Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris

About a month after publishing a blog post about how I was nervous to start reading Dead Until Dark (Sookie Stackhouse #1) by Charlaine Harris, a reader pointed out that a fair amount of time had passed and I still hadn’t written a review for the novel; she was curious about what I thought of the book. The truth is…it took me nearly a month to read the novel, and it was a pretty grueling experience.

I went into reading Dead Until Dark with skepticism. I’ve never developed a fondness for novels about vampires, and I suspected this novel was mostly smut, yet I was pleasantly surprised in the first few chapters. I was impressed by the character of Sookie Stackhouse and how vivid her voice was. She seemed like a down-to-earth and simple southern girl who had an insatiable curiosity about vampires. She also had a peculiar gift that allowed her to read the thoughts of others, which…okay…I wasn’t that impressed with. It was a little too Bella Swan for my taste (and yes, I realize Dead Until Dark was published first), though I was willing to overlook it.

And then everything changed following her first roll in the hay with Bill, the vampire. Sookie Stackhouse? Surely her name is really Mary Sue!

  • She’s the most gorgeous girl in Bon Temps, Louisiana, which she and everyone in Bon Temps constantly remind the reader about. I guess the only reprieve the reader gets is at least Sookie doesn’t try to convince you she’s just mediocre looking despite an excess amount of male attention.
  • She refers to her magical ability, which allows her to read the minds of those around her, as a “disability”. Gross.
  • Said magical ability is a result of her not-so-human status (which is actually revealed in later novels, I just accidentally found a spoiler).
  • Spoilers also tell me of a love pentagon? A love hexagon? Just no.
  • She’s abstained from any romantic and sexual relationships because of her mind reading ability, so naturally her first sexual encounters, with a vampire of course, reveal she’s actually a sexual beast. Who doesn’t come out the gate swingin’ though, amiright? (Just kidding. The answer to that question is “NO ONE”).
  • She essentially has a minimum wage job, but she doesn’t ever have to worry about money because a giant “nest egg” has been willed to her. On multiple occasions. This allows her to take all the time off from work that she needs with no consequence. That and her boss is in love with her. How convenient.

There was a mystery in this book too that became quite muddled after Sookie lost her V-card. I mean, it was a compelling murder mystery at first, but then the story morphed into this weird relationship power struggle between Bill and Sookie. Bill was a bit of a wet blanket unless bedroom activity was involved, and Sookie was excessively stubborn by refusing her gentleman caller unless bedroom activity was involved. I forgot about the mystery until the last couple of chapters, which in all fairness, wrapped up nicely.

In the end, while I didn’t hate Dead Until Dark, it definitely didn’t impress me. I sort of wish I could have my month back to trudge through a different novel.

Dead Until Dark (Sookie Stackhouse #1) by Charlaine Harris

Released: May 2001
Genre: Romance, Fantasy, Mystery
Age Group: Adult

[goodreads | indiebound]

Sookie Stackhouse is a small-time cocktail waitress in small-town Louisiana. She’s quiet, keeps to herself, and doesn’t get out much. Not because she’s not pretty. She is. It’s just that, well, Sookie has this sort of “disability.” She can read minds. And that doesn’t make her too dateable. And then along comes Bill. He’s tall, dark, handsome–and Sookie can’t hear a word he’s thinking. He’s exactly the type of guy she’s been waiting for all her life….

But Bill has a disability of his own: He’s a vampire with a bad reputation. He hangs with a seriously creepy crowd, all suspected of–big surprise–murder. And when one of Sookie’s coworkers is killed, she fears she’s next….

A Solid Dose of Nostalgia | The Mermaids of Lake Michigan by Suzanne Kamata

I’m calling it right now– The Mermaids of Lake Michigan by Suzanne Kamata will be one of the top five books I read during 2017.

the-mermaids-of-lake-michigan-book-coverThe Mermaids of Lake Michigan by Suzanne Kamata

Released: February 14, 2017
Publisher: Wyatt-MacKenzie Publishing
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Elise Faulkner is more at home in the waters of her beloved Lake Michigan than on land where her beauty queen mom is always on her back about her lack of a social life; her sister is dating the boy of her dreams; her favorite penpal–the one who wrote about mermaids in Ghana–has gotten married and ended their correspondence; and no one’s allowed to talk about her glamorous great-grandmother, the deep-sea wreck diver. Elise is biding her time with books until she can flee. But then crazy Chiara Hanover pops into her life, as does Miguel, a mysterious carnival worker whose dark future has been predicted by a gypsy.

