Thursday, 30 July 2009

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

Fantasy + romance + historical + sci fi. Outlander (or Cross Stitch as it was published in it's UK homeland in 1991) is the first of a series of (currently) six novels by Diana Gabaldon. This first novel starts during the 1940's in Inverness, Scotland, but quickly transports you (and of course the main Character Claire) to eighteenth century Scotland. Claire, who is a nurse in the British Army during WWII, and her husband Frank, reunite after the war by way of a second honeymoon in Scotland. After an errie stormy evening, Claire ventures alone to a cluster of large standing stones and finds herself suddenly transported through time to eighteenth century Scotland, where things - and people are very very different. Clueless to what just happened, Claire struggles to find her way back and to make sense of her surroundings when she is detained by a highly notorious and brutal British captain named Jack "Black Jack" Randall, who unbeknownst, is the six times great-grandfather of her husband, Frank. On the brink of attack she is saved by a Scotsmen and transported through the old rural countryside where she finally delivered to the clan and shortly thereafter introduced to our main hunk of a hero, Scots warrior James Frasier. Jamie is young and built like an ox with fiery long red hair and muscles like steel. His clan dubs her "Sassenach"- an outsider to Scottish Highland culture. Through a series of events, "already married in the year 1940 Claire" and 20-something Jamie find themselves bound to each other in an arranged marriage, partly to keep Claire out of the hands of "Black Jack Randall." It's a horrible thing for both of them... or is it?


Oh you thought I was going to give you spoilers did you? How could I possibly spoil one of the most romantic and blood bubbling love stories of the eighteenth century? It may cause my cheeks to turn pink trying to explain it. I will say that the care, companionship and eventually deep love that ensues the couple, cannot be spoiled by my review. If anything it will make you want to read the book!

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

The Vampire Diaries: The Struggle

This book is the second in the Vampire Diaries series. If you purchased this book after 2007 you received "The Awakening" and "The Struggle" as a packaged deal. If you suffered through the first, you probably read the second, and know from experience what a "Struggle" reading it was. The second book starts up right where the first left off, as a result "The Awakening" and "The Struggle" feel more like one really long story rather than two separate novels. In the opening pages Elena is screaming for Damon to answer her and demands to know what has happened to her boyfriend, and Damon's brother, Stefan. Damon tries to use his vampire "influence" on Elena to get her to forget about Stefan and come away with him. Of course, she refuses, Damon parts with some ridiculous line about her being "his before the fall of winter" or something similar. Elena calls on her friends for help and they are able to locate Stefan, who is badly hurt. Elena offers him her blood to help him heal.

Unlike many other vampire novels the exchange of blood between humans and vampires is not a prominent part of this book. It only occurs in dyer straights (ie serious injury), or by force (though this is sort of glossed over and treated as if it isn't a big deal, when all characteristic of the characters involved indicate it should be).

There is more action in this book than in the last, so that is an improvement. There is also less of Elena being "Queen of High School", and more of her hanging out with her friends and caring for them and her boyfriend, which is also an improvement as well.

Spoilers Ahead

As I mentioned before, this book is better then the last one, but really that's like saying eating cardboard is better then eating wood, neither is actual food, one is just slightly less painful to chew. It is an improvement that there is more of Damon in this story. I really wanted to like Damon, and he had such promise. If Smith could have just made him a bit more likable and been more convincing in his feelings for Elena, but all of that fell short. I suppose it's telling about the character developments that the one "likable" character is the one who stalks the heroine and forces her to drink his blood, causing her to become a vampire upon her death. Which brings me to the next issue. Why would Stefan not be upset when he finds out that his brother ha been drinking his girlfriends blood against her will? Also, why is it suddenly a "love triangle"? Elena never gave any indication that she had feels for Damon, nor did he give her any reason to care about him at all.

Bottom Line: More of the same "Struggle" as getting through the first book, only with slightly more action (but no romantic action, so look elsewhere if that's what you're after). I still recommend reading something else.

