Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris

First of all, let me preface this book review with a quick little disclaimer. I heart vampires and vampire stories. I have a bit of an (unhealthy?) obsession with these creatures of the night. I'm not sure why, but I do. That being said, I shall proceed.

Dead Until Dark is the first in the Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris. I don't know why I'm just now reading these - what with my obsession with vampires and all. But I guess I was a little wary of another vampire series. I tried reading that series by Laurell K Hamilton and just wasn't able to get into them. And I enjoyed Twilight to an extent but had issues with Bella and Meyers kind of jumped the shark with the last book. So I held off on this series, but after looking for something quick, easy and fun to read, these were suggested to me (my friends know of my vampire penchant) and I've fallen in love.

But I digress. As I was saying, Dead Until Dark is the first of a series. We are introduced to Sookie Stackhouse from Bon Temps, Louisana and she has a special ability to hear people's thoughts, though she tries to block them out as much as possible. She's a waitress at a local bar and is extremely excited when they get their first vampire customer. See, vampires are "out of the closet" in this series - they are integrated with humans for the most part, but a vampire in Bon Temps is a pretty exciting deal considering how small the town is.

Sookie quickly realizes that this vampire, Bill Compton, is special - different - she can't hear his thoughts! And he realizes that she's not like most humans. So begins the love story. But it's not all sex and lame romantic stuff. No, there's murder and humour and mystery and a cameo by a supposed dead "King" (which made me laugh hysterically)'s just a damn good story. Well, a damn good story for someone who hasn't read an actual book in almost 9 months at any rate. Plus? I actually like the heroine of this story. This is rarity with me but Sookie rocks. She has her flaws (as any good protagonist does) but she more than makes up for them.

READ THIS BOOK. Then, go watch the HBO series True Blood. The plot of season 1 basically follows this first book...loosely. And for the first time, I actually enjoyed both the book and the TV adaptation - even though the TV series has quite a bit of differences than the book I never once uttered "that didn't happen in the book!" And if you don't fall in love with Sookie and Bill (seriously, how could you not?) and all the others of Bon Temps then...well then I'm just sorry for you. But if you tire of Twilight's immaturity and Edwards creepiness and Bella's annoyance and want some good vampire stories - read this now.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Ms. Taken Identity

I must admit, I'm very picky when it comes to chick lit; for every excellent story, there seems to be 100 "Babysitting for the Very Vuitton." What attracted me to Ms. Taken Identity wasn't the cute cover or even the plot, it was that it was written by a guy. And that, admittedly, is 100% why I chose to read it.

Ms. Taken Identity is about Mitch, a college professor and PhD student working on his epic novel. After being rejected by every publishing company, he has a moment of inspiration and a chance meeting. Seeing the popularity of chick lit books, specifically those done by the fictional author Katharine Longwell, he decides that it can't be that hard - that he, himself, should try to write his own novel. This is made even better when Katharine herself agrees to review the book after randomly meeting Mitch at a cafe. The only problem? Mitch told Katharine that his female cousin wrote the book - not him. And so starts a series of lies that spiral around until, of course, the end.

To get into the female mindset, Mitch reads magazines, watches Oprah, and joins a dance class under the pseudonym Jason. There, Mitch meets, and naturally falls in love with, Marie - a hairdresser who is more than the stereotypical girl Mitch is writing about. She's also his roommate's sister. And thus sets up the tale of Mitch - a slightly pretentious 27 year old who learns that sometimes you have to look past everything, every hang up, to see who you really are. And what you really want.

I must admit - I really liked Ms. Taken Identity. At 272 pages, it's an incredibly easy and short read (I got through it in two days). Full of pop culture references, the book absorbs you and messes with each emotion. Dan Begley does a fantastic job of telling a guy's story that will appeal to girls. The book, somewhat autobiographical (to the point that he, too couldn't sell is book so he decided to write a chick lit novel) sheds some light on why guys do what they do and think what they think. And, like every other girl, each decision still frustrated me. There were parts that I wanted to smack Mitch for being so stupid, but his decisions were so real - because it's what a guy would do in each situation. And that one element made it incredibly interesting.

What I liked most about the book was what it said about chick lit. There's one passage that specifically got to me:

In regards to the genre, Katharine states: "Even those stories that merely entertain us have the power to touch us and delight us, and that goes a long way toward making us more human."

Even I felt punched in the stomach there. Because it's true - like Mitch I was jaded by the genre for a while; it was too girly, to fanciful for me. But it still tells stories - ones that people truly love to hear. So what if every character ends up with the perfect person in the end, that's fun to read! And just as the realization hit me, it hit Mitch as well.

It was fun watching Mitch work through his novel, his lies and, even more so, his relationship with Marie. The characters were illustrated wonderfully - from the eccentric Rosie (who, admittedly, was my favorite) to the vulnerable father, each character was real.

Ms. Taken Identity is a great book for anyone who wants a quick, entertaining (albiet frustrating at times), and truthful read. It's a wonderful beach read and a perfect book to share with a friend. It's one that sticks with you for a while.

If interested, here's a passage from the book.