be convinced that it was written as fanservice for those (of us) who really like seeing Alexander Skarsgaard naked. (Why wasn’t he cast in Magic Mike, again?)

In the end, there’s another battle between the Good Supernatural Clans (Vampires, Sookie, and Alcide’s Werewolves) and the Werewolf Witches Who Also Drink Vampire Blood, with Good Triumphing Over Evil.

The other central mystery that helps spur Sookie into putting herself into supernatural trouble is that her brother, Jason, goes missing. It is revealed at the end of the book that he was kidnapped by some Werepanthers from the next town over, left in a shed, bitten a few dozen times, with the result that now Jason’s going to be a Werepanther. Hooray? (And, unless I missed something — again, I haven’t begun watching last year’s season yet — I’m super glad they didn’t turn Jason into a shifter. And if they did, please don’t tell me; I’d like to be horrified on my own terms.)

All in all, Sookie continues to be a great narrator, protagonist, and example of how women should behave around supernatural entities — in universes where supernatural beings are commonplace, that is. She holds her own, she makes her own decisions, she has autonomy, and she has a great sense of humor about herself as well:

Oh, I was doing one great job of hiding Eric. Here we were, bounding through the cemetery, going toward the Wicked Witch of the West, instead of hiding in a dark hole where she couldn’t find us. This was so smart. [156]

Grade for Dead to the World: 3 stars

Fiction: “Club Dead” by Charlaine Harris

It’s been over a year since I read the last Sookie Stackhouse mystery. Coincidentally, I have the first two discs of the third season of True Blood hanging around my living room somewhere.

The third novel (and, supposedly, the third season) concerns Sookie and her relationships with men. There’s her previously-ever-present boyfriend, Vampire Bill; Bill’s boss, Eric Northman, the vampire sheriff of Area 5, which covers at least Bon Temps, Louisiana (if not all of Louisiana); Sookie’s boss at Merlotte’s bar, Sam, a shapeshifter; and now Alcide Herveaux, who owes Eric something so he agrees to help Eric and Sookie out when Bill goes missing.

Because yes, Bill goes missing. He’s working on some secret project or whatever and won’t tell Sookie about it, and when he goes to do more research or whatever, he ends up kidnapped in Mississippi. Eric wants Bill back, because now Bill’s on the turf of the Vampire King of Mississippi, Russell Edgington. (Louisiana has a Queen, if you’re keeping track.) Eric doesn’t want to send Sookie by herself, because even though she’s a telepath, she’s also merely human. So he calls on Alcide to stand by her. Oh, and Alcide’s a Werewolf.

So Sookie leaves Bon Temps behind and heads to Jackson, MI, with Alcide as her bodyguard. Except the more they get to know each other, the more Sookie and Alcide start liking each other. But both parties know they can’t get involved with the other; Sookie’s on a rescue mission for her boyfriend, after all, and Alcide is still getting over being dumped by his ex, Debbie.

Their first stop is Club Dead, a bar where supernatural beings congregate and regular humans can’t enter (unless accompanied by a supernatural being). Sookie’s goal is to listen in on humans and see if any of them are thinking about Bill. On the first night, Sookie nearly gets into a bar fight over some Weres flirting heavily over her. Russell Edgington happens to come to her rescue, and then practically demands that she and Alcide return the next night. Which they do, and Sookie interrupts an assassination attempt on one of the second-in-commands of Russell. Sadly, Sookie ends up with a stake in her side for her efforts. Russell (and Eric, who’s there in disguise, keeping an eye on Sookie) takes her back to his mansion so she can recuperate. After having a vampire blood transfusion, she’s ready and raring to go, because Eric’s spy vampire, “Bubba,” has found Bill.

To speed up on my plot recap: Bill, Eric, and Sookie all get back to Bon Temps safely. Sookie breaks up with Bill, because while he was missing, he hooked up repeatedly with his sire, Lorena. And it is revealed that Bill was going to leave Sookie for Lorena. Understandably pissed, Sookie rescinds Bill’s invitation to her house. Recognizing that there is also sexual tension between herself and Eric, she rescinds his invitation, too. She and Alcide agree to remain friends — for now.

Before I get into the awesomeness that is Sookie, let me recount why I enjoy these vampires so much. A of all, they don’t sparkle. (Hey, one of the books on my to-read list is Breaking Dawn. I’m not done with sparkling vampires yet.) B of all, they can stay awake during the day, if they have to, but really, they should be in a coffin when the sun comes up. Vampires are able to be tortured through the use of silver. They do feed on humans, though TrueBlood has made it easier for vampires to get sustenance without having to hunt. And they are most definitely evil. Now, I could digress here and discuss how The Vampire Diaries‘s vampires have the tendency to be more violent, but I’m not going to, because a, it’s a digression, and b, we all know it would end up being an aria praising Damon as the King of Awesome, and this is neither the time nor the place.