Monday, 27 July 2009

Living Dead in Dallas by Charlaine Harris

We get two mysteries for the price of one in the second installment of Charlaine Harris' Southern Vampire Mysteries. After a night of drinking in Merlotte's Bar, Detective Andy Bellefleur leaves his car in the parking lot and gets a ride home from his sister. When Sookie arrives for work the next day she sees an unexpected surprise in his back seat, the body of one of her friends.

A few days later Sookie is summoned to Shreveport at the request of Eric, the vampire sheriff of the area, as well as owner of the popular vampire bar "Fangtasia". As part of her agreement with Eric to spare the lives of the humans she questioned about the theft of money from the bar in Dead Until Dark, she must agree to come when ever he calls and use her telepathic gift at his request. Sookie honors her agreement and she and Bill drive to Shreveport. On the way Sookie encounters a strange creature in the woods, this creature uses Sookie to send a "message" to Eric, a very painful and bloody message.

At Eric's request Sookie and Bill travel to Dallas, Texas to investigate the disappearance of a "brother" of the vampire sheriff of the Dallas area. Once there, the job proves to be much more work then she anticipated when she finds out the reason for the disappearance of Farrel and who is behind it.

Spoilers Ahead

Living Dead in Dallas is the first book in which Harris takes her Southern heroine and her vampire entourage on the road. After arriving in Dallas, Sookie and Bill realize that Eric has traveled to Dallas as well to check up on Sookie. This is the first time we really get to know Eric and more of his personality is revealed to Sookie. Eric is shown to be straight forward and refreshingly honest about his intentions in various situations, a stark contrast to the controlled and secretive Bill. Eric is also charming and witty, but also always out for himself, which is the way he has always lived his life.

The relationship between Sookie and Bill that was such a huge part of Dead Until Dark begins to unravel a bit in this book. Sookie sees more and more of Bill's "vampire side" and further evidence that he is not, in fact human like she is. While I am obviously not a big fan of Bill in general, I do think it's hypocritical for Sookie to fault Bill for being what he is. Isn't the same type of discrimination that has plagued her most of her life? Bill can help the fact that he's a vampire about as much as Sookie can help that she's a telepath. I think it's a growing experience for Sookie in the end. She must learn to accept that vampires are what they are or stop hanging out with them.

Bottom line: Between the two mysteries to solve there is plenty going on in Living Dead in Dallas, the mysteries are pretty good. The characters outside of the principle characters are just average, making this book less interesting then many of the others in the series. I know, that's similar to what I said about Dead Until Dark, but keep reading, I promise it'll get better.

Friday, 24 July 2009

Chosen by PC & Kristin Cast

Book three in the House of Night series sees enemies become friends and friends become possible enemies. Zoey Redbird continues to struggle, torn between two boys and a man who intrigues her. Secrets threaten to tear apart her friendships and the only person she can trust fully is the one who was once her enemy.

Zoey finds that Aphrodite has been chosen by Nyx to represent the earth, in absence of Steve Rae. Aphrodite is also the only other fledgling whose mind High Priestess Neferet can’t read, which makes her the only one she can tell about Stevie Rae. Everybody thinks Stevie Rae died, but she’s back, along with all of the other fledglings that had passed away. These fledglings are more of the stereotypical vampyres of lore; have to drink blood and kill to do it, can’t go into the sunlight, and truly soulless. Aphrodite reluctantly helps Zoey with Stevie Rae, getting her blood and shelter and ultimately trying to help restore her soul. They are the only two who know that Neferet is not what she seems.

To complicate matters even more, one of their professors is murdered and left outside the school walls with a note about repenting. All signs point to the People of the Faith, the church that Zoey’s stepfather belongs to. The death of the vampyre causes the Sons of Erebus, great vampyre protectors, to be called in; complicating Zoey’s ability to sneak in and out of the school to help Stevie Rae.

If that weren’t enough, Zoey is still torn between her human imprinted boyfriend, Heath, and her fledgling boyfriend, Erik. Loren Blake, professor and Poet Laureate, is also drawing closer to her. She has no idea who to choose and failing to do so brings complications with all three.

