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.

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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).


A Fistful of Charms: Rachel Morgan #4

May 20, 2008

A Fistful of Charms is Kim Harrison’s 4th book in the Hollows/Rachel Morgan series.  Rachel and Jinx reconcile in order to locate Jinx’s son Jax who has taken off with Nick, Rachel’s ex, for Michigan.  In order for Jinx to accompany her to the chilly Michigan (pixies cannot handle cold), Rachel must make him human size (much hilarity and ogling ensue).  Ivy later joins them in Michigan, and her relationship with Rachel is altered forever.  Oh, and in the middle of everything else, throw in a lot of werewolves and an ancient statue that could change the power structure in Inderlander society forever if it gets into the wrong hands.

I didn’t enjoy this book as much as the first 3 in the series.  I’m not sure if I understand or even like the turn that Rachel and Ivy’s relationship appears to be taking.  Ivy is my least favorite character.  I believe that Harrison is trying to have us see the complexity involved in being Ivy and feeling conflicted by your desires and destiny, but sometimes (a lot of the time), I just want Ivy to lighten up.  It appears that Nick is out of the picture for good this time, and good riddance I say.  I think I missed the specter of Trent Kalamack in this book 4.  He was nowhere to be found, and I really like what his character brings to the books.  Hopefully book 5 will have lots of Trent.  


Witches, Weres, and Vamps: Anita Blake vs. Rachel Morgan

April 11, 2008

I’ve been trying to finish this post for over a week.  You can thank my classes and crazy weeks at work for the delay.

A big “thank you” to Barnes & Noble for introducing me to Kim Harrison’s books a few months ago when I was in line buying a birthday gift.  Kim Harrison writes supernatural fiction.  I suppose it would technically be classified as horror, but it’s lighter than a Dean Koontz or Stephen King novel.  Harrison writes a series about Rachel Morgan, a witch who lives in a former church in Cincinatti with her vampire friend and business partner as well as a pixy and his family, also a business partner.  Morgan and her friends are sort of bounty hunters/private detectives and live in a part of Cincinatti known as the Hollows which is where most of the supernatural residents live.  In addition to witches, vampires and pixies, their world includes humans, demons, fairies, werewolves, and elves.  I’ve probably missed a few.  Each book has a crime for Rachel and her friends to solve, but the real mystery is what Rachel’s deceased father was up to when he died and what Rachel is learning about her family and past that challenges what she thought she knew.  And the mysterious Trent Kalamack appears to be involved in all of it.   The first three books are as follows:

  • Dead Witch Walking Rachel Morgan quits her job as a runner with the IS.  Surprisingly, coworker Ivy Tamwood, a socially prominent living vampire, goes with her and the two start their own business along with Jenks the pixy.  However, someone wants Rachel dead.
  • The Good, Bad and the Undead  Though she’s still having problems making rent, things are looking up for Rachel.  She and Ivy are figuring out how to live together.  She has a boyfriend, and she’s figured out what Trent Kalamack is.  But someone is killing ley line witches…is Rachel next?  Is Trent Kalamack involved?  And then there’s that pesky demon that keeps showing up to try to claim her.
  • Every Which Way But Dead  Can a living vampire make a good boyfriend?  ‘Cause Rachel wants to know.  But more importantly, Rachel has literally made a deal with the devil and now must figure out how to get out of it without being forced into the Ever After forever. 

I’m really enjoying the series so far.  They are quick, fun reads.  I’m itching to get my hands on books 4-6, but that’s going to have to wait a few weeks (ARGH).  When I started the first book, I found it difficult to suspend my disbelief and get into the book.  Harrison’s books are set in a sort of alternate reality:  about 50 years ago, many humans were killed off by a virus carried by a genetically altered tomato.  The chaos that ensued led the Inderlanders, the term used to refer to those who aren’t human, revealing their true natures (because they weren’t affected by the virus) in order to maintain society.  It’s referred to as the Turn in Harrison’s series.  It took me a bit to get past that, but once I did I really liked the series.  It’s sexy, funny and mysterious.  Though supernatural, the characters are easy to relate to. 