Here’s the thing– the synopsis you’ll read on goodreads or the back of the book won’t do The Mermaids of Lake Michigan by Suzanne Kamata justice. The synopsis seems almost flippant with its talk of beauty queens and carnival workers and deep-sea wreck divers and mermaids (of course), but there is so much more gravity to this novel.

The Mermaids of Lake Michigan is a stunningly-written and poetic coming-of-age novel that takes place in the small, sea-side town of Grand Haven, Michigan during the 1970s. Life for Elisa Faulkner seems cookie-cutter-esque until she meets the Chiara Hanover, her neighbor’s vibrant and carefree granddaughter. They’re a bit of an odd couple at first, but Chiara breathes life back into Elise. It’s the small things at first– like influencing Elise to chop of her long locks and changing her wardrobe. Then it grows to skipping school and stealing away to the smoky clubs in Chicago with fake IDs to succumb to infectious, jazzy music. Along the way, Elise meets a young Romani man at a carnival, and he sweeps her off her feet with talk of destiny.

Every once in a while, readers also catch a glimpse of Elise’s childhood and her relationship with her mother. At times, readers see a pathetic vision of a mother trying to fit into the dress she wore when she was the winner of her local beauty pageant. They see her distant and depressed when she learns she is pregnant for a third time. They see her hiding a greyhound bus ticket that promised to take her far away from the family she helped build. And, it’s these visions that drive Elise to be impulsive– to follow her heart all the way from Michigan to Columbia, South Carolina. There she hopes to find love and destiny, but instead she finds longing and despair.

I knocked a star off my rating because I didn’t realize this novel took place in the 1970s for the first several chapters. Also for its use of the word “gypsy”, which is a racial slur, and its associated stereotypes.

I received a copy of this novel for free in exchange for an honest review as part of TLC Book Tours.

TLC Book Tours

This Book Destroyed Me | The Vanishing Season by Jodi Lynn Anderson

The Vanishing Season by Jodi Lynn Anderson is not what I expected. At first, I thought it was going to be a mystery/thriller because teenage girls are vanishing in Door County in Wisconsin and then turning up days later, dead in the water. Then I thought it was going to be a ghost story, and maybe in a really abstract way it is. But really, it was the most haunting and devastating YA contemporary I have ever read.

The Vanishing SeasonThe Vanishing Season by Jodi Lynn Anderson

Released: July 2014
Publisher: HarperTeen
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Girls started vanishing in the fall, and now winter’s come to lay a white sheet over the horror. Door County, it seems, is swallowing the young, right into its very dirt. From beneath the house on Water Street, I’ve watched the danger swell.

The residents know me as the noises in the house at night, the creaking on the stairs. I’m the reflection behind them in the glass, the feeling of fear in the cellar. I’m tied—it seems—to this house, this street, this town.

I’m tied to Maggie and Pauline, though I don’t know why. I think it’s because death is coming for one of them, or both.

All I know is that the present and the past are piling up, and I am here to dig. I am looking for the things that are buried.

The Vanishing Season by Jodi Lynn Anderson is an atmospheric novel. It is a cold, quiet, and introspective novel. It’s a slow but intentional novel. It’s not something that will appeal to everyone. You need patience to read it, but at the same time, I read it in a single sitting. I couldn’t put the book down because it was one of the most beautifully written books I have ever read.

The Vanishing Season is a character-driven novel. It is a novel about friendship. It is a novel about betrayal. It is a novel about isolation and death and lost memories. It is a novel about unrequited love. It’s always the stories about unrequited love that make me cry. I knew it was coming, but I cried anyway.