This whole book you can truly feel Zoey’s conflicts all coming to a head. Then men, the secrets, the pressure; all of those are weighing down on her. I spent the entire book just begging her to confide in Damian and the Twins, knowing that the longer she waited the worse things would be. Zoey may be a powerful future high priestess but she’s still a kid and she makes big mistakes. Being so powerful often means going it alone. Will Zoey have to do that? The next book will shed some light!

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Betrayed by PC & Kristin Cast

Darkness does not always equate to evil, just as light does not always bring good. These are the words that the Goddess Nyx whispers to High Priestess in training Zoey Redbird several times throughout the second novel in the House of Night Series. As the title of the second novel makes clear, not all is as it seems at the House of Night.

A month has gone by and Zoey has settled into life at the House of Night with her friends and her sort-of boyfriend, Erik Night. She's also imprinted her former boyfriend, a human named Heath. If that wasn't enough, she seems to have caught the eye of teacher Loren Blake. Zoey's angsting over her man issues takes a back burner to the news that a human boy she knew is missing. When his body turns up drained of blood, eyes turn to the House of Night. Another teenager she knew also ends up missing and suspicions start to turn to Zoey herself.

As if that wasn't enough, Zoey keeps seeing the possible ghosts of fledglings who had passed away recently. Dead is dead, isn't it? Or is it? They don't look like ghosts or like any vampyre that Zoey's ever seen before. Solving the mystery of the missing youths and the ghost fledglings is something Zoey takes upon herself, not including her friends in the matter. In fact, she turns to her enemy to help her find out what is real and what is really happening at The House of Night.

Zoey has observed several tense interactions between her mentor, High Priestess Neferet, and Aphrodite, the girl she displaced to become head of the Dark Daughters that have her questioning whether or not she truly knows her mentor. Is Neferet as good as she seems or is she the darkness in the light that Nyx is warning her about?

While the first book in the series emphasized the importance of acceptance, I think this novel highlights the importance of opening oneself up to others. By keeping secrets from her friends, Zoey is setting herself up for some heartbreak down the road. If you can't trust your friends, who can you trust? When something truly heartbreaking occurs, who will she have to turn to?

Betrayed is a good second novel in this series, advancing the plot greatly and bringing some real emotion into the fray. The many "loves" of Zoey can be overly taxing at times but Zoey maintains a sense of humor about it that makes it less grating than in some other series. I recommend this, as I do the whole series.

Monday, 20 July 2009

Many Bloody Returns By various authors

This book is an anthology of short stories from various authors in the fantasy genre. All the stories involve vampires and birthdays. I've reviewed a few of the 13 stories individually, with a general statement overall at the end.

"Dracula Night" By Charlaine Harris:
This is a short story involving some of the characters from the "Southern Vampire Mysteries". Much to her delight telepathic barmaid Sookie Stackhouse finds herself invited to a birthday party for the most famous vampire ever, Dracula. The party is being thrown at the vampire bar "Fangtasia" by it's owner and drop dead gorgeous vampire Eric. Chaos ensues when Dracula shows up for his party... This short story was better then any of the other short stories I have read of Harris'. It's cute and entertaining. No where near as good as Harris' novels.

"It's My Birthday Too" By Jim Butcher:
This is a short story from Butcher's "The Dresden Files". Wizard-for-hire Harry Dresden is looking for a missing vampire on his birthday, naturally he come across some trouble when he visits a local shopping mall. Trouble that is complicated by the fact that Harry has left his wizarding "tools" at home.
This story is good, though I have yet to read any of the Dresden novels, this story was enough to make me want to.

"The Mournful Cry of Owls" by Christopher Golden
A mysterious coming of age story about a teenage girl who's always felt a bit different. On her 16th birthday she learns about her unique heritage, and the explanation behind her always feeling different and struggling to fit in. This story was perhaps the best of the book, though it didn't really pertain to vampires. It was strange and intriguing with an ending I would not have been able to anticipate. It was also written in a beautiful almost poetic way.

