Book Review – Living Dead in Dallas by Charlaine Harris

Living Dead in Dallas by Charlaine Harris

Living Dead in Dallas by Charlaine Harris

The blurb exsanguinates:

Cocktail waitress Sookie Stackhouse is on a streak of bad luck. First, her coworker is murdered and no one seems to care. Then she’s face-to-face with a beastly creature that gives her a painful and poisonous lashing. Enter the vampires, who graciously suck the poison from her veins (like they didn’t enjoy it).

Point is, they saved her life. So when one of the bloodsuckers asks for a favor, she complies. And soon, Sookie’s in Dallas using her telepathic skills to search for a missing vampire. She’s supposed to interview certain humans involved. There’s just one condition: The vampires must promise to behave – and let the humans go unharmed. Easier said than done. All it takes is one delicious blonde and one small mistake for things to turn deadly.

I read the first book in this series because I enjoyed the TV series, but after reading it I wasn’t in any hurry to get the rest of them.  “The book was better than the movie” is a popular cliche, but in this case the book was pretty similar to the TV series and where they differed I generally preferred the TV version.  However apparently money trumps taste because when the whole series of books came on sale I couldn’t resist.

As someone who saw the TV series before reading the books, comparisons between the two are inevitable.  It’s been a while since I saw the second season of True Blood, but it came back to me as I was reading and I was surprised by how similar they were.  A lot of TV adaptations follow the book for the first season and then diverge (for example Dexter), but at least so far that isn’t true for this series.

I really didn’t think book two was as good as season two of the TV series – some of the best characters and subplots have a much smaller role and the plot arc wasn’t as good.  Books usually beat TV and movies in depth, for example because the author can describe unfilmable things or show us what’s happening inside the characters’ minds.  In this case that wasn’t really true – we don’t really get any deeper insight.

Something that stood out to me were the romance novel style sex scenes.  I assume I’m just not the target audience for this – it’s not necessarily bad, it’s just not the kind of thing I’m used to reading.

Book Review – 206 Bones by Kathy Reichs

206 Bones by Kathy Reichs

206 Bones by Kathy Reichs

The blurb enumerates:

There are 206 bones in the human body. Forensic anthropologists know them intimately, can read in them stories of brief or long lives and use them to reconstruct every kind of violent end. 206 Bones opens with Tempe regaining consciousness and discovering that she is in some kind of very small, very dark, very cold enclosed space. She is bound, hands to feet. Who wants Tempe dead, or at least out of the way, and why? Tempe begins slowly to reconstruct…

Tempe and Lieutenant Ryan had accompanied the recently discovered remains of a missing heiress from Montreal to the Chicago morgue. Suddenly, Tempe was accused of mishandling the autopsy — and the case. Someone made an incriminating phone call. Within hours, the one man with information about the call was dead. Back in Montreal, the corpse of a second elderly woman was found in the woods, and then a third.

Seamlessly weaving between Tempe’s present-tense terror as she’s held captive and her memory of the cases of these murdered women, Reichs conveys the incredible devastation that would occur if a forensic colleague sabotaged work in the lab. The chemistry between Tempe and Ryan intensifies as this complex, riveting tale unfolds. Reichs is writing at the top of her game.

I know I tend to say this when reviewing books in this series, but its true – if you’re 12 books into the series, you probably know what to expect.  The usual suspects are mostly present, but overall I’d say this is a good entry in the series.

There are a few info dumps – one character asks a question and the other character quotes wikipedia off the top of their head.  Fortunately there aren’t any cringeworthy romantic “misunderstandings” that are crystal clear to the reader but opaque to the characters.

Some of the main plot was unfortunately predictable, but there were a couple of satisfying twists that lifted the book by a whole star rating.

As the blurb says, part of the conceit of the book is that it takes place as memories come back to Brennan after she wakes up with amnesia.  This bugged me a bit because (I may be wrong, but) I don’t think that’s how head trauma or amnesia work.

Book Review – Spell or High Water by Scott Meyer

Spell or High Water by Scott Meyer

Spell or High Water by Scott Meyer

The blurb interests:

The adventures of an American hacker in Medieval England continue as Martin Banks takes his next step on the journey toward mastering his reality-altering powers and fulfilling his destiny.

A month has passed since Martin helped to defeat the evil programmer Jimmy, and things couldn’t be going better. Except for his love life, that is. Feeling distant and lost, Gwen has journeyed to Atlantis, a tolerant and benevolent kingdom governed by the Sorceresses, and a place known to be a safe haven to all female time-travelers.

Thankfully, Martin and Philip are invited to a summit in Atlantis for all of the leaders of the time-traveler colonies, and now Martin thinks this will be a chance to try again with Gwen. Of course, this is Martin Banks we’re talking about, so murder, mystery, and high intrigue all get in the way of a guy who just wants one more shot to get the girl.

The follow-up to the hilarious Off to Be the Wizard, Scott Meyer’s Spell or High Water proves that no matter what powers you have over time and space, you can’t control rotten luck.

I liked the first book, but there was some obvious self-publishing and first-book amateurishness.  It was hard to distinguish a lot of the characters because they’re just men referred to by first name and hardly described at all after the initial introduction.

The second book has all the strengths of the first book, a lot fewer of the weaknesses and a bunch of new tricks up its sleeve.  The biggest (and most impressive) new trick is that the author did a lot with the narrative structure in this book, messing with the reader’s impression of the plot simply by the arrangement of the chapters.

