Undead and UnWhatever…My latest vampire series

March 13, 2009

Why do I enjoy vampire novels so much?  I don’t particularly like blood.  I don’t want to be “undead.”  I have enough teeth issues as it is (I was born with a tooth and have no enamel on my back molars.  My first dentist decided it was because of the “stress of childbirth.”  Ok, whatever).  For whatever reason, I really enjoy fiction featuring vampires (Laurell K. Hamilton, Kim Harrison, and the early Anne Rice). 

Anyway,  I recently discovered MaryJanice Davidson’s Undead Series (7 books so far).  As of this week, I have read them all.  The Undead series stars Betsy Taylor whose 30th birthday is memorable for being fired, being killed by a Pontiac Aztec and then not being able to stay dead.  Not only that, but the tall, gorgeous  yet somewhat dim Betsy is apparently the long-prophesied Queen of the Vampires.   Helping her find her way is the brooding, gorgeous vampire Eric Sinclair and his helper Tina, Betsy’s human friends Jessica and Marc, and various other colorful characters include a police detective, her mother, her father and stepmother, werewolves, fiends, and fellow vampires who hate her.  Bless Betsy’s heart, but she never has a dull day.  Oh, and let’s not forget her obsession with high-end shoes. 

The Undead series is light-hearted fun.  Betsy is irreverant, and Davidson’s dialogue crackles.  I laughed out loud at a couple of parts.  In my library, the books are considered romance (notice the large heart on the spine).  There is some good sex, but never fear, there is much less sex than in your average Laurell K. Hamilton novel (it would be hard to match the amount of sex in those, but that’s beside the point).  I enjoyed the first four books much more than the last three.  The last three (Undead and Unpopular, Undead and Uneasy and Undead and Unworthy) didn’t seem to have the spark that the first four did.  With the 8th book in the series due in June, I’m hoping that Davidson is back to form.

Curiously, the series is set in Minnesota, meaning yet another vampire series is set in the Midwest (along with Harrison’s and Hamilton’s).  Apparently Davidson is part of Hamilton’s group or an admirer or something, but I’m just befuddled at so much supernatural fiction being set in the Midwest.  Again, is there some reference guide all supernatural fiction writers use?

Cute series and an easy read.  I read two or three easily in a weekend.


Song of Kali

October 27, 2008

Song of Kali by Dan Simmons was a fitting book to follow Fangland in that they both dealt with destructive, ancient evil awakening and seeking to take over the world.  In Song of Kali, Simmons explores whether an entire city can be evil and rotten. 

Writer and editor Bobby Luczak, his wife and baby daughter travel to Calcutta to obtain a new manuscript reputedly written by a famous Indian poet long thought dead.  Though warned by several people not to go, Bobby blithely heads out.  The Calcutta he encounters is nasty, dirty, backwards and full of misery.  Everyone seems to have an agenda, and what Bobby naively envisioned as a simple acquisition of Das’ manuscript is anything but that. Somehow Bobby becomes entangled with a murderous group of Kali (fun fact: one of our servers at work is named Kali, which amuses me) worshipers who do not hesitate to sacrifice humans for their goal of bringing the goddess of death to life.   Soon everything begins to go horribly, horribly wrong for Bobby and his family. 

Song of Kali was Simmons’ first novel and as he demonstrated in The Terror, he is a master at evoking atmostphere.  If nothing else, Simmons succeeded at making you feel and smell the stink and heat of Calcutta, see the misery.  You almost want to take a bath after reading the book.  He also succeeded at creating a palpable sense of terror.  You know something bad is going to happen.  As I’ve said about other books, you know it will end up badly.  And you pretty much know what is going to wrong from the beginning.

The book was a quick read, and overall, an ok one.  There were a few fantastical elements that seemed a little out of place for a book so grounded in reality otherwise (the whole Kali issue); I had a similar impression about the end of The Terror. Some have called this book racist, but I don’t know about that.  It doesn’t paint a great picture of Calcutta or its residents, but it was set in 1977 and written around 1985, and attitudes were different then.  Bobby’s character was a little too naive. For an effort by a first-time author, it wasn’t bad at all.