"The First Day of the Rest of Your Life" by Rachel Caine:
This story is part of Rachel Caine's "Morganville Vampire Series". Morganville, Texas is a small town run by vampires, but inhabited by humans, the humans belong to clans protected by certain vampires. In return for protections these humans are under the rule of the vampire protecting them. Eve is turning 18 and with that comes a choice. She must chose to sign with the vampire with "protects" her family, or become a free agent. I have never read any of the "Morganville Vampire series", but like the "Dresden Files" story, this story made me want to check out the series.

Other authors include:
"I Was a Teenage Vampire" by Bill Crider
"Twilight" by Kelley Armstrong
"Grave-Robbed" by P.N. Elrod
"The Witch and the Wicked" by Jeanne C. Stein
"Blood Wrapped" by Tanya Huff
"The Wish" by Carolyn Haines
"Fire and Ice and Linguini for Two" by Tate Hallaway
"Vampire Hours" by Elaine Viets
"How Stella Got her Grave Back" by Toni L.P. Kelner

I have read several anthologies about vampires and this one was one of the best, overall. Not all of the stories were great, but it was an easy read and entertaining.

Bottom Line: If you like short stories and you like vampires, this one is worth a read.

Saturday, 18 July 2009

The Vampire Diaries: The Awakening, by L.J. Smith

This is the first book in the Vampire Diaries series. The series tells the story of popular high school student Elena Gilbert. Elena has it all, good looks, long blond hair, the attention of all the boys in school. On the first day back at school after Summer vacation, Elena notices a new student, Stefan Salvatore, a handsome and mysterious new student from Italy. Elena immediately sets her sights on Stefan as her new romantic conquest. She will stop at nothing to make him notice her, but everything she does he completely ignores. This has never happened to Elena, what boy at school wouldn't want to date her?

After a school dance Elena finds herself in a dangerous situation while partying with drunken fellow student, Tyler Smallwood. At a frightening moment in which Elena is fighting Tyler off, Stefan appears to rescue her. He takes her back to the room he rents, and tells her why he has been ignoring her. Stefan explains that Elena reminds him of his first love, Katherine, who has since died. Elena feels terrible for doubting him, and so sad at his loss. From that night on they are in love (yes, it happens that fast). Elena begins to feel that Stefan is keeping secrets from her, and soon learns he is a vampire. Shortly after learning this, Elena is visited by a beautiful stranger who seems hell bent on seducing her, a stranger that Stefan is all too familiar with.

Spoilers Ahead.

The premise of this books sounds intriguing. Beautiful young girl caught between a handsome vampire and his dark and mysterious vampire brother. Sounds great, unfortunately this book was nothing like it sounded. First issue was that Elena was not relatable as a character. It's difficult to root for the beautiful popular girl who is used to having the attention of all the guys around her, when she finally finds one who isn't instantly enthralled with her. Very few people had that experience in high school. She feel rejected, but of course, it isn't her cocky attitude that is keeping Stefan away, it's the fact that she looks like his old vampire lover from hundreds of years ago.
I was hoping that once we met Damon, Stefan's vampire brother he'd be the breath of fresh air and fun that this stories so badly needed to counteract the overwhelming teen angst. Sadly, Elena never connects with him, she is still so devoted to Stefan, though the reader never sees why either loves the other. It's literally something that seems to just happen, without explanation or any sort of courtship. It just IS.

Bottom line: There are so many good vampire books, young adult and otherwise, DO NOT waste your time on this one.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Marked by PC Cast

What do you get when you cross Harry Potter with The Sookie Stackhouse Novels & Twilight? You get the House of Night Series from PC & Kristin Cast. There’s more to it than that but that’s the easiest way to boil it down for the uninitiated. The first book in the series, Marked, starts out in a typical high school. Zoey Montgomery is walking the halls with her best friend when she notices a vampyre at her locker. He points to her and tells her that Night has chosen her, her death will be her birth. Night calls to her and she must find her destiny which awaits her at the House of Night. Her head explodes in pain when he points to her and she passes out. When she awakens, she finds that she now bears the blue crescent mark that all fledgling vampyres wear.