The Vanishing Season has one of the most upsetting endings I have ever read. I didn’t expect it, and it feels like the suffocating weight of melancholy. I wanted to love Maggie’s new friends, Pauline and Liam. But, I knew…I knew they were going to be toxic. I get so angry just thinking about them because it’s not fair. It’s not fair!

The Vanishing Season is one of the best books I have read this year. It’s probably one of the best books I’ve read since launching Books & Tea five years ago. It’s so rare that a book moves me to tears or emotionally destroys me to the point where I’m fumbling to find words for a review. I need to read this book again. I think maybe that’s a bit masochistic, but I really do need to read this book again. I’ll wait for wintertime though. I think that’s when this book is meant to be read.

So, this is magical realism? | the Wrap-Up List by Steven Arntson

I find myself irritated by the goodreads shelf labels associated with the Wrap-up List by Steven Arntson. Which is stupid, I know. I’m not a genre snob, I swear. But… Paranormal FantasySupernatural Fantasy? Really? Okay…sure, I can admit, that part of it is gag reflex; when I hear Paranormal Fantasy I think of Twilight and the million other vampire novels out there, which are not in the same league as the Wrap-up List. But part of it is that these genre labels seem to simplify this novel; the story takes place in reality but has fantastic elements and revolves around some really complex issues like grief and mortality. After finishing the novel, I found myself thinking, “So that’s magical realism?”

the wrap up listThe Wrap-up List by Steven Arntson

Released: January 2013
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers
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In this modern-day suburban town, one percent of all fatalities come about in the most peculiar way. Deaths—eight-foot-tall, silver-gray creatures—send a letter (“Dear So-and-So, your days are numbered”) to whomever is chosen for a departure, telling them to wrap up their lives and do the things they always wanted to do before they have to “depart.” When sixteen-year-old Gabriela receives her notice, she is, of course devastated. Will she kiss her crush Sylvester before it’s too late?

The synopsis seems to simplify the novel as well

I’m glad I just skimmed the synopsis and flipped to the first page to read the first paragraph instead [your book has to “hook” me in the first paragraph, or it’s going back on the shelf!]. Had I continued the synopsis, I would have learned that Gabriela’s wrap-up list revolves around getting first kisses for herself and her friends. Sounds cheesy, right? Once I actually learned the contents of Gabriela’s wrap-up list, I was quite skeptical myself. It just seemed silly that a sixteen year old would become so preoccupied by first kisses when she had just one week to live. (Then again, maybe I’m the silly one; I would have been more preoccupied by trying to figure out how to see AFI in concert instead of getting my first kiss.) I think I was also a little concerned that the author’s treatment of the subject of death was going to be flippant, which it wasn’t.

The world building is wonderful

Which is kind of strange when you think about it– this book does takes place in a modern-day, suburban town after all. Except, these beings called Deaths, which children are taught about in school, roam our world to escort the chosen Departed to the place beyond the Fields. (The Fields is a very tangible place that the living can visit, but they cannot visit the place beyond the Fields.) People can also specialize in the study of Departure and work for the Departure Authority. Their reports may end up in the Municipal Archives, which contains all sorts of government records including record of all the Deaths, their Departed, and who was granted Pardons.

Everything changes once Hercule is introduced

Hercule is Gabriela’s Death, and she and her friends intend to kidnap him. What follows is a bit of chaos, some deep discussions about faith and mortality, and a second half of a novel that is so cleverly tinged with black comedy (sort of like when Percy Jackson met Charon and Hades in the Lightning Thief). While I enjoyed the entire novel, it was the second half of the novel that really affected me. The story became so much more complex and emotional and yes, sometimes even funny.

Overall, the Wrap-up List by Steven Arntson is a wonderful novel. Just like Into the Wild Nerd Yonder by Julie Halpern, I finished it in one sitting, and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this novel to other readers.

Have you ever read the Wrap-up List? What would be on your list?

How Does a Flying Goat Dance? | Little is Left to Tell by Steven Hendricks

I sense that reviews for Little is Left to Tell by Steven Hendricks are going to be…quite polar. There will be readers who grant this novel copious amounts of stars for its beautifully written prose. For being challenging and complex. For being a masterful blend of reality and the surreal. Then, there will be readers who just leave the stars on the table as they stare at a blank screen thinking, “What the hell did I just read?” and “I don’t have any words to express what I’ve just experienced because the rabbit named Hart Crane ate them all.” Folks…I am the latter.