Now, Sookie. Sookie is, for the most part, human. Sure, she can hear the thoughts of other people, but in terms of immortality or changing her genetic structure when the moon is nigh, she is human. This sets her apart from Buffy (super-powered vampire slayer), Caroline Forbes (normal-girl-turned-vampire), and even Elena Gilbert (*gasp* the Doppleganger!). [The last two are from The Vampire Diaries.] Anita Blake, of the Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter series is a necromancer, with an innate talent towards raising the dead. So I think that leaves Sookie’s only human contemporary to be … Bella Swan. So let’s turn to one of my favorite segments: Ways in Which Bella Swan Sucks.

… Basically, Bella wants to end her life in order to be with her boyfriend forever. Even when said boyfriend can be somewhat abusive and controlling (I will remind you about the WATCHING HER IN HER SLEEP). Also, she’s a whiny bitch and makes everything All About Her.

Sookie, meanwhile, doesn’t define herself by her man. When she finds out Bill has been cheating on her, she is very tempted to cheat her-ownself with Alcide. But she doesn’t, because she was raised right by her Gram. Instead, she breaks up with Bill. And even though she isn’t truly supernatural, that doesn’t mean that she doesn’t believe herself strong enough to hold her own against other supernatural beings:

If Alcide expected or wanted me to ask for smelling salts, or to beg him to save me from the big bad wolf, he had the wrong woman. [130-131]

She also remains her own person:

“They found the corpse in the closet of Alcide’s apartment, and they hatched a plan to hide his remains.” Eric sounded like that had been kind of cute for us.

“My Sookie hid a corpse?”

“I don’t think you can be too sure about that possessive pronoun.”

“Where did you learn that term, Northman?”

“I took ‘English as a Second Language’ at a community college in the seventies.”

Bill said, “She is mine.”

I wondered if my hands would move. They would. I raised both of them, making an unmistakeable one-fingered gesture.

Eric laughed, and Bill said “Sookie!” in shocked astonishment.

“I think that Sookie is telling us she belongs to herself,” Eric said softly. [269]

Hands-down, I prefer Sookie Stackhouse over Bella Swan. She’s sarcastic, she swears, she can hold her own, and she doesn’t want to subvert her own identity in order to keep a man. How’s that for a female role-model?

I continue to enjoy both the Sookie Stackhouse mystery series as well as True Blood, though the TV series is remarkably different from the novels. Someday, I’ll write that essay on their differences, but tonight is not that night — tomorrow ain’t looking that good, either.

Grade for Club Dead: 3 stars

Fiction: “Living Dead in Dallas” by Charlaine Harris

I finally got True Blood‘s first season through Netflix — after Lost and the adorably awesome The Middleman, I figured, “let’s jump on the next television bandwagon!” The first season is essentially the plot of Dead Until Dark, with some extra characters and weird shit thrown in.

Maybe, someday, I’ll write an in-depth essay about how the TV series differs from the book(s), and why I think that makes the TV series better, but today isn’t that day.

Tomorrow ain’t lookin’ good either.

Continue reading

Fiction: “Dead Until Dark” by Charlaine Harris

And now I come to my first post-vacation book: Dead Until Dark, the first book in the Sookie Stackhouse mysteries. You may also know this as “The First Season of HBO’s hit series True Blood,” starring Anna Paquin and apparently the hottest guy this side of Chuck Bass. Now, I haven’t watched True Blood, but I do intend to – someday, when I’ve gone through the hundred and eleventy billion titles on my Netflix queue ahead of True Blood. But it’s supposed to be a fun, vampire-filled romp.

The story is narrated by Sookie Stackhouse, a sweet, blonde, telepathic waitress in the little Louisiana town of Bon Temps, and her night starts looking up when she gets a vampire as a customer. See, in this alternate universe, vampires have ‘come out,’ so to speak, through the invention of synthetic blood – this allows them to survive without resorting to feeding on and/or killing humans. She is intrigued by Bill the Vampire, mostly because she can’t hear his thoughts.

The main mystery involves a serial killer – someone is killing waitresses at Merlotte’s (the bar Sookie works at), and all signs point to Sookie’s brother Jason. She and Bill try to both investigate as well as keep out of trouble. Meanwhile, Sookie and Bill fall in love, so Sookie also has to deal with falling in love with a vampire, someone who, for all intents and purposes, is “dead until dark” (yeah, that’s a quote. I can’t cite it, because my sister is currently devouring this and the next book in the series, Living Dead in Dallas).

Anyway. It’s a cute, light read – fluff, really. A couple of action scenes, a couple of vamp-sucking scenes, but nothing as gross as any of the vampire scenes in any Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter novel. There’s a couple of fun in-jokes that I’m not going to reveal here, but I think that what I’m most happy about is that, while the vampires do have a synthetic blood to drink, they are actual. vampires. After reading the tripe that is Twilight, and the total guilty pleasure that is The Vampire Diaries (the show on CW, not the books, yeah, kill me when that happens), it is so awesome to have vampires that can’t go out during daylight, that drink blood, that bite humans, that don’t fucking sparkle, I just … *happy place with vampires*

Grade for Dead Until Dark: 3 stars