Vampyres are clearly recognized in the real world in this series, they’re not hidden and in fact many of our top celebrities, including Nicole Kidman and Leonardo DiCaprio are known vamps. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the people in Zoey’s life are thrilled or accepting of her fate; her best friend cringes away from her and her mother and step father refuse to let her head to the House of Night, choosing instead to activate a prayer tree and call a psychiatrist. Zoey goes to the one person who always supports her, her grandmother, and while there she is overcome by fits of coughing. If a person is marked and fails to show up at the House of Night in a timely fashion, they will die. She falls and hits her head on a rock and meets up in her mind with the Goddess Nyx, Goddess of Night and goddess of the vampyres. Nyx tells her that she is special and that she has a great and important future ahead of her. Upon awakening, Zoey finds herself at the House of Night; her grandmother had taken her when she found her marked. Since she met with Nyx, though, Zoey’s mark has changed. Her mark is now filled in like a full-fledged vampyre’s instead of open like a fledgling.

This is where the Harry Potter comparison comes in; the House of Night is a school for fledgling vampyres. They go for 4 years and during that time learn about how to be a vampyre; for being marked does not necessarily mean one will achieve full vampyre status. Some of them reject the change and die; just not cut out for the life.

Zoey’s mark catches the eye of the High Priestess, Neferet, and she decides to become her mentor. Zoey has an inner voice, Nyx’s, warn her not to let anybody know what happened and why her mark is different from the other students. Zoey is taken to her dorm where she meets Stevie Ray, her roommate who quickly becomes her best friend. Through her, Zoey is introduced to Damian, Erin and Shaunee and they all become tight. Zoey quickly runs afoul of the queen of the school though, Aphrodite, leader of the Dark Daughters. Aphrodite is jealous of Zoey’s mark, her closeness with Neferet and her attraction to Erik Knight, Aphrodite’s ex.

Zoey decides that Aphrodite and her crew need to be taken down a peg and she and her new friends set out to do it. The majority of the rest of the book is about Zoey discovering and embracing her powers and her destiny as a future High Priestess.

I don’t want to spoil the whole book by giving away the big things, but I will say that there’s an interesting mix of vampyre lore, American Indian beliefs and witchcraft. It’s a fascinating mix that kept me interested. Blood lust for humans, the calling of the elements, purifying the soul; all of them come in to play. But that was not the only thing that I found appealing. The main theme running through all 5 books thus far seems to be one of acceptance. Zoey hates being different from the other fledglings but she finds people who genuinely like her for her, not for her potential power. Damian is gay. Erin and Shaunee are such best friends that they’re referred to as The Twins, despite the fact that one is black and one is white. For books written for the young adult genre, I think that’s a wonderful message to spread. I highly recommend the series for that alone. Plus it’s an easy read with some likable characters and a good storyline. Check it out and let me know what you think!

Saturday, 11 July 2009

Dragon Tears by Dean Koontz

Harry Lyon is an officer for the Multi-Agency Law Enforcement Special Projects Center in the city of Laguna Niguel, California (in other words he's a police detective handling difficult cases, like serial killers and gang violence). He is compulsively neat, overly organized, always follows every run and regulation to the letter and has never been late to work a day in his life. His partner, Connie Gulliver, is the opposite, she's lives her life minute to minute, she's disorganized, leaves messes to be cleaned up, has piles of papers all over her half of the office they share, and is often late for work. The two could not be more different, but they're about to go through an experience that will bond them forever.

It's a typical California day and Connie and Harry are having lunch at a restaurant when a man with a gun enters and begins shooting. The event in it's self is not unheard of in the line of duty, but a vagrant Harry encounters after the shooting says something strange to him. "Ticktock Ticktock, you'll be dead in sixteen hours" the vagrant says, and repeats "Dead by dawn". Harry is confused but thinks nothing of it, until other strange events begin to make Harry question his own sanity.