As in the first book there are some standard sci-fi tropes like time loops, but they’re handled in a smart way so they don’t feel worn out.

The humor is also improved somewhat since the first book – at some points I was actually (quietly) laughing out loud.

Book Review – Curse by John D. Brown

Curse by John D. Brown

Curse by John D. Brown

The blurb enthralls:

Argoth and Shim have only a short season before Mokad comes to annihilate them. If they’re going to survive, they will need to raise an army of dreadmen and fell-maidens and train them in the lore.

Argoth sends out a call to Groves throughout the western lands and begins to train Talen, Sugar, and three hundred others. But Mokad isn’t waiting. Mokad has already sent an armada with armies from four glorydoms. It has also sent its Guardian—a terrifying Divine everyone thinks is a sleth ally, coming with an invitation from Argoth himself to join Shim’s men.

Outnumbered and outmatched, humankind is about to lose its first chance in an age to fight against those who enslave them. Unless, of course, this new Grove can find a way to do what no other has ever done before.

For me what characterised the first book in this series was that we started off seeing the world through one character’s eyes, and then the character found out from other characters that the world isn’t the way they thought it was and then later all of the characters found out that the world was different even from than that.  It was a constant stream of revelations that caused the reader to re-adjust their view of the characters and events in the book, and it was great.

It would be too much to expect the same thing from further books in the series, but the author gave it a good shot.  This book had a couple of interesting revelations, some of which had some pretty far reaching consequences, but unfortunately they didn’t really have the same impact as the first book.

I think the problem is middle book syndrome – the second book in the trilogy has no real climax, it’s just a bridge between the first and third books.  Fortunately the third book is already out so we’re not left on a cliffhanger for years – because of the unusual journey of this series there was almost five years between Servant and Curse, but only two weeks between Curse and Raveler.

Book Review – NPCs by Drew Hayes

NPCs by Drew Hayes

NPCs by Drew Hayes

The blurb role plays:

What happens when the haggling is done and the shops are closed? When the quest has been given, the steeds saddled, and the adventurers are off to their next encounter? They keep the world running, the food cooked, and the horses shoed, yet what adventurer has ever spared a thought or concern for the Non-Player Characters?

In the town of Maplebark, four such NPCs settle in for a night of actively ignoring the adventurers drinking in the tavern when things go quickly and fatally awry. Once the dust settles, these four find themselves faced with an impossible choice: pretend to be adventurers undertaking a task of near-certain death or see their town and loved ones destroyed. Armed only with salvaged equipment, second-hand knowledge, and a secret that could get them killed, it will take all manner of miracles if they hope to pull off their charade.

And even if they succeed, the deadliest part of their journey may well be what awaits them at its end.

The majority of what makes this book interesting is the concept of the non-player characters of a role playing game having their own lives and agency separate from the player characters.  To be honest it’s probably not the most original idea ever, since anyone who’s ever played a role playing game probably thought of it, but the difference is that nobody else actually wrote a book based on it.

The other cool thing about the book is that it reverses a lot of the RPG stereotypes – none of the NPCs end up being what they immediately appear.  RPGs tend to be pretty traditional when it comes to stereotyped roles, so it’s nice that the book plays with that.  It’s a bit “opposite day” simple, but it’s a nice thought.

Apart from that there isn’t much to the book other than a larger mystery about what exactly is going on, but that’s not resolved and is obviously a hook to get you to read the rest of the books in the series.

All in all it’s a good effort for a self-published author.

Book Review – A Fire in the Sun by George Alec Effinger

A Fire in the Sun by George Alec Effinger

A Fire in the Sun by George Alec Effinger

The blurb says:

In a world filled with so many puppets, strings tend to get tangled. In this follow-up to the groundbreaking cyberpunk novel When Gravity Fails, the Budayeen is still a very dangerous place, a high-tech Arabian ghetto where power and murder go hand in hand.

Marid Audran used to be a low-level street hustler, relying on his wits and independence. Now he’s a cop planted in the force by Friedlander Bey, the powerful “godfather” of the Budayeen. Marid is supposed to simply be Bey’s envoy into the police, but as a series of grisly murders piles up—children, prostitutes, a fellow officer—he is drawn deeper and deeper into the city’s chaos.

Would Marid give up all his newfound money and power to get out of this mess? Absolutely. If only he could. But answers are never that easy and choices are never completely one’s own in the Budayeen.

In a lot of ways, this book is very similar to the first one in the series:

  • The title, although cool sounding, bears no relation to the contents of the book.
  • There are a bunch of OCR errors, which are understandable as it’s an old book with presumably no digital manuscript, but still could have been fixed by a simple readthrough.
  • The “future” of 1989 is missing a bunch of things from the current present, for example DNA testing.  It’s not the author’s fault for not being psychic, it just makes reading it a bit odd.

I didn’t think this book was as noir as the first one.  This isn’t necessarily a terrible thing – not everything has to be noir – but I found out about the first book from a list of noir sci-fi books, so it’s just something to be aware of if you were expecting it to be more of the same.

For a detective book it was pretty unclear what the mystery being solved was.  A lot of strange things happened, and the main character was trying to figure it all out, but it wasn’t ever as straightforward as something like solving a murder.

The only real disappointment I had with this book is that there wasn’t really a climax – instead of getting into a shootout or something the main character just has a meeting with the bad guy.

There is a bunch of interesting character development in this book – I think the author had a  journey in mind for the character over the course of the series, and it’s interesting to watch it happen.