Continue reading How Does a Flying Goat Dance? | Little is Left to Tell by Steven Hendricks

Welcome to Celaena-mania! | Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas

Throne of Glass

[Insert some tired quip about how I’m reluctant to read the books everyone else is raving about because more often than not I’m left feeling disappointed]

But then Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas happened, and I’m sad that I didn’t read it sooner. Sad that I didn’t get to anticipate the release of the next books in the series with everyone else. Sad that I wasn’t swept up in Celaena-mania. Why do I have to be so stubborn? This was such a good book! (Oh, PS. SPOILERS)


Continue reading Welcome to Celaena-mania! | Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas

I’m Disappointed…That it Took Me So Long to Read This Book! | The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

Percy Jackson the Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

There were two reasons why I didn’t read Percy Jackson the Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan when it was released:

  1. In January 2005, I was a junior in high school, and I considered myself too old for middle grade novels.
  2. Yet, I wasn’t too old for Harry Potter, which is the other reason I didn’t read this book. Someone said it was “perfect for fans of Harry Potter“, which is an instant turn-off. Nothing can compare to Harry Potter!

So, I’m not sure why, at the age of 27, I felt compelled to buy this middle grade novel (other than, it was on sale, and I’m notoriously impulsive when it comes to buying and borrowing books). Once I brought the book home with me, it spent a few months sitting on the floor beside my bed before I even considered actually reading it. It was because of mentions on two blogs, Reviews and Cake and J.Bookish, that I took as a sign and decided to finally give the book a read. Right from chapter one, I was totally engrossed in The Lightning Thief. Normally I can’t read in bed because I get drowsy really quickly, but this book had me thinking just one more chapter before lights out, and before I knew it, the clock read midnight. I even read this book with the teevee on, and I wasn’t distracted at all.

Continue reading I’m Disappointed…That it Took Me So Long to Read This Book! | The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

Book Blind Date | Shakespeare Undead by Lori Handleland

I’ve mentioned it before, but I go in “blind” with almost every book I borrow from the library. It encourages me to select books I never would have otherwise because of perceptions of a genre or a style. This was the case for Shakespeare Undead by Lori Handeland. I picked up this novel for two reasons:

  1. I needed spooky books for my October “horror” series, and well…this book does have “undead” right in the title.
  2. The book cover features Shakespeare with vampire fangs, and apparently that’s all the convincing I need.

Continue reading Book Blind Date | Shakespeare Undead by Lori Handleland

Halt You Villains! Unhand That Review! Nimona by Noelle Stevenson

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson

Released: October 2014
Publisher: Marvel
Age Group: Young Adult
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Synopsis: Nimona is an impulsive young shapeshifter with a knack for villainy. Lord Ballister Blackheart is a villain with a vendetta. As sidekick and supervillain, Nimona and Lord Blackheart are about to wreak some serious havoc. Their mission: prove to the kingdom that Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin and his buddies at the Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics aren’t the heroes everyone thinks they are.But as small acts of mischief escalate into a vicious battle, Lord Blackheart realizes that Nimona’s powers are as murky and mysterious as her past. And her unpredictable wild side might be more dangerous than he is willing to admit.

My Thoughts

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson is one of those books that makes me questions my rating scale. I’ve been thinking all week about how fun this book was, how I wish I could trick Jon into reading it, how the artwork was fun and quirky, and how the characters in this book turn our hero/villain archetypes on their heads. It almost appears to be a book that has the qualities of a five-star read, yet…it’s not? What then is it lacking that prevents it from five-star status on this blog? Is it something that I cannot quantify in words? I mean, I can hardly think of a flaw! In fact, here is a list of why you should read Nimona:

  1.  Nimona’s got zest, she’s got spunk, she’s fearless, and I loved reading about a female protagonist (or is she an antagonist?) that embodied those characteristics. Nimona is such a force that she drove the plot forward instead of circumstance.
  2. Noelle Stevenson plays with the hero/villain archetype in her graphic novel, which was fun although it was a little predictable. This of course doesn’t diminish my hatred of the Institution for what they did to Nimona and Blackheart and Goldenloin.
  3. Nimona is a shapeshifter AND SOMETIMES SHE TURNS INTO AN ADORABLE CAT. I mean, isn’t that enough?
  4. Something about the artwork and the banter between the characters combined makes this book laugh out loud funny. I lost track of how many times this book made me gigglesnort.
  5. This graphic novel is a blend of fantasy and science fiction, which fascinates me. Weapons of choice are either big plasma guns or trusty swords. I don’t know how this works, it just does.

The only downfall of Nimona is despite the origin stories and despite the scientific research about Nimona, I still don’t understand how she gained her shape-shifting powers or how they really work. Of course reasons 1-5 make up for this, but I still wanted to be able to close the book and be able to say, “Ooooh, so that’s how it happened”.

In the end, Nimona was an excellent read– fast-paced, funny, and a rip-roaring adventure. It also convinced me I need more Noelle Stevenson in my life; during my next library visit, I’ll be searching for the Lumberjane graphic novels, another series Noelle Stevenson wrote/co-wrote.

Have you read anything written by Noelle Stevenson? What did you think of it? Did you know that she illustrated the cover of Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl? Awesooooome!

Fairy Tales and Girl Powa!

Fables Vol. 1 & 2 by Bill Willingham

Released: October 2009 (Fables originally released 2002)
Publisher: Vertigo | DC Comics
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Synopsis: When a savage creature known only as the Adversary conquered the fabled lands of legends and fairy tales, all of the infamous inhabitants of folklore were forced into exile. Disguised among the normal citizens of modern-day New York, these magical characters created their own secret society-within an exclusive luxury apartment building on Manhattan’s Upper West Side-called Fabletown. But when Snow White’s party-girl sister, Rose Red, is apparently murdered, it is up to Bigby, Fabletown’s sheriff, and a reformed and pardoned Big Bad Wolf, to determine if the culprit is Bluebeard, Rose’s ex-lover and notorious wife killer, or Jack, her current live-in boyfriend and former beanstalk-climber.

My Thoughts

Aside from the occasional manga I read back in middle school and the handful of Batman comics I’ve read since I’ve been dating Jon, I haven’t read too many graphic novels. But, that doesn’t mean they’ve never been on my radar throughout the years– granted, my wish list has grown significantly longer over the past couple of months as more and more bloggers seem to be featuring graphic novels. The series that has been on my wish list the longest though is Fables by Bill Willingham. I stumbled upon it about ten years ago, and it took me that long before I finally purchased myself the first two books. I was a little reluctant to start reading Fables. First, it’s such a popular series, and how disappointed would I be if I didn’t like it? Second, I had been building it up for nearly ten years, so even if I just thought it was mediocre, Fables would still have a long way to fall. I am happy to report though that what I’ve read of Fables has met my expectations. Whatta relief!

Fables takes all of our favorite fairy tales and turns them in to reality. Kind of like the Sisters Grimm or the TV show, Once Upon a Time, but seedy because it takes place in New York City, and it’s meant for mature readers. Beware, there is violence, foul language, and sexual situations amongst the pages. Vol. 1, Legends in Exile, is a twisting, turning whodunnit story complete with a parlor room scene that took me by surprise, and Vol. 2, Animal Farm, is a suspenseful tale of revolution. The cover artwork is stunning, but the artwork frame-to-frame is just good (and that’s absolutely just a personal aesthetic  taste). And sure, the banter between characters is a little silly at times, but that doesn’t detract from how fun and magical the story is. Perhaps most satisfying of all is (so far) women take charge in this series. Snow White is a Director of Operations of Fabletown. Goldilocks is a radical revolutionary leader. Cinderella goes toe-to-toe with Bluebeard in a fencing match. Girl power!

As a graphic novel newbie, there was a lot to take in while reading Fables. The artwork is rich with detail, the world is wonderfully complex, and a diverse cast of characters have their own unique story arcs. It was a rewarding read, and I look forward to picking up Vol. 3, Storybook Love.