Spoilers Ahead:
If you're a Dean Koontz fan you'll recognize some of the themes in this book, small group of people bond why trying to overcome unimaginable evil, with an abundance of description and detail of there trials and tribulations. These themes have obviously worked well for Koontz, you can't enter a grocery store of even a gas station without finding at least one of his novels for sale (he has more the 100 of them), but this time the description and tedious detail proves to be too much. The book is a bit slow and it's sometimes hard to stay engaged with the switching back and forth between the different characters.That's not to say that the book is not entertaining, it is. There are some great scenes in which the evil entity stalks and toys with Harry and company.
Another common theme in Dean Koontz books is a helpful and lovable dog (usually a lab, this time a medium sized mut), I really love dogs so I always welcome the help of "man's best friend", but it becomes a little bit redundant as well.
After the long descriptions and the switching of narratives and story lines, the reader really wants a big show down at the end, what we get instead just seems to fall short.

Bottom line: The book is decent, if you're a fan of Dean Koontz it's worth a try, if not, there are certainly other books out there (and certainly some by Dean Koontz) that are more worth your time.

Friday, 10 July 2009

Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris

This is the first book in Charlaine Harris' "Southern Vampire Mysteries", which inspires the television show "True Blood". The book begins the tale of a fictional small Louisiana town called "Bon Temps", a town in a world where not only do vampires exist, they don't live in secret. Upon the Japanese developing a synthetic blood for medical purposes, the vampires "came out of the coffin" as they say, and began to integrate into mainstream society. Humans react in very different ways to the realization that a stronger, faster, and more attractive race of beings have shared their place at the "top of the food chain almost as long as humans have existed. One human who can't wait to meet a vampire is small town waitress Sookie Stackhouse. Sookie is anything but average, and she understands a thing or two about being different from the "norm". Sookie is telepathic, that is, she can read the minds of others. While it sounds like an interesting and useful ability, the reality of the constant noise of the human mind is an exhausting reality for Sookie. This "talent" makes her first encounter with a vampire all the more alluring, for the first time she meets Vampire Bill, Sookie hears the one thing she's always wanted to hear from the minds of her companions, silence.
Romance, humor, suspense, and lots of Southern charm, if you like vampires and supernatural beings, I highly recommend "Dead Until Dark".

Spoilers ahead!
If you've not read this book, do not read the second part of this article!
The casual way Harris brings the reader in after all the "logistics" of the vampire realization makes the story move quickly and avoids the slow start many books have while the author gets the reader acquainted with the situation and characters.
The main character and narrator of this story, Sookie, is not the sharpest tool in the tray and she doesn't always make the right decisions or say the right things, but she's funny and charming therefore gets away with theses faults, plus it makes her seem more relatable.
The romance between Sookie and Vampire Bill is a big part of this story, and Harris tries hard to make the reader root for this love match. Vampire Bill is Sookie's first boyfriend, her first love, her first sexual relationship. She falls head over heals for him like a teenager. The problem is that there really doesn't seem to be anything interesting about Vampire Bill. Sure, he saves her from being killed by a drug dealing, vampire killing, couple (after she saves him, I might add). He makes her feel safe and protected, he devotes all his time and energy to her, much like "Twilight's" Edward. This would all seem far more intriguing and romantic if Harris could manage to make us care about Bill. The real saving grace is the world that Harris creates and the other characters that live there, from Sookie's shapeshifting boss Sam, to her dumb but beautiful older brother Jason, to the mysterious vampire sheriff and bar owner Eric.

Bottom line: This book is good and a good start to the series, but the best reason to read "Dead Until Dark" is to get to the later books!

Wednesday, 1 July 2009


Please post your suggestions for book reviews in the comment section. We will do our best to read them and review them. Just make sure the books have a supernatural element! Thanks!