Also recommended: The Terror

Fangland: Not as much bite as I had hoped

October 26, 2008

So continues my Halloween reading (finished before Halloween but not posted until afterwards). Fangland by John Marks is yet another variation of the classic Dracula tale with network news as one of the targets. Evangeline Harker is an assistant producer on The Hour, a successful, venerable network news show that resembles 60 Minutes (with good reason since Marks used to be a producer on that show). Newly engaged and disliking her job, she heads to Romania on an assignment to vet the mysterios Ion Torgu, supposedly a major Eastern European crime lord. Once there, Harker meets Clementine Spence who tries to warn her about evil in the area by telling her about her former experiences as a type of missionary.  Harker meets Torgu and goes off with him and is infected by his virus-like type of vampirism.  She disappears and reappears months later with little recollection of what happened.  Meanwhile, the virus appears to be infecting the offices of The Hour (that happen to overlook Ground Zero) back in New York when people and equipment begin behaving strangely and mysterious deaths and suicides start to occur.

I think that this book would have been better if Marks had stuck with one idea and developed it.  In addition to the Dracula adaptation, he tries to make statements about NYC in a post-September 11 world as well as pointed, insider jabs at documentary news shows and network politics.  The storylines don’t blend successfully.  The biggest failure is that he leaves crucial details vague.  I assume he did this deliberately, but it was the wrong decision in my opinion.  We never quite find out what happened to Evangeline when she was with Torgu.  There is mention of some “obscenity” that she does that protects her from him, but what Marks describes doesn’t seem that obscene, so I’m unsure what the obscenity was.  The end is vague as well.  Something happens…but what is unclear.  This vagueness is a problem when Torgu doesn’t use fangs and turn people into vampires the “traditional” way: what he does with the string of words he constantly chants (locations of horrific massacres throughout history) is unclear.  Marks is trying to say something about terrorism and the allure of death and biological agents (I think), but honestly, I’m not sure what. 

The format is a bit confusing as well.  The story is told from multiple points of view through diary entries, email and narrative.  The story is framed by the account of someone who is entirely peripheral to the story.

This novel has gotten really good reviews, which baffles me.  Readers hail it as the best adaptation of Dracula ever and laud Marks for the profound things he is saying.  What book did I read?   It was hard to get into, hard to follow and took me longer than I thought to read.

Read Stoker’s Dracula instead or some of Anne Rice’s first few novels about Lestat (I personally was always more partial to The Vampire Lestat over Interview with a Vampire.  But that’s just me).

Hell House: Come on over!

October 16, 2008

I LOVE Halloween.  Love it!  I don’t know if it’s part of the fact that I love fall, love all things pumpkin, look great in orange or what, but it is one of my favorite occasions.  I respond strongly to the siren call of All Hallow’s Eve. Therefore, I decided to inject a little Halloween spirit to my reading by checking out some books that fit the season.

Hell House by Richard Matheson was a good, quick read and not a house I would like to visit.  Yes, I can talk a good game but wimp out very quickly when it comes to putting myself in scary situations (I think my shriek of terror may still be echoing in that vault in Edinburgh that a friend and I toured –cockily I might add–on a ghost tour. How mortifying).

A scientist, his wife, and two mediums (sounds like a bad joke)–one of whom was the only survivor of a previous attempt to study the house–agree to a wealthy publisher’s offer to spend a week studying the phenomena there.  Each person has his or her own motives. The publisher, near death, hopes to have confirmation of life after death.   The scientist wants to prove his theory about parapsychology being simply energy and nothing paranormal.  Ben, the lone survivor from the last attempt, wants to survive the house and give it another go and trying to figure out its mystery.  Florence, the spiritual medium, sees it as her opportunity to free restless souls and earn money for her church.  And the scientist’s wife can’t live without her husband.  

The house in question is officially named the Belasco House but is referred to by all as Hell House.  It isn’t just any haunted house.  Emeric Belasco, the former owner, created a culture of debauchery and violence in the house that led to many deaths.  Previous attempts to study the house have led to more death and madness.  Who is haunting the house?  How many are haunting the house?  Is it being haunted at all or are the manifestations in the house created by the mediums themselves?  Settle in and find out the answers!

I can tell a horror novel/ghost story is getting to me when I can’t read it too late in the night.  I felt a little uneasy reading it at 1am and had to put it down, and after I cut out the lights, I was afraid I would see something nasty staring back at me through the window.  So right there, that response elevated this novel above the run of the mill horror story for me.  It’s not a perfect book.  I’m still a little unclear about what happened at the end, and some of the events seemed written so vaguely that it was difficult to tell whether it was a dream/nightmare or really happening.  The pace was a little slow at times, too.  I felt like Matheson left a lot unsaid and unexplained in the story and characters which probably helped (even as it frustrates) because it allowed the reader to use her own imagination.  It’s a good technique for a horror story since it amps up the scariness.  And yeah, the group of people getting together to study a haunted house is a cliche in the horror genre.

I worried the book would be a trifling confection with nothing more than a ghost going “boo” once or twice, but there were some genuinely shocking scenes and plot developments.  Sexuality and horror seem to go hand in hand.  This was my first encounter with Matheson, and I was unaware of how much he had written that I recognized (from their film versions anyway).  I’m going to have to read more of him.  It’s rare that you can find an enjoyable, genuinely scary, fairly well-written horror story.

I’ll have to think of some good, scary books to recommend for Halloween.  What are your favorite horror stories?

Blood Noir: Anita Blake #16

August 18, 2008

This must be my week for sequels.  I know that I have expressed my irritation with Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake series in other posts, but I find it difficult to stop reading a series after I have invested time in it.  Especially when you have read the previous 15 books (15!!!) in the series; at that point, you’re invested.  Lemme re-cap my problems with the Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter series: too much sex.  Sex so vigorous it borders on soft-core porn.   Sex with multiple partners including someone who seemed to be jailbait just a few books ago and who has dominance issues.  Anita being a human succubus who feeds on sex.  That just about do it for you?  But it’s not just the copious amounts of sex.  Anita’s character had become a bit of a bitch in the last few books as she accumulated abilities, and frankly, it was unattractive and unlikeable.  Frankly, I don’t think she’s all that though the books make her out to be.

So, it was understandably with some trepidation that I picked up Blood Noir, the latest, 16th installment in the series.  But I couldn’t not read it.  Blood Noir focuses on Jason, the young werewolf who has been in the series since the beginning and who is best friends with one of Anita’s lovers.  His father is dying, and Jason has never gotten along with him.  He was and is a disappointment to his father, and his father is convinced that he is gay.  He wants to see his father before he dies and asks Anita to join him as his girlfriend to try to convince his father once and for all that he (Jason) is NOT gay and not the disappointment he thinks Jason is.  Oh, and it should be convincing since Anita and Jason are occasionally lovers.  So Anita travels with Jason to his hometown of Asheville, NC (!!!).  Once there they become embroiled in a situation involving the local political power (whose sons Jason strangely resembles) as well as the problems involving the strains of were-creatures Anita holds going crazy thanks to Marmee Noir, the ancient vampire. 

All in all, Blood Noir was better than I thought it would be (if you can get past the first sex scene which takes place about 2 pages into the story).  I think it did wonders for the plot to have Anita and Jason out of St. Louis and in a new environment, and it was especially interesting to me to read about their adventures in Asheville (they stayed at the Grove Park Inn) since I am a North Carolinian and go to Asheville almost every year.  The plot seemed a little more substantive than in the last few books, and the slightly reduced emphasis on sex was refreshing.  Often in the recent books, it seems like there is 20 pages of set-up, a zillion pages of orgiastic sex, and then about 20 more pages to wrap up everything.  Some of the plot elements still wrapped up oddly and too neatly at the end, but I didn’t feel like the action suddenly started as the book was about to end.   I also like that Anita was taken to task for some of her “I’m all that” behavior that irritated me so much in recent books.  In some ways it seems that maybe, just maybe Hamilton has been paying attention to some of the disgruntlement about where she has taken the series and characters lately.  Just a bit.  Anita seemed a bit more introspective in this book. 

Maybe there’s hope for the series yet.  It’s funny, though, because I read some of the reviews, and they all hated it.  I guess I see this one as better than the last couple.  I hope that Hamilton is regrouping and figuring out where to take Anita and the series because it has gotten out of hand.

Recommended:  the first 8 Anita Blake novels

The Reckoning: Stories the Dead Have to Tell

August 1, 2008

Jeff Long’s The Reckoning was part ghost story, part thriller.  Although published in 2004, it is set in 2000 so things like digital cameras seem novel and expensive.  Molly Drake, a young, ambitious photojournalist, joins a US Army-led effort to locate bones of MIA dead soldiers in Cambodia.  In addition to the soldiers, there a few civilians helping out as well:  Duncan O’Brian, a mysterious archaeologist who has spent years in Cambodia, and John Kleat, an unstable former soldier who searches every year for the remains of his dead brother.  Molly’s new digital camera almost seems to have magical powers, being able to tease images out of scenery that don’t exist to the naked eye.  She accidentally finds and photographs bones, inadvertently breaking her promise, and she, Kleat and O’Brian are thrown off the dig.  As they are licking their wounds, a young man approaches them with an offer to take them to the location where an entire patrol went missing.  Not ready to go home yet and intoxicated with the idea of finding the remains of an entire patrol, the trio agrees to accompany him to an ancient city that seems alive.  And you just know it’s going to end badly.

I’m not sure what to make of this book.  It was well-written and fast-paced. It’s a very quick, taut book.  I liked it, but I felt…confused by it.  I read a review that said it was a choose-your-own-adventure book, which is rather accurate.  If you want it to be a ghost story, it is.  If you want it to be supernatural, it is. If you want it to be a thriller, it is.  If you want it to be a story about the scars war give people and the land, it is.  The problem is that I never liked choose-your-own-adventure books; as I’ve stated before, I like a straightforward plot and have never felt the need to function as a deus ex machina in whatever I was reading.  Besides, I’d always get confused about what page I was on and where I had come from or been in those books LOL. 

I didn’t like the characters.  Thirty-year-old Molly’s “issues” irritated me.  Her supposedly terrible life seemed more the life a spoiled brat chose than something that a cruel fate had inflicted upon her.  Kleat was one-dimensional and Duncan seemed to be a cipher, which was, well, appropriate.  I felt like you could have substituted any characters in the plot.  In some ways it seemed like those particular characters didn’t matter, though they end up mattering a lot to the truth of what is going on.

Long does an amazing job of making the scenery come alive…literally.  Plants grow massively overnight and seem to have a mind of their own.  I was appropriately creeped out by the setting.  Long makes the setting one more threat to Molly, Kleat and O’Brian, which reminded me a lot of Scott Smith’s The Ruins.  I like the ghost story elements of the book, and I like how Kleat and O’Brian are involved, but it seemed weak drawing Molly actively into that story and giving her a reason to be there.  I think it was overkill to force everyone involved to have a connection.

Interesting book and almost lyrical in spots.  Also recommended:

  • The Descent: what would we do if we discovered if hell existed and we could access it? (Long)
  • The Ruins:  sometimes it’s better to stay in your hotel room and lounge by the pool instead of going exploring (Smith)

The Outlaw Demon Wails: Rachel Morgan #6

June 13, 2008

The Outlaw Demon Wails is Kim Harrison’s 6th and most recent book in the Rachel Morgan series.  I’m caught up!  In book 6, Rachel is still reeling from Kisten’s death, and she and Ivy are feverishly trying to solve his murder.  She also discovers even more secrets about her family, including revelations about her father.  In order to help elves Ceri and Quen, Rachel agrees to a dangerous mission to the ever-after to retrieve an important sample from the demons for Trent Kalamack.  Oh, and did I mention that a certain demon is actively trying to kill her?  Rachel manages to muddle through, but what she learns about herself and the origin of some of her abilities will cause her to reassess everything.

I liked this book a lot and think it may be the best on in the series so far.  There’s a lot going on in it as usual, but it moved quickly.  I loved the development of Rachel’s mother’s character.  She is a great character, and I hope future books have more of her.  I still wish that Rachel wasn’t quite so unforgiving of Trent.  It’s a little bizarre that she has managed to come to terms and accept her growing use of demon magic and realizing that things aren’t black and white, but she stubbornly sees him as evil.  Because I’ve never been a big fan of the Ivy/Rachel…relationship?, I was glad to see it somewhat resolved