Monday, November 16, 2009

Vampire Let Down: Charlaine Harris's Dead Until Dark

I told you how, since reading the young adult phenomenon Twilight series, that I am obsessed with vampires. I had heard a lot about the "True Blood" TV series on HBO, so I thought I'd try the first book from which that series is taken. It's entitled, Dead Until Dark, written by Charlaine Harris and starring a feisty, mind-reading, cocktail waitress named Sookie Stackhouse.

From the beginning I knew that most probably, no other book could come close to capturing the "true" vampire personna like Stephanie Meyer's, but I also REALLY wanted to give it a try. The Sookie Stackhouse character was very entertaining and likeable; I did find myself caring about what happened to her. But beyond that, there were a lot of problems for me. The key vampire here, Bill (I mean, give me a break! Bill???)was not very likeable. I didn't find him either believable or love-inspiring in any way.  I also had to get past the fact that in this story, vampires have "come out" of the coffin so to speak, and they walk among the humans like they are regular people. There are very few secrets about them here, which is a "real magic" and suspense killer. The vampires, if they are "good" like the Cullens in Twilight, do not feed on animals, but drink synthetic blook produced by humans and served up to them like a mai tai or a glass of milk. Ms. Harris has also incorporated about every typical vampire talisman there is: silver, stakes to the heart, sleeping underground during the day, only coming out at night, etc. I now find all this stuff just unimaginative and disappointing after Meyer's complete remake of the vampire world. Anyone who has ever seen a vampire movie already "knows" all that "stake to the heart", campy junk. Why not give us something new?

The whole plot of Dead Until Dark revolves around a series of serial murders, and of course, the vampires are suspected. Big surprise. Are they really to blame? Did our "hero" Bill do them? Well, the end is fairly predicable also, as is the gratuitous sex scenes and the blood and gore, all of which are not present in the Twilight series, and refreshingly so. But the real "Deal Breaker" here was this: out of he blue, at almost the end of the book, one of the main characters comes forth and reveals that he is a "shape shifter." He can turn himself into animals at the full moon. Now, while I understand Harris may have felt the need to incorporate some kind of "Jacob" or werewolf character like the outrageously popular and well-written one in New Moon; however, the reader gets no explanation whatsoever for this so-called "shape shifter." Like why? Why is he a shape-shifter? What is a shape-shifter's purpose on our earth? How did he become one? Why do we care? Well, my answer to that is: I DON'T! This contrived device sprung on us at the end of the book for no apparent plot-reason really irked me, and I finished the book gratefully, ready to move on to my next non-vampire book.

So, if you are a Sookie Stackhouse fan and can't get enough of this series, please comment here and tell me why. Maybe your bite will "change" me into a new believer in "true blood." But for now, I will remain a Twifan.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

This Thursday our book club will be discussing Dewey: The Small Town Cat Who Touched the World by Vicki Myron. I was not looking forward to this one, although everyone I know who has read it really has good things to say. No one posted to see my views on the book, but of course, I have to give them to you anyway.

The book is comprised entirely of cute little anecdotes about Dewey, the cat Vicki found in the book drop in Spencer. My sister lived in Spencer for a few years, and I used to tool around on my bike when I visited her. I am sorry to say that I never visited the library, but that was pre-Dewey. It seems the library cat became a huge phenom who everyone all over the world heard about. I guess, that is, except for me.

I have no problem with cute cats. I am a HUGE cat lover. We have about 10 cats at our house (all outside dwellers) but I love and care for them all. Why then did I find this book so sappy, dull, and (dare I say it) fluffy? I don't know. I guess for what it is, it's quite entertaining. And I do believe cats are smart and make wonderful companions. But some of the things she described about Dewey's powers of intuition and thought processes were way over the top for me. While I love my cats very much, they are, after all, animals. Every time I go out to my cats, I feel calmed and happier. But do they look up at me and see into my very soul or ponder my actions in a critical way? I think not.

So, if you want a quick, light read and you are a big cat lover, then Dewey may be for you. Let me know what YOU think. Maybe I am just a grumpy reviewer who is unworthy of her cats.

The Rope Walk by Carrie Brown

Recently the Valley Book Club discussed The Rope Walk by Carrie Brown. I really enjoyed this coming-of-age novel because of how it touches on many different issues and really lets the reader explore them from a very realistic, child point of view.

Most of us in the club really liked the book and were extremely angry at Alice's father for his actions and for his lack of actions toward Alice, his only daughter. One member was extremely disappointed, though, and thought the characters were all very stereotypical and shallow as characters go.  Read the book and tell us what you think! I'll share your comments with the club.

I'd love for you to post your reviews of this book, which is 2009's All Iowa Reads title.

Vampires, and werewolves, and the perfect man, oh, my!

OK, like a lot of adults I resisted reading the Twilight series for a long time. Why? I don't know. I guess I thought I was a little above the idea of vampires. I usually read novels from which I can really learn something, at least a little something. I tell myself I don't have time, as a librarian, to read fluffy, escapist novels. Yeah. That was BMLTO: Before midlife Twilight Obsession. Now it's after.

I made the mistake of reading Twilight after seeing the movie. And I have to admit, I liked it OK and the movie too, but I really didn't see the magic. I could understand why all the teenage girls liked these novels, and while I respected the writing, I was not obsessed. Then this fall I decided I'd read New Moon - you know, just to see if there was anything too adult in it for my 12 year old to see the movie. Well, that was the beginning of my obsession.

The story in New Moon grabbed me right away. Unlike some, I DO remember what it was like to be a teenager to some extent. I remember my first loves and that desperate feeling you run around with almost all the time. Bella is the epitome of that life. When Edward leaves, I could still feel that awful, pit of my stomach helplessness that Bella curls herself around in the woods. I also could relate to the desperation of the best friend in Jacob. And the whole werewolf thing gave the story another dimension that was simply irresistible.

So, I finished New Moon, and could not wait five minutes to start Eclipse (my personal favorite, I think). I liked this one better because Edward was in the entire thing. No neurotic, self-sacrificing he-man gestures this time. And let's face it. The real reason so many middle-aged moms have fallen in love with these books after their daughters can be encapsulated in one word: Edward.

Being a sometimes writer myself, I have spent many a splendid hour analyzing these characters to myself and why they are so identifiable and interesting. I've come up with several brilliant theories. :) Theory uno: Edward is the perfect man. OK, OK, I know he's a vampire and all, a "monster," but let's talk about this. He's gorgeous and forever 17. Lots of pluses there. He's incredibly fast and ridiculously strong. If a man could pick you up in one sweep and race you up a mountain without getting winded, wouldn't it be nicer than feeling like you're an aging rock who can't even budge from the computer chair? He also is very old-fashioned. He doesn't want to hurt Bella, therefore, he controls his urges, giving her and himself only what they truly need: to be together and express love. This, notice, does not involve any real action until they are married. He simply is overjoyed to lie beside her and watch her sleep. Other good perks are: Edward doesn't eat, i.e. no meals to cook; Edward doesn't sleep, so he has all the time in the world to better himself and become more educated; Edward is immortal, therefore there is no need to worry about him dying of cancer or getting in a car wreck. But most of all, it is his loyalty and unfaltering belief that he is always at fault when something goes wrong in their relationship. He would protect Bella from anything and insists that SHE is the totally unselfish one in their relationship. What more could a woman possibly want, warm blood and skin aside.
I have also pondered why this story has so mesmerized an entire nation. How could these four teen books so inflame a passion and obsession in so many readers across so many age and social categories? Well, I have my theories. But I'll let you post yours first!