So far, I like the series better than the Anita Blake series.  Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake series started out well, but the later books have become nothing more than Anita having orgies with her many boyfriends with a dash of plot thrown in.  I think Hamilton has tried to add a darker edge to her books, but instead of dark, they have become creepy and a little skeevy.  I’m not a prude, but I like a bit of plot!

Anyway, where Anita Blake starts out rather priggish and uptight, Rachel is flawed.  She’s, well, she’s human.  As human as a witch can be!  Both series are set in the Midwest, which I thought was interesting.  Rachel consults occasionally with the FIB, just as Anita used to do work for the local police deparment.  Some of the terms and concepts are the same…Master Vampire, turf battles, weres, etc.  It makes me wonder if there is some sort of primer for those writing supernatural/horror.  I do like how Harrison has living vampires in addition to the “undead” version.  Ivy is a living vampire who was infected while her mother was pregnant with her.  Her mother is now an “undead” vampire.  Ivy is conflicted about her destiny, and it will be interesting to see how that continues to develop in the other books in the series.

All in all, a good, quick, fun read. 

Also recommended: 

  • Anita Blake series (the earlier ones.  Keep reading until you tire of the sex)
  • Stephanie Plum series (Janet Evanovich).  While this series has absolutely nothing to do with witches or vampires, Rachel reminds me a bit of Stephanie.  The later books aren’t as clever, but the first 12 books in the series are good. 

The Society of S: X-Men Meets Anne Rice

February 7, 2008

When I’m in the library, I like to browse.  I am a firm believer in serendipity, which I like to define as “something wonderful found.”  I had hoped that The Society of S by Susan Hubbard would be classified as serendipitous but unfortunately not. 

Hubbard’s protagonist is Ariella, a precocious 13-year-old who has been isolated from the world in her huge Victorian house by her preternaturally young, brilliant father who does mysterious work in his basement with his employees.  Instead of letting Ariella go to school, her father homeschools her, teaching her himself.  I daresay her education exceeds that of most college freshman.  She also has synesthesia, which sometimes manifests as seeing letters and words as having a certain color (one of the reasons why I picked up this book; when I was younger, I associated colors with letters and numbers). Poor Ariella has no friends until the housekeeper takes pity on her and integrates her into her own boisterous family, where Ariella finds a best friend as well as first boyfriend. 

However…Ariella’s life is full of mysteries.  Why does her father appear not to have aged?  Why did her mother disappear only hours after Ariella’s birth?  Why does Ariella’s image look blurry in pictures and mirrors?   After a horrific murder and learning a dark secret about her father, Ariella heads south to seek her mother, discovering not only her mother but also herself.

Yes, thar be vampires here.  But not just any vampires!  Hubbard’s vampires are different from the Anne Rice type. These vampires are eco-conscious vegetarians and don’t necessarily need to drink blood to survive.  And there are more of them than we could ever imagine, blending successfully into society.  Hubbard intriguingly weaves science into vampire lore, dismissing some vampire powers as myths and explaining the “science” behind other powers. 

Hubbard writes well, and Ariella had a strong voice.  I really enjoyed the tone of the book as well.  It was haunting, quite moody and a little dark…like a song played in minor key.  She does a good job of making Ariella’s life interesting and bringing you into the mysteries surrounding her.  So why such a tepid review then?  The problem is that once you solve the mystery of her father, the novel goes flat.  An unsolved mystery is always more interesting than a solved one.  I applaud Hubbard’s efforts to try to ground vampirism in science, but that takes some of the fun out of it.  We like scaring ourselves into thinking that there may be a vampire out there who “vants to suck your blood.”  As a result, the conflict in the book is left to be weakly hinted at as a vampire faction who believes humans should be exterminated and those who think that vampires and humans can live in harmony.  Sort of.  Like I said, it’s only hinted at. 

Apparently, The Society of S is the first in a series, so maybe the subsequent books will flesh out the story more.   

If you like vampire books, you might enjoy The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova and Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake Vampire Hunter series (the early books; there is WAY too much sex in the later books and it’s off-putting…seriously, more sex than plot.  I enjoy a romance novel as much as the next person